Sign controversy settled by vote
A well attended Marlinton Town Council meeting took place Monday night at the Marlinton Municipal Building.
The debate regarding directional signage, that has split the council's votes in the past, was re-addressed by town recorder Robin Mutscheller.
“Before I took the time and effort to make a motion, I wanted to make sure that I understand, first-hand, from the state of West Virginia, what the rules and regulations were,” said Mutscheller. “So I talked with the folks from the Department of Highways and I'd like to make the motion.”
Mutscheller's motion was to have town employees immediately remove the blue advertising, directional signs that are hanging on the town's utility poles.
“It has been made clear that they are not permitted by the West Virginia Department of Highways and thus not legally installed, and will place the town, mayor, recorder, and council members at risk of liability for their placement. Rules are rules. I do not want to be held liable for anything that happens as an individual, on Main Street,” said Mutscheller.
Smith expressed his dissatisfaction with the motion.
“It was my understanding when I appointed a committee, that we would not take action on these signs until that committee had a chance to get pertinent information and make a recommendation,” he said.
A vote was held, and the motion passed 4-2, with Long and Smith casting the nay votes. Council member David Zorn was not present at the council meeting.
“I want to go on record that I voted against this motion because I spent a lot of time setting up this meeting with the state agencies to come in here and meet with us and resolve this,” said Smith. “I don't think four days would have made a difference.”
In the mayor's report, Marlinton mayor Joe Smith said he spoke at the recent HOG rally and welcomed the bikers to Marlinton.
“It's my understanding that they will be back next year, which I thought was a good thing,” commented Smith.
Smith addressed the issue of random drug testing for town employees.
“In trying out how to do it, and talking to some people, I found out that random drug testing of employees, public employees is illegal,” he said. “You can do pre-employment, reasonable suspicion, post accident, and if they've been off for work for awhile you can do a return to work thing. The Supreme Court has ruled that random drug testing of public employees, unless they're in a job sensitive position, you cannot do it. They go on to say that job sensitive is airline controllers, nuclear plant operators and things that really don't pertain to us.”
During the public input portion of the regular monthly meeting, local business owner Charles Kettler asked council members the status of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Marlinton Flood Protection project. Kettler said he had contacted Representative Nick Rahall's office in hopes of finding out how the project is progressing.
Recorder Robin Mutscheller said the town of Marlinton has requested a draft of a partnership agreement so they could review it.
“The corps of engineers has not supplied the draft agreement,” said Mutscheller. “To the best of my knowledge they didn't have the draft complete for the town to sign. The Town of Marlinton cannot move forward with the project until such time as we sign that agreement. I'd like to thank you for making personal contact with our elected officials in D.C. and reminding them of our project.”
Local business owner Nelson Hernandez asked council members for details on the recent boil water advisory.
“It's typically something that happens in the winter,” said Hernandez. “Because it happened now, we were so busy, there was a financial impact.”
Smith said the advisory was a result of a combination of problems, and that operator error was not a factor.
“One was we had heavy rain,” explained Smith. “Knapps Creek got extremely muddy. We couldn't get the turbidity down to where it needed to be. Any time your water tank gets below two feet, you have to put a boil water advisory out. In this case we had two reasons to put it out, the tanks got low and the turbidity was high.”
Della Fleury, owner of the Suds and Duds, said she was concerned about refuse in resident's yards in town.
“It's really an eyesore,” she said. “I wish somebody would do something about that.”
Smith said he was already aware of which residence she meant and that he had already sent a letter to the homeowner last week.
Fleury also expressed concern regarding her trash pick-up.
“They never pick up my trash,” Fleury said. “I moved here October 28th — they've picked up my trash three times, and I pay the trash bill. I have to take my own trash to Suds and Duds to get rid of it.”
Fleury also addressed council members about a parking complaint at her business. Smith offered to install no parking signs and agreed to meet Fleury the following day to investigate the issue.
Marlinton Volunteer Fire Department Herby Barlow addressed the council regarding fire hydrants in town.
“We at the fire department have always been responsible for the testing of the hydrants,” said Barlow. “As far as maintenance and upkeep, that's the city's responsibility. If you go around looking in town, you'll see a lot of red capped hydrants. Red is bad. Black is terrible, but red is bad. Red is 500 gallons or less, orange is 1,000 – 5,000 gallons, green is 1,000 gallons a minute or more. We have very few green hydrants left in town.”
Barlow said his biggest concern was that all the hydrants on Fifth Avenue are rated at 500 gallons or below.
“That's the school house, board of education, and the nursing home,” Barlow said. “If we have a fire at the nursing home, we're gonna have to lay a line from Fourth Avenue all the way to the nursing home in order to get water.”
Smith said he approached an independent company to perform 12 random tests to be sure everyone is on the same page.
“It's never been a problem in the past,” said Barlow. “Please feel free to test them all, we'll give the testing over to you if that's what you want. Please test away.”
Barlow also made a request from the council to obtain an estimate to re-wire the Municipal Building so the town offices will be able to run off the MVFD generator.
“Our generator, that the fire department maintains, doesn't run the whole building,” said Barlow. “I'd like to get a commitment from the town to pay for half of whatever it costs to upgrade that. The generator is big enough to run the whole building, it's just not wired-in to run the whole building.”
“So the idea would be, you could use the whole building if people need a place to cool down or whatever?” asked Mutscheller.
“Winter's coming. We could have another wind storm tomorrow,” said Barlow. “I don't want the apparatus bays to be used as a shelter.”
Barlow said during the recent wind storm, the department didn't distribute water at the firehouse because they used the ARC building.
“We had people saying that the Marlinton Fire Department wasn't out doing anything,” remarked Barlow. “I beg to differ — we sent crews to Hillsboro, we cut trees Friday 'til 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, we had four flights out of the hospital the very next day, we did nine 9-1-1 calls in one day. We ran our tails off.”
Council members thanked Barlow and the MVFD for their efforts during the emergency.
Council member Norris Long discussed a potential garbage rate increase with council members.
“This would raise the rate to get us at a point where we were making a minimal profit and no longer operating at a giant loss,” said Long. “After the state Public Service Commission granted the rate increase request to the Solid Waste Authority of Pocahontas County, we looked over the recommendations provided by our accountant, Mr. Feamster.”
“I would just like to add, I don't like to say 25 percent because it's confusing,” said council member Natasha McMann. “A regular customer's bill will go from $25 every two months to $31.50. When you say 25 percent, it's like 'oh my gosh!' We're really raising the bill $3.25 a month for the residential customer.”
The increase will vary for businesses depending on what class they fall under according to town ordinances. Smith said the last garbage rate increase was about six years ago.
The new rate was approved and a first reading, by title only, was held by council members.
Smith said next there will be a public hearing, then a second reading will take place right before the council's next regular meeting.
McMann said she had been approached recently about the mayor's use of town vehicles for personal use.
“I have been receiving complaints — not complaints — but questions, as to why we have provided a vehicle to the mayor,” said McMann. “They don't mind town business use, but they question if it's being used for personal reasons.”
Smith said he does use it for personal use, and he pays for the gas himself. According to Smith, when he is approached by constituents when he is out and about, he considers that town business.
“When I go to Foodland and somebody nails me on a town issue, to me, it's town businesses,” said Smith. “Or when I have to come out here at three in the morning to turn an alarm off, that's town business.”
Buckeye resident Mark Strauss questioned the mayor about the issue.
“Do you drive it to Lewisburg or out far away? Are we talking about the white jeep or the silver pick-up truck? Are either of them safe enough to drive to a town meeting? I personally think you should scrap 'em both and buy a new truck for the mayor,” Strauss commented.
Hernandez echoed Strauss' sentiment.
“This is the second time this has become an issue. Does anyone see a problem with the mayor having a vehicle while he's the mayor?”
“With the council's permission, I'll find out what the rules are, I'll contact the ethics commission on behalf of the council and ask if there is a concern with an ethics violation,” said Mutscheller.
Other residents came to the mayor's defense and commended his dedication to the town of Marlinton.
“Quite frankly, I've been watching Joe Smith since he's been elected,” said Marlinton resident Joel Srodes. “The man is always available. He's always on the job. When we had the big wind storm he was out there at night with the emergency management people, when not a single member of the county commission even came out of their house. This is a working man that's doing a great job for us and I hate to see him get knit-picked.”
Marlinton resident BJ Gudmundsson agreed with Srodes.
“We have a mayor that is really doing his job,” said Gudmundsson. “All the time. We can come here anytime and say 'there's a lot by my house and the grass is so high that snakes are comin' in, and boy, the grass gets cut and the owner gets billed. And everything is taken care of. There are a lot of us that really appreciate it.”
“I have seen the mayor cutting grass at one of the abandoned houses on a Sunday,” said Strauss. “You know what, maybe he had the town truck there that day. Maybe not, I don't know.”
Smith said he appreciated the public's comments. Smith also said despite the postponement, he was pleased with how Pioneer Days came together this year.
“From my standpoint I think Pioneer Days was pretty respectable considering it had been postponed. The crowd was down, mainly a local crowd,” said Smith.
McMann read an emotional letter of resignation to council members.
“I would personally like to thank the citizens of Marlinton for showing faith in me by electing me and in making me one of the youngest, if not the youngest, person to hold a seat on the Marlinton Town Council. I don't like to sound cliché but I feel it is necessary to say that no matter how far I may roam, Marlinton will always be home,” said McMann tearfully.
McMann's last day as a council member will be effective next week. Smith explained the procedure for filling her role on the council.
“There is a procedure that we go through to elect a new council person,” he said. “The first thing is to activate the select committee, which consists of three people — Jim Smith from the funeral home, Sue Helton from the county commission, and Carolyn Burns, a private resident. Those three people in conjunction with the six remaining people on the council can take recommendations and submit nominations for the election of a new council person. All nine have to be present in order to do that.”
Smith thanked McMann for her hard work.
“Natasha, on behalf of the council I want to thank you for the work you did on the recycling program.
It has been my pleasure to serve with you.”
“I would also like to commend Natasha as a youth, for getting involved in local government,” said Long. “We need to get more people involved, instead of sitting out here on a street corner, complaining about every move that's made, but making no effort to help make the changes. I commend you for that effort.”