Commission Nixes Executive Session To Discuss Legal Representation In PSC Case
Marlinton, WV – At the Pocahontas County Commission meeting Tuesday, Commission President Martin Saffer wanted to go into a closed door session to discuss a legal matter. However, after further discussion about his reason for the session, his fellow Commissioners opted to vote against it.
Earlier this year, the Pocahontas County Commission voted to file as Intervenors in a case before the West Virginia Public Service Commission concerning the proposed Linwood regional sewer plant. On October 15th, the PSC issued an order asking all participants to appear at a status conference on either Oct 29th or November 22nd. Preparation for this conference is what Commissioner Saffer wanted to discuss in closed session.
However he was challenged by the press to cite the exception to the West Virginia Open Meetings Act that would cover such a session. Pam Pritt, Editor of the Pocahontas Times, reads an email response from Phil Reale, a lawyer for the West Virginia Press Association.
“You must cite the specific code and subsection that allows for your exception” according to Reale. “Public business has to be conducted at the meeting; there is no exception for merely discussing whether it’s prudent to hire outside counsel for a unique area of law.”
The question is not whether the Commissioners can ask for an executive session during an open meeting, but if the reason cited is legal. It was a point of contention between Pritt and Saffer.
“You did not put forth any formal requirements for an attorney to hire, therefore you’re not discussing which firm or which attorney to hire” says Pritt. “We’re going to discuss what we want to discuss, not with you” says Saffer.
“Outside the public purview, improperly by the way” says Pritt.
Time is of the essence as the Commission is required to respond to the PSC soon. Commissioner Fleming says ideally, they want someone with previous experience arguing before the PSC to represent them at the status conference.
Saffer made a motion to go into executive session, but it was voted down by his fellow Commissioners. The Commissioners will have a special meeting Friday, October 22nd at 8:30am to discuss employment of legal counsel to represent them before the WV PSC.
In other business, James Swiger of WYK Architects told the Commissioners they will have to spend a little more money than planned on the courthouse roof repairs. He says the original bid of $277,000.00 was reasonable, but workers are funding unforeseen problems as they remove the old roof.
“They have the roof torn off at the stair shaft [and] we’ve run into some issues” says Swiger. “Above the roof line they just built that shaft out of 4 inch block instead of 8 inch block, which does not meet code. And as you know we’re extending that shaft up another five feet.”
The extension is to support the future installation of an elevator in the courthouse. Other repairs needed or suggested include increased structural support in the corners of the roof and replacing the roof top air conditioning unit. The new unit will be inside the building. The Commissioners approved an additional expenditure of $17, 505.00 from the bricks and mortar fund.
The Commission voted to give a $5000.00 contribution to Allegheny Mountain Radio towards for the Marlinton transmitter. AMR Director of Special Projects Gibbs Kinderman asked the Commissioners for $10,000.00, but Commissioners David Fleming and Reta Griffith were only comfortable with half that amount. The motion to approve the contribution passed on a two to one vote with Commissioner Saffer opposed.