Cumberland Times-News

November 3, 2013

Hardy County petition targets two of three commissioners

Residents challenging ambulance fee ordinance, purchase of building

MARLA PISCIOTTA
Cumberland Times-News

— MOOREFIELD, W.Va. — The attorney representing a group of Hardy County residents said he is filing a petition to oust J. Michael Teets, president of the Hardy County Commission and Commissioner William E. Keplinger Jr.

In an interview Friday, attorney David Judy said the 30-page petition with a 200-page attachment would be filed in Circuit Court Monday.

“We have 700 signatures on the petition. We’re going to get them off the commission and make the ordinance go away,” Judy said.

Two of the issues being addressed include the passing of a special emergency ambulance service fee ordinance of $120 a year, and the purchase of a $1.13 million building to house the ambulance/rescue squads.

The voting originators of the petition feel the commissioners acted without public input and public approval.

Judy said he was hired to get the two commissioners removed from office. “That is my job and that is what I intend to do,” he said.

“It is hard to remove public officials from office. However I think the evidence will show they certainly never had a public meeting. There is nowhere in the minutes where a public meeting was ever considered.”

Commissioner A.J. Wade said two meetings were held sometime in July.

“Over 100 people attended the first public meeting. Based on the comments the people were very much opposed to the ordinance,” Wade said.

Wade said approximately 90 people attended the second meeting and they too were very much opposed.

Judy said the seven-page ordinance passed but was never voted on in a public meeting.

The petition to remove both commissioners claims official misconduct, malfeasance and neglect of duty in the processes of passage of the “Special Emergency Ambulance Service Fee Ordinance” by waste of public funds, violating the public trust, ethical violations of office and disregarding the will of the public and for other causes provided by statue (voting outside of agenda and meeting outside published meeting, taxing against the will of the public).

“This has been a real mess,” said Teets in an interview Friday evening,

Teets said it all started two or three years ago when the existing rescue squad was found billing Medicare incorrectly.

“As a result they were fined $1 million, which caused them to go bankrupt,” Teets said.

There has been no mention as to why the billing was done incorrectly or who was to blame for the errors.

Regardless, Teets said the county needs ambulance service.

Speaking of the petition, Teets said, “They are trying to make this situation worse than it is. There are more voters in favor of the $120 a year fee than against.”

Wade isn’t part of the legal action, nor is he in favor of the ordinance or purchase of the building.

“I refused to sign the special ordinance. I’m very much opposed to the manner in which it was (implemented),” Wade said.

“I also voted against the purchase of the building.”

Wade said the commission met on July 16, where a motion was made not to purchase the building and not to impose the ordinance.

“Then on Aug. 2 a motion was made to buy the building and impose the fee. It passed. I voted against it. That was a 180 degree turn around in a two week period,” Wade said.

“I don’t understand why the sudden change. That is what has caused this whole controversy.”

The $1.13 million building, Wade said, was designed as a fire or ambulance station. It is currently being repaired and remodeled.

Regarding the ordinance fee, Wade said, it applies to households but does not apply to businesses like Pilgrim’s Pride.

“I think that is wrong. I also think if we’re going to have a means of collecting or raising money for an ambulance service the proper thing would be a levy rather than a fee,” Wade said.

Teets said Wade is against everything that has to do with the building and the ambulance service.

The number of names needed to initiate removal of the two commissioners is unclear.

“The law says to initiate a proceeding of removal a petition has to have at least 1 percent of the voters. We have 4,500 voters. One percent would be 450 signatures,” Wade said.

However Teets said the figures are calculated on the voters that voted in the last election, which would change that number. He said he wasn’t sure how much it would change.

“The only thing I know is that we haven’t done anything wrong. I am going to do everything I can to provide this service to our people,” Teets said.