The Jefferson County Commission started off 2023 with a disagreement at its January 5 meeting among the five members (4 Republicans and 1 independent) over who would lead the Commission for the next year. Jennifer Krouse nominated Tricia Jackson to be president, and Clare Ath nominated Steve Stolipher for the role. Stolipher was elected president with the support of Jane Tabb (the lone independent commissioner).
Ambulance Service Reorganization Updates
During the January 5 meeting, Bob Burner, Director of the Jefferson County Emergency Services Agency (JCESA), provided an update on the ambulance service reorganization. While there was some good news about progress on key operational and billing issues, his report on staffing was not so optimistic. The proposed reorganization requires 12 additional paramedic positions to fully staff the proposed operations and Burner indicated that the county has not been able to attract qualified recruits to fill even half that number.
Burner also reported that a key senior staff person had resigned from JCESA and asked for guidance on prioritizing deliverables to meet the March 1 deadline set by the Commision last summer. There was noticeable tension in the meeting room when County Administrator John Nissel reiterated the Commission’s desire to complete the transition on schedule. Since the January 5 meeting, both Burner and Nissel have resigned.
Commission Weighs In On School Issues
The first new business taken up by the Commission in 2023 was a motion from Commissioner Krouse to draft a letter of no confidence in the Jefferson County Board of Education in reference to the school board’s recent decision to reduce the weighting of semester exams. Commissioner Tabb commented that she didn’t fully understand the school board’s action but that it seemed to be a difficult decision taken in the context of multiple issues, and her advice to her fellow Commissioners was to “focus on our own statutory duties.” Commissioner Stolipher said he agreed with Tabb, suggesting that the Commission “needs to stay in its own lane.” Nonetheless, the other 3 Commissioners voted to proceed with drafting a letter. Commissioner Krouse provided a draft at the January 19 meeting and Tabb again raised concerns, focusing on the potential legal liability from unsubstantiated claims made in the letter, which was not reviewed by the Commission’s legal counsel before it was presented. Following a back-and-forth discussion between Tabb and Krouse, in which Krouse emphasized the she intentionally included the allegations against individual members of the Board of Education, the Commission voted 4-1 to send the letter, which requests an investigation of the county BOE, to the West Virginia State Board of Education.
School Board Working Through Process
For its part, the school board had already voted on January 9 to establish an advisory committee to look into the semester exam policy after listening to public comment from several teachers. The school board had further discussion on the topic at its January 23 meeting and voted to put out for public comment a proposed policy revision that would update the policy to return semester exam weights to pre-pandemic levels. The discussions are ongoing and no decisions will be made until the public comment is received and the board schedules discussion for a future meeting.
Kathy Skinner, the president of the Jefferson County Board of Education, offered a response to the Commission’s letter, calling it “ill-advised” and counter-productive to the efforts to promote Jefferson County and attract businesses to locate here.
Residents interested in applying to join the advisory committee can complete the form on the JCS website (link). Residents can use any of the links on the Board of Education webpage to email public comment to the individual school board members.By Steve Pearson