Commissioners Tricia Jackson (standing, left) and Jennifer Krouse (standing, right) arrived exactly on time for the November 30 Commission meeting. They joined Commissioner Steve Stolphier (seated, center) and Commissioner Jane Tabb (seated, far right) were also present for this meeting.
Judge Orders All Commissioners To Meet, Critical Items Approved, Legal Issues Continue
On November 30, all four sitting commissioners were in attendance at a meeting of the Jefferson County Commission for the first time in almost three months. Their first action was to appoint Pasha Majdi to fill the fifth seat on the commission — which had been vacant since June 16 following the resignation of Clare Ath.
The path to filling this vacant seat on the Commission has been lengthy and convoluted. On June 23, the Commission interviewed several individuals who had responded to the Commission’s advertisement for candidates to fill the vacant seat. Following the candidate interviews at that meeting, Commissioners Steve Stolipher and Jane Tabb cast their votes for one of the candidates and Commissioners Tricia Jackson and Jennifer Krouse cast their votes for another. After a brief discussion, it became apparent that none of the commissioners were willing to discuss compromising on a single candidate. According to state code, the next step after this deadlock was for the Commission to request the Jefferson County Republican Executive Committee (JCREC) to provide a list of 3 candidates.
Two Commissioners Refuse To Meet
The Commission received the list of 3 candidates from the JCREC in early August, but the voting was deferred when Commissioner Krouse raised an objection that one of the candidates was not qualified. A subsequent ruling by the West Virginia Ethics Commission did not support Krouse’s objection. With the question of the candidate’s qualifications removed as an obstacle by the Ethics Commission’s opinion, Jackson and Krouse then raised an objection that the JCREC’s selection process was flawed and posed an insurmountable legal obstacle to the Commission acting to fill the vacancy.
The Commission’s president, Steve Stolipher, maintained that the Commission had a duty, specified in state law, to fill the vacant seat and remained adamant that the appointment could not be removed from the agenda as demanded by Commissioners Jackson and Krouse. Both Commissioners Jackson and Krouse declined to attend the next Commission meeting on September 21, demanding that the action item to fill the vacancy be removed from the agenda before they would return. With one vacant seat and two commissioners absent, the Commission did not have a quorum to conduct business on September 21. This situation continued for the next six meetings, with the Commission unable to conduct business — meaning that new contracts, new hires, grant proposals, action on probate cases, and the release of construction bonds were all put on hold for almost three months.
Legal Action To Remove From Office
On November 13, the County’s Prosecuting Attorney, Matt Harvey, filed a petition “to remove Jefferson County Commissioners Jennifer Krouse and Tricia Jackson from office for official misconduct, neglect of duty and/or incompetence.” The removal petition was declared valid by Circuit Court Judge David Hammer on November 29 and has been forwarded to the Chief Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. The Chief Justice has 20 days from the receipt of the petition to appoint a three-judge panel, which will convene without a jury to review the evidence and arguments and then decide whether there is a clear and convincing case for removing Commissioners Krouse and Jackson from office.
Legal Action To Compel Performance
Separately from the Prosecuting Attorney’s petition to remove Commissioners Tricia Jackson and Jennifer Krouse from office, local developer David Lutman filed a writ of mandamus, also on November 13, asking the Circuit Court to enforce the Commission’s duty to release a construction bond of approximately $1 million for which Lutman’s company had satisfied all of the requirements for release following the completion of the Milton’s Landing development project. The release of this bond had been blocked by the inability of the Commission to meet with a quorum to conduct business.
During the 9 am hearing for Lutman’s petition on November 30, Circuit Court Judge Bridget Cohee ordered all of the commissioners to attend the County Commission meeting that was already scheduled for 1:30 that same afternoon and to conduct all of the business included on the agenda, including the refund of Lutman’s construction bond. Judge Cohee indicated the commissioners would be under penalty of being held in contempt of court if they failed to comply with her order to attend the meeting and vote on the agenda items.
A Full Meeting Room
At the scheduled start time for the 1:30 meeting on November 30, Commissioners Jackson and Krouse strode into the room (photo above). The meeting kicked off with a back and forth discussion between Commissioners Jackson, Krouse, and the Commission’s attorney Nathan Cochran about various hypothetical concerns surrounding the procedure to appoint an individual to the fifth seat on the Commission. Following this lengthy and noticeably tense discussion, the Commission finally proceeded to appoint Pasha Majdi to the vacancy. The commission also voted to release Mr. Lutman’s bond along with several other items, including the renewal of a software maintenance agreement critical to the operation of the county’s E911 system.
Legal Action Continues
The commissioners’ actions at their November 30 meeting satisfied Judge Cohee’s order from that morning, which she verified by having all of the commissioners return to her courtroom later that day to affirm that they had fulfilled their duties. Mr. Lutman included a request for reimbursement of his legal expenses for this matter — a question that Judge Cohee will decide in January.
Even though Commissioners Krouse and Jackson attended the November 30 meeting (and presumably will regularly attend future meetings), legal proceedings in the case of the removal petition are still ongoing, as the Prosecuting Attorney’s petition cited multiple actions of failure or refusal to perform official duties that have already taken place.Steve Pearson