The Jefferson County Commission failed to convene to conduct business at its regularly scheduled meeting on September 21. Three out of five chairs at the head table were empty — only Commissioners Steve Stolipher and Jane Tabb showed up for the meeting. Commissioners Tricia Jackson and Jennifer Krouse made themselves absent. The final seat has been vacant for 3 months following the resignation of Clare Ath.
Both Jackson and Krouse posted statements on social media shortly after the meeting started, claiming their coordinated decision to be absent was a “protest” against the “abuse of power” by Stolipher, who the Commission as a body had previously voted to be its President during this term.
According to the statements of Jackson and Krouse, the putative “abuse” was Stolipher’s decision not to include a few requested items on the Commission’s recent meeting agendas. The Observer researched the specifics of the items that were not accepted for discussion — one involved a topic that has in fact been discussed at great length at several previous Commission meetings and the other two were related to issues that typically need staff and legal review before being presented to the Commission.
Jackson acknowledged that her action was “drastic” and both Jackson and Krouse called upon Stolipher to resign. Yet nothing in the official record seems to support the self-described drastic action or justifies the overturning of a lawful vote.
Looking back to the Commission’s August 17 regular meeting, Krouse stood up during that session and threatened to walk out (image above), with Jackson indicating that she would do the same. The issue at that time was the appointment of a commissioner to fill the seat left empty by Clare Ath’s resignation. Krouse, contradicting the advice of the Commission’s attorney, claimed the Commission could not vote, as one of the potential candidates on a list of three submitted by the Republican Executive Committee was not legally eligible and that therefore the list did not fulfill the lawful requirements. Stolipher agreed to defer the vote so that the August 17 meeting could continue. It later turned out that Krause’s claims were unsubstantiated and that there was no eligibility issue with the candidate or the list. As a result, the Commission failed to appoint an interim commissioner in accordance with state statute.
With the Commission down to four members, votes can deadlock. When two commissioners fail to show up, the County’s regular operations bog down. Not just the approval of new hires, but the authorizations required to pay the county’s bills and approve payroll for law enforcement, public safety, maintenance, and other critical staff roles.
Commissioner Tricia Jackson expressed no concerns when a citizen’s request to place a statement against racism on the agenda was repeatedly ignored in 2022.
Update (Sep 28 2023, 6:10 pm): Both Commissioners Jackson and Krouse were absent from the special County Commission meeting scheduled for September 28. In social media posts, both of the absent commissioners claimed that the special meeting was not properly called, citing informational language about the commission’s meeting schedule posted on the county’s website that does not reference any specific policy or state statue.
WV Code Specifies Rules For Special Meetings
The West Virginia code governing the operation of county commissions explicitly states that the President of a Commission, with the concurrence of one additional commissioner, can call a special meeting. After confirming that neither Jackson or Krouse would be attending the September 28 meeting, Commission President Steve Stolipher made a statement that the discussion that took place on September 21 (after the regularly scheduled commission meeting was not held), when he proposed the special meeting for the 28th and he and Commissioner Tabb discussed that date, met the conditions set forth in the state code for calling a special meeting of the commission.
Chapter 7 of the West Virginia Code lays out the legal framework for how county commissions operate. All of the counties in West Virginia except for Jefferson and Berkeley have three member commissions. Chapter 7 was amended in 2008 and Section 1-1a does explicilty acknowlege the possibility of commissions with more than three members. The language of Section 1-2, which provides the authority to call special sessions, is written generically, without reference to the specific number of members of a commission.
Section 1-2 of Chapter 7 also specified that commissioners who “willfully fail to attend” a properly-noticed special meeting are to be fined “not less than $5 and not more than $20.”
County Misses Deadline For $50,000 Grant
There were multiple items on the agenda for the September 28 special meeting, most of which had been rolled forward from the previous meeting which did not occur. Of note, the County has a deadline of September 29 to apply for a $50,000 grant to specific renovations at the jail. Because the Commission has been unable to approve this grant in a timely manner, the County will miss this deadline and forfeit the opportunity to receive the funds.
By Steve Pearson