Welcome back to Wrong Side of the Mountain, my column about what makes life in Boone County good or bad, depending on your perspective.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fellowship I shared with friends and family on Thanksgiving.
From noon until midnight, Chanda, Taylor, Maria and I spent the day with Chanda’s family at Mud River, then made the trek to my sister’s home in Jackson County, where five of my siblings and their families gathered. I’m very lucky that our families blend as one. For us, family is family. I hope that your day was as peaceful and enjoyable as ours was.
I managed to have one modest plate of food while avoiding all desserts entirely. Now, I did consume a couple of pots of coffee, but I digress.
Over the last two months, I’ve fielded a lot of calls regarding the Boone County Commission and the recent negotiations with Boone County Schools regarding the potential sale of Lick Creek Park.
The park houses the softball field where Scott High and Madison Middle play their WVSSAC sanctioned games, so unless the school system wants to erect a new field for the girls to play at, perhaps a cost of over $200,000, this slab of real estate is of great interest to them as the county continues to dump unused and unwanted properties. This all comes as they struggle to make ends meet with a dwindling budget that has been well covered and documented by the CVN.
It is my understanding that Boone County Schools isn’t interested in purchasing the park, but is interested in negotiating a deal that would allow them to continue to use it.
With that said, some citizens of the county have taken umbrage with Commission President Eddie Hendricks and Commissioners Brett Kuhn and Craig Bratcher negotiating any deal with the school system because all three are educators employed by Boone County Schools.
Now, taking a macro view of this situation does shine a light on what I believe to be an issue that voters have a hand in. Whether it be plumbers, mechanics, bankers or teachers, county government really shouldn’t be led by a collection of folks from one industry or occupation, in my opinion.
We need a wide breadth of experiences and backgrounds to lead us into the future.
I have said all along that our commission as a whole could benefit from someone in the banking industry, finance and/or accounting. If you don’t get that sentiment then I’m afraid you haven’t been paying attention. It isn’t a slight to educators, it’s an endorsement for diversity.
With that said, Hendricks, Bratcher and Kuhn are ELECTED officials. We put them in office for a reason. Obviously, the county as a whole believe in their intent and abilities, which include negotiating a deal with their employer for a park that won’t leave the county fleeced and holding the bag.
In 2012, the West Virginia Ethics Commission found in Advisory Opinion 2012-05 that, based on West Virginia Code 6B-2-5(j)(1)(A) that, “a county commissioner was prohibited from voting on matters related to a business by which he was employed and determined that his employment by a public agency constituted a financial interest, thus requiring recusal.”
OK, that was pretty clear, right? Well, the following year, it stated in Advisory Opinion 2113-47 that it neglected to consider the definition of a “business” which does not include a government body and after the review, “the Commission now finds that the Ethics Act does NOT prohibit a public official from voting on a particular matter simply because his or her public employer has a financial interest therein.”
So, just to be thorough and make absolutely sure that I’m not missing an advisory opinion or any related changes, I reached out to a West Virginia Ethics Commission attorney to make absolutely sure that I’m on point. I communicated our unique situation.
Via an email response, I received this, in part from the attorney:
“Pursuant to the Ethics Act and W. Va. Code § 61-10-15, a Code provision governing county officials, it is permissible for county commissioners to vote on the sale of county property to the public school system which employs them.”
I hope that this brings clarity to this situation as we move forward and I want to thank every citizen that reached out to me with concern. I’m very encouraged that citizens of Boone County are becoming more involved in county and city government and this is an upward trajectory I have observed since 2016.
As always, thanks for reading. Be healthy and happy.