Bath overhaul source of unrest

April 07, 1998|By AMY WALLAUER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Rumors and speculation abound in the Town of Bath after a whirlwind month of government restructuring, council members' resignations and phasing out the municipal clerk's job.

Some residents in the town of 800 are questioning the Bath Town Council's intentions and suggesting mismanagement. One Morgan County resident physically threatened a council member recently.

"The restructuring is what's driving the anger of a small group of people," said Councilman David Welch. "But not on the merits of the (plan) - it's all about protecting Dorthy Silvers' job."

The controversy

The controversy began when the council passed an ordinance on March 16 allowing the restructuring of government. Until then, the police department handled streets, trash collection, grave-digging at the cemeteries and other functions, while the Berkeley Springs Water Department just handled water.


"The restructuring simply takes all the infrastructure functions of the town and hands it over to the water department," Welch said. "It frees the police department to concentrate on law enforcement."

After the ordinance was passed, Tom Hall, head of the Berkeley Springs Water Department, came up with a tactical plan that included the elimination of Silvers' position as municipal clerk and the addition of a public utilities clerk for the new Public Utilities Department, Welch said.

Hall then became public utilities director.

At a March 27 meeting, the council approved Hall's final plan for implementing the reorganization while Silvers videotaped the meeting.

"There was a man at the meeting who was at the meeting before, asking antagonizing questions," Welch said.

While leaving Town Hall, the unidentified man accused him and other council members of having a private meeting prior to the public meeting.

"I looked at him and said, 'You know, you're a troublemaker, aren't you?' He proceeded to shout all kinds of swear words at me, invited me to the back of Town Hall to have a fight ... he blocked the door to my car and wouldn't let me in," Welch said.

Welch said he believed Silvers and her allies are to blame for some of the animosity.

"I think Dorthy Silvers has tried to make herself out to be a victim. If people believe that, they believe there's going to be Christmas in July," Welch said. "She's been very uncooperative, and has on a number of occasions demonstrated herself not to be a team player. She has really dug her own grave in all this."

Bath resident Karen McCusker questioned what was meant by "team player."

"Does that mean she's not going along with them? That she's standing up for what she believes in and what's right? (Council is) under the impression that what they say goes," McCusker said.

The supporters

Silvers' supporters want to know why she wasn't offered the new position of public utilities clerk when her municipal clerk job was eliminated, while Hall automatically became public utilities director.

"It's kind of an odd coincidence," said Silvers' attorney, Paul Taylor of Martinsburg, W.Va. "With this reorganization, the only person who has to apply for her position is Ms. Silvers."

He said if not being a team player means addressing a public meeting about things that are happening in the town, then more people who don't want to be part of the team are needed.

Taylor said he's still trying to sort out the facts in the case, but a civil lawsuit is a possibility.

Silvers would not comment at Monday's regular council meeting or on Tuesday.

"The bottom line is, they've posted for her position but didn't post for his and that's got some people upset," Charlie Frederick, a Bath resident and candidate for the Morgan County Commission, said at Monday's meeting.

"We felt the municipal clerk's functions were not a perfect fit for the new department because there were duties and responsibilities that related directly to utilities," Welch said.

Blunders abound

Mayor Susan Webster said serious mistakes in the hotel and motel tax account and billing blunders for road improvement projects boiled down to poor management.

"We have just had a lack of adequately trained personnel to take care of bookkeeping," Webster said. "That's why we're so encouraged by the restructuring."

Bookkeeping was part of Silvers' job as municipal clerk.

"I don't know if that's the situation or not, but if it's poor management, the problem is with the managers and I think it's the managers' responsibility to make sure those things are done correctly," Taylor said.

Two council members resigned last week, leaving the remaining five members to continue with the reorganization and pick up additional duties.

Town Recorder Lyn Allen and Councilman Gene Olynyk both cited time constraints in their letters of resignation. Olynyk also said health reasons and family commitments prompted his decision.

On Monday, Webster accepted those letters of resignation.

"Gene did an outstanding job as chairman of the ordinance committee," Webster said. "Lyn spent many, many hours on her job and she will be missed."

Silvers has applied for the new clerk's position, as have 30 other people, Hall said Monday.

Hall will announce his choice for the new position at an April 20 meeting.

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