Berkeley Commission race has 5 candidates, 1 seat

May 08, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - One of the most powerful positions in Berkeley County is also the most hotly contested.

Three Republicans and two Democrats are running for their parties' nominations for the County Commission seat now held by D. Wayne Dunham, who is not seeking re-election.

The top vote-getter in each party in today's primary will run in the November general election.

The Democratic candidates are C.B. "Butch" Pennington and Patricia Washington.

Howard Strauss, Steve Teufel and George Edward Cole Sr. are running on the Republican side.

Strauss is the only candidate to have served on the three-person commission. He was appointed to finish the last year of a term in 1992.

In 1996, Strauss won the primary, then defeated current Commissioner Robert Burkhart in the general election. Burkhart protested, however, noting that Strauss and Dunham lived in the same district at the time of the election. Only one commissioner can be elected from a district.


Dunham later moved to another district, but the West Virginia Supreme Court agreed with Burkhart and awarded him the seat more than four months after Strauss was supposed to have been sworn in.

Strauss said he decided not to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court because it would have delayed Berkeley County government.

The pivotal issues in the current race are zoning and alcohol, Strauss said.

Instead of imposing zoning throughout the county - an idea voters rejected four years ago - "more teeth" should be added to existing subdivision regulations, Strauss said.

Bars in West Virginia can stay open well past the time bars in Maryland and Virginia must close. Strauss said Berkeley County should lobby the state for earlier hours. "It's hazardous to drive late at night," he said.

In a nine-point platform, Strauss is also calling for an updated comprehensive land use and building management plan; better marketing of the local industrial park; an end to funding for community nonprofit groups; evening commission meetings; and using inmates to pick up roadside trash.

He also proposed an excess levy to hire up to 10 more sheriff's deputies.

Teufel said he is concerned about fire protection in the north end of the county. "They need a fire station," he said.

Berkeley and Jefferson counties should pursue the state farmland preservation program that passed this year, he said. "A lot of young farmers are interested in it," he said. "Development is just taking over Berkeley County."

Even with farmland protection, the county should update its comprehensive plan, Teufel said.

He said he wouldn't take a pro-zoning or anti-zoning stance, since it is up to voters to decide. It is important, though, to put water and sewer lines "in the right places," Teufel said.

Teufel said he is in favor of Berkeley County bars closing at 1 a.m. and an excess levy to "drastically" improve parks and recreation.

His personal friendship with Gov. Cecil Underwood would give the county some pull in state government, Teufel said.

Cole's background is in law enforcement. He worked as a police officer for the Veterans Affairs Administration for 17 years and still carries money daily from the local office to the bank.

Cole, who ran unsuccessfully for sheriff, served two terms as a county constable. He said the position should not have been eliminated.

He continues to work as a private investigator. He said he has been called upon seven times to find missing people - and found all seven.

Cole - a prisoner of war in Germany and the recipient of several military honors during World War II, including a Purple Heart - has taken on some uncommon causes.

He has fought for several years to have the county's fire and ambulance fees voided because of questions about how they were enacted. He said they are unenforceable now, and he refuses to pay them.

As a county commissioner, he would have the fees put up for referendum to see if citizens support them, he said.

Cole is also continuing his push to have the sheriff stop heading the tax collection office in favor of a certified public accountant. Currently, state law requires the sheriff to oversee both tax collection and law enforcement.

Berkeley County should have a 10 p.m. curfew as a way to keep kids off the streets at night, which would cut down on crime, Cole said.

He had the strictest proposal for county bars: He wants them to close by 11 p.m. "Before midnight, which starts another day," he said.

The county is a nice place to live, but residents should "quit advertising it," because it's leading to heavy growth, he said.

Democratic candidates Pennington and Washington have both lost in previous runs for county commissioner.

"I've got a lot invested in the county," said Pennington, who wants a moderate approach toward growth.

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