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Berkeley County commissioner to step down in 2002

August 29, 2000

Berkeley County commissioner to step down in 2002



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County Commissioner Robert L. Burkhart, who has served in local office for most of five decades, said Tuesday he will not seek another term in 2002.

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Burkhart served on the three-member commission from 1962-1985, then was elected Circuit Clerk, a job he held until 1992. He was elected to another six-year commission term in 1996 in a contest that was settled by the state Supreme Court in 1997.

"I'll be 75 at the end of my term," Burkhart said. "That's enough time."

Burkhart, an orchardist, witnessed and helped preside over many changes in his years on the commission.

"Probably the biggest change has been when I started, the county budget was $250,000 a year," he said. "Now it's $10.5 million. When I started, the commissioners' pay was $1,825 a year. Now it's $28,000. We had two deputy sheriffs. Now we've got more than 30. And we had 15-20 people working in the county. Now we've got 163 employees. There's just been a lot of growth."

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After he retired in the early 1990s, Democrat Burkhart said he wasn't going to run again. But he jumped back in "because there were some things going on that I didn't like." He said he didn't want to elaborate.

He lost his bid for re-election to Howard Strauss in a close vote, but contested the results on the basis of residency laws that affected who could run and who could serve. By a 5-0 vote, the court upheld Burkhart's contention that Strauss should not be allowed to serve.

"There are still people out there that think I shouldn't be holding this office," Burkhart said.

Republican County Commissioner John E. Wright has held the job off and on since 1968. He had nothing but praise for his long-time commission colleague.

"From the inside, I learned many things from Bob that have been, well, time-tested," Wright said. "Bob just seems to be an anthology of knowledge about land management and that kind of thing. He will research everything. He's just a very hard-working, dedicated individual. He really believes in what he's doing.

"Even though he's been on for so long, he still shows the interest of someone who's just coming on."

Strauss, a Republican who is running for an open seat on the commission this year, also credits Burkhart with dedication to the job.

"He's been very dedicated - he works nonstop," Strauss said. "He's been very conservative on the budget and property taxes."

Strauss, who is running on a platform of modernizing county government, did not criticize Burkhart.

"I guess I'll leave Bob's legacy up to him," Strauss said.

Burkhart said the county government needs a new courthouse to consolidate the functions that now are spread out through many buildings. He said, however, he doesn't know where the money to build it would come from.

While he acknowledges "Berkeley County is growing," he remains opposed to zoning, saying it causes more problems than it solves and that good subdivision regulations can work just as well.

He will face those challenges for two years, then turn them over to someone new.

"My wife told me last time if I ran she'd run against me, and she'd probably have won," Burkhart said with a chuckle. "But I enjoy the work. I like the people. It's true that every decision you make, you're 50 percent wrong. But you're also 50 percent right."

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