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County to study commission size

January 31, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - To increase the number of Berkeley County commissioners from three to five, more than 4,400 people would need to sign a petition, the state Legislature would have to enact a law and half of the county's voters would have to approve it on the ballot.

The commissioners discussed the lengthy, arduous process Thursday morning, and all said they favor starting it.

At the commissioners' meeting last week, Commissioner Steven Teufel asked that Norwood Bentley, the county's attorney, outline the steps needed to increase the number of members.

Bentley said that first, a petition with at least 10 percent of the county's registered voters must be presented to the County Commission.

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As of Jan. 9, the date of the most recent tally, 44,505 people had registered to vote in the county, according to the voter registration office.

After the petition is presented and the signatures are validated, the County Commission must forward the request to the following term of the state Legislature. There, legislators must enact a law, which should declare that each commissioner be elected from a different magisterial district, Bentley said. Currently, commissioners are elected at-large.

Lastly, the measure would be placed on the ballot, where it would need a simple majority to go into effect, Bentley said.

Teufel, who was elected in November, listed increasing the number of commissioners as one of his platform issues.

"You get your greater representation," said Teufel.

Additional commissioners also would cut down on the number of boards on which each member currently serves. Teufel, for example, is the commission's representative on the Berkeley County Planning Commission, Roundhouse Authority, Fire Board, Solid Waste Authority and Farmland Preservation Board.

Although he voiced the idea, Teufel said he will not spearhead the petition effort, for fear it might seem like a conflict of interest.

Forming a committee of those who would like to have more commissioners probably would be the best way to start, Teufel said.

Commission President Howard Strauss said he supports the idea.

"I favor diversity of opinion," Strauss said. "I will be one of the many signatures."

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