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Tempers flare at meeting

April 29, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A discussion about a message that Jefferson County Commissioner Jim Surkamp posted on an Internet chat site about school impact fees and Commissioner Jane Tabb turned into a shouting match Thursday, with Tabb saying Surkamp's actions "tarnish" the office he holds and Surkamp complaining that Tabb was making "distorted and inaccurate" comments.

Tabb said during the commission's regular meeting that Surkamp stated she voted against school impact fees when in fact she voted for them.

Tabb said Surkamp posted the statement on Listener (listener.homestead.com), a county chat site where political issues often are discussed.

Tabb said she worked hard on the impact fee law to make sure it would stand up to any legal challenges and said she was "appalled" that Surkamp made his statement without checking his facts.

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"While you may enjoy skating on the edge of slander and libel, I find it counterproductive, time-consuming and a waste of this county's resources," Tabb said. "Your actions tarnish the office you hold, and me as a fellow commissioner by association."

Surkamp interjected while Tabb was making her statement, saying "I do apologize profoundly."

"I'm not done," Tabb responded.

Tabb said she hopes Surkamp will heed her comments, and she said Surkamp is "putting the county at great risk."

"I am not," said Surkamp, adding that Tabb's comment was "distorted and inaccurate."

Commission President Rusty Morgan said he could see a pattern developing where Surkamp makes statements in e-mails or on Web sites, then issues apologies later.

Surkamp continued to voice objections to comments from the other commissioners, with his voice raising to shouting at times.

The exchange followed another discussion about how items are placed on the commission agenda.

Surkamp told the commissioners he was opposed to a proposal by Morgan to change the way items are placed on the agenda. Morgan said he considered having a committee or County Administrator Leslie Smith review agenda items before they are placed on the agenda to make sure they will not cause a problem for the county.

One reason Morgan said he was considering the idea was because of an agenda item that Surkamp placed on the commission's April 7 agenda.

The item that Surkamp placed on the agenda referred to "legal ethics" and Michael Cassell, former Jefferson County assistant prosecutor.

Cassell appeared at the meeting and lashed out at Surkamp over the matter.

The discussion involved a court case, which is referred to as the Kletter case.

Among other issues, the Kletter case affected the interpretation of Jefferson County's zoning ordinance, Cassell said.

Cassell represented the Jefferson County Board of Zoning Appeals in the Kletter case while he was working in the prosecutor's office.

Cassell took exception to the way the item was placed on the agenda, particularly since it had his name connected with ethical questions.

"I will not tolerate these matters at all," Cassell said during the April 7 commission meeting.

Surkamp said Thursday that he is opposed to anyone reviewing items to be placed on the agenda, saying they would act as "filters."

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