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Attorney: County has no authority to reprimand Surkamp

November 04, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - An assistant Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney said Thursday the Jefferson County commission has no authority to reprimand or admonish a member of the commission.

Brandon Sims' comments came after Jefferson County Commission member Greg Corliss said he wanted to examine what government bodies can do to control disruptive behavior during meetings after an Oct. 18 Jefferson County Development Authority meeting where Commission member Jim Surkamp argued with officials.

Commission members said Surkamp pointed his finger at an official during the meeting and used "threatening body language."

Sims said the state Legislature can reprimand members of the Legislature, but no similar law exists that allows county commissions to reprimand individual commission members.

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Anyone who disrupts a public meeting can be charged with a misdemeanor, but it would be up to a police agency to make that determination, Sims said.

"It would require an independent agency, an independent prosecutor," Sims said.

Surkamp said earlier this week that he went to the Jefferson County Development Authority meeting because he has concerns about the authority's plans to sell a water system that is used for an industrial park.

Surkamp said he had four documents that he believed the authority members should review before proceeding with the sale.

Surkamp said he raised his voice during the meeting and said it was "fiscally irresponsible" to proceed with the sale.

Corliss said Surkamp was not recognized to speak at the development authority meeting and considered his actions disruptive, even though he agrees with Surkamp's concern over the sale.

"I think it was inappropriate for a commissioner and that's where I stand," Corliss said Thursday.

Commission member Jane Tabb said she was shocked by Surkamp's actions during the development authority meeting, adding that Surkamp pointed his finger at Jane Peters, executive director of the Jefferson County Development Authority, and used "threatening body language."

"You more or less implied there would be payback," Tabb said.

Surkamp walked out of Thursday's meeting when the commissioners went into a closed-door session for part of their discussion, saying he would not participate in the executive session.

After he returned, Surkamp said he talked with the state Attorney General's office and was told that the commission cannot compel him to do anything.

On Wednesday, Surkamp said officials with the state Ethics Commission told him that the commission could pass a resolution admonishing him, but it would have no effect.

"It's a joke," Surkamp said.

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