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Pro-growth group pushes for removal of commissioner

June 30, 2006|by RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Correspondent

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Members of a pro-growth group asked the Jefferson County Commission on Thursday to remove Paul Burke from the Jefferson County Planning Commission.

The group, Citizens for Economic Preservation, made up mainly of developers, builders and those with similar interests, are charging Burke with being biased against development and with having a conflict of interest on several planning commission issues, member Mark A. Dyck said.

Burke, who lists a Shepherdstown, W.Va., telephone number, was not present at the county commission's weekly meeting. He could not be reached for comment.

The citizens group was represented by attorney Peter Chakmakian.

More than a dozen people attended the meeting. Only one member of the public, Joseph Coakley, spoke on Burke's behalf, saying Burke was knowledgeable of the law. While he has "feelings on uncontrolled growth," he will uphold the law, Coakley said.

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Dyck said the group wants Burke off the planning commission because of his anti-growth position.

"His goal is to stop development," Dyck said.

The commission tied 2-2 on a motion to seek legal advice on how to oust Burke from the planning commission.

Voting to seek the advice were Commissioners Jane Tabb and Rusty Morgan, while voting against the motion were Commissioners Greg Corliss and James Surkamp.

The board's fifth member, Commissioner Dale Manuel, was absent.

Tabb said she considered Burke's actions on the planning commission "very serious and troubling." She said Burke joined an appeal in a dispute before the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which "is a red flag for me," Tabb said. She expressed concern over positions on growth that appear on Burke's personal Web site that will come before the planning commission for action.

"I'm concerned about what is going on," Tabb said.

Corliss said Burke acted as a private citizen in signing on to the DEP appeal.

Surkamp said he checked with the West Virginia Ethics Commission and said agency officials found no conflict of interest in Burke's signing on to the DEP appeal.

"He is a person exercising his free speech rights," Surkamp said.

The commissioner said he knows Burke, that he's big on details and decides issues on their merit.

Chakmakian, arguing for Burke's removal, accused him of being biased and with trying to impose his will on planning commission issues.

Chakmakian said Burke refused to recuse himself in three cases in which he had an "obvious conflict of interest."

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