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Attempt to oust planning commission member fails

October 06, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - An attempt Thursday morning to remove a Jefferson County Planning Commission member from his position over alleged misconduct was defeated quickly when a three-judge panel dismissed the case on a technicality just as they were beginning to hear it.

Attorneys representing three developers who brought the action said they will file another petition, which is allowed under the ruling.

Eugene Capriotti, Herbert Jonkers and Louis Athey filed a petition to remove Todd Baldau from the planning commission, saying Baldau committed "multiple acts of official misconduct, malfeasance in office, incompetence and neglect of duty," according to the petition, filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court.

The developers say Baldau has maintained that a section of state law allows the planning commission to deny housing subdivision applications when actually that section of the law has been repealed, according to the petition.

Baldau has appeared before a separate governmental body - the Jefferson County Public Service District - and demanded that the district seek approvals from the planning commission for any of its planned sewage treatment facilities even though the sewer provider is not required to seek any approvals, the petition stated.

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Baldau has indicated at a service district meeting that he would vote to deny any subdivision or project that would provide a customer base for any new sewer facilities unless the public service district sought approval from the planning commission, according to the petition.

State law allows for a removal process through a petition and the petition "shall be entered of record" by the court, the judge or chief judge, the petition stated. A three-judge panel then is formed to hear the case, the petition stated.

The petition against Baldau contained a list of at least 50 petitioners, the amount needed to bring such an action, officials said.

On Thursday, Fayette County Circuit Court Judge John Hatcher, Marion County Circuit Judge David Janes and Doddridge County Circuit Judge Robert Holland heard the petition against Baldau.

At the start of Thursday's case, attorney David Hammer, who represented Baldau, argued that when the petition was filed and before any summonses were issued, attorneys for the developers needed to ask chief Circuit Judge Gray Silver to review it to make sure certain requirements are met.

That was not done, Hammer said.

Agreeing with Hammer, the panel dismissed the case without prejudice, which means another petition may be filed.

"It's the correct ruling," Hammer said after the decision was handed down in the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Baldau declined to comment afterward.

Charles Town attorneys J. Michael Cassell and James P. Campbell, who represented the developers, issued a press release later Thursday saying they will file another petition.

"Although disappointed by the dismissal, we are impressed by the additional interest created by the hearing today," Cassell said in the statement.

The hearing drew a large crowd, and the case has attracted interest among people who closely watch growth-related issues in the county.

"We will refile the moment we have 50 signatures on the petition. It appears likely that more people will join the cause," Cassell said.

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