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Commission moves to protect planners

October 20, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Jefferson County Commission members are drafting a law that helps protect Jefferson County Planning Commission members from being removed from office.

Consideration of the new law comes after three housing developers recently filed a petition in Jefferson County Circuit Court seeking to remove Todd Baldau from the Jefferson County Planning Commission, which regulates subdivisions.

Developers Eugene Capriotti, Herbert Jonkers and Louis Athey alleged that Baldau committed "multiple acts of official misconduct, malfeasance in office, incompetence and neglect of duty," accordng to circuit court records.

Among the alleged acts, 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allows the planning commission to deny housing subdivision applications when actually that section of the law has been repealed, according to the petition.

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The case against Baldau went before a three-judge panel on Oct. 5 and Baldau's attorney, David Hammer, 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 complied with.

That was not done in the case, Hammer said.

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

Attorneys for the developers said they expect to file another petition.

In the meantime, commission members are trying to set some controls over any attempt to remove planning commission members from office.

Baldau had to hire his own attorney to defend himself in the recent case and Commission President Greg Corliss said he does not believe that is fair to volunteer planning commission members.

"Who's got $10,000 they want to throw away?" Corliss said.

Under the law being drafted by the commission, anyone bringing a petition seeking the removal of a planning commission member would have to post a cash bond to pay for that person's attorney, Corliss said.

If the party bringing the case fails, then the money would be used to pay for the defendant's legal fees, Corliss said.

Commission member Jane Tabb said she assumes that if a planning commission member would lose a case, that person would pay the legal fees, although Tabb said it is not clear in the wording of the law.

Tabb said she has concerns about how some parts of the law are worded.

The commission discussed the proposed law Thursday and is expected to discuss it again next Thursday.

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