Motion rocks meeting

Commission President Greg Corliss tries to oust Paul Raco

Commission President Greg Corliss tries to oust Paul Raco

December 15, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - A routine Jefferson County Commission meeting Thursday morning took an abrupt, emotion-filled turn when Commission President Greg Corliss tried to remove longtime county employee Paul Raco from his position as executive director of the Jefferson County Department of Planning, Zoning and Engineering.

Corliss' attempt to dismiss Raco sent shockwaves through county government as employees in Raco's department and others went to the commission's meeting chambers in the Jefferson County Courthouse where the issue was being discussed.

Some people were crying and consoling each other, and planning department employees took the podium during a public comment period where they asked county commission members what else might be in store for the planning office.

"Should we all be looking for jobs? Because we all have family," said Becky Burns, an administrative assistant in the planning department office.


Corliss later withdrew his motion to dismiss Raco after the commission received legal advice.

When Corliss made the motion to remove Raco from his position, Corliss said Raco should be let go immediately with 30 days pay, Commission member Rusty Morgan said.

Or Raco could agree to a severance bonus that would give him five months pay and benefits, Morgan said.

Raco was at the commission meeting for part of the discussion, but walked out before it was over.

Raco, who has worked for the county for about 20 years, could not be reached for comment after the meeting.

Corliss said after the meeting that he called for Raco's dismissal because he has had concerns about how growth has been managed in the county and said he has long been interested in reorganizing Raco's office, which regulates residential growth. Corliss said his attempt to remove Raco was nothing personal.

"We just need someone new," Corliss said.

Commission members Jane Tabb and Dale Manuel were visibly upset by Corliss's move. Tabb stood and objected, saying the issue should not be discussed because it was not on the commission's agenda for consideration.

Tabb said the issue must have been discussed before the meeting, but Morgan denied that it had been talked about.

"Somebody knew a lot more than I do," Tabb said. "This is not the way to implement your strategy or your political agenda."

Commission member Jim Surkamp said the commission has the authority to dismiss employees who are appointed by the commission and the removals can be conducted without cause. Surkamp said that the planning department needs "serious reorganizing."

Manuel made a motion for the commission to go into an executive session to discuss the matter, but the motion was defeated by Corliss, Morgan and Surkamp.

Manuel again asked to discuss the matter in an executive session, to which commission members agreed, meeting with Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Brandon Sims and Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Grove.

Corliss withdrew his motion to remove Raco after the closed-door discussion.

Corliss declined to say what made him change his mind.

"We got a lot of legal advice. I'll just leave it at that," Corliss said after the meeting.

Planning department employee Sherry Cole also gave the county commission an impassioned defense of the planning office.

Cole said the planning department office has been a good place to work, and Burns and Raco are the reason she is still there.

"I don't understand. All my boss has tried to do was his job," Cole said.

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