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Commission's gift no alternator, but it's close

December 16, 2006|by Lyn Widmyer

It is not yet Christmas but the Jefferson County (W.Va.) Commission has already provided my favorite holiday gift. By a vote of 3-2, Commissioners Greg Corliss, Rusty Morgan and Jim Surkamp have agreed to pay the legal fees of a Jefferson County Planning Commissioner under attack from developers.

This is the first time the actions of elected officials have cracked my Top Ten list of most memorable holiday gifts.

My husband Ron and his present from more than 30 years ago still occupy the No. 1 position.

I had been dating Ron for just over a year and I was sure wedding bells were in our future. Ron came to my parents' home for Christmas Eve dinner and brought me a square package. The package was larger than a ring box but I quickly figured out he was disguising the contents by burying what had to be an engagement ring in layers of tissue.

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I could barely make it through dinner. I was a nervous wreck.

Finally the moment came to open the gifts. My hands were shaking as I started to unwrap Ron's present. He was smiling so broadly; he knew I would say yes to his proposal of marriage. I opened the box. There nestled amidst lots of tissue was an alternator for my car.

"You told me your car wasn't starting too good so I am going to install that for you." Ron told me proudly. I think I turned as red as the ribbon that once graced the package.

When you are expecting a diamond ring, it's hard to be enthusiastic about receiving a car part. Ron did ask me to marry him six months later. During our 25 years of marriage, Ron has given me many, many Christmas gifts but none nearly as memorable as that darn alternator.

The decision of the Jefferson County Commission to support Planning Commissioner Todd Baldau wasn't swaddled in tissue paper or tied with a big red bow but it deserves to be. I cannot think of a bigger or better gift to those of us interested in free speech and citizen involvement.

As a planning commissioner, Baldau voted in favor of 44 subdivisions plans and voted against five. Unhappy with those five rejections, developers Gene Capriotti, Herb Jonkers and Louis Athey want Baldau removed. They have accused Baldau of incompetence, malfeasance and neglect of duty. A three-judge panel dismissed these charges on procedural grounds in October. Baldau, a citizen planner appointed by the County Commission to represent community viewpoints, owes $15,000 in legal fees.

Lawsuits like these are meant to scare people into silence. Fortunately, the Jefferson County Commission is ready to back its appointees to public boards and commissions. As Commissioner Rusty Morgan stated in voting to pay the $15,000 legal bill, "We are defending democracy.... this is the right thing to do as a matter of principle."

Unfortunately, developers seem determined to pursue Todd Baldau and have filed another petition for his removal.

When my husband gave me an alternator for Christmas 30 years ago, I was disappointed because I expected something more. There is nothing disappointing about the decision of the Jefferson County Commission to pay Todd Baldau's legal fees. It is the best gift of the holiday season.

Lyn Widmyer is a Charles Town, W.Va., resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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