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Planning director to receive chance to state his case

December 20, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Jefferson County Commission President Greg Corliss said Tuesday he would like to give the embattled director of the county's planning department two weeks to prepare for a proposed dismissal from his job that was discussed last week.

Paul Raco, executive director of the Jefferson County Department of Planning, Zoning and Engineering, can then discuss the issue with the commission in a closed or open meeting, Corliss said.

Raco also can have an attorney represent him, Corliss said.

"What we want to do is give him his day the best we can and then move on," Corliss said.

Commission member Jane Tabb, who was visibly upset over the attempt by Corliss last Thursday to remove Raco from his $90,700-a-year position, said that is a proper way for the commission to proceed if it is going to push for the dismissal.

"Definitely, the employee should have time to state his case," Tabb said Tuesday.

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Corliss' attempt last week to remove Raco from his job, which he has held for more than 20 years, sent shockwaves through county government. 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 and asked county commission members what else might be in store for the planning office.

Corliss eventually withdrew his motion after the commission received legal advice.

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 Tuesday another reason he proposed removing Raco from his position is because the county is developing new land-use regulations and he believes now is the time for new management in the county's planning office.

Jefferson County Commission members periodically review the county's land-use regulations and have picked the Kendig Keast Collaborative firm to help them with a current review of the laws.

Kendig Keast officials say the county's current land-use laws have not been effective in managing urban and suburban growth or protecting agricultural areas and they have written about three chapters of proposed regulations.

"We're ready for change. I'm ready for change," Corliss said.

Critics of the attempt to remove Raco say he is simply implementing policies the commission adopts.

Corliss is unfazed by the argument.

"There's a lot between the lip and the cup in how they are implemented," Corliss said of the county's land-use laws.

The issue of Raco's proposed dismissal is on the commission's agenda for Thursday and the item is described as setting a date to discuss the matter.

Another item on the agenda says, "termination of employment - Mr. Paul Raco."

Corliss said he did not know why that item is on the agenda.

Commission member Dale Manuel, who was caught off-guard along with Tabb over the removal attempt, said Tuesday the timing of the attempt is surprising because the county has called for a study to determine the most efficient way of managing county operations.

Manuel and Tabb said the attempt to dismiss Raco is premature because the study is not complete.

"I don't know where my colleagues are finding fault," Manuel said.

Tabb said the most troubling issue in the controversy is that it seems there was communication among Corliss and commission members Rusty Morgan and Jim Surkamp about the attempt.

Morgan denied it had been talked about.

Raco released a statement this week responding to the commission's attempt to remove him from his job.

Raco said he has worked for at least 20 different commission members and he implemented their policies.

"I am very proud of the department of planning, zoning and engineering staff, and have asked them to continue to work through these diversions," Raco said in the statement.

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