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New commissioner elected president at contentious meeting

January 05, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The new year got off to a lively start for the Jefferson County Commission on Thursday when newly-elected commission member Frances Morgan was elected president of the group.

Commission member Dale Manuel said during the meeting that he was told previously that someone would nominate him for president of the commission.

With no one nominating him as president, Manuel nominated himself as president.

Manuel lost out on the bid for the job when Morgan, who was nominated by Commission member Greg Corliss, got the position.

Corliss, Commission member Rusty Morgan, Frances Morgan and Commission member Jim Surkamp voted for Frances Morgan as president.

A round of applause came from the audience after the vote.

During a break from the meeting, Manuel said Surkamp publicly announced during a meeting of a local Democratic women's group that he would nominate Manuel as commission president.

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In an interview later in the day, Surkamp said the meeting that Manuel was referring to occurred shortly after the November general election. Surkamp said that after he made the announcement, he changed his mind and later felt that Manuel would be "unsuitably partisan" to hold the commission president position.

"I think it's fair to say the four other commissioners felt the same way," Surkamp said. "Tell him, 'People change their mind.'''

Besides nominating himself as president, Manuel also tried to implement a policy that would give the commission president job to the vice president of the commission. Manuel had been serving as vice president in the past year.

Under the policy, the position of president would be given to the person who has been holding the vice president position over the last year and the changeover would occur every year, Manuel said.

Corliss said Manuel's proposal was out of order.

"I don't understand why sir," Manuel said.

Corliss said the proposal needed to be on the commission's agenda for consideration and Manuel felt he had a right to bring it up since "county commission organization" was on the agenda.

"If you want to call (legal) counsel and see if it's in order, that's fine with me," Manuel said.

At the beginning of each year, commission members typically decide who will be president in the new year. The commission president runs the commission meetings, steering the group through its weekly agenda and opening the floor periodically for public comment.

2006 was a controversial year regarding growth in the county and some say they have never seen the debate over growth issues as intense as they have been recently.

After taking her seat as commission president, Frances Morgan said she realizes there are deep divisions in the county over the issue of growth and has observed how comments between commission members have been "injurious."

Frances Morgan, a Democrat who defeated incumbent Republican Jane Tabb in the November general election, said Thursday she realizes people will have differences of opinion, but she hopes the debates will be civil.

"It's my hope we can all work together. That's my hope and view as we start out," said Frances Morgan, who stood for slowing the rate of home building in her campaign last year.

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