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Officials push for 5-member commission in Berkeley County

February 09, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Two Berkeley County commissioners are renewing a bid to expand the county's governing court to five members, which they believe would help them keep up with the demands of administering the growing county.

"You spend so much time on (administrative) issues and you have no time to plan for the future," Commissioner William "Bill" Stubblefield said Thursday after he and Commission President Steven C. Teufel asked legal counsel Norwood Bentley III to clarify exactly how the county could possibly increase the panel from three to five members.

Commissioner Ronald K. Collins later noted his opposition, questioning why his counterparts were trying to fix something he didn't feel was broken. Collins added he would rather add more administrative support and law enforcement deputies than elected officers.

"We are the innovative county in Berkeley," Collins said.

Citing Article 9, Section 13 of the West Virginia Constitution, Bentley on Thursday noted the possibility of two scenarios for expanding the commission, one beginning with a petition listing the signatures of 10 percent of the county's registered voters and ending with a referendum election in the county.

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Before the referendum votes are cast, the county commission would have to ask state lawmakers to adopt an empowering act for the reformed county tribunal, Bentley said.

Bentley was less confident as to whether a majority of the County Commission could bypass the petition process, yet still be required to gain a majority of support from state lawmakers and county voters.

Teufel and Stubblefield indicated they wouldn't be in favor of increasing the commission's size without a vote by county's residents.

But Teufel later noted that his participation on assigned boards and commissions was stretched thin, particularly with subcommittee work. And no commissioner was appointed last year to attend Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority meetings, records show.

Teufel was at a loss to explain why a petition drive launched a few years ago to expand the commission had failed, but still hopes a vote can be held, possibly along with the land-use ordinance question now expected to be considered in a special election in November.

"The voters may side with Ron Collins on this," Teufel said, acknowledging the county's successes in recent years without the additional commissioners.

Bentley told the commission he would research exactly how Jefferson County's five-member commission came about as well as Preston County, which now only has three.

Preston County Commission President Dave Price recalled Thursday evening that at one time there were eight commissioners, with one elected from each of the county's magisterial districts.

Price believes a divisive vote several years ago for commission president brought about an end to the eight-member panel and effectively reduced the number of magisterial districts to five.

"They voted for weeks with a tie," Price said.

Shepherd University history professor John Stealey said each of Jefferson County's five magisterial districts many years ago had a justice of the peace and its own school system, but he suspects that county leaders retained the representational structure for the five-member commission. There are six magisterial districts in Berkeley County.

"As a historian, I'm not supposed to start with suspicions," said Stealey, who noted that he had not fully researched the issue.

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