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Jefferson County official is furious over proposed conduct guidelines

April 20, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The president of the Jefferson County Commission said Thursday she was furious over proposed guidelines on how the commissioners should conduct themselves while in office and proclaimed that she was not going to be "the den mother" for the group.

Some members of the commission wanted the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney's office to come up with the guidelines after a county employee told the commissioners recently that one of the commissioners acted toward him in a threatening manner.

Commission President Frances Morgan said the commissioners should act in a professional manner but she does not believe there has to be guidelines spelling out how that should happen.

Morgan was not at last week's commission meeting when Rusty Morgan and others talked about the issue, and Frances Morgan remarked Thursday about what the commission was "going to get into" while she was gone.

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"I am furious at this," Frances Morgan said.

While Rusty Morgan was supportive of some parts of the guidelines, he also thought the situation had gone further than he expected.

"I think I opened a can of worms here," Rusty Morgan said.

Bill Polk, the director of maintenance for Jefferson County government, told the commissioners April 5 that one of them "got within inches" of his face and shook a finger at him while the two were talking about pay raises and other issues.

Polk would not identify the commissioner but the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department released a report saying Polk told police that Jim Surkamp became "verbally aggressive" with Polk in a parking lot behind the sheriff's department on Washington Street.

Surkamp is one of five county commissioners.

Polk said Surkamp was yelling at him and using obscenities, the sheriff's department report said.

Surkamp then calmed down and said he was sorry, the report said.

Polk told the commissioners he was in fear of his well-being during the incident and said he believes it is the responsibility of the commissioners to help create a safe and friendly environment for county employees.

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson read through the proposed guidelines Thursday, which made suggestions such as the commissioners providing "harmonious workplaces" for employees.

Thompson said the commissioners should only act in public session and that a commissioner cannot order an employee to do something unless the commission authorizes the action.

Thompson also said commissioners cannot act in an insulting manner toward anyone or attempt to injure anyone.

Thompson said those guidelines were based on state law that prohibits such offenses such as assault.

Frances Morgan said it "goes without saying" that commissioners should conduct themselves that way.

Commissioner Dale Manuel said parts of the guidelines give "me a lot of heartburn."

Manuel downplayed the idea of the guidelines at last week's commission meeting and said he knows how to conduct himself.

Surkamp said he thought the guidelines touched on an important point, which is that a commissioner cannot act as a "agent of authority" and tell a county employee what to do.

"I don't want employees to be scared of county commissioners," Surkamp said.

The commission decided to table the issue for three weeks.

Surkamp has not commented in detail about the incident with Polk and said initially that Polk's comments bordered on slander and that the issue "reeks of politics."

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