Berkeley Springs ready for action after coin flip

June 28, 2007|By TIM ROWLAND

If governance doesn't work well in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., over the next couple of years, they can always blame the U.S. Mint.

Town Council candidates Scott Merki and Dave Duncan finished the recent election tied with 65 votes each, so they agreed to break the deadlock, not with the standard run-off election, but with the flip of a coin.

Really? A coin toss to decide an election? What, was rock-paper-scissors on vacation? The janitor's broom at Town Hall was out of straws?

I always thought elections were to be decided on the issues, not on "I'm thinking of a number between one and 25."


Town officials briefly considered - and these are the type of decisions you must make when you hold a public trust - pulling a name out of a hat. But that would have seemed silly, I suppose, so in the end they fell back on settling the issue with loose change.

Fortunately, both candidates agreed. Or unfortunately. I might have liked to see them flip a coin to see who would be the first to draw straws to determine who was responsible for actually reaching in and picking a name out of a hat.

In political science circles, this is what's known as "checks and balances." Although for the life of me I can't remember where Madison wrote the part about a coin toss into the Constitution. It must be somewhere in the back.

For the record, Merki called heads while the coin was in the air, and heads it was - so he gets the seat. Duncan, for his part, didn't seem to have a problem with that. "He'll do good," he said of Merki.

Well I should hope so. The Town of Bath has a buck riding on it.

To settle the score, the coin of choice was a 1972 Eisenhower silver dollar. That shows a touch of class and ceremony, I think. Using a quarter would have made it seem as if no one was taking it seriously.

It's like, "Yes, we're flipping a coin, but it's a good coin."

To set the record straight, I'm not criticizing Bath's decision at all. The state of Florida only wishes it could have thought of this. Al Gore calls "heads" and it saves the nation $1 trillion and thousands of lives.

Incidentally, for those confused over the Berkeley Springs/Town of Bath conundrum, I'm afraid that, even as a native, I cannot be of much help. The way I had it explained to me was: "The town is called Bath, but the postal address is Berkeley Springs."

Oh, OK. Thanks for clearing that up.

As far as I can see, about the only use for "Bath" is that it makes for a lot of yuks on the copy desk. Editors love to write headlines like, "Council, developer locked in Bath water dispute."

Ironically, at one point there was such a paucity of electoral interest in Berkeley Springs that officials actually discussed dissolving its charter. A lot of headline writers were licking their chops at "Bath throws in towel," but sadly, nothing came of it.

Things may be a little better now, but not by much. I don't know too many towns where you can get 65 votes and win. On pork and sauerkraut night, you got that many people having supper down at the Legion. Walk in with a flag and a handful of absentee ballots and you could be the next mayor. Toss in a few lifeguards at the pool and you got yourself a landslide.

In truth, Merki and Duncan could have asked for a recount, which might have settled things outright. But neither was much interested in that, and for good reason.

A recount would have cost the candidate $300 - which is the annual salary of a Bath Town Council member. Why it should cost so much for someone to count 65 votes, no one bothered to say. I'd have done it for $250.

But $300 a year? I know that people say politicians aren't worth much, but it's got to be more than the per capita GDP of a 5-year-old. They need a raise. At the very least, Merki ought to be able to keep the silver dollar.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324 or via e-mail at You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on

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