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Action called 'vendetta' against county official

September 07, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - Controversy swirled around Thursday's Jefferson County Commission meeting when the commissioners took offense to what they said appeared to be a "vendetta" against County Administrator Leslie Smith.

The discussion stemmed from six agenda items that Commissioner Jim Surkamp put on the agenda, Commissioner Greg Corliss said.

The agenda items dealt with issues including a purported $38,000 discrepancy between official video lottery money sent to the county from the state and the amount recorded in a general fund statement.

The other issues involved who has privileged access to information on county computers and matters relating to efforts to improve water service on Blue Ridge Mountain.

The agenda items mentioned attempt to "task" or "order" Smith to perform various duties.

Corliss said the agenda items appeared to be a vendetta against Smith, and said they were a "waste of our time."

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Commissioner Dale Manuel and Commission President Frances Morgan also raised concerns about the agenda items, and Commissioner Rusty Morgan said he was "totally amazed" at them.

"I guess we can't take two weeks off again," said Rusty Morgan, referring to the commission's decision not to meet last week.

Surkamp defended the agenda items, saying the discrepancy in video lottery money, for example, is an important issue.

Surkamp said there was no vendetta against anyone.

"It's about taking responsibility for what we're responsible for," Surkamp said.

Smith sat in front of the commission during the discussion, but did not comment.

The commission finally decided to remove the items from the agenda, with Surkamp voting no.

The debate became loud at times, with Frances Morgan banging her gavel and saying "Mister Surkamp" as she tried to gain control of the meeting.

Corliss said after the meeting that he is troubled by such items being placed on the agenda because they hurt the image of county government and the people working for it.

Corliss called them "dumb agenda items. It ticks me off," he said.

Corliss said the commission is talking about ways to control what discussion items are placed on the agenda.

It's not the first time that Surkamp has been at the center of controversy.

Earlier this year, the director of maintenance for Jefferson County government told the commission that one of the commissioners acted in a threatening manner toward him.

Bill Polk said the commissioner "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 Surkamp became "verbally aggressive" with Polk in a parking lot behind the sheriff's department on Washington Street.

About two years ago, Corliss said he wanted to determine what government bodies can do to control disruptive behavior following a Jefferson County Development Authority meeting where Surkamp argued with officials and pointed his finger at them.

Also in 2005, former Jefferson County Assistant Prosecutor J. Michael Cassell lashed out at Surkamp after Surkamp placed an item on the commissioners agenda that referred to "legal ethics" and Cassell.

Surkamp said after the meeting that he put the issue on the agenda because he had a "procedural question" to ask about the matter.

Surkamp said there was "nothing incendiary" about his intent.

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