Surkamp's comments draw ire of commission

September 28, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Jefferson County Commissioner Jim Surkamp was at the source of controversy again Thursday, this time over allegations that he made insulting comments about the Jefferson County Development Authority and "disparaging" comments about the county's corporate community.

Other commissioners complained that such situations slow the process of government and are an "unfortunate distraction."

"I tell you, it's taken the joy out of this job," Commissioner Rusty Morgan said.

Surkamp has been at the center of controversy a number of times since he was elected.

Bill Chesley, president of the Jefferson County Development Authority, said Surkamp made "intentionally erroneous" comments in Internet postings about the programs, staff and the board of directors of the development authority, a government agency that works to attract business to the county.

Chesley said Surkamp referred to many of the county's companies as "tin cans," and added that Surkamp apparently has no idea of the millions of dollars that local businesses have invested in their operations.


"They seem to mean nothing to him," Chesley said, adding that such statements are arrogant and counterproductive to economic development in the county.

Surkamp defended his actions, saying he simply was responding to a question from a citizen. Surkamp said an open question was posed to county officials about what can be done to attract business to the county.

"I did my best to answer a resident's question," Surkamp said.

Like others have stated, Surkamp said he is troubled by the large number of highly skilled workers who commute out of the county and wants to see them working in the county.

Surkamp looked to Development Authority Director Jane Peters, who was in the audience, and told her that not enough is being done to bring quality jobs to the county.

"I will not change that position," Surkamp said.

Commissioner Greg Corliss said it is easy for someone to be critical of government. But it's a tricky job doing it well with limited funds, and county officials need to be positive in how they work toward goals, Corliss said.

Situations such as the one involving Surkamp "slow the process down," Corliss said.

Commission President Frances Morgan said she has worked with Peters on farmland protection issues in the county and has found Peters to be effective. Morgan said she also wants to attract industry that provides good-paying jobs, and the controversy over Surkamp is an "unfortunate distraction."

Corliss suggested the county have a "truth squad."

In a break during the meeting, Surkamp said he thinks Chesley's presentation was an "intense overreaction," and said he felt like he was "filleted" in the meeting.

Surkamp has been at the center of controversy a number of times since he was elected, including an incident earlier this year in which Surkamp allegedly became "verbally aggressive" with the county's director of maintenance.

Controversy swirled at a commission meeting three weeks ago when the commissioners took offense to what they said appeared to be a "vendetta" against County Administrator Leslie Smith.

The discussion was sparked by six agenda items initiated by Surkamp.

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 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."

Surkamp said there was no vendetta against anyone.

On the Web

To check out video of past meetings of the Jefferson County Commission, go to, and click on the "click here to view live & archived webcast meetings" link.

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