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Surkamp slammed by county colleagues

October 19, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - Jefferson County Commissioner Jim Surkamp drew criticism again Thursday from his fellow commissioners over comments Surkamp said he made a week ago about two lawyers.

Surkamp said the controversy centered around a discussion in a closed-door meeting about the "Baldau matter."

Todd Baldau is a member of the Jefferson County Planning Commission who recently withstood a legal attempt to remove him from his position.

Surkamp said the case was being discussed and he wanted attorney Dave Hammer in the room because Hammer was familiar with the case.

Surkamp said the county's attorney would not allow Hammer to be present and Surkamp said the discussion boiled down to one attorney being better than another.

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As a result of the comments, Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson told the commissioners Thursday he was reassigning Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Brandon Sims, who has represented the commission.

Thompson said he decided to change Sims' job after she asked for a change following Surkamp's comment during the Oct. 11 meeting.

"You can deal with it. It was very troubling to that person," Thompson said.

That set off a round of criticism of Surkamp, who has often been at the center of controversy since he was elected. Commissioners have been concerned about how Surkamp has argued with county officials, made erroneous comments about county programs and staff, and at one time became verbally aggressive with a county employee.

Commissioner Greg Corliss said Thursday that Surkamp's comments about the Baldau case creates "another mud puddle for us to walk through."

"If you were one of my sixth-graders, you would have been timed out," said Commissioner Dale Manuel, a retired county teacher.

"You crossed the line. You continuously cross the line. You do not have decorum," Manuel said.

"That's enough," Commission President Frances Morgan said.

"That's right, it's enough. Mud puddles, fifth-graders. That's enough," Surkamp said.

Morgan banged her gavel several times during the discussion in an attempt to bring order to the meeting. When the issue came up initially, the commissioners argued about the matter and Morgan banged her gavel and called for a 10-minute break.

The commissioners argued about the issue again later in the meeting.

Corliss expressed concern about how the situation affects the commission's legal counsel, and Surkamp said he supports looking for an outside attorney.

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