Jefferson Co. Commissioner to consider law that would oust Surkamp

October 31, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Saying that embattled Jefferson County Commissioner Jim Surkamp "is not the messiah" and needs to be "brought under control," County Commissioner Greg Corliss is proposing that county officials consider state law that could be used to remove Surkamp from office.

Corliss said in a telephone interview Tuesday that his proposal is "not a big deal" and said it could be removed from the agenda Thursday by the other commissioners.

A removal proceeding might not be enacted against Surkamp, but Corliss said maybe the possibility of such an action would have a "therapeutic effect" or "put him on notice."

Surkamp declined to comment in detail Tuesday, other than to say that he reiterates comments he made Sunday about his work on the commission.


Surkamp said dealing with government issues sometimes leads to conflict and he said he thinks the criticism of him has been an intense overreaction.

"It's the very same issue," Surkamp said.

Surkamp has been at the center of controversy at times since he was elected, and the issues have centered around his interaction with other county officials, his comments about county programs and staff, and other areas.

An agenda item for Thursday's regular county commission meeting includes a motion to consider three steps to remove Surkamp from office.

The agenda item, placed on the meeting schedule by Corliss, seeks clarification if a state law can be used to remove public officers for misconduct, malfeasance or neglect of duty.

It was the same state law that was used when several developers tried unsuccessfully to remove Jefferson County Planning Commission member Todd Baldau from office, Corliss said.

Corliss said he wants the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney's Office to determine if the law can be used to remove Surkamp from office.

If the prosecuting attorney's office decides the commission has such authority, prosecutors can review Surkamp's actions since being elected, Corliss said.

Based on the review of Surkamp's actions, the Prosecuting Attorney's office could possibly draft a petition for the removal of Surkamp, Corliss said.

Then it would be up to the commission to approve or disapprove the petition, Corliss said.

If the commission proceeds with a petition, a three-judge panel would hear the case, Corliss said.

The issues involving Surkamp include an incident earlier this year in which Surkamp allegedly became "verbally aggressive" with the county's director of maintenance.

There have been allegations that he made disparaging comments about the county's corporate community and that he appeared at one time to have a vendetta against county Administrator Leslie Smith.

Corliss said he was troubled over a recent statement that Surkamp made about a proposed judicial annex.

Surkamp accused the commission's attorney of a deliberate delay of a review of a contract for the annex, which caused more than $1 million in increased costs, according to a resolution the commission passed clarifying the issue.

"That was the end for me," Corliss said.

Corliss said Surkamp thinks no one can control him and Corliss said he wants clarification on whether the commission can.

"He sort of views himself as above it all. But he's not the messiah," Corliss said.

County Commission President Frances Morgan said Corliss' move is "highly unusual" and added she did not believe it is an area in which the commission should be involved.

Morgan said she realizes "a lot of bruised feelings" exist in the county, but she feels the commission should simply move on.

Commissioner Rusty Morgan declined to comment in detail about the situation.

"I'll have a position on Thursday. I prefer that it not be out in the press at this point," Morgan said.

If there is any attempt to remove someone from office, it should come from the voters, Commissioner Dale Manuel said.

There is a similar process voters can use, Manuel said.

"But it would be their decision. I'm not soliciting," Manuel said.

Surkamp said the commissioners need to remember that about 9,400 people voted for him in the last election and it comes down to "how do we respect Democracy."

Surkamp was elected to a six-year term in November 2004.

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