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Jefferson County backs off on Surkamp removal

November 02, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The Jefferson County Commission on Thursday abandoned exploring options to remove Commissioner Jim Surkamp from office, saying it is an issue that the voters should decide and that it poses possible legal problems.

Commissioner Greg Corliss' proposal to consider removal options came after a number of controversies over how Surkamp has interacted with county officials and made comments about county programs.

Among the incidents are allegations that Surkamp became "verbally aggressive" with the county's director of maintenance, 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 wanted the commission to seek clarification if a state law can be used to remove public officers for misconduct, malfeasance or neglect of duty.

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

The commissioners had some issues with Corliss' idea and they detailed their concerns again Thursday.

Commissioner Dale Manuel said voters put the commissioners in office and only voters should be allowed to remove members.

But Manuel said he hopes Corliss' move is a "wake-up call" to Surkamp.

Surkamp was argumentative in last week's meeting when the commissioners discussed his actions, but he was quiet during Thursday's meeting.

Commissioner Rusty Morgan said he believes voters should decide what Surkamp's future role will be.

"I think he's been a complete jerk at times, but it doesn't rise to the level of criminality," Morgan said.

"He belongs to the public and the voters," Morgan said.

Commission President Frances Morgan said she was concerned about any removal proceedings because bringing the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney's office into the issue could raise ethical questions "of great magnitude."

One possible ethical problem is having the prosecuting attorney's office - which represents the commission - taking action against one member, Frances Morgan said.

Corliss said he wanted 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.

Corliss defended his proposal Thursday, saying suggestions that Surkamp's behavior is not bad is "ignoring the obvious."

Surkamp did receive some support Thursday, including one area resident who told the commissioners that the criticism of Surkamp had troubled him and will cause him to watch the commission more closely.

When Surkamp has raised issues, he "got a little bull's-eye drawn on him in the media," and that is not fair, said Ed Hazarowitz.

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