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Martinsburg city councilwoman expected to resign

December 20, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A Berkeley County Magistrate's assistant has notified the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia that she will resign from the Martinsburg City Council tonight to comply with the high court's personnel rules, a court official said Wednesday.

Councilwoman Shari Persad is expected to resign from her seat representing the First Ward in a special council meeting.

Court rules regarding "outside employment" are included in the West Virginia Judicial Personnel System Manual, which is given to employees when they are hired, said Kandi Greter, an information services specialist for the court's administrative office in Charleston, W.Va.

Section 11.4 of the manual clarifies the limitations and a process for submitting a written request to the court's administrative director for consideration.

"All judicial branch personnel are prohibited from engaging in any outside employment that might be construed as compromising or interfering with performance in a judicial branch position," according to the manual. If an employee receives some form of payment from outside employment, they must receive approval from the administrative director, according to the manual.

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Court officials also pulled a 1995 case for review, Greter said.

"Once we discussed it with Shari, she saw there was a potential conflict," she said. "You can't work for the judicial and the executive branch."

"Yes, it was wrong that the two positions were held," Greter added.

Martinsburg Mayor George Karos on Wednesday said he had no comment and did not acknowledge he knew of Persad's pending resignation, which would have been submitted to him.

City Manager Mark Baldwin said the city had not received any official word from Persad by Wednesday afternoon.

Persad answered the phone at her Berkeley County Judicial Center office Wednesday afternoon, but then hung up without acknowledging the caller. A phone message at her home Wednesday night was not returned.

Greter said the Supreme Court's administrative director, Steven Canterbury, was not available for comment Wednesday, but he designated her to respond to the inquiry.

Persad was elected to City Council in June 2004. She took office in July, replacing councilman Chris Baker. She began working as Magistrate JoAnn Overington's assistant on Jan. 1, 2005.

Greter said Supreme Court officials were not aware that Persad held an elected position until last week when contacted about after-hours use of the judicial center to meet with people interested in working for the Berkeley County Humane Society.

In an interview last week, Persad and Overington confirmed they had allowed two people in the judicial center after hours and gave them a tour earlier this year.

"They had expressed interest in the humane society," said Overington, who said the organization needed to hire some people.

Both Overington and Persad are Humane Society board members, but the magistrate said she did not conduct formal interviews in the building and did not have them fill out job applications or tax forms.

"When we bring a guest back here in our office, it's our business," Persad said separately. "We had guests back here. It was after business hours."

State code only prohibits public officials and public employees from "knowingly and intentionally" using their office or the prestige of the office for their "own private gain or that of another person."

"Incidental use" of equipment or resources available (to) a public official or employee that results in minimal personal gain is not a concern to the court, according to an ethical standards code section.

Sheriff W. Randy Smith, who is charged with providing security for county-owned property, said he was unaware of the building's after-hours use when he was contacted last week.

After a brief investigation, Smith concluded there was a breach of security, but didn't believe Persad or Overington intentionally tried to jeopardize courthouse security.

"This appears to be more a case of bad judgment on their respective parts," Smith said. "The fact does remain, however, that there were unauthorized personnel inside the courthouse after hours when there was no security personnel to screen those persons."

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