Bill to expand Berkeley Co. Commission must be amended to get on ballot

February 20, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Legislation introduced this week that would allow voters to decide whether to increase the Berkeley County Commission from three to five members by 2011 will have to be amended to keep alive the chance the question will be placed on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.

Senate Bill 740 was introduced Monday by state Sen. John Unger, who said Tuesday that county commissioners will have to adopt a resolution Thursday and send it to the clerks of the Senate and House of Delegates by 10 a.m. Friday if they are still interested in placing the government reformation question on the ballot.

In a letter faxed to the County Commission's legal counsel Tuesday, Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin and House Speaker Richard "Rick" Thompson said the commission's resolution should state the following:

· Reasons for the reformation, alteration or modification

· The county government's new name

· Its proposed form


· When and how the new county officers would be elected in compliance with state election laws

· When the new county government will become effective

Rather than submit a new resolution, the County Commission could also clarify the resolution it submitted to the Legislature last year, according to Tomblin's and Thompson's letter.

Unger said he fought against the requirement that the commission change its name, but ultimately bowed to the interpretation of Legislature attorneys.

"I don't know (why)," Unger said. "I don't like it."

Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, said the lawyers concluded that Jefferson County's five-member commission was grandfathered and that any other county commission's reformation would have to be renamed.

"They could use the term 'council' ... they could use 'tribunal' ... if they want to call it 'the kangaroo court.' I don't care, I just want to get it done," he said.

Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield said Tuesday he believed voters should have an opportunity to consider increasing the commission's size, a proposal that sprung from the county's growing population.

"I can see an argument for (both) sides - three or the five," said Stubblefield, who, along with Commission President Steven C. Teufel, supported placing the question on the ballot. Commissioner Ronald K. Collins has opposed it.

Collins said Tuesday night that he was still "totally" against increasing the commission to five members. Given the budget crunch, Collins said the county couldn't afford to add more commissioners or pay for additional salaries or needed staff unless taxes were increased.

Unger said the legislation he introduced on the last day to introduce such a bill Monday "mirrors" the resolution that commissioners sent to lawmakers last year and should not have indicated the question would be placed on the May 13 primary election ballot. Though introduced in the House by Del. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, at the last minute last year, the bill still was passed by the House. It died in the Senate.

Fellow 16th district state Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson/Berkeley, later claimed that Unger intentionally killed the bill. Unger denied that assertion and maintained procedure wasn't followed.

Since then, Unger said lawmakers passed a joint rule that clearly outlines how county government reformation requests be submitted as part of an effort to replace what had been a "very vague process."

"Hampshire County is in court on this very issue," Unger said of the county government reformation proposal it submitted to lawmakers.

Senate Bill 740 provides for the election of three commissioners in 2010. The candidate who receives the most votes would serve a six-year term and the second- and third-place finishers would be expected to serve four- and two-year terms respectively as a means to set into motion staggered terms of office.

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