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Berkeley County backs plan to hire electrical inspector

March 01, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court in Martinsburg against Berkeley County government's top engineer has prompted county leaders to approve a plan to hire an electrical inspector for construction projects.

Scheduled for trial Sept. 16, the lawsuit filed against William J. "Bucky" Teach by attorneys Linda Gutsell and John Yoder claims their client, an electrical contractor, was abruptly suspended without notice by the county engineer from doing work for the county and not afforded the opportunity to respond.

"Our main issue is whether (our client, Charles N. Smith Jr., was) entitled to a hearing," Yoder said in an interview last week.

"Defendant Teach, in effect, operated as prosecutor, judge, and jury in this matter, in suspending the privileges of plaintiff Smith without any notice of charges and by suspending his privileges without any opportunity to be heard and without providing plaintiff any appeal rights," the attorneys wrote in their complaint.

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Smith's counsel asserted that only the West Virginia state fire marshal had the authority to suspend or revoke electrical inspection certificates of certified West Virginia electrical inspectors such as Smith, and Teach was without authority or jurisdiction to suspend their client's electrical inspection privileges.

Smith's attorneys have asked for a jury trial, and are seeking damages stemming from their client's license suspension, attorney fees and costs.

Norwood Bentley, legal counsel for the Berkeley County Commission, told the commission on Feb. 21 that retaining a contracting firm to complete electrical inspections would not remove the potential from impropriety.

"From a legal standpoint, I think (the inspectors) need to be hired and that they only be accountable to us," Bentley said.

Electrical inspections currently are paid by the contractor or the homeowner, a scenario Teach told the commission that left some question by the public as to whether the work is being done properly.

Though facing a budget crunch, Teach told the commission that the hiring of an electrical inspector could be paid for with the collection of a fee that has been charged by the private contractors who were retained for county services.

In a memo to the commission, Teach acknowledged the pending legal matter, and calculated the county could have collected $140,000 in electrical inspection fees from last year's work. The work would cover the cost of an additional employee paid $45,000, plus benefits, a vehicle and gas, he said.

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