Gooden, Berkeley County assessor, dies

February 19, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Preston B. Gooden, Berkeley County's assessor and former sheriff, died early Thursday, officials said.

He was 69.

Gooden's death was announced Thursday morning at the Berkeley County Commission meeting, where a moment of silence was observed in his memory.

Commission President Ronald K. Collins said he was notified Thursday about 7:30 a.m. that Gooden had passed away, apparently from a heart ailment. Gooden was not at his office Wednesday because he was not feeling well, according to county officials.

He was a "great defender of the citizens of this county," Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield said Thursday after Gooden's chief deputy, Patsy Kilmer, reviewed routine assessment corrections and property consolidations with the commission in Gooden's absence.


"He would be willing to do anything he could (for you)," Kilmer said. "He was very good to us."

Gooden, of Martinsburg, was re-elected in November to a second four-year term as assessor. A Republican, he defeated Larry Hess in the 2004 general election and ran unopposed in 2008.

He worked for 20 years as a West Virginia State Police trooper, then served as Berkeley County sheriff from 1989 to 1996.

"He was a pretty stern, strict sheriff," said current Sheriff Kenneth M. "Kenny" Lemaster Jr., who was a criminal investigator in the department during Gooden's tenure.

Lemaster said he learned a lot about state code while working under Gooden, who loved to read it.

County Administrator Deborah Hammond said Gooden was a "strict constitutionalist, by the book, that's for sure."

Hammond told Kilmer grief counselors would be available, and the commission agreed to allow the assessor's office to close for Gooden's funeral service. Arrangements were not announced Thursday.

In 2007, Gooden successfully sued the county commission in Circuit Court over his authority to set salaries, and 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes ordered the commission to pay Gooden's attorneys $29,433.50 last year.

"Yes, we had our battles," Collins recalled Thursday after the meeting. "But we were friends. He never carried a grudge ... I never had a problem talking to Preston. He would be open to what I had to say."

Last week, Gooden told the commission during his budget presentation he wasn't going to fight with them over his spending plan, but expected his office to be adequately funded.

Collins credited Gooden for making "tremendous strides" in property assessments, particularly with educating his employees, getting property added to the tax books and other advancements such as the GIS project.

"All of his actions were for the betterment of Berkeley County," Stubblefield said.

"He was a very positive individual. That's how he lived his life," said Gooden's son-in-law, Roger Kirkbride. "He was a straight shooter ... a very honorable man."

Gooden is survived by his wife, Barbara.

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