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Commissioner sued for libel

March 27, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Jefferson County's IT specialist has sued Commissioner Patricia A. "Patsy" Noland, claiming she said disparaging things about his professional abilities and implying he was incompetent earlier this month on a Yahoo! Groups forum Web site.

A complaint filed Thursday by attorney Harry P. Waddell on behalf of George Privitera, the county's IT specialist, claims Noland acted with "malice, reckless disregard for the truth and/or negligence in publishing ... false defamatory statements" on "OJ -- An Open Forum for Jefferson County, WV" on March 11.

Noland said Friday she had not talked with an attorney since being notified of the libel complaint filed against her and declined to discuss what was alleged.

"There's always two views in a lawsuit and I look forward to sharing (mine)," Noland said.

In his complaint, Waddell said there were 289 subscribers on the OJ forum when Noland wrote his client was unable to help one unnamed elected county officer with computer wiring, "so they had to call a real IT specialist."

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Noland also said the former sheriff had to straighten out work Privitera did when the law enforcement division of the department was in the process of relocating, Waddell said in his complaint.

Noland's comments, which came in response to questions about restructuring county commission departments on the county commission's meeting agenda for March 12, can be read by anyone with Internet access at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/OJ/message/15954.

In the complaint, Waddell said Noland's statements were false and defamatory, and he also noted his client has a master of science degree in information systems, is a Microsoft certified systems engineer, holds a number of licenses and certifications, and has 23 years of experience as an IT specialist.

Privitera is claiming his reputation has been injured and he has experienced mental and emotional distress. He has asked the court to award damages, both compensatory and punitive.

The day after Noland posted the message, she withdrew the restructuring proposal during the commission meeting after failing to win unanimous consent from fellow commissioners to delay consideration for a week, according to meeting minutes. Commissioner Lyn Widmyer objected, according to the minutes.

The restructuring Noland apparently supported includes having Privitera supervised by the county's maintenance department director and placing the Department of Capital Planning and Management, which is responsible for collecting impact fees, under the supervision of the county engineer.

"I'm bringing this up because I believe and I have always believed that there should never have been a separate department for collecting impact fees," Noland said in response to apparent criticism of the restructuring plan.

Noland later noted the proposal to transfer Privitera's position to the maintenance department should not be viewed as an insult, which had been suggested in an earlier posting on the forum's Web site.

"We have a great county maintenance department with lots of expertise in many arenas and our IT specialist could benefit greatly from the knowledge and expertise in that department," Noland said.

"It would be better utilization of an employee and there would be more accountability. Frankly, no one knows what he does all day," said Noland, before later adding in the message she knew he worked mainly for the county clerk.

"... I don't know of any other department that he has done any work in," Noland said. "Maybe some in GIS, but I'm not even sure of that."

She later added it made no sense to her for the IT specialist to be housed in the same department with Impact Fee Coordinator F. Mark Schiavone, and believed Privitera would be more widely used by county offices if he was part of the maintenance department.

"Our maintenance director has done a great job of hiring folks with computer skills as well as electrical and mechanical backgrounds and they have resolved many issues within county departments that no one ever hears about," Noland said.

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