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Outside counsel sought for Jefferson adminstrator evaluation

August 13, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Jefferson County Commissioner Lyn Widmyer made a motion Thursday, backed by Commissioners James Surkamp and Frances Morgan, to delay a scheduled employee evaluation for County Administrator Leslie Smith until an attorney familiar with labor law can be hired to sit in on the session.

Commissioners Dale Manuel and Patricia Noland opposed the motion. Both said they were surprised when Widmyer made it. They also said Smith's performance has been excellent over the years.

"She is an exemplary employee," Manuel said.

No one interviewed would say if Smith's job was in jeopardy.

Smith, who has held the post for 20 years, declined to comment Thursday night. Surkamp could not be reached.

Widmyer said the county's system of evaluations for top department heads "is so loosey-goosey I thought we needed outside counsel."

In addition to Smith, the commissioners complete annual evaluations in August for the directors of planning and zoning, engineering and capital planning.

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"I was in complete shock," Noland said of Widmyer's motion. "I really don't know what her agenda is. I'm not in favor of spending county money."

"I have no idea what they're doing," Manuel said of his three colleagues. "This came as an ambush. It's also an affront to our own attorneys."

Manuel said lawyers in the county prosecutor's office advise the commissioners on all legal matters.

"Our counsel is highly competent to advise us on the correct procedures on West Virginia law," he said.

Morgan said the commissioners have not been getting the specialized kind of advice they need when dealing with sensitive personnel matters. She said she has been urging the board since last year to hire an outside legal expert.

Morgan wants the commissioners to hire attorney David Hammer of Martinsburg, W.Va., an expert, she said, in employment law. Hammer has worked for the commission in the past, she said.

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