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Jefferson Co. Commission criticized for lack of respect

October 08, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Members of the Jefferson County Commissioners sat quietly Thursday morning through a litany of criticism from a citizen who took them to the woodshed for their lack of respect, dignity and integrity when conducting the county's business. 

"These things take a lifetime to build and a heartbeat to lose," said Cam Tabb, well-known farmer, former planning commission member and local activist. "It's a trend that bothers me."

Tabb singled out board members James Surkamp, Frances Morgan and Lyn Widmyer for causing the problem.

Morgan unseated former Commissioner Jane Tabb, Cam Tabb's wife, in the 2006 county election. 

Tabb said his grandfather, James E. Tabb, served as a commissioner in the 1930s.

He focused his remarks on the recent dismissal of longtime County Administrator Leslie Smith.

Smith was let go Sept. 24 in an open session at which the commissioners were discussing her job performance during her employee evaluation. 

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Surkamp, Morgan and Widmyer, in a motion that caught fellow Commissioners Dale Manuel and Patsy Noland by surprise, voted to relieve Smith of her duties on the spot.

Tabb called the dismissal unfair and lacking in respect for employees on the county payroll. The three-member majority acted in an unjust manner "and that bothers me," Tabb said. 

Surkamp's hand was the first to go up when Tabb finished.  

He referred to a state auditor's report in 2001 on a tax suspension decision by the then-county commission when Jane Tabb was on the board.

Morgan spoke next, saying that the opinion, evaluation, hiring and firing of county employees "is not part of the public agenda.

"A discussion on ways to restore respect and dignity presupposes that none is there now," she said. That dialogue, too, "is not part of the public agenda."

Widmyer defended against Tabb's attack by talking about the problems facing the county as it moves from a rural to an urban region.

"We have huge problems. We have to start thinking strategically. We can't keep thinking day-to-day," she said.

Noland and Manuel said they agreed with Tabb's assessment of the commission's behavior.

"Everywhere I go in the community, I hear citizens talking about the lack of trust and confidence in decisions made by the commission," she said. "They're concerned about the future of the county."

Surkamp countered, saying the Jefferson County Commissioners are the hardest-working, most-productive commission in West Virginia. He called the commissioners "a leader in the state."

"We're also the leader in controversy," Noland said.

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