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'Hitchhiker' officeholder moving on

Jefferson County Commissioner Jim Surkamp steps down Dec. 31 from six-year term

December 23, 2010|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • Jim Surkamp
Jim Surkamp

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Jim Surkamp's sometimes controversial stint as a Jefferson County Commissioner was described Thursday by local political observer Jack Berkley, as "a hitchhiker's guide to politics."


Surkamp, 61, of Shepherdstown, steps down Dec. 31, ending a six-year term marked by controversy, a progressive philosophy toward county government, a push for open government and fiscal conservatism.

He has also been described by courthouse observers and elected officials as the cause of unrest at commission meetings, claims he did not dispute.

Surkamp said the makeup of the five-member board was acrimonious during the first four-years of his term. Some members "use to actually yell at me to shut up," he said. Conditions improved in the final two years, he said. "We got a lot done — a new state-of-the-art 911 center and sheriff's department. We saved and renovated the old jail and modernized our county office buildings."

Surkamp lost his bid for re-election in the May Democratic primary.

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In 2004, then a political novice, Surkamp won his seat by beating opponents in the primary and general elections. "They elected a hitchhiker," he said, a reference to when he first came to town in 1983. He did not own a car and got around by hitchhiking.

Surkamp was well known in Shepherdstown for establishing a long-standing grief support group and his knowledge of local history which he parlayed into a series of videos and publications.

As a commissioner, he established an e-mail network that reached out to 4,500 recipients, he said.

Surkamp said he is leaving office with the "county in good shape. We are enormously lucky to have the American Public University System and Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races."

The casino, between slot machine and table game revenue, brings about $1.6 million a year into the county, he said.

Surkamp said he can't point to any real failures during his tenure.

"I worked hard and saw the county commission as a full-time job," he said. He represented the commissioners on the county planning commission and health department.

He said he's finished with local government.

"I truly want to get away from politics," he said.

He wants to produce documentaries on the area's role in the Civil War, among other ventures.

How he plans to make a living once his $33,000-plus commissioners salary ends, "is yet to be determined," he said.

He will get a monthly pension of $370 for his six-year term and is looking forward to Social Security next year.


Surkamp was born at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where his father taught.

"I was an Army brat and moved around a lot," he said.

He has a degree in history from Colgate University and "did the corporate thing in New York City for 10 years."

When asked if he had any advice for Walter Pellish, who will take over Surkamp's Shepherdstown District seat next month, he said, "get us some IT jobs, don't let them (the commissioners) spend $9 million on a new courthouse and don't let them neglect Shepherdstown."

He said the commissioners are planning to present him with a plaque at their Jan. 6 meeting.

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