Berkeley County facilities director fired

After listening to about two hours of testimony, council votes 3-2 to terminate Jay Russell

November 10, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Berkeley County Council voted 3-2 Thursday to dismiss the county's facilities director after listening to about two hours of testimony in a rare public personnel hearing.

The motion to accept the recommendation of county administrators to terminate Jay Russell was made by Councilman Douglas E. Copenhaver Jr. and supported by Elaine C. Mauck and Anthony J. "Tony" Petrucci.

Council President William L. "Bill" Stubblefield and Councilman James "Jim" Whitacre voted against the motion.

After the vote, Barry P. Beck, Russell's attorney, said they were going to "evaluate Jay's position and determine whether he has any options."

Russell, who was hired as the county's facilities director in 2006, was placed on administrative leave last month, officials said.

Council members heard testimony from Russell, County Administrator Deborah Hammond, Deputy County Administrator Alan J. Davis, Circuit Clerk Virginia Sine, former Berkeley County Commissioner Ronald C. Collins and former Planning Director Stefanie Miller.

Davis testified that county officials last month discovered the existence of a separate fund created by the proceeds generated from the improper sale of unwanted or "surplus" county property, particularly scrap metal.

State law requires that all money generated from the sale of surplus property be deposited into the county's general fund, Hammond testified.

After officials learned where the money was kept, Davis said about $650 was found in the separate fund, which only was available to Russell and the relatively few employees under his supervision.

Davis said the money was used to replace tools for the department, but also was used to pay for meals and provide financial assistance to employees in need.

"I don't think you, I or anybody (on) this council have the right to ... turn back around and sell something, you keep it and do with it what you think," Copenhaver said.

Mauck questioned why Russell needed to have a "scrap fund" when he had the county's clearance to purchase up to $500 per month with a county credit card.

"We have to have accountability on that sheet of what's being spent, where it's being spent," Mauck said. "And as it stands, we have no idea of A, what came in, and B, what went out."

Russell also was faulted for allowing employees under his supervision to use the county's Fleet fuel card to fill their private vehicles for work-related travel within Berkeley County instead of filing mileage vouchers for reimbursement.

Russell, who testified in own defense, said he believed that it was common practice for several years, including before his employment, to allow employees to use the county's fuel card for work-related travel in the county.

Miller testified that the fuel card was used similarly in her department and it was understood that travel outside the county was reimbursed through mileage vouchers.

In a statement, Collins cited multiple examples of how Russell saved the county thousands of dollars, but Copenhaver countered that it was the now-former facility director's job to find ways to save taxpayers' money.

Collins said he was aware of the fund created by the sale of scrap, which was not sold at auction after being declared surplus property by the county.  

"I told him I thought it was a good idea to clean this stuff up," Collins said. "The money from that went to purchase welding equipment, tools, gauges, water for the employees."

Collins and Russell both indicated employees contributed to the fund by bringing in their own property to be sold for scrap along with county property.

Collins contended that the charges against Russell were not substantiated and were the result of a grudge by a county council member he did not name.  

Aside from the fuel card usage and separate fund, Sine recounted receiving a "hostile" phone call from Russell in 2009.

While not threatening, the circuit clerk said she appreciated the apology she received from Russell afterward.

Davis also noted allegations of sexual harassment by a woman who interviewed with Russell for a county job.

Those allegations were not investigated after the county received the woman's statement, Davis said.

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