Berkeley County Council moves to strengthen nepotism oversight

December 09, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Berkeley County Council now wants to be advised if other elected county officeholders wish to hire a family member, relative or friend.

The council must approve most employees hired by the county clerk, circuit court clerk, sheriff, prosecuting attorney and assessor, making members personally liable and subject to removal from office if they knowingly agree to an illegal hire, according to a letter the council agreed Thursday to send to the county's other elected officeholders.

The council's request came a week after Assessor Patricia A. "Patsy" Kilmer resigned after admitting she unknowingly violated the West Virginia Ethics Act through some hiring decisions.  

"In the future, the Council will ask, when you have proposed to make a hire, that you present ... a written statement describing any familial or friendship relationship," according to the letter, which was drafted by legal counsel Norwood Bentley III.

While a state legislative rule outlines how relatives can be considered for a public position while avoiding the appearance of nepotism in the hiring process, the council's policy does not permit the hiring of any family members, according to the letter.

Kilmer hired two grandchildren for full-time jobs in the assessor's office, and they remain employed with the county, Bentley said Thursday in an interview. A third grandchild also was hired by Kilmer to do summer work, Bentley said.

Kilmer admitted in a resignation letter submitted to council President William L. "Bill" Stubblefield last week that she also hired the children of other employees in her office for summer work.

Bentley said no one realized that Kilmer had hired family members. The relatives do not have the same last name as the former assessor, Bentley said.

The council's letter indicates the other elected officers retain the authority to choose the person they believe is most qualified for a job, determine their salary and promote or discipline them, but still must have council approval to employ them.

Bentley couldn't recall an instance when the new five-member council and the former three-member county commission rejected another elected officer's hiring decision.

The only exemption to the council's review and approval of hiring county employees is when workers are hired through the valuation fund budget, which is controlled by the assessor, according to the council letter. One of the two full-time employees that Kilmer hired was through the valuation fund, Bentley said.

In an unrelated hiring action Thursday, the council named Tommy Puffenburger as the acting county facilities director and increased his salary by 10 percent. Puffenburger, who has worked for the county for 17 years will be paid $51,814.  

Former Facilities Director Jay Russell was terminated last month. Deputy County Administrator Alan J. Davis said Thursday he didn't anticipate hiring a replacement until sometime next year.

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