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Judicial panel to hear Nicholas County commissioner removal case

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A judicial tribunal will decide if Nicholas County’s three commissioners should be removed because of their efforts to hire a county administrator.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Davis has assigned Senior Status Judge Frank E. Jolliffe, Monongalia County Circuit Judge Philip D. Gaujot and Third Judicial Circuit Judge Timothy L. Sweeney to preside at the hearing, tentatively set for 11 a.m. June 10.

The removal petition was signed by some 200 county residents, organizer Tim Clifford said. Under state code, he said just 50 signatures were needed.

It alleges misconduct and malfeasance by Commissioners John Miller, Kenneth Altizer and Yancy Short, claiming they’d “violated their official obligations to the majority of Nicholas County residents by illegally changing the form of the county government without their consent and over their objections.”

It claims the commissioners “clearly violated” West Virginia’s open governmental proceedings laws by “failing to post important information on meeting agendas, failing to post agendas, having closed door/secret meetings and making important decisions during these meetings.”

It also referenced a circuit court opinion by Visiting Judge Jack Alsop who’d ruled in favor of county residents upset with the hiring of Roger Beverage as county administrator without a public discussion before commissioners made their decision.

In his ruling, Alsop had said nothing in the meeting minutes he’d reviewed supported commissioners’ contention that they’d discussed and approved a job description for county administrator before announcing they’d hired Beverage for the job, that they’d talked about a memorandum telling department heads and elected officials that he would oversee their operations or consulted the state Ethics Commission. He also said Beverage’s hiring and the duties delegated to him were in violation of the West Virginia Constitution and allowing him to draft his job description and set his own salary was “improper.”

Alsop also had said the commission had, in essence, afforded Beverage “authority that was without limitation or oversight by the commission and thus the commission effectively conferred upon (him) more authority that which is constitutionally and statutorily prescribed upon the commission itself.”

In that opinion, Alsop also wrote that, when taken as a whole, the commission’s actions “constitute an attempt by the County Commission to unilaterally modify the form of county government.”

Commissioners are appealing, however.

Miller denied wrongdoing on the part of commissioners. Because of the ongoing litigation, he declined further comment and suggested questions should be directed to the commissioners’ attorney, Duane Ruggier of Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown & Poe.