Story by Brad McElhinny, West Virginia Metronews Statewide Correspondent

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Two Jefferson County commissioners were removed from office Wednesday based on their refusal to attend meetings and conduct the business of the county.

Tricia Jackson

One, Tricia Jackson, is a statewide candidate for auditor. The other is Jennifer Krouse. The two were removed by a three-judge panel.

“I am working with my attorney and plan to file an immediate appeal. In the meantime, my focus turns fully toward the May 14th primary,” Jackson said in an email to MetroNews.

Other candidates in the statewide Republican primary for auditor include state Senator Mark Hunt of Charleston, House Majority Leader Eric Householder of Martinsburg and former Delegate Caleb Hanna, now of Charleston. The only Democratic candidate is Mary Ann Claytor of St. Albans.

Jennifer Krouse

Jackson and Krouse were accused of failing in their duty to perform their duties by willfully refusing to attend commission meetings, starting last September. Moreover, they repeatedly refused to meet and help select a fifth commissioner who would fill a vacancy.

Local officials contended that being unable to get a quorum resulted in real-life consequences including failure to hire and promote essential county employees, failing to approve contracts including a security contract for the county’s computer software, failure to release bonds or letters of credit, failure to approve grant applications and more.

“The court FINDS that the allegations of the Removal Petition of either official misconduct and/or neglect of duty have been proven by clear and convincing evidence and are sufficient to warrant the removal of the Respondent Commissioners from office,” wrote judges Joseph Reeder, Perri Jo DeChristopher and Jason Wharton.

The two commissioners continued to accept pay for their elected positions, despite not participating in the work of the county over a period of weeks.

The filing to remove Krouse and Jackson was made last November.  Hearings were in late March. 

The three-judge panel agreed that the evidence was enough to conclude the two commissioners should be removed from office.

“This court therefore FINDS the Respondents willfully ignored this duty, prioritized their own agendas over the needs of the citizens of Jefferson County, and weaponized their deliberate and intentional refusal to attend meetings and appoint a Fifth Commissioner in order for the Respondents to advance their own agenda,” the three-judge panel wrote.

The conflict dates back to the resignation of Commissioner Clare Ath, effective last June 16. That left four members.

An initial attempt for the remaining commissioners to choose a fifth resulted in a split on June 23. Of five potential nominees, Krouse and Jackson favored Isabel Simon. The other two commissioners favored Matthew McKinney.

The tie meant the matter was referred to the Jefferson County Republican Executive Committee to choose three possibilities and present them to the commission.

Once the three candidates were presented to the commission, an argument about eligibility broke out during an August 17 meeting. Krouse and Jackson then refused to participate if the selection process continued.

Krouse posted on her Facebook page that evening that the Republican committee had not provided “three actual conservatives for the Commission to review. Unfortunately, far too many of the elected ‘Republicans’ in West Virginia seem to be either incompetent, self-interested, closeted liberals, or some combination thereof.”

After that, Jackson and Krouse posted statements to their Facebook pages to say they are protesting the meetings by denying a quorum.

“I want to move forward with county business, but I won’t proceed with this appointment the way things currently stand,” Krouse wrote on social media.

Similarly, Jackson posted last year that the commission should meet on basic governance matters without taking up the issue of the fifth commissioner, questioning whether the local Republican committee followed a legal procedure when it came up with its candidates list.

“We feel strongly that the Jefferson County Commission should not discuss filling the Charles Town Commission seat until the current legal matter is decided by the court. We don’t want to vote on candidates who may be invalidated by a court decision,” Jackson wrote on Facebook.

The two finally agreed to participate in a meeting and fill the vacancy late last November after a local business filed cause and a judge ordered the commissioners to get to work. The commissioner finally chosen was Pasha Majdi, a Harpers Ferry resident who calls himself a “freedom-loving conservative conservationist.”

At their removal hearing before the three-judge panel last month, attorney Traci Wiley argued the two were not guilty of misconduct. Wiley also blamed Jefferson County Commission President Steve Stolipher for continually leaving the item on the county commission agenda that Krouse and Jackson refused to attend meetings over. Wiley called the whole process a “legal impossibility.”