Story by MetroNews Statewide Correspondent Brad McElhinny
CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Jefferson County’s prosecutor has filed a petition to remove two county commissioners from office because they have repeatedly refused to meet and help select a fifth commissioner who would fill a vacancy.
Today’s filing contends commissioners Jennifer Krouse and Tricia Jackson have failed in their duty to perform their duties by willfully refusing to attend commission meetings since Sept. 7. And, the filing contends, they have refused to participate in selecting a qualified candidate to fill out the commission. Through it all, according to the filing, the commissioners have continued to collect pay for their elected positions.
“The Respondents’ conspiratorial, willful and intentional refusal to attend meetings has deprived the Commission of a quorum and the ability to carry out the lawful business of the County,” the filing contends.
The dispute would be heard by a three-judge panel.
The next Jefferson County Commission meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. this Thursday.
The filing by Prosecutor Matt Harvey concludes that by being unable to get a quorum, the situation has 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.
“They have a duty to, number one, attend meetings. Number two, you’re required to vote and you also have a duty to the business of the county,” Harvey said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
The conflict dates back to the resignation of Commissioner Clare Ath, effective 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.”
Since then, Jackson and Krouse have been posting 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 last month on social media.
That post suggested Krouse would attend meetings for regular business if the selection issue could be laid aside.
“We need to reach an agreement allowing us to conduct county business while putting aside our differences for the moment,” Krouse wrote. “As such, I propose that you call a meeting with a limited agenda that addresses all pressing county business but leaves off any mention of filling the vacant commission set. I would be willing to attend such a meeting.”
Similarly, Jackson posted less than a week ago 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 filing by the Jefferson County prosecutor contends their reasons boil down to political preferences.
“Contrary to the Respondents’ claims, the legal standard is NOT whether the Respondents like or dislike a replacement Commission candidate. The legal standard is NOT whether a particular candidate is more conservative or more moderate,” the filing states.
“Instead, the law requires the Commission to select one of the three candidates that the JREC has nominated. That is the extent of the Commission’s discretion.”
Deak Kersey, general counsel for the Secretary of State’s Office, has agreed that by refusing to attend the meetings or move forward with selecting another commissioner, the two commissioners could be breaking the law.
“What’s before them right now is there’s a vacancy on the commission and that section of code says the county commission ‘shall appoint. And that’s the duty. That’s the mandate,” Kersey said this month on “Talkline.”
“If they’re refusing to show up because they’re not sure how to come together and cooperate to agree on how to make the appointments, I don’t know that that’s an excuse that the law provides. I would argue that it doesn’t provide that.”