Voters seek removal of 2 Hardy County commissioners - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Voters seek removal of 2 Hardy County commissioners

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Teets Teets
Keplinger Keplinger
Wade Wade
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By MARLA PISCIOTTA
For The State Journal

MOOREFIELD — An attorney representing a group of Hardy County residents filed a petition in Circuit Court Nov. 4 to oust J. Michael Teets, president of the Hardy County Commission and Commissioner William E. Keplinger Jr. 

In an interview Nov. 1, attorney David Judy said the 30-page petition had a 200-page attachment.

Two of the issues addressed in the petition include the passing of a special emergency ambulance service fee ordinance of $120 a year, and the purchase of a $1.13 million building to house the ambulance/rescue squads.

The originators of the petition have said the commissioners acted without public input or approval.

"We have 700 signatures on the petition," Judy said. "We're going to get them off the commission and make the ordinance go away.

"I was hired to get the two commissioners removed from office.  That is my job and that is what I intend to do."

Judy acknowledged that it's a hard process to remove public officials from office. However, he said, he believes evidence is on his side.

"I think the evidence will show they certainly never had a public meeting," he said. "There is nowhere in the minutes where a public meeting was ever considered."

But Commissioner A.J. Wade said two meetings took place some time in July.

"Over 100 people attended the first public meeting," Wade said. "Based on the comments the people were very much opposed to the ordinance."

Wade said about 90 people attended the second meeting and they too were very much opposed to the two issues.

Judy said the seven-page ordinance passed, but it was never brought up for a vote in a public meeting.

The petition to remove both commissioners claims the two engaged in official misconduct, malfeasance and neglect of duty in the processes used to pass the Special Emergency Ambulance Service Fee Ordinance. The petition also claims there was a waste of public funds, the public trust was violated, ethical violations of office occurred as well as a disregard for the will of the public. 

Teets said in an interview Nov. 1 the ordeal "has been a real mess."

Teets said the problems started two or three years ago when the existing rescue squad was found to have been billing Medicare incorrectly.

"As a result they were fined $1 million, which caused them to go bankrupt," Teets said.

There has been no mention as to why the billing was done incorrectly or who was to blame for the errors.

Teets said regardless of prior problems, the county needs ambulance service.

"They are trying to make this situation worse than it is," Teets said about the petition to remove the commissioners. "There are more voters in favor of the $120 a year fee than against."

Wade isn't part of the legal action, nor is he in favor of the ordinance or purchase of the building.

"I refused to sign the special ordinance," Wade said. "I'm very much opposed to the manner in which it was (implemented)."

"I also voted against the purchase of the building."

Wade said the commission met July 16, and a motion was made to not purchase the building nor to impose the ordinance.

"Then on Aug. 2, a motion was made to buy the building and impose the fee," Wade said. "It passed. I voted against it. 

"That was a 180-degree turn around in a two-week period."

Wade said he didn't understand the sudden change.

"That is what has caused this whole controversy," he said.

The $1.13 million building, Wade said, was designed as a fire or ambulance station. It currently is being repaired and remodeled.

Wade said the ordinance fee applies to households, but does not apply to businesses such as Pilgrim's Pride.

"I think that is wrong," he said. "I also think if we're going to have a means of collecting or raising money for an ambulance service the proper thing would be a levy rather than a fee."

Teets said Wade is against everything that has to do with the building and the ambulance service.

The number of names needed to remove the two commissioners from office is unclear.

"The law says to initiate a proceeding of removal, a petition has to have at least one percent of the voters," Wade said. "We have 4,500 voters. One percent would be 450 signatures."

Teets said the figures are calculated on the voters who voted in the more recent election.