Sewer Board adjourns after heated exchange
A possible showdown between members of the Warm Springs Public Service District Board over the possible termination of General Manager Rodney Hovermale degenerated into an angry exchange of words resulting in the premature end to the meeting last week.
Board chairman Paul Zorich abruptly adjourned the meeting after he and board member Joyce Altomare got into a heated skirmish spawned by the termination discussion.
The Wednesday, December 12 meeting was attended only by former board member Andy Jurick, Hovermale’s wife and this reporter.
The session started out badly when Zorich and Altomare couldn’t agree on accepting the minutes from a special meeting on December 5.
The third member of the board, Mike Jenkins, didn’t vote because he was unable to attend that meeting.
When they got to the question of Hovermale’s employment, Hovermale was asked if he wanted the discussion to be held in executive session.
“I prefer we stay in open session,” he replied.
Altomare, who requested the item be put on the agenda, said she had been looking into all aspects of the sewer system operation since being appointed to the board by the Morgan County Commission in February.
She presented a list of issues she had compiled regarding Hovermale’s performance as manager.
Hovermale, who attends meetings in a non-voting capacity and takes the minutes, said he had emailed his response to Altomare’s list of concerns to board members at noon that day.
Altomare held up a file folder about two inches thick of documentation that she had collected in the last 10 months. She also displayed folders containing the last ten audits of the Public Service District.
She claimed that for the last ten years, the same criticisms had been leveled about the lack of budgeting and proper oversight, excessive special services budgeting and other issues.
Motion for termination
Altomare moved that the board immediately terminate Hovermale for mismanagement of assets, personnel and record keeping.
“You name it. I am not happy with it. I think it is slipshod. I think it is deceitful,” Altomare said.
Jenkins asked if she had discussed her concerns and any discrepancies with Hovermale.
“No. Mr. Hovermale doesn’t discuss with his employees or do evaluations, so why would I?” Altomare said.
“So, because you say he doesn’t treat his employees the way you think they should be treated, you’re not going to treat him the way you think they should be treated?” Jenkins asked.
Altomare’s motion to terminate Hovermale died for a lack of a second.
Altomare then moved to have the board meet with Hovermale to evaluate his performance and explain their expectations for the future.
“I wouldn’t second that motion, nor would I vote for it if it was seconded,” Zorich said.
Jenkins said he was not opposed to meeting with Hovermale, but that the board should first consult with the West Virginia Ethics Commission to find out if they could have a private discussion of the kind proposed by Altomare, or whether the discussion must be held in a meeting open to the public.
The board agreed to contact the ethics commission before proceeding with setting a date for a meeting with Hovermale.
Words turn angry
Referring to the folders of documents that Altomare brought to the meeting, Zorich said, “You are holding up this thing, saying we are a bunch of dumb heads here that didn’t do anything.”
“I have not said anybody was dumb. I think you are slick as you can be. You are one of the slickest people I know,” Altomare responded.
“Well, you just watch behind you,” Zorich said.
“Is that a threat? Was that a threat?” Altomare said and quickly stood up from her chair. “I want the minutes to reflect what Paul Zorich said.”
“Sit down,” Zorich ordered.
“I will sit down when I am good and ready,” Altomare replied.
Zorich said, “If you think that you can get up there like this and say these things that just are not completely tenable, and you make these kind of judgments in seven months.”
Altomare interrupted, “Ten months, going on eleven.”
Zorich continued, “—that will affect a person’s career, without someone taking exception to it, hey, I am not going to sit here and be that pugilistic about it.”
Altomare tried to interrupt again, but Zorich, raising his voice, said, “Listen to me! You go back to your handlers and you recommend to them that you have reached a point here that their mission is unattainable and at the same time hand in your resignation.”
“Not going to happen,” Altomare replied.
“I don’t care if it happens or not, I am telling you right now to hand in your resignation,” Zorich demanded.
“I do not have handlers. I have had no communications with anybody connected with the Morgan County Commission — none. And if you think you are going to bully me, it’s not going to work,” Altomare said.
Zorich made a motion to adjourn the meeting, but it went unseconded.
He then said, “I am declaring adjournment of this meeting until the next meeting, the reason being that the atmosphere is too explosive and we need a time for cooling off.”
Jenkins asked if Zorich thought a 15-minute recess might be time enough so the board could continue with the agenda.
“No, sir, I do not,” Zorich said.
With that, Altomare left the room.
Zorich and Jenkins remained a while longer to sign checks and other papers needing board signatures.