Commissioners assert control over sewer board
by David Abner & John Douglas
In a series of moves last week, the Morgan County Commission out-maneuvered the Warm Springs Public Service District board by appointing a new member before the sewer system board could consider renewing General Manager Rodney Hovermale’s contract for five years.
The battle began when the county commissioners interviewed two prospective sewer board members, Joyce Altomare and Keith Bowers, for the seat that has been held by Andy Jurick for the past 12 years.
The commissioners said they would decide at their February 16 meeting who to appoint. On a motion by Commissioner Brad Close, they agreed to interview Jurick, as well.
Jurick’s term ended on January 31, but he could continue serving until a new member was appointed. The other members are Paul Zorich and Mike Jenkins.
Surprise special meeting
On February 3, the day after the comissioners interviewed Altomare, the Warm Springs office sent out an email announcing a special
meeting of the sewer board for 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, February 8.
The Warm Springs board was already scheduled to meet at 3:30 p.m. that afternoon, with a county commission meeting beforehand at 9:30 a.m.
Board chairman Zorich said the purpose of the early-morning special meeting was to consider and approve a contract extension for General Manager Hovermale.
The proposed five-year contract is for an annual salary of $54,184, with the possibility of raises, plus retirement and insurance benefits and vehicle expenses.
The board had agreed at their January 11 meeting not to take up the contract renewal until March, according to Mike Jenkins, the group’s secretary-treasurer.
Commission jumps in
When Morgan County Commission President Stacy Dugan learned that the Warm Springs board had set a special meeting to extend Hovermale’s contract before any membership changes could be made, she scheduled a special county commission meeting for 8 a.m. that same day.
Dugan opened the February 8 meeting by saying, “We are meeting today because of the actions of the Warm Springs Public Service District.”
She called the sewer board’s actions “intolerable.”
Dugan made a motion to rescind the previous decision to wait until February 16 to appoint a new board member and clear the way for the immediate appointment of a new member.
Commissioner Brenda Hutchinson seconded the motion.
Commissioner Close opposed, saying: “Mr. Jurick has served faithfully for years. I think that this is a complete disrespect to not only him, but to the taxpayers and this commission.”
Hutchinson reminded Close that she had only agreed to wait until February 16 because she wanted to give Jurick every chance to speak before the commission.
“I was trying to be fair,” she said, adding that the hastily called special meeting of the Warm Springs board “made me nervous.”
“My reason for wanting to go forward with the new appointment has nothing to do with the employment contract. We have to be looking at what is best for the community as a whole,” Hutchinson said.
She expressed concerns that the board members were spending thousands of dollars in legal fees to appeal a decision last year by the West Virginia Public Service Commission not to allow the sewer system to raise rates.
In turning down the rate hike, the Public Service Commission said that following a rate hike in 2009, the system should have enough money to operate and repay its bond holders.
Hutchinson said that after being rejected twice for the rate increase, Warm Springs board members were planning yet another appeal.
“I feel it is very poor management of the ratepayer’s funds,” she said.
Close said he didn’t condone the sewer board calling the special meeting. “But for us to simply try to one up them, this is an embarrassment for both them and us,” he said.
“I don’t see it that way at all. I think it is taking control of a situation that is out of control,” Hutchinson countered.
The motion then passed by a 2-1 vote with Close opposing.
Dugan next made a motion to name Joyce Altomare to the Warm Springs Public Service District board. This was seconded by Hutchinson and the vote was again 2-1 with Close saying no.
County Clerk Debra Kesecker immediately swore in Altomare so she could sit on the Warm Springs board for their 8:30 a.m. special meeting instead of Jurick.
At that session, board members Jenkins and Altomare questioned Chairman Zorich about the urgency of calling the special meeting in the first place.
Zorich said there was no reason why they couldn’t go ahead with an important item (Hovermale’s employment contract) to accelerate the process.
Jenkins also asked Zorich about sending the proposed employment contract to a law firm for review when no motion to spend money for that reason had been made at a board meeting.
Zorich said an attorney’s review had been discussed in January.
Jenkins asked what law firm handled the review and was told it was Arnold & Bailey of Shepherdstown.
Asked what the fee was, Zorich said he hadn’t received the bill yet.
Jenkins then made a motion that General Manager Hovermale provide board members with a final copy of the proposed employment contract and that a decision on the contract be continued until their March 14 meeting.
Jenkins asked that Hovermale provide each board member with his current job description, responsibilities and salary history, including any bonuses.
The motion passed unanimously.