Bath council seeks members to put Historic Landmarks Commission back in state compliance

by Trish Rudder

The Town of Bath is making a move to reassemble their defunct Historic Landmarks Commission after being put on notice that group is not meeting state guidelines for its operation, and might not be able to get grants.

Mayor Scott Merki said earlier this month that a citizen wrote a letter saying the Historic Landmarks Commission is not in compliance with state rules and is not eligible for grant funding.

The letter was from former HLC president David Abruzzi, who also sent a letter to the WV State Historic Preservation Office (SHIPO) alerting them that the Town of Bath was not complying with the state requirements for a certified local government, and that “the limited federal and state grant funds go to those municipalities that are in compliance,” Abruzzi wrote.

“Compliance ended in the May/June time frame of 2021 when all but two members of the HLC resigned,” Abruzzi wrote in his July 1 letter.

The state historic preservation office did receive Abruzzi’s letter and said that his statements were correct, according to Meredith Dreistadt, a certified local government coordinator there.

She said before the town HLC would be eligible for future grant funding, a performance review would be held to make sure the commission was in compliance with SHIPO rules and regulations.

According to WV code 8-26A-4 the town can establish a Historic Landmarks Commission to consist of five members appointed by the mayor through an ordinance.

Bath’s HLC had nine members under their ordinance, but in July of 2021, the town council considered shrinking the members to five and allowing only town residents to serve, according to earlier reporting.

Merki asked on July 5 if the council passed the ordinance designating five members instead of nine.

“We need to check on that,” he said.

“I’m almost sure we did pass it,” he said. “If not, we will go ahead to get this done.”

Abruzzi wrote that the council did begin work on revising the HLC ordinance to limit the membership, but “this effort to revise the ordinance was put on hold to deal with more pressing town concerns.”

According to state law, an historic landmarks commission must have a minimum of four meetings per year. Three of those five members must attend to comprise a quorum. But the town’s HLC has only two members left after the others resigned. The resignations came the council voted against expanding the commission’s activities.

Abruzzi wrote that he read the council meeting agendas, minutes and viewed its videos during the past year, and “it is apparent no HLC meetings had been held, nor any concerted effort made to (re)establish an HLC in the past year.”

Town Recorder Susan Webster said she was in contact with the State’s Historic Preservation office and they “are very interested in wanting to help.”

Dreistadt said the town has contacted them for assistance.

“We need to find some people, Merki said.  “We need to get the five members in place.”

He said the HLC members must be town residents and asked that those interested in serving on the commission should send a resume to the town to join the HLC, “so we will be in good standing with the state.”