PARKERSBURG - At the first meeting of the new year, Wood County commissioners voted 2-1 to change the Wood County Commission's 200-year history of meeting two days a week.
According to commission records dating back at least as far as 1817, commissioners in Wood County have always met two days a week.
The commission was meeting from 9:30 a.m. to noon and afternoons as needed on Mondays and Thursdays. Under the new format, commissioners will meet Mondays from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. or until finished. Commissioners will meet on the first Thursday of the month for planning and agenda items and on the third Thursdays for probate matters. The second and fourth Thursday meetings were eliminated, unless needed. If a holiday falls on a Monday, the commissioners may meet on Thursday that week if deemed necessary.
Commissioner Blair Couch was the lone dissenting vote to changing the meeting schedule. In voting for the change, Commissioners Wayne Dunn and Steve Gainer said it would create more efficiency and bring more structure to meetings.
The commissioners used to schedule time at the beginning of the meetings to address administrative duties then scheduled appointments at specific times, but the meetings were open to anyone who walked in to address them at any time they were in session, although the commission could not make any decisions without the item being on the agenda. Agendas now may or may not contain specific appointment times, generally topics or individuals are listed and participants wait to be heard.
The presidency of the commission is traditionally passed down to the next highest-ranking member, which in this case was Dunn. Gainer was elected president pro-tem.
Commenting on the meeting change, Couch said, "Commissioners were elected to do a duty and they need to meet as much as is necessary to get the job done. I knew what the duties and responsibilities were before coming into office. The Wood County Commission is the most responsive to the constituency of any governmental entity in the state. I would challenge anyone to walk in, unannounced, and address any other legislative/judicial body. You can't do it in Charleston. City Council meets two times a month, we meet two times a week. You could come in on a Monday on an issue and we could act on it Thursday. The two-day-a-week meeting schedule is a long-time practice and I think the public expects it," he said.
"We, in effect, are the mayors of the county. You don't expect the mayor to only come to work once a week to do the duties. I like the fact that we are so responsive," Couch said. "I would not be in favor of seeing the number of meetings diminished. In the past two years, we have gone out to have more community style meetings and I think those have been worthwhile," he said.
When asked if administrative staff would be required to handle additional business if the commissioners were not in attendance, Gainer said it would "just be postponed until the commission's next meeting."
The commissioners have stated they would be open to considering evening meetings, but the idea has been tried in the past and public attendance was sparse.
The three county commissioner run from one of the three districts, but are elected countywide. The job is considered part-time. The commissioners are each paid $36,960 annually. Part of their duties as commissioners is to act as liaison to a number of commissions, boards and agencies like the airport, health board, development authority, planning commission and others.
According to Patti Hamilton, executive director for the West Virginia Association of Counties, meeting dates and times are across the board for all 55 counties.
"County commissions are required to meet a minimum of four times a year. For all 55 counties, generally speaking, now, the least that a commission meets is once a month and that is for the most part the smaller counties. The most is twice a week," she said.
Wood is a Class I county. According to a list provided by the association, Kanawha County Commission meets twice monthly at 5 p.m.; Cabell County meets during the day twice a month; Monongalia County meets weekly during the day; Marshall County commissioners meet weekly during the day; Mercer County meets once a month during the day; Marion County commissioners meet weekly in the morning and at the end of the quarter in the evening; Berkeley County Commission meets weekly during the day; Harrison meets weekly during the day; Jefferson also meets weekly during the day. Ohio County commissioners meet two times a month in the evening; Putnam meets two times a month during the day; and Raleigh County commissioners meet once a month during the day.
The Cabell County commissioners do not conduct their own probate hearings. Wood County commissioners do conduct their own probate hearings. In Cabell County at least one of the members of the commission is in the courthouse office on a daily basis to meet with the public, address issues and concerns.
Eighteen-year veteran Cabell County Commissioner Bob Bailey said the commission now meets on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month.
"We usually met every other Thursday, but we changed it to the second and fourth Thursdays to be less confusing," Bailey said.
"The probate matters are done by the county clerk's office. We have two clerks who handle those; they've been doing it a long time. We do sit as the Board of Equalization in February, hearing tax disputes," Bailey said, noting he and fellow commissioners call special meetings as needed and usually conduct additional sessions during budget time.
"Every department head comes before us about their budget requests, carryover and so forth," he said.
The Cabell County Commission also has another individual who handles the bills for them.
"We have someone who arranges the bills and presents them, a clerk/paymaster for the county commission. All the bills are sent to her, she gets them ready, and we address them the day of the meeting," Bailey said.
Bailey's fellow commissioners include one who has served 10 years, while other has only been on commission two years.
Bailey comes into the courthouse commission office on a daily basis.
"I'm here to answer the people's complaints, and take phone calls. People walk into the courthouse and can come in and see me, I'm here every day," Bailey said
The veteran commissioner said he usually is in the office from 8:30 a.m., if he's not needed he leaves around 12:30 or 1 p.m.
The Cabell County Commission, like the Wood County Commission also has a county administrator.
"Our administrator oversees all the employees we have, and makes sure county business runs smooth every day, it's a full-time position," Bailey said.
Some of the other counties that meet less employ an attorney or other individual to handle probate or place more responsibility for every day business on their manager or administrator.