PARKERSBURG - Proposed agenda and meeting procedure changes for the Wood County Commission will now be forwarded to the West Virginia Ethics Commission for review and suggestions.
The proposed changes were in answer to concerns over Open Meetings Law compliance and changes in meeting scheduling that was done on a 2-1 vote, with Commissioner Blair Couch dissenting, at the beginning of this year.
Following an earlier meeting with Wood County Prosecutor Jason Wharton, who reviewed the law and West Virginia Ethics Commission rulings and opinions as well as samples of agendas from other county commissions, the commissioners appointed a committee consisting of Couch, the prosecutor and county administrator Marty Seufer to provide some recommendations.
Photo by Pamela Brust
Wood County administrator Marty Seufer, standing, presented the county commissioners — Wayne Dunn, Steve Gainer and Blair Couch — proposals for agenda and meeting procedure changes that a committee appointed by the commissioners compiled.
On Thursday, commissioners amended their original meeting order, eliminating planning and probate references for the first and third Thursday meetings. The order now states commissioners will meet Mondays, unless Monday is a holiday; and on the first and third Thursdays of the month from 9 a.m. until adjournment. No closing time is given for the meetings. If Monday is a holiday, the commission will meet on that Thursday.
"One of the issues that arose was providing for public comment during the meetings. Now a card will be made available and if you want a sign outside the door, we can do that, which will state the public is welcome to come into the meeting and the commissioners will listen to them, but if action is required, that will need to be scheduled for another meeting," Seufer said.
"We've always allowed the public to come in and comment or meet with us. We've been very open about that. We just need to let the public know, if their request requires action, it has to be put on an agenda for another meeting," Couch noted.
Under the original order, the meeting start time was 9 a.m. and there were no time-specific appointments except probate hearings upon request.
"I think we need to give those who wish to come before us the option of having a time-specific appointment if they want to. They should be able to request that," Couch said.
"I don't like getting locked into that," commission President Wayne Dunn said. Couch noted a recent meeting in which an individual waited for more than an hour for a probate hearing to start because she was told the meeting started at 9 a.m.
Another proposed change will mean documents to be considered at the meeting will be available in the administrator's courthouse office two days prior to the meeting.
"The Ethics Commission has said this can be done instead of attaching everything to an agenda, making it very lengthy. This way the documents are there and available if anyone wants to see them prior to the meeting," Couch said.
"I think that's a good idea. That helps the commissioners as well. We will be able to see everything in advance instead of having things come in during the meeting out of the blue," Dunn said.
Under the new proposals, the paperwork to be considered on Monday must be submitted by 4:30 p.m. the preceding Thursday. Paperwork to be considered at Thursday meetings must be submitted by 4:30 p.m. the preceding Tuesday.
County Clerk Jamie Six said the change might cause some problems and necessitate a change in the commission's purchasing procedures, noting under the commission's current policy, they have to review each document and sign off on it." He noted with the new meeting schedule it could be several days before someone's authorized overtime is approved for payment, as an example. "It could potentially be 8-10 days to get approval for a simple small purchase of office supplies that are needed right of way," Six noted.
"There could be emergency situations, like with grants or extraditions that come up at the last minute," Couch said.
"Those need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis," Wharton said.
"We just need to make sure we make the public aware of what it is and why it's an emergency," Couch said.
All "work sessions" will now list all potential items to be discussed. Concerns were raised earlier when commissioners at a "work session" voted on a number of non-agendized items, including allocating funds for several projects without prior notice to the public.
During the earlier meeting with the prosecutor, Wharton pointed out "a work session, where a quorum of a governing body is present and matters requiring official action by the governing body are discussed, are meetings subject to the requirements of the Open Meetings Act."
The agenda for Thursday's meeting will be published by the end of the day on Tuesday and Monday's agenda will be published by the end of the day Thursday.
The commissioners are not meeting on the second, fourth and a fifth Thursday of a month and if scheduled to meet on a given Thursday would not to do so if that is a holiday.
The proposed changes were approved by the commissioners and will now be submitted to the West Virginia Ethics Commission for review and advice.