ELKINS, W.Va. — The Randolph County Commission had no authority to deny the Board of Education’s request to put an excess education levy on the November ballot, officials have determined.
As a result, the embattled funding measure will be brought before voters for the third time in a year.
Attorneys for both the Commission and the Board of Education, as well as the Randolph County Board of Ballot Commissioners, have determined there was no legal reason to keep the issue off the ballot. The County Commission voted Aug. 18 to deny the Board’s request to run the levy again.
“As far as I can tell you here today, it will be on the ballot,” Commission President Mike Taylor said during a meeting Thursday. “It will be up to the voters to decide.”
After the Aug. 18 meeting, the Board contacted Attorney Rebecca M. Tinder of Bowles Rice LLP. Tinder sent a letter, dated Aug. 25, to Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Parker, who is the statutory attorney for both the Board of Education and the County Commission.
In her letter, Tinder said the law firm’s research indicates the Commission had no authority to reject or deny the duly adopted order of the Board to place the levy on the ballot. The board is a local levying body empowered by state statute to call for an election to increase the levy and met all the statutory requirements to do so, she said.
“The practice of submitting this and other orders to the Commission appears to have a long history with unknown origin,” Tinder wrote. “However, this practice erroneously permitted the Commission to substitute its own judgment in place of the judgment of the Board and, more egregiously, the ultimate judgment of the voters of the district.”
Upon receiving Tinder’s letter, Parker confirmed through his own research the Commission could not keep the levy off the ballot. As a result, he penned a letter, dated Aug. 31, to the County Commission reaffirming Tinder’s findings.
“From a brief review of the relevant law, it appears that Ms. Tinder is correct in that such issue is one that should appropriately come before the Randolph County Board of Ballot Commissioners,” Parker said.
Additionally, in her letter, Tinder pointed out that Parker is the statutory attorney for both the Board of Education and the County Commission.
“As such, I will have to refrain from any further involvement in this issue and would recommend that outside counsel be retained in the event further legal consultation is needed,” Parker wrote.
The matter was further reviewed by the Board of Ballot Commissioners, which is composed of County Clerk Brenda Wiseman and one member of each of the political parties. Wiseman said she contacted the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office multiple times seeking clarification and confirmed the County Commission cannot keep the levy off the ballot. Additionally, the Board of Ballot Commissioners can only intervene if the Board of Education’s levy request does not meet the statutory requirements. Wiseman said, in this case, the proposed levy meets state code.
Opponents of the levy voiced their dismay at having the measure on the ballot for a third time. Marilyn Moore is a senior who lives in Randolph County and, while she said she supports the schools and the students, she does not support a proposal in the levy to provide benefits for teachers.
“It seems to me the Board members lack a fundamental understanding of the democratic process,” she said. “They don’t understand that they’re making people angrier and angrier by putting the levy on the ballot time and time again until they get the result they want.”
It would be a different story if the school system ranked higher in the state, Moore said. But even with a levy the last five years, Randolph County Schools perform poorly, Moore said.
“We are near the bottom, overall,” she said.
Sharon Cross also voiced opposition to the levy.
“We have voted this levy down twice,” she said. “They keep trying to cram it down our throats until they get what they want.”
Cross said she does not believe the proposed levy is for the benefit of the students.
In other business:
The Commission approved the first reading of an ordinance establishing a county fire fee. A public hearing will take place at a date to be determined to allow the public to provide input on the proposed fee. Second and third readings will be required to enact the fee. The fee would be $72 a year per residence and prorated for commercial property based upon square footage. It will only affect those individuals who live outside of the Elkins city limits.
The Commission approved the hiring of a part-time dispatcher for the 911 Center.
The Commission approved the hiring of two court security officers.
The Commission will consider funding a new cruiser for Randolph County Sheriff Mark Brady, whose cruiser was deemed a total loss after a motor vehicle accident.
The Commission will consider a funding request from the Sheriff’s Office for the purchase of a server and two monitors for the Court Security Office.
The Commission approved $3,000 for Christmas decorations for the Elkins Depot Welcome Center.
The Commission announced rankings for the architectural companies it may work with to plan renovations of the old FAA building at the Elkins-Randolph County Regional Airport to establish a new 911 center. Silling Architects will be the first company with which the Commission will negotiate. Failing an agreement, VanNostrand Architects of Buckhannon was ranked second by the Commission in its interview process.