Commission urged to drop out of groups

An Upshur County man urged county commissioners to drop out of two professional organizations, arguing that their workings were shielded from the public view despite tax dollars being used for funding.

Timothy Higgins said the commissioners and other elected officials should not renew their membership in the County Commissioners Association of West Virginia and the West Virginia Association of Counties after their current membership expires June 30. He said the organizations may be lobbying state lawmakers for things not in the best interest of Upshur County and that money is also being spent on ?two-day junkets in Charleston which are paid for by the taxpayers, and it always seems to be at the most expensive places.

“It seems to me that the money expended for these organizations could be better spent,” Higgins said.

Higgins said the commissioners should consider joining groups such as the American Heart Association or one that protects surface owner’s rights before renewing their memberships with the CCAWV and the WVACo.

“I’m not suggesting they are bad, and I’m not suggesting they are good,” Higgins said. “I would request you consider dropping them unless you join other organizations that help more citizens.”

Commissioners, however, defended their membership in the two statewide organizations, saying they offer county leaders educational opportunities and a forum to see how matters are being handled outside of Upshur County.

“To identify these organizations as strictly a lobbying organization is a misnomer,” Commissioner JC Raffety said, noting that the Internet forum allows for the free flow of ideas without fear of public reprisal or embarrassment.

Higgins said those discussions should not be shielded from the public eye because of counties spending taxpayer dollars to join the groups.

“I like to delve into this stuff and see what’s going on,” Higgins said. “I can’t do that. You’re spending taxpayer money on something that is not accessible to the public.”

Commissioner Donnie Tenney, who is a member of both agencies’ board of director, said he would take Higgins’ public forum request to the next board meeting.

“You always have the option to file a Freedom of Information request,” Tenney added.

County Administrator Willie Parker, however, said that because the two organizations are not considered to be government agencies, they are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act laws.