Elkins Council learns about open meetings

The executive director of the West Virginia Ethics Commission gave Elkins City Council an hour-long seminar on open meetings and ethics laws during Thursday’s meeting.

C. Joan Parker was invited to come to Elkins and speak because City Council has recently added three new councilmen, Mayor Van Broughton said during a break in the meeting.

“We just want to make sure we’re doing everything the right way,” Broughton said.

Lonnie E. Randall, First Ward, and Mitch Marstiller, Second Ward, won office during March’s city election, while Gene Ochsendorf was appointed last month to fill Broughton’s former Second Ward seat.

Parker told City Council the Ethics Commission is there to help elected officials.

“We believe that an educated public servant is less likely to violate” laws regarding ethics and open meetings, she said.

However, the Ethics Commission also investigates complaints. Parker said more than 100 ethics complaints were filed in the state last year.

Officials who violate the laws can be subject to public reprimand, including a fine of up to $5,000 per offense, Parker said. Violaters can also be ordered to pay restitution.

Parker said the Ethics Commission has the ability to recommend that an official be removed from office or fired; however, the Commission does not have the authority to remove or fire any officials.

She also warned that officials who intentionally violate the Open Meetings Law can be prosecuted. Even unintentionally violating the law can lead to officials being sued, she said.

“The point is, the public has a right to know what business is being done in public,” Parker said. “You want to avoid even the appearance that you’re conducting business behind closed doors.”

Broughton thanked Parker for her presentation.

Also during Thursday’s meeting:

  • Council went into executive session for about 35 minutes to discuss the possible purchase of the former Elkins National Guard Armory.

After Council returned, Broughton said no action was taken during the session.

The construction of the new $15.5 million Armed Forces Reserve Center, located just off Corridor H near Belington, has made the old Armory obsolete. In January, a feasibility study, initiated by the RCDA, was presented to local agencies to provide information on the costs of maintaining and upgrading the building.

Elkins City Council, the Randolph County Commission, the Randolph County Development Authority and the Mountain State Forest Festival board of directors have been working together on the issue.

The next Elkins City Council meeting will be June 17 at 7 p.m. at Elkins City Hall.