Tempers flare at council meeting

PHILIPPI – Tempers flared and threats were exchanged at Tuesday’s Philippi City Council meeting as Council members voted to opt into the E911 addressing and mapping system.

Prior to City Council’s 3-2 vote, members of the public were given an opportunity to speak about the issue. Of nine speakers, none spoke in favor of the E911 system, and some in attendance even offered a warning to Council members about their votes on the matter.

“If this passes, it was mentioned about voting and voting people out that so choose not to vote maybe the way the citizens want,” Dean Springer said, “but I would take it a step further – and I’ve already contacted the Secretary of State’s office to get the recall instructions on what to do if you so choose it to be forced upon us – and get the petitions and force a recall. We don’t have to wait until the next election to remove people that choose to vote differently than what the citizens want.”

“That could be done before the next election,” Springer, the director of the Barbour County Economic Development Authority, continued.

“If the outcome doesn’t happen the way we want, there are remedies that we don’t have to wait until the next election.”

In response to Springer’s statement, Councilman Ed Larry expressed his outrage.

“Don’t threaten me,” Larry said. “I don’t appreciate that. I know I’m a public figure, and you can threaten me, but don’t stand up here and tell me what you’re going to do to me. If you’re man enough or woman enough, then you come to my house and we’ll talk about it, but don’t go to the public cowering behind several people sitting in there, saying we’re going to remove you from office. I don’t appreciate that. Never did. I’ll leave you with one comment – I grew up on the streets.”

Prior to Springer’s statement, another resident reminded Council that citizens are the ones who elect their officials.

“Whether (the decision) is right or wrong, these folks are going to vote one of these days to see if you keep your seats,” citizen David Runion said.

A slew of citizens spoke at the meeting, many of whom brought with them letters that they claimed were written by other citizens opposed to the E911 system. Many of the letters and the statements made by the public argued that their address has worked for many years and that they did not want their addresses to change. Others said that house numbers should not have to change and some alleged that the E911 system was changing all of the city’s addresses.

Council members, however, said that opting out of E-911 doesn’t necessarily mean that their addresses would not have to change, because the law still requires that the addresses comply with the E911 addressing and mapping standards outlined by the state and the federal government.

“This is worldwide,” Larry said. “This is something beyond 800 to 1,000 to 3,000 people in the city of Philippi.”

Councilman Terrence Boyd said the areas that have opted out may have had different reasons for doing so. He said those cities still have to conform to state and federal government regulations. He said that, depending on the city, some may already have had compliant systems in place prior to opting out.

Boyd said he did his homework on the matter and that his opinion has shifted multiple times in favor of E911, against it and back again. On Tuesday he voted in favor of opting into the E911 system, along with Larry and Councilman John Green. Council members Barbara Bryan and Jeff Allen voted against the measure.

“I think it was an unnecessary change,” Allen said. “If 40-some other cities have opted out of it, I just think we should have also.”

Although Mayor Jerry Mouser didn’t vote on the matter, he wanted the public to know where he stood.

“We are elected to serve the people,” Mouser said and then cited the Declaration of Independence. “Serve the people by the will of the people… we do not decide for the people. The majority of the people do not want their addresses changed.

“I stand by that. I cannot vote, but I support that.”

Larry said the E911 addressing and mapping project actually started in 1997 and was put into effect in 2004.

Allen – who said he was a council member when a speaker first brought the matter to the attention of the Council in 2007 – said that what Council was told about the system was exactly what Council wanted to hear. He said Council was told that the house numbers would not change.

He said Council was given 120 days to opt in or opt out of the system, but that no official vote was taken. Council didn’t argue against the system because of the members’ impressions that the system would not change already compliant addresses, he added.

“The 120-day thing kept getting thrown out there,” Allen said. “Well, the way it was thrown out there at that time was just exactly the way the city wanted at that time… now all at once you have someone, I feel, throw a blanket over it and just change everything.”

He said the people of Philippi who are speaking out against the system are wanting the same thing that Council wanted originally.

“Since we have voted to do it, we’re going to make the change and move on,” Allen said, adding that City Manager Karen Weaver will contact the post office to request that citizens’ letters giving a notice of their address changes be released.

During the months that officials were indecisive about the E911 system and seeking additional information, the Barbour County Office of Emergency management was told not to continue with the addressing and mapping in Philippi.

Notification letters that would have been mailed to citizens were instead held as the city and its citizens waited for an official vote.

Controversy continued after the meeting had adjourned, when Mouser accused several council members of ethics violations. Mouser alleged that three council members – Larry, Boyd and Green – were possibly having a private meeting after the official meeting. He said the three had gotten together after the meeting to talk.

“If you have three councilman discussing city business, that’s a meeting,” Mouser said, insisting that it was a violation of the code of ethics.

Contact Melissa Toothman by email at mtoothman@theintermountain.com.