Town hall meeting in Elkins focuses on drug-related crime

The Inter-Mountain photo by Brad Johnson Randolph County Sheriff Mark Brady, right, speaks at a town hall Tuesday as Randolph County Commissioner Mark Scott, left, and Elkins City Councilwoman Linda Vest look on.

ELKINS — About 40 residents attended a town hall meeting Tuesday night to share their concerns with elected officials, touching on issues including dilapidated houses, code enforcement and the area’s drug problem.

Five elected officials attended the meeting to take questions from the crowd: Randolph County Commissioners Mark Scott and Mike Taylor, Randolph County Sheriff Mark Brady, Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Parker and Elkins City Council member Linda Vest.

Delegate Bill Hartman, D-43rd District, also attended, sitting in the audience and offering insight and comments during the meeting.

Many of the residents who spoke expressed dismay and concern about drug abuse and its effects on the streets of Elkins.

“The drug activity in my area is getting pretty bad,” said Eddie Mallow, who lives on Gorman Avenue. “We’d like to get that area cleaned up … I hope that something gets done before someone gets killed.”

Other speakers talked about theft from homes, yards and porches in Elkins.

Even an Elkins City Council member admitted Tuesday to being a victim of theft.

“We’ve had a lot of lights stolen,” said Vest, who represents Elkins’ Fifth Ward. “We’ve put up cameras ourselves … you’d be surprised what you see… We turn the pictures over to the police department.”

Several speakers said they could hardly recognize Elkins these days.

“I left Elkins for 40 years and I’ve just come back,” resident Karen Connolly said. “It breaks my heart to see the houses that are falling down, and the people at 2 in the morning … riding bicycles with backpacks. I don’t know what happened to this town. I’m hurt, it hurts my heart a lot.”

Many speakers said they believe the city of Elkins is lax in its enforcement of ordinances regarding garbage, noise and abandoned houses.

George Kniley drew laughter from the crowd with a farcical plan to draw attention to such problems.

“Can I be sued if I put (a couple signs) on my lawn saying, ‘The city of Elkins loves garbage, trash, etc. and the state’s not much better’?” he said. “The signs will be pretty. And there’s so many people who will agree with me.”

Taylor talked about the bind local officials are in, with both crime and regional jail costs escalating.

“In Randolph County last year, we spent $1.8 million to house prisoners,” Taylor said. “So somebody is doing their job. It’s not that they’re not arresting people. And Mr. Parker is prosecuting people. But it also comes with an expense.

“Probably 90-95 percent of (the arrests and convictions) are drug-related,” he said. “If it’s not drug possession it’s drug sales, it’s the breaking and enterings, the thievery that’s going on…

“This year we have budgeted another $1.8 million (for regional jail costs),” Taylor said. “We cannot continue to pay that.”

“About five years ago our jail bill was around $600,000,” Scott said. “So we’ve had a 300 percent increase in our jail bill just in the last five years.”

“I can tell you, the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office, we’re probably on track to answer over 7,000 calls this year,” Brady said. “That is unprecedented. We’ve never answered that many calls in the history of the sheriff’s office.”

Brady noted law enforcement has tried to be creative in fighting the drug problem.

“We have created the Mountain Region Drug and Violent Crime Task Force, which has been very successful in this county,” Brady said. “We have incarcerated probably 200 individuals on the federal level, and countless on the state level.”

Hartman ended the meeting with a plea for residents to stress the importance of family, saying many of society’s problems are rooted in the deterioration of American family life.

Kathy Vance, who founded and organizes the town hall meetings, thanked both the residents and the elected officials for taking part Tuesday.

Rhett Dusenbury, a former Elkins City Council member who is now a representative of U.S. Congressman Alex Mooney, R-2nd District, said he’s been coming to the town hall meetings for more than two years “and this is the biggest crowd we’ve had.”