County officials faced two questions about controversial issues at Thursday's Randolph County Commission meeting - why are commission meetings not opened with prayer and would the sheriff's department be willing to arm and train county teachers?
For the second time since November, a local pastor petitioned the Randolph County Commission to open their meetings with prayer.
Kerens resident Mike House asked the commission to consider having a local priest, pastor or layperson say a prayer at the beginning of each meeting at Thurday's regular commission meeting. Currently, the commission president - Chris See - calls for a moment of silent meditation, during which prayers may or may not be silently recited.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Katie Kuba
Local pastor Mike House asks the Randolph County Commission to open meetings with prayer Thursday at the commission’s regular meeting.
House said he was appearing on behalf of a group of local religious leaders and lay people who wanted the commission to make the change.
"I am here once again to draw attention to the matter of opening commission meetings with prayer," House read from a prepared statement. "The suggestion of 'church and state' is found nowhere in our Constitution. It is our request that you reconsider your decision to not open your meetings in prayer.
"In light of the tragedies that we find taking place in our community as well as across our nation, we need our leaders to seek the wisdom of God for guidance in the decisions they are making," House continued.
House also informed the commission that both Elkins City Council and the Randolph County Board of Education open their meetings in prayer.
At the commission's Dec. 19, 2012 meeting, then-County Comission President Mike Taylor told House that the commission didn't open its meetings in prayer for "the same reason that we don't have a Nativity scene displayed in the courthouse."
"We have to maintain a separation between church and state," Taylor had explained, "and also as a governmental entity, I think we have a responsibility to not endorse one religion over another."
However, after Thursday's meeting, Taylor seemed willing to at least consider House's request.
"From my standpoint, as long as we're not breaking any law or doing anything illegal, I don't see a problem," Taylor said. "But the flipside is that we don't infringe on anybody else's rights or beliefs. It's kind of a balancing act that I will follow in making my decision."
"I don't know that we would bring in a priest or a reverend every meeting," he added, "but it's certainly something we'll take a look at."
Commissioner Joyce Johns said the issue warranted further investigation.
"I don't have any problems with opening in prayer, but we still have to check into it a little more," Johns said.
See was slightly more cautious.
"We'll have to do a lot of reviewing and get some legal guidance before we make a decision on that," the commission president said.
See said he would seek feedback from other commissioners around the state at the annual County Commissioners Association of West Virginia conference slated to take place Feb. 24-26 in Charleston.
"When we were trained, the county commissioners' association recommended that's (opening with a moment of silent meditation) what we do," See said.
House wasn't the only resident seeking action from county officials Thursday. Phil Hudok - the father of Olivia Hudok, the Randolph County student who was banned from attending school at Pickens because she refused to receive mandatory immunizations - addressed Randolph County Sheriff Mark Brady.
Hudok said he'd come to commission to deliver "the most important address I've ever given" about his opposition to gun control and fear that Americans' Second Amendment right to bear arms would be taken away.
Hudok asked Brady how long it would take deputies from the Randolph County Sheriff's Office to reach Pickens School, should a mass shooting transpire there.
Brady said travel time would amount to 35 to 40 minutes and possibly more, depending on the weather.
"Well, you know I have my daughter (Olivia Hudok) here, and she's being homebound instructed now, but her response time to the school would be about three to five minutes and she's got a .357 (handgun) loaded," Hudok said.
"Sheriff Brady, I am asking you to arm the staff (of Randolph County Schools) under the sheriff department's direction," Hudok said. "Olivia's not in school now, but when she goes back I worry about it being less safe if staff aren't allowed to have guns."
Following Thursday's meeting, Brady told The Inter-Mountain that arming teachers and administrators "would not be our responsibility. That would be the responsibility of the Board of Education."
"If requested by the Randolph County Board of Education, the sheriff's office would work with them and assist them to provide any training for any staff that they would recommend," Brady said.
Before adjourning, the commission also:
Approved a motion to give $5,000 of hotel/motel tax revenue to Hillbilly Hardball Classic, Inc. for the coordination of the Hillbilly Hardball Classic tournament.
Approved a motion to relocate the generator currently stationed at the Mill Creek/Huttonsville Volunteer Fire Department to the Mill Creek Senior Center, which will serve as an emergency shelter for that area in the case of a natural disaster. Due to a lack of fire department manpower, the fire department was unable to function as an around-the-clock emergency shelter.
Approved the hiring of a new part-time E-911 dispatcher, Scott Simmons, whose effective date of employment will be Jan. 22.
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