Elkins official responds to town hall criticisms

ELKINS — The city of Elkins’ operations manager has responded to criticism that residents directed at him and the town’s code enforcement officer/building inspector during a town hall meeting this week.

Bob Pingley, who as the operations manager is the supervisor for Phil Isner, Elkins’ code enforcement officer/building inspector, sent the following press statement to The Inter-Mountain on Thursday, in reference to the town hall meeting on Tuesday. The complete statement reads:

“As the administrative officer directly responsible for supervising the Code Enforcement/Building Inspection department here at the City I am compelled to speak out in response to the article in the March 21, 2018 Inter-Mountain.

“First, our Code Enforcement Officer has not been in attendance at these ‘town hall’ meetings for the simple reason that I, as his supervisor, advised him against doing so. Why? Because rather than focusing on new ideas and solutions and a positive path forward these meetings apparently offer nothing more than a forum for repeated complaints and criticisms of the city’s process for resolving problems which most of the participants do not fully understand and a man that many of them have never met. Because there are already established, legitimate avenues within our city government for concerned residents to attend meetings, to ask questions and to make their voices heard. There are regular Public Safety and Municipal Property committee meetings as well as the twice-monthly Council meetings. Even easier, why not stop by City Hall and speak to our Code Enforcement Officer or to me personally? We work for, and on behalf of, the residents of this city, and we work with residents every day to answer questions and help resolve problems.

“Second, I am at a loss to understand the value of having our County Commissioners in attendance at these meetings. For members of a governing body that has no zoning regulations, no building codes and no property maintenance ordinances to take a direct role in criticizing the City’s efforts in these areas seems more than a bit hypocritical. I would challenge the County Commission to get their house in order first and do their part to help beautify the city. To give just one example, visitors coming into Elkins on Route 33 from anywhere east of the city are treated to the sight of a graveyard of rusting, derelict equipment right on the city’s doorstep. Doesn’t much impress as a gateway to our city, does it?

“And last, a question for the elected official from our ‘sister city’ in attendance at last night’s meeting: Are we to believe that the City of Buckhannon only has eight distressed or dilapidated properties? Councilman Skinner, I am skeptical but willing to be convinced. Let’s take a tour of your fair city sometime soon. We’ll take a map, you drive and I’ll take pictures and keep track. If at the end of the tour we agree there are only eight distressed properties in all of Buckhannon I’ll proclaim myself convinced. And then you can enlighten me as to how your city plans to obtain tens of thousands of dollars in fines from those eight properties. Fair enough?

“Bob Pingley, Operations Manager, City of Elkins.”

Residents at Tuesday’s meeting and in past town hall meetings have complained about a perceived lack of effectiveness on the part of Isner in responding to complaints about distressed properties.

Randolph County Commissioner Mark Scott is one of the organizers of the quarterly town hall meetings, which have been held in Elkins for the past two years, and Commission President Mike Taylor has participated in many of the meetings, including Tuesday’s.

Buckhannon City Councilman Robbie Skinner was invited to Tuesday’s town hall meeting by the organizers, and shared information about how that city’s government has combated its distressed properties issues.

Both Pingley and Isner were invited to the meeting but did not attend. Elkins Mayor Van Broughton and City Council members Christopher Lowther, Robert Chenoweth and David Parker were also invited but did not take part. Broughton attended the previous town hall meeting in January.

City Council members Linda Vest and Marly Hazen took part in Tuesday’s meeting. Vest is one of the organizers of the town hall series and has attended each of the meetings.