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Elkins rejects plan to move event to Phil Gainer Center

Candidates and public not permitted at City Hall tonight

ELKINS — An Elkins City Council member’s suggestion that the city announce municipal election results this evening at the Phil Gainer Community Center was rejected Monday by City Clerk Jessica Sutton.

On Friday, the city announced that, due to COVID-19 concerns, the public and the candidates on the ballot will not be allowed in City Hall after the polls close this evening. Only election officials and the press will be permitted inside City Hall tonight.

On Monday, Third Ward Councilman Chris Lowther told The Inter-Mountain he suggested in an email to Sutton on Sunday evening that the city announce the election results at the Phil Gainer Community Center after polls close on Election Night, instead of having the activity at City Hall.

Lowther said he had spoken to Chris Lee, the director of the Phil Gainer Community Center, who told him up to 75 people could gather at the center under COVID-19 safety restrictions.

Lowther said he received a response email from Sutton Monday telling him the city would not move the results announcements to the Phil Gainer Community Center.

Sutton said in an email to The Inter-Mountain Monday evening that she, as the city’s chief elections officer, made the decision last week to not allow candidates or the public at City Hall on Election Night, and said she also made the decision to reject Lowther’s suggestion.

“Hosting this event at another location, such as the Phil Gainer Community Center, would also not be workable,” Sutton wrote in the email. “This is because of lack of access to reference materials, contact information, and other items that may be essential in the event of any issues.

“Also, having poll workers transport ballots to PGCC and then to city hall–as opposed to transporting them directly, and only, to city hall–introduces additional failure points, opportunities for mishaps, and the added expense of compensating 10 election workers for having to remain 2-3 hours later than told at time of hiring.

“If necessary to comply with a legally required step in the election process or some other essential government function, I would do all of this and more in a heartbeat,” Sutton wrote. “But for an optional social event, previously offered only as a courtesy, it is not worth the added potential problems.

“As the city’s chief elections officer, my first responsibility is to ensure that all legally mandated steps are followed and to reserve all possible bandwidth for supporting my election officials and monitoring the process,” the city clerk wrote. “That is why I must cancel this event.”

Lowther told The Inter-Mountain Monday evening he “wasn’t the only council member who questioned this.”

In Elkins, the city clerk is an appointed position, not an elected one.

On Feb. 20, Gov. Jim Justice relaxed COVID-19 regulations and rules for restaurants, bars, businesses, grocery stores and schools, due to plummeting coronavirus cases and increased vaccinations.

Elkins City Council held multiple open-to-the-public meetings at City Hall last fall, during the COVID-19 pandemic, before returning to virtual meetings in December.

Polls will be open today from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the following polling locations:

First Ward — Church of God Family Worship Center at1402 Taylor Ave.

Second Ward — Mountain State Forest Festival Building, 101 Lough St.

Third Ward — Day’s Inn at 1200 Harrison Ave.

Fourth Ward — Randolph County Courthouse Annex at 4 Randolph Ave.

Fifth Ward — Elkins City Hall at 401 Davis Ave.

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