By Jean A. Flanagan
Moorefield Examiner –
The three-judge panel appointed to hear the case for the removal of Hardy County Commissioners J. Michael Teets and William “JR” Keplinger have denied the petition to do so.
In November 2013, Wendy J. Miller, John A. Elmore, B. Wayne Thomas, Ovid Need and Bonnie Haggerty filed a petition in Hardy County Circuit Court to remove Teets and Keplinger from office, to nullify the Special Emergency Ambulance Service Fee Ordinance and to nullify the purchase of the former Mathias Baker Rescue Squad building in Baker.
As dictated by state code, a three-judge panel was appointed by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to hear the case.
At the hearing in March, Judges Fred L. Fox II, Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. and Robert B. Stone bifurcated or separated the issue of the commissioners’ removal from the other two items. They were only impaneled to hear the removal petition.
In a 12-page order denying the petition, the judges ruled none of the evidence presented by the petitioners constituted official misconduct, malfeasance in office, incompetence, neglect of duty or gross immorality. These are the conditions required by state code to remove an elected official from office.
The order individually discussed five points the petitioners made as grounds for dismissal.
•The petitioners contended the purchase of the former Mathias Baker Rescue Squad building was an unnecessary use of taxpayer money.
“In sum, the County Commissioners considered various options to bring adequate and consistent emergency ambulance service back to Hardy County residents and ultimately concluded that purchasing the Baker Building was in the county’s best interest,” the judges wrote. “The fact that citizens may disagree with this decision does not warrant removing Commissioners Teets and Keplinger from office.”
•Petitioners contended the enactment of the Special Emergency Ambulance Service Fee Ordinance and Implementation of the fee was unlawful.
“West Virginia Code §7-15-7 specifically authorizes a county commission to, ‘by ordinance, impose upon and collect from the users of emergency ambulance service within the count a special service fee.’” the judges wrote. “Petitioners may disagree with the implementation of the fee and ordinance, but respondents Teets and Keplinger, and the County Commission in general, were authorized by statute to enact the challenged ordinance and fee. Petitioners’ disagreement with the enactment does not render Commissioners Teets and Keplingers actions unlawful, nor does it warrant their removal from the County Commission.”
•The petitioners contended that Teets should not have participated in the voting of the purchase of the building because of his ownership of 6,672 shares of Highland Bankshares, Inc. stock. Highland Bankshares is the parent company of Capon Valley Bank, who held the mortgage on the former MBRS building.