Wood County awaiting advisory opinion from state

PARKERSBURG – An advisory opinion on the Wood County Commission’s proposed agenda and meeting procedure changes is expected in May.

The commission earlier forwarded the proposed changes to the West Virginia Ethics Commission for review and suggestions. The proposals were in answer to concerns over the compliance of the Open Meetings Law and changes in the meeting scheduling approved at the beginning of this year on a 2-1 vote with Commissioner Blair Couch dissenting.

Wood County Prosecutor Jason Wharton reviewed the law, Ethics Commission rulings and opinions and agendas from other county commissions. Following a meeting with the prosecutor, the commissioners appointed a committee of Couch, Wharton and county administrator Marty Seufer to provide recommendations.

In a letter from the Ethics Commission, Wood County officials were notified the ethics commission had received the request “for a formal Open Meetings Advisory Opinion from the Ethics Commission.”

“Your request will be considered by the members of the Open Government Committee and we expect a decision will be reached during the May 2 committee meeting. As soon as a decision has been made and the opinions signed by the committee chairman, we will send copies to you,” according to the letter from Lietta White, a paralegal for the ethics commission.

The county commission earlier amended its original meeting order, eliminating planning and probate references for the first and third Thursday meetings. The commission now meets Mondays, unless Monday is a holiday, and on the first and third Thursdays of the month from 9 a.m. until adjournment. No closing time is given for the meetings. If Monday is a holiday, the commission is scheduled to meet on that Thursday.

Among the issues that arose was public comment during the meetings, Seufer said. The public can talk to the commissioners, but if action is required, it will need to be scheduled for another meeting, he said.

“We’ve always allowed the public to come in and comment or meet with us. We’ve been very open about that. We just need to let the public know, if their request requires action, it has to be put on an agenda for another meeting,” Couch said.

Under the original order, the meeting start time was 9 a.m. and there were no time-specific appointments, except probate hearings upon request.

Another of the proposed changes will mean documents to be considered at the meeting will be available in the administrator’s courthouse office two days prior to the meeting.

Sessions designated as “work sessions” will list all potential items to be discussed. Concerns were raised earlier when commissioners at a work session voted on items not on an agenda, including allocating funds for several projects without prior notice to the public.

During the earlier meeting with the prosecutor, Wharton said a work session, where a quorum of a governing body is present and matters requiring official action by the governing body are discussed, are meetings subject to the requirements of the Open Meetings Act.

The agenda for Thursday’s meeting is be published by the end of the day on Tuesday and Monday’s agenda is to be published by the end of the day Thursday.