Not Nifty

Monday’s 3-0 vote by the Wood County Commission to elevate Deputy County Clerk Mark Rhodes to replace Jamie Six as Wood County Clerk was, in our opinion, the right and logical move. Rhodes has worked in county government for nearly 30 years, many in the county clerk’s office. He knows that office’s routine and can hit the ground running on his first day running the office. He also was the choice of the office employees. These were advantages the other applicant, Paul Miller, could not meet.

However, it is troubling how Wood County Commission President Wayne Dunn announced the vote would be taken by a private ballot, and not by a public vote by the commissioners. After calling for a vote, Dunn gave each commissioner a piece of paper and told them to write their choice of either Rhodes or Miller, then give their ballot to Wood County Administrator Marty Seufer. Seufer would then announce the winner. This is a blatant violation of the West Virginia Public Meetings Law and it isn’t even close to any gray area of the law.

Dunn seemed disappointed when Commissioner Blair Couch pointed out the legality of taking a private vote. “We thought this was pretty nifty,” he told Couch.

Since Couch said he had not been part of any prior discussion of how the commissioners would conduct the vote, the “we” in Dunn’s statement would indicate he had discussed this with fellow Commissioner Steve Gainer prior to the meeting – also blatantly illegal.

Dunn, who has been a member of the Wood County Commission for nearly five years, assumed the commission presidency this year. It is stunning that someone who has served as a commissioner for that long, and has attended as many meetings as Dunn has in that time period still does not understand the legal basics of a public meeting.

And if Gainer participated in any conversations about the clerk vote beforehand, it shows he doesn’t have a grasp of the law, either.

This is not the first time Dunn has been unaware – or indifferent – of the Open Meetings Law. Earlier in the year, Dunn tried to conduct votes on issues that were not on the commission’s agenda, earning a rebuke from Wood County Prosecutor Jason Wharton and an intervention by the West Virginia Ethics Commission.

Dunn may not be purposely trying to circumvent state law. But he certainly needs a better understanding of that law if he is to continue to serve as commission president.