AND THEN AGAIN… Tamara Pettit

……..Is the Hancock County Board of Education doing the right thing by using outside legal counsel?  Board  President Dan Kaser asked Superintendent Dawn Petrovich to explain to those in attendance the duties of the Board at the last meeting.   Petrovich addressed the use of an outside legal firm rather than the Hancock County Prosecutor’s Office in her presentation and cited the applicable sections of the State Code.   I fully understand the Board’s statutory authority to hire outside legal counsel.  To me, that is not the issue.  I disagree with not using an assistant prosecutor for the day-to-day issues which would include having an attorney present at the Board meetings.     Assistant Prosecutor Mike Lucas attends every County Commission meeting.   New Cumberland City Solicitor Kevin Pearl is present at every City Council meeting and while I don’t attend their meetings, I believe City Solicitor Vince Gurrera attends Weirton City Council meetings.   Every Committee meeting in the Legislature has the staff attorney present when any action is taken.  Why, would the Board of Education which addresses some complicated issues not have an attorney present at their meetings to advise them?

………Here’s where I believe the Board went astray.   For many years,  Attorney William Fahey served as Assistant Prosecutor and was assigned to the Board of Education. Fahey  was in attendance at every Board meeting.      If Fahey thought there was an issue beyond his expertise, he would recommend the Board  hire outside legal counsel.

…..Upon  Fahey’s unexpected death in 2014,  Assistant Prosecutor David Cross was assigned to the Board.  Cross was initially being paid through the Prosecutor’s Office and the Board was paying the Prosecutors an additional amount each year for his services.   I talked with former Prosecutor Jim Davis several years ago regarding Cross’s arrangement with the Board.  Davis said that Cross came to him and told him that he had worked out a separate contract with the Board for  $40,000.00/year to represent them privately rather than as Assistant Prosecutor.  I am approaching eight years of covering the Board of Education.  I did not see Cross at a Board meeting once. 

……..In 2019, when Tim Woodward was Superintendent, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request to learn what the Board had paid for legal representation.   I was astonished when I found out it was  $279,292.FY 2019.   .   I was also appalled.   Cross was receiving $5,463.64, but  not being called upon to do any legal work.   The Board was instead using BowlesRice and paying for every phone call and consultations in addition to travel time @ $350/hour.   Cross, however, was the attorney whose contract was not renewed.

……The Board now uses Dinsmore & Shohl, a national law firm with offices in Morgantown, Wheeling and Charleston.     Still, no attorney attends the Board meeting in person or even, via teleconference to advise the Board they are making a misstep; not following Robert’s rules; or making an error which will create problems down the road. 

…….I wonder if an attorney had been present when Petrovich submitted her friend, Sarah Parson’s name for the Human Resource Director  how the scenario might have played out differently.    When Board Member Michelle Chappell asked to see the notes and matrix of those interviewed and did not receive them, would the attorney have cautioned the Board that a member was being asked to cast a vote without the necessary information?   Would an attorney have slowed down the process and suggested  the decision be tabled until complete documents were provided?    We’ll never know because there was no attorney present at the Board meeting to advise the Board.  Would the legal fees incurred to defend the Board’s action and subsequently appeal the Administrative Law Judge’s ruling even be an issue?

……..Three new Board members join the Board in July:  Ed Fields, Gerard Spencer and Jim Horstman.   The first action after the Board is sworn is to select a Board president.  I expect the newly-constituted Board may address whether or not to continue to expend funds on the Appeal of the Administrative Law Judge’s appeal.  Since the Board observes Robert’s Rules of Order, I would think the decision to appeal could be brought back “to the table” for reconsideration.   If so, that would put the Human Resource Director’s position back out for bid.

…..Kudos to all the candidates who ran for office.  I can attest that it is a test of one’s confidence, self-worth, physical and mental stamina to put your name on the ballot, but without those willing to do so…where would we be?

……..Speaking of elections, I am on a campaign for “the right to bare arms” this month.  What the heck, you are thinking, now she’s become a gun activist?   Nope.  What I am is a woman of a “certain” age who protests the fashion dictate that arms which may have  crepey   skin need to be covered.   Those women who are now of a certain age are the same women who burned their bras back in the sixties and seventies, so I think it only fitting we should be the same generation to assert our right to bare arms.