By Mannix Porterfield
Beckley Mayor Emmett Pugh is a proponent of home rule but says the idea needs to be examined during next month’s West Virginia Municipal League conference before a formal application is pursued.
League members plan to meet Aug. 7-9 in Charleston, and the middle day of the gathering is to be devoted to home rule, expanded this year by the Legislature to allow membership cards to 14 cities from the original four in a pilot project.
“We’re going to go through that and get all the ins and outs, and see, and start a determination from there,” Pugh said Monday.
Pugh said he hasn’t organized a special exploratory committee yet, but intends to do so once the Municipal League winds up its annual conference.
“I think that’s going to prove invaluable, because there’s no sense in trying to go down an avenue and find out the road’s closed down there,” the mayor said.
While Pugh favors the concept of home rule, which expands the powers of municipalities, he said, “It’s a matter of what we can kind of come up with.
“The whole purpose of home rule is to make government a little bit easier and give us some tools that we don’t necessarily have now,” he said.
“We’ve seen some of the programs of home rule, like vacant building registration up in Wheeling. They’ve had some limited success up there. I like the thing Charleston is doing with on-spot citations for code enforcement. It just cuts down on the bureaucracy of things.”
Only two delegates opposed the idea in the 2013 session, and one of them, Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, questioned the legality of limiting home rule to 14 cities. She recently asked Attorney General Patrick Morrisey for an opinion on the constitutionality of the new law, contending that home rule should be open to any city that wishes to participate.
Home rule initially was a pilot that covered Charleston, Huntington, Wheeling and Bridgeport.
Pugh chaired the Home Rule Commission as the governor’s designee and was familiar with the original bill, but acknowledged that some changes have occurred since then, which makes the Municipal League study even more important.
“I need to familiarize myself with the whole program,” he said.
“I like it because it is from the ground up. You basically decide what you want to do on the local level and you percolate from the bottom, starting with council, and it goes all the way up to the state level.”
A home rule board would screen applications and decide which cities are to be recommended, he pointed out.
“I think we would have a pretty good chance,” Pugh added.
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