By Mannix Porterfield
Now that home rule has been expanded to allow as many as 14 cities to jump into a pilot project, Mayor Emmett Pugh says Beckley “definitely” plans to take a look at what it holds for the city.
No decision has been reached on whether to apply, but Pugh acknowledged that Beckley could apply.
“It’s actually a bottom-up process, which is good,” the mayor said Wednesday.
“You have to come up with what you’re going to do. It has to go before the City Council. You hold public hearings. Once it is passed, you apply to the state and go before the home rule board. They would then look at it and say ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’”
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed SB435, which passed overwhelmingly in both the House of Delegates and Senate, but not without much controversy.
“I feel sure that if Beckley would apply, our application would be taken seriously,” the mayor said.
“Beckley is kind of looked at as one of the forefront cities in the state. Even though it’s open to everybody, you have smaller municipalities and for them, it will be tough.”
Pugh said Beckley examined the prospect of home rule back when it was set up as a pilot project and only four cities were given an admission ticket — Charleston, Huntington, Bridgeport and Wheeling.
“At the time, I thought maybe home rule was for cities on the border, like Bluefield, Morgantown, Wheeling, Huntington and Parkersburg, which may have to compete across state lines and for them it might work out a little better than other cities,” the mayor said.
Things have changed under the new legislation, however, “and we’re certainly interested in it,” the mayor said.
Until his resignation, Pugh served on the original home rule board.
“So, I’m very familiar with the process,” he said.
“Quite frankly, there have been some good things to come out of the current bill.”
Come August, he pointed out, the West Virginia Municipal League plans to conduct a conference on home rule.
“We definitely are interested, but we need time to look at it and see the ins and outs and whether it’s in our best interests to apply,” Pugh said.
The bill touched off a furor late in the session after Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, inserted amendments that embraced stalled HB2760 that sought to make all city gun ordinances similar across the state. The bill would have voided gun restrictions in Charleston, but it was never considered in the Senate after a death threat was lodged against the chairman of a committee in charge of placing it on his agenda.
Even with Tomblin’s approval of the final version, one of two House opponents, Delegate Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, called on Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to issue an opinion on its constitutionality. Sobonya suggested it wouldn’t pass muster, since it allows home rule to only a few cities.
Pugh said he hasn’t digested the entire bill, yet, but has read it in its entirety.
“I might appoint a committee to start looking at what we could do through home rule that we can’t do now,” he added.
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