The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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May 15, 2013

Spa City, ex-police chief agree to settle lawsuit over dismissal

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — An air of mystery surrounds the purported settlement of a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by former Police Chief James Hylton against the Spa City.

Hylton sued the city in June of last year, claiming a violation of the West Virginia Human Rights Act occurred when Mayor Thomas Taylor fired him Feb. 3, 2012.

Hylton’s suit asked for actual and punitive damages, attorney fees and costs.

Taylor announced the settlement during Monday evening’s regular city council meeting, remarking, “It won’t cost the city anything.”

Council member Bruce Bowling contradicted the mayor’s statement, saying, “We didn’t get off scot-free — not at all. It’s going to cost, people.”

Bowling explained that he believes the city’s liability insurance premiums will rise as a result of the lawsuit settlement.

Taylor declined to reveal the terms of the settlement, saying they are “confidential,” and referring post-meeting press inquiries to city attorney Steve Hunter. He also declined to release specifics. The Register-Herald has filed a Freedom of Information request for the details of the settlement.

Documents regarding the case maintained in the Greenbrier Circuit Clerk’s office include a letter dated March 30 and addressed to Circuit Judge Joseph C. Pomponio Jr., who was assigned to preside over Hylton’s lawsuit.

In that letter, Donald B. O’Dell, a Huntington attorney who was appointed to serve as mediator in the case, advised Pomponio that a mediation session conducted March 26 resulted in “a settlement of all claims.” The letter did not describe the terms of the settlement.

According to Taylor, city officials were not involved in the settlement agreement, meaning city council did not need to vote to accept the “confidential” deal that was struck.

 

Council decided to table a pair of controversial ordinances that were up for a vote Monday.

The first reading of an ordinance addressing the problem of barking/howling dogs was put off for the second month in a row, as Bowling protested against the amount of fines called for in the measure.

“I think $250 is too much for a first offense,” he said, suggesting the $100 fine provided in the city’s current noise ordinance is sufficient.

Council member Lynn Swann renewed her objection — first voiced last month — to the ordinance’s failure to define the length of time a dog’s barking must persist in order for its owner to be charged with a violation.

Council member Jackson Bowling, who said he is a dog owner, concurred with Swann’s concern, saying, “There definitely needs to be a line there as to what is a nuisance.”

Taylor advised all council members to write up their proposed tweaks for the ordinance and give them to city attorney Hunter for action.

“You either want an ordinance or you don’t want an ordinance,” Hunter told the governing body. “I don’t care one way or the other.”

The third and final reading of a proposed property maintenance code, which was initially scheduled for council’s February session, was again postponed, with the delay this time hinging on Jackson Bowling’s request for a complete list of proposed fines for non-compliance.

Also:

— Council voted unanimously to refuse a request from Bob Neff to pay for damages his automobile incurred when he struck a frozen pile of snow in a city street. Neff appealed to council to pay after the city’s insurance carrier denied the claim.

— Council allocated $1,000 for the Spa City Soccer League.

— Monday’s meeting concluded with a 45-minute executive session during which personnel issues were discussed. No votes were taken following the closed-door session.

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com

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