The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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March 5, 2013

Epling annexation approved swiftly without controversy

BECKLEY — For all the turmoil that accompanied it at the outset, the annexation of property owned by Raleigh County Commissioner Linda Epling and her husband gained approval Tuesday without as much as a murmur.

In fact, Commissioner Pat Reed, who initially balked at offering a motion on the issue last month, took the initiative, and from there the commission agreed to the annexation, with Epling abstaining.

The brouhaha hit a boiling point two weeks ago when Doug Epling, husband of the new Republican commissioner, publicly berated Reed, the lone Democrat on the body, claiming that she had engaged in “blatant lies” about the couple after the first attempt on the annexation fizzled.

Property owned by the Eplings in Maxwell Hill was considered a “doughnut,” meaning it lies outside the city of Beckley, so the couple asked the city council to be included, and the request was granted.

Afterward, Linda Epling said she was pleased with the outcome of the annexation and suggested there were no ill feelings between her and Reed.

“I have no animosity at all, not at all,” she said.

“We just have a job to do. We need to get it done and do the best things for Raleigh County. That’s why we’re here.”

When the annexation originally appeared before the commission, Reed said that some residents in Maxwell Hill had voiced some concerns about it and that is why she was reluctant to offer a motion for a vote by the commission.

“Inquiries have been satisfied, so there was no reason at this point not to make the motion,” she explained Tuesday.

Reading from typed pages two weeks ago, Doug Epling charged that Reed had demeaned his family in a fight over Clarksburg consultant Michael Queen’s Freedom of Information Act requests to see overtime vouchers for county employees. Eventually, the requested documents were turned over to Queen in a job that cost some $8,000 worth of overtime.

Queen appeared before the commission during its last meeting in February and filed another FOIA request, asking for the Top 10 overtime payments to those on the county payroll.

In his remarks, Doug Epling had demanded a public apology from Reed, but none was given. The commissioner merely said “no comment.”

Linda Epling was running for the commission last year when Queen launched his campaign to look at overtime pay. She won the seat by defeating Democratic candidate Sherrie Hunter.

Under state law, the commission actually has no choice but to approve annexation moves sent to it by municipalities, in what the Supreme Court has described as “a rubber stamp” formality. Just why they must go before a commission is unclear.

“We’ve always asked that question, because the law says it has to come here,” county attorney Bill Roop said.

Several years ago, the commission locked horns with the town of Mabscott over a disputed annexation petition and ultimately prevailed when the county successfully challenged signatures on the petition.

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