By Tina Alvey
A heated discussion ensued at the Greenbrier County Commission meeting Tuesday evening when one member of the governing body complained he was prevented from having a hand in setting the session’s agenda.
Woody Hanna, who took a commission seat in January after a 12-year absence from public office, said he had notified the agency’s assistant via e-mail a week ago that he wanted two additional items placed on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting, but was rebuffed.
Hanna said he was advised at that time that only the commission’s president, Karen Lobban, is authorized to add items to the agenda.
Upon researching the issue, Hanna said he discovered an Ethics Commission advisory opinion that outlines the procedure to be followed by anyone requesting an item be added to a public body’s agenda. The procedure provides that the requested agenda items must be presented in writing and in a timely fashion, which Hanna said, his request was.
Commissioner Michael McClung disagreed with Hanna’s interpretation of the advisory opinion, saying, “I don’t see that the request has to be honored. It doesn’t say that you’ll be approved.”
“I’ll be glad to get another opinion from the Ethics Commission,” Hanna responded.
“I’m an elected county commissioner; I think I have the right to put items on the agenda,” he said. “From 1994 to 2000, when I was a commissioner before, we all had equal say on what went on the agenda.”
The items Hanna wanted added to the agenda involved Arts and Recreation (A&R) grant applications and litigation over the county’s proposed indoor swimming pool.
He said he had wanted to have the opportunity to get an update on the litigation and to take a vote on a measure that would require all applicants for A&R grants to fill out an application that would then be reviewed by the county’s A&R Committee.
“I think these are important agenda items,” he said.
Regarding the pool lawsuit, he said Lobban had told him a countersuit had been filed. He asserted that the commissioners had not voted to authorize their attorney to file such an action, and further that he only recently learned from Lobban that their attorney had accepted the case on a contingency fee basis.
“I want to see the (lawyer’s) contract,” Hanna said.
Turning his attention to the A&R grants, Hanna said it had been brought to his attention that Greenbrier Valley Theatre and Carnegie Hall — each of which received $42,000 last year when the grants were distributed — do not go through the same vetting process that other applicants do.
“I just want them to go through the same process,” Hanna said, maintaining that he is not opposed to the funding the two institutions receive. “Our advisory boards feel that (GVT and Carnegie) are doing an end run around them.”
Lobban explained that both Carnegie and GVT are “big operations” that are audited each year, unlike the smaller community organizations that apply for bed tax-funded grants. She noted that the two larger arts establishments prefer to make their presentations directly to the commission rather than go through the committee.
McClung agreed with Hanna’s point on the A&R money, saying, “I made that same argument last year, and... I was overruled by the president.”
The commission’s president last year was Betty Crookshanks.
Hanna again urged Lobban to place the two items he requested on the agenda for the Commission’s next meeting, Feb. 26.
With encouragement from McClung, he also pledged to request an advisory opinion from the Ethics Commission clarifying under what circumstances a county commission president has the authority to deny a colleague’s request for an agenda addition.
In other business:
— The commission approved requests from Kay Davis with the WVU Extension Service for the use of the county courthouse for three purposes.
Davis asked for permission for Extension staff to conduct a 12-lesson “wellness clinic” for courthouse employees; to offer a “Go Red” heart disease prevention program for women on Feb. 27; and to conduct interviews with 4-H agent applicants in one of the rooms at the courthouse.
— The commission approved a request by Christian Giggenbach, president of the Greenbrier Valley Polar Bear Plunge Club, to borrow an American flag and a West Virginia flag for use in ceremonies at the upcoming annual plunge into Anthony Creek. The event will take place March 9, with participants plunging into the chilly waters at Blue Bend at 1 p.m.
Last year’s Polar Bear Plunge — with 103 plungers, including the club’s first-ever canine member — raised $13,000 for the Child and Youth Advocacy Center, Giggenbach said.
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