The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

June 29, 2013

Parties react to swimming pool ruling

By Tina Alvey
Register-Herald Reporter

— Reactions by the parties involved were muted in the immediate aftermath of a judge’s ruling that declared Greenbrier County’s allocation of $1.3 million in bed taxes to renovate a college-owned swimming pool to be illegal.

“I felt pretty strong it would come out this way,” said attorney Barry Bruce, who represented the petitioners who asked the judge to strike down the county commission’s use of hotel/ motel tax revenue for the pool.

The pool in question is located in a building on the Greenbrier Valley campus of New River Community and Technical College.

The commission allocated the bed tax money in December during a pair of meetings the judge also ruled violated provisions of the state’s Open Governmental Proceedings Act, commonly known as the Sunshine Law.

A petition for a writ of mandamus filed by Bruce on behalf of four county residents — a number later whittled to two — challenged both the propriety of the meetings and the legality of spending bed tax money on a recreational facility that was not owned by either a municipality or the county itself.

Special Judge Charles M. Vickers agreed with the petitioners on all critical points, voiding actions taken at the two flawed meetings and ruling that the bed tax expenditure was improper under guidelines specifically set forth in State Code.

Bruce said Friday he believes the county commission now has some decisions to make.

“I think the county commission was just waiting for Judge Vickers’ order to be issued,” the attorney said. “They will rely on the judge’s ruling going forward.”

The commissioners last month voted to ask the New River College Foundation to refund the $1.3 million, with the idea that the county would then deposit the money in an escrow account awaiting the judge’s ruling.

The college’s president declined to take action at that time, however, saying the school and its foundation would wait to see what the judge ruled.

Telephone calls seeking comment Friday from New River officials after Judge Vickers granted the petitioners’ writ were not returned.

Greenbrier County Prosecuting Attorney Patrick Via, who defended the commissioners in the mandamus case, said neither he nor his clients would have an official statement until they had an opportunity to confer.

“I’m going to be meeting with them next week,” Via said Friday afternoon.

“They haven’t met as a body since the ruling, and that will have to occur before any official statement is given,” he added.

Asked if he is considering requesting a special prosecutor be appointed to investigate what Vickers said were the commission’s Sunshine Law violations, Via responded, “No, I’m not giving any consideration to that at this point.”

Due to activities surrounding the Fourth of July holiday week and personal considerations, the Greenbrier County Commission’s first regular session in July is scheduled for Wednesday, rather than the following Tuesday, which is the usual meeting date.

A discussion of the swimming pool litigation is on the agenda for Wednesday’s 10 a.m. meeting.

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com