The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 20, 2013

Annexation flap continues

Beckley businessman demand public apology

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

— Businessman Doug Epling demanded — but didn’t get — a public apology Tuesday from Raleigh County Commissioner Pat Reed for what he termed as “blatant lies” against his family in the aftermath of a squabble that put on hold a planned annexation by Beckley of land owned by him and his wife.

Reading from a prepared text, Epling took Reed to task for charging that he and his wife, Linda, the newest member of the commission, engaged Clarksburg consultant Michael Queen to “degrade” her family in his months-long investigation of county pay records.

Queen also appeared at the commission meeting, stepping up his demands for even more public documents — these on the “top 10,” as he phrased it, of employees collecting overtime compensation from the county. The last time the commission prepared voluminous documents on overtime, the bill for taxpayers shot past $8,000. Nothing more was heard from Queen once the papers were in his hand. All he paid for was the paper to provide the copies.

Doug Epling and Queen took turns denying that there was any move by the Eplings to hire him to look into the pay records at the courthouse.

“That is false,” Epling said, dismissing Reed’s claims as “blatant falsehoods.”

Epling likewise discounted Reed’s remark to The Register-Herald two weeks ago that former House Speaker Bob Kiss told her that the Eplings hired Queen to rip asunder the commission for political reasons. At the time, his wife was running for the seat being vacated by former Commissioner John Aliff. Kiss had been retained by the county to handle Queen’s request under the Freedom of Information Act for the county payroll records.

“You told the press the Eplings developed false memorandums and e-mails degrading your family,” Epling said, looking squarely at Reed, the lone Democrat on the three-member commission.

“Both these accusations are blatant lies and Commissioner Reed, you know that. You knew it when you said it. Where are these e-mails that the Eplings supposedly sent? Where are the letters from Mr. Kiss indicating the Eplings hired Mike Queen? Neither exists and I know it. Linda knows it and you know it.”

Throughout his remarks, Reed sat impassively, and when Epling demanded she publicly apologize to him and his wife, she said, “No comment.”

Queen picked up on the same line and asked Reed to say if Kiss told her the Eplings hired him to tear down the commission as a means of aiding Linda’s successful bid for the commission seat, and Reed once more replied, “I have no comment.”

Matters came to a boil this month when the issue of annexing the Epling property in Maxwell Hill by the city of Beckley never reached a vote. Epling couldn’t have made a motion to put it to a vote, since she had a personal interest in the outcome, and Commission President Dave Tolliver would have been unable to second one if Reed had offered it, which she declined. Afterwards, Reed said some residents in the area voiced concerns over the annexation, although it cleared Beckley City Council unanimously.

Tolliver said after the meeting that it appears the matter is “dead,” and Epling said he isn’t sure just what his next move will be, although he and his wife plan to confer with Beckley officials to ascertain their options.

“For you to suggest the Epling family or anyone else objected to the annexation request is ridiculous and unbelievable,” Doug Epling told Reed.

“Her comments to the press were fixated on political rhetoric, an attempt by her to ruin the reputation that Linda K. and I have enjoyed here in Beckley and Raleigh County almost all of our lives.”

Epling used his forum to attack Reed’s service, raising the matter of putting John Humphrey back on the payroll as county administrator after he lost a re-election bid to Tolliver, and wound up with a higher salary. Without using her name, he referred to his wife’s Democratic opponent, Sherrie Hunter, as “your hand-picked candidate.”

Then, he turned spiritual.

“I want you to know I pray for you often, and I pray for all three of you, that you can put politics aside and do whatever is best for the citizens of Raleigh County, especially the children and the needy,” Epling said.

“God has put all three of you in a position to have a positive impact in the lives of others and this responsibility should never be taken lightly. I’m here today to defend my reputation and respectfully ask that the recent erroneous allegations made toward me and my family be retracted.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com