County Commission conducts lengthy meeting

Rachel Baldwin rbaldwin@civitasmedia.com

October 3, 2013

WILLIAMSON - Mingo County Commissioners John Mark Hubbard and Greg “Hootie” Smith addressed a full agenda during their Wednesday meeting, with Commissioner David Baisden absent for the fourth consecutive time since he was indicted and arrested on federal extortion charges in August of this year.

October has been proclaimed as “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” and the commissioners voiced their support of community events planned for next week that will be sponsored by the Williamson Woman’s Club, as they kick off their campaign to raise public awareness to the importance of early detection and treatment of the cancer that 1 out of every 8 women have a chance of being diagnosed with, with 1 out of every 36 women succumbing to the disease.

Trick or’ Treat has been set for Thursday, October 31st in Mingo County, between the hours of 6 and 8 p.m. The commission reminds the public to drive with caution during this time and to watch out for the little ones dressed in costumes as they participate in one of the favorite holidays.

Representatives from the Logan County Child Advocacy Center spoke of the need to secure a site within Mingo County to better serve the needs of children who are the victims of crimes. Beth Cook, the Executive Director for the Logan based business was accompanied by members of her staff, as well as Child Protective Services (CPS) workers with the Williamson Branch of the WV Department of Health and Human Resources and the West Virginia State Police.

“The location that we are seeking needs to be a neutral, child-friendly environment,” explained Cook. “The Logan office has been serving the needs of Mingo County now for several years, but as of lately, the ratio of cases we are assisting with that stem from this county has doubled that of Logan. Last year alone, there were 22 individuals arrested for crimes against children, 13 of those were indicted and 6 have already entered pleas. It’s time to open a clinic here in Mingo.”

Commissioner Smith spoke of the available space inside the former Coalfield Cap building that is part of the Williamson High School property that is being purchased from the Mingo County B.O.E. by the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority, who in turn, are leasing it to the county. Cook and her associates left the commission meeting to go for a tour of the second floor of the building referenced by Smith, to see if the allotted space would fit their needs.

The Mayor of Gilbert requested a financial donation to assist with meeting the costs of the Trail Fest event scheduled for October 10-14 and received a promise of $2,000.

Charles “Butch” West addressed the commission as the attorney for Kendall Simpson, the owner and operator of Stafford EMS, to have them placed back on the Mingo County 911 list to be considered for emergency calls between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. The Gilbert based ambulance service had been removed from the list after their bankruptcy attorney (not West) penned a letter to Mingo County 911 Director Lorraine Vance, informing her that due to the financial distress of the company, they would only be transporting dialysis patients and responding to non-emergency calls such as take homes and doctor appointments.

According to Simpson, this was a mistake on the part of the lawyer handling the bankruptcy, and asked for the list to be corrected. Vance told the commission that after receiving legal documentation from the attorney with the revised information included, Stafford would be dispatched to calls during the designated time period if they were the closest available ambulance to the location.

Simpson spoke of how STAT Ambulance, who also had a representative at the meeting, had allegedly attempted to move in and take away all his business during their financial restructuring.

“STAT has been in bankruptcy for 5 years, so they are familiar with the hardships that a business goes through during these tough times,” stated Simpson. “We stepped in and helped them during their time of need and we should receive the same treatment.”

Simpson, who according to his attorney plans to file a defamation suit against STAT for spreading lies about his company, requested that the commission take no further action against his company until they correct and revised documentation was provided to Vance.

“I apologize that you are upset,” stated Commissioner Smith. “But please know that the action we took to remove you from the emergency call list was completed after your own attorney advised us you would not be available for these type calls. If a mistake has been made and once it is corrected on your end and sent to us, we will redo the list.”

The Gilbert mayor was asked about her feelings regarding the ambulance situation, and said that her only wish was to have her town covered by medical professionals and wanted the same treatment as extended to other municipalities.

“We’re going through hard times, that’s goes without saying,” remarked Simpson. “But in regards to the treatment we’ve received from STAT, I won’t tolerate being kicked in the teeth while we’re down…that’s not happening.”

Mingo County 4-H Extension Services Director Mark Whitt was accompanied to the commission meeting by several local students who are 4-H members and who recently attended camp. The children relayed their experiences to those in attendance and also asked the commissioners to join them in a “camp song”, to which they readily agreed.

The commissioners left the courtroom on 3 separate occasions during Wednesday’s meeting to go into executive session to discuss personnel issues involving the future resignation of Mingo County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Randy Hatfield; the potential rehiring of Arthur Farra, who was fired from his deputy’s position by former Sheriff Eugene Crum; and an attempt to reach an agreement for a court plea for Brenda Hunt, a lady who was formerly employed with the Mingo County Circuit Clerk’s office and was accused of embezzlement. The matters of Farra and Hatfield were tabled to a future meeting after they were discussed on Wednesday, and the recommendation was made to discuss a possible plea agreement for Hunt with the special Prosecutor appointed to the case.

The meeting concluded with the members of the public in attendance extended the opportunity to speak. Matewan resident Benjamin Cisco addressed the commission with concerns, saying it is unfair for the taxpayers of Mingo County continuing to pay the $36,000 a year salary of Commissioner Baisden, who entered a guilty plea to a felony in U.S. District Court in Charleston on Tuesday.

“We do not need to be paying the salary of a convicted felon who hasn’t even bothered to attend any meetings since he was indicted,” stated Cisco. “Are you allowing him to still operate a company vehicle and use a commission gas card? I know I most certainly wouldn’t hand my keys or my credit card to a felon.”

“It’s not as simple as you think,” commented Smith. “The only way an elected official can be removed by office is if they are voted out, resign or by an ouster suit. Mr. Baisden will have to resign before his sentencing hearing on Jan. 14th of next year, but the exact date he chooses is his personal decision.”

“It’s bad enough that we are paying 40-plus dollars a day for each inmate that is in jail from this county, but it’s a slap in the face to know our tax dollars are being used to pay the salary of a commissioner who has confessed and plead guilty to extortion,” stressed Cisco. “This commission should take all steps necessary to eliminate this situation. Speak to Dave, tell him what the public wants him to do…tell him to do the right thing.”

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the commission has been set for Wednesday, Oct. 16 at 9 a.m.