Williamson Council grants requests, approves temporary hire

Rachel Baldwin rbaldwin@civitasmedia.com

January 12, 2014

Rachel Baldwin


WILLIAMSON - With two Williamson City Council members absent from Thursday’s regularly scheduled meeting, business continued as usual and the full agenda was addressed.

Present were Mayor Darrin McCormick, Councilman York Smith and Councilwoman Sherry Brown. City Clerk Frances Frye and City Attorney C. Christopher Younger were also in attendance.

The first item on the agenda was acceptance of a resolution for a Development Office Contract on Youth Center Grant, that is earmarked for computers and other related supplies to be utilized by children who attend the Southern West Virginia Youth Council at the Harry L. Joyce Center. The city will first approve the purchases and issue a check as payment for the supplies, and will then be reimbursed by the grant. The new computers will stay at the center and are intended strictly for use of the students. The motion was approved.

A motion was made and seconded to reappoint Donnie “Butch” Beckett to the Williamson Utility Board for a five-year term. Beckett had recently been serving the remainder of a term left vacant after a slot had become open.

The first reading of the City Seat Belt Ordinance was conducted, after several rules on the books that were not up to code were reassessed and changed. This ordinance would make operating a motor vehicle without a seat belt a primary offense rather than a secondary offense, and would match the state law of West Virginia. The second and final reading will take place during the next meeting.

Paul Price and Michael Vinson, of the Appalachian Brotherhood Motorcycle Club that sponsors and organizes the annual “Rally in the Valley,” spoke before the council and requested that the third year of the rally be allowed to expand from three to four days.

“The first year, we only planned a one-day event, and even with rain part of the day, we still had approximately 5,000 people in attendance and approximately 25 vendors,” Price said. “Last year, we expanded to two and a half days, and attracted a crowd of 8,000 or so and 40-plus vendors.”

Price explained that a good variety of vendors selling different products is one of the keys to attracting motorcycle enthusiasts. The more days the event lasts, the more vendors will sign on.

“A lot of these vendors travel a good distance to get here,” said Price. “We’ve got to make it worth their time and their money. That’s the reason you see so many vendors at events like Hillbilly Days in Pikeville, Ky. It’s a weeklong event and they make a nice profit so they keep returning year after year.”

McCormick and Williamson Fire Chief Jerry Mounts expressed their concerns over a few isolated incidents that occurred while the vendors were setting up last year, commenting that organization was the key to preventing problems from repeating themselves during this May’s event.

“We’ve got to have 24/7 access for our firetrucks and other emergency vehicles to get down every street in town … no ifs, ands or buts about it,” the chief said. “At one time last year, one street was completely shut off from all traffic.”

Price reminded Mounts that the problem was corrected as soon as it was brought to the organizers’ attention, and said that one reason there was not a better plan in place to assist in preventing problems was because he had made several attempts to meet with former Williamson Police Chief Dave Rockel to get something in place, and was not able to until the rally was mere days away, due to the tragic loss of former Sheriff Eugene Crum.

“There was a lot going on at that time and it was very hard to get together and map everything out,” said Price.

“That is why I want to start planning now,” replied the mayor, “So that we alleviate any chance of that happening this year. We will all work together and make this a well-planned event that will hopefully exceed all our expectations.”

“We will also make sure to have alternative routes in place that will allow access to the banks and courthouse, especially since the dates of the event, May 1-4, are during the busiest time of the month for downtown businesses,” McCormick said.

Price spoke of the importance of these tourism dollars to Williamson, commenting on the hotels, motels and campgrounds that could be full to capacity if this event continues to flourish and grow.

“Some years ago, there was someone that had a dream and stood in front of the city council in Strugis, South Dakota, and asked to hold a motorcycle rally just like I’m doing here today.” Price said. “The same goes for the cities of Daytona Beach, Florida, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.”

“They all started just like this, folks … it took imagination, dedication and a willingness to see it through. Look at the billions of dollars that are brought in from the people that flock to these places year after year.”

‘There’s no reason that with the scenic, curvy backroads, we have an abundance of what bikers live to ride on - added to the historical Hatfield-McCoy sites - you have a win-win scenario on your hands. If we play our cards right, this event could be huge.”

The mayor thanked Price for the presentation and told him the city appreciated his commitment to keeping the event in Williamson, and said they would discuss plans further in the near future. A motion was made and approved to extend the rally to a four-day event.

The council members, mayor and police chief went into executive session to discuss a personnel matter behind closed doors. When they returned a while later, Police Chief Barry Blair requested that he be allowed to hire current Mingo County sheriff’s Lt. Randy Hatfield as a “part-time, temporary” patrolman, for a maximum of 30 hours a week at entry pay level, until police department vacancies could be filled.

Blair stated that he had spoken with the Secretary of State’s office to get the particulars on the situation, since Hatfield was past the age limit to take the civil service test. The chief was told that Hatfield did not have to be under civil service if he was hired only as a temporary, part-time employee.

“I am currently down to five officers,” Blair said. “With the loss of Jeff Taylor and Darry Paige to death, and Jimmy Spence being off due to an injury, we are spread thin. I believe with Randy’s vast experience as a police officer, he would be a great asset to our department.”

Blair was asked if he currently has names on the hire list that have passed the civil service test, to which he replied yes, saying five had successfully passed and said he planned to conduct interviews with those individuals on the 18th of this month.

“If you hire any of these men, will that cancel out Mr. Hatfield’s employment with the city?” asked a member of the media.

“We would have to see when that time comes. It would depend on what our needs are when that happens,” Blair replied.

Hatfield is a 22 1/2 year veteran of the Mingo County Sheriff’s Department, and stated during the council meeting that he would be retiring from there, effective Jan. 24. He said there was not an issue with him starting for the city before that time since he presently works a 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. schedule, and was told he could start with the Williamson Department on Jan. 16.

“Welcome aboard,” said the mayor. “We are happy to have someone of your experience willing to help the city out while we’re short-staffed.”

The next meeting of the Williamson City Council will be held at 6 p.m. Jan. 23.