State Auditor Glen Gainer has sent a letter to Mingo County officials, increasing the pressure on Commissioner David Baisden to resign or be fired.
Baisden pleaded guilty last week to a federal extortion charge for his attempt to use his position to try to get a price break on a set of tires for his personal vehicle. Baisden is also identified as a co-conspirator in the charges that brought down former Mingo County Judge Michael Thornsbury.
Baisden is trying to hang on to his $36,000 a year commissioner’s job until he’s sentenced in January. So far his fellow commissioners, John Hubbard and Hootie Smith, have been compliant.
In his letter, Gainer cites his authority as Chief Inspector of public offices to call for Baisden to step aside.
“He (Baisden) has… engaged in official misconduct as defined in W.Va. Code 6-6-1 and is subject to removal provisions of that article,” Gainer writes in the letter addressed to Baisden, Hubbard, Smith and Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks.
Gainer calls on the officials to notify him by Oct. 15 whether Baisden has voluntarily resigned.
“If he refuses to resign, please indicate whether another county official will institute the appropriate removal proceedings,” Gainer writes.
Meanwhile, there is also a solid legal argument that resignation or removal are not necessary because the conviction means he has automatically vacated the position.
Charleston Attorney Taylor George researched this question for me and concluded that both state law and the state Constitution specify removal upon conviction.
Article 9, Section 4 of the state Constitution says for county officials “upon conviction… their office shall become vacant.” Additionally, State Code 6-5-5 says when a public official is convicted, “their office shall become vacant.”
George says the fact that the Code and the Constitution contain the same language means, “these two sections operation together to automatically vacate the office upon conviction.”
So these are self-executing provisions. By law, Baisden’s position on the Commission became vacant the moment he pleaded guilty.
Good for Gainer for stepping up, and thanks to George for doing some unpaid research on this case. Apparently Baisden and his cronies want to continue to do business the Mingo County way, which is to make up the rules as they go along to suit themselves.
And they’ll get away with it as long as they can.