Striking a blow for government basics, a judge ordered the Jefferson County Commission to meet and it did.
Jennifer Krouse and Tricia Jackson had not attended commission meetings since Sept. 7, refusing to participate in filling a vacancy for a fifth commissioner and keeping the body unable to fulfill a quorum.
Following a Thursday hearing where Krouse and Jackson cited their fifth amendment right to protect themselves against self-incrimination, Circuit Judge Bridget Cohee concluded the two had “deliberately and knowingly refused to exercise a clear legal duty to attend and conduct meetings of the Jefferson County Commission.”
The judge ordered them to do so, starting with a 1:30 p.m. special meeting.
So four commissioners then gathered for the afternoon meeting and slogged their way toward finally naming a fifth, Pasha Majdi, a Harpers Ferry resident who calls himself a “freedom-loving conservative conservationist.”
That decision wasn’t a straight path.
Commissioners had choices among three possible candidates for the fifth spot. The commission’s attorney, Nathan Cochran, explained that if the group could not agree then the longest-serving commissioner could strike one name. The second strike would be by the second-longest serving commissioner.
Jackson noted that she and Commission President Steve Stolipher have equal tenure. She asked how to break that logjam.
“It doesn’t say we flip a coin or we draw names,” Jackson said, raising the possibility of going back to court for a determination of the steps to complete the selection process.
After a couple more minutes of discussion, Krouse asked for further clarification on how to proceed.
Cochran replied, “I’m not your dad — I can’t make you do anything.”
Krouse agreed on that point. “No, sir, you aren’t my dad.”
Eventually, Commissioner Jane Tabb went first and chose to strike Isabel Simon.
Stolipher yielded and allowed Jackson to make the final strike.
Jackson continued to protest even while participating.
“I just want to make note because I’ve been ordered to show up and take action on this item. I don’t think this is procedurally clear on how to move forward and do this, but I’ve been ordered by a judge to show up and take action on this today,” Jackson said, “with no clear path forward on how to do this.”
A breath later, she chose to strike Keith Lowry.
Majdi will be sworn and begin serving as commissioner at the next regular meeting on Dec. 7. He will serve until a new commissioner from the Charles Town District is elected in 2024.
From that point, the commission finally was able to conduct additional business, starting with the rapid-fire approval of weeks and weeks of meeting minutes.
The conflict dates back to the resignation of Commissioner Clare Ath, effective June 16. That left four members.
An initial attempt for the remaining commissioners to choose a fifth resulted in a split on June 23. Of five potential nominees, Krouse and Jackson favored Isabel Simon. The other two commissioners favored Matthew McKinney.
The tie meant the matter was referred to the Jefferson County Republican Executive Committee to choose three possibilities and present them to the commission.
Once the three candidates were presented to the commission, an argument about eligibility broke out during an August 17 meeting. Krouse and Jackson then refused to participate if the selection process continued.
Krouse posted on her Facebook page that evening that the Republican committee had not provided “three actual conservatives for the Commission to review. Unfortunately, far too many of the elected ‘Republicans’ in West Virginia seem to be either incompetent, self-interested, closeted liberals, or some combination thereof.”
Since then, Jackson and Krouse had been posting statements to their Facebook pages to say they are protesting the meetings by denying a quorum.
The act that finally broke the logjam was a writ of mandamus filed by county resident David Lutman seeking release of a bond that had not been acted upon when the commission failed to meet.
Judge Cohee’s ruling was based on evidence and testimony that stemmed from Lutman’s filing. Lutman had specifically pushed for the commission’s release of a bond for a project known as Milton’s Landing and affecting his business, Lutman Land Development.
“My intent was to get the county to operate business as usual,” Lutman said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”