With no foreseeable end in sight to oil and gas activity in Tyler County, the demand for access to courthouse documents has exceeded the size of the building's record room. Because abstractors from energy companies are searching through these records on a daily basis in order to draft property leases, county officials have moved for the digitization and online access of each record book. Their decision was made to further accommodate an influx of abstractors while preserving the books for future generations.
To insure that this process and others are completed legally, Prosecuting Attorney Luke Furbee wrote Attorney General Patrick Morrisey seeking clarification on particular matters.
"The office was pleased to assist Tyler County in evaluating the legality of an issue with great practical importance," said Morrisey in his response.
The "issue" primarily refers to the legal guidelines the county must follow upon receiving donations from energy companies. Citing the West Virginia Ethics Act, Furbee has seen to it that such donations are given to the county as a whole, remain unsolicited, and provide no exclusive access to courthouse records.
While interested parties have agreed to donate enough funding to digitize records, the county must advertise the process for competitive bidding because the cost will exceed more than $15,000.
Also in compliance with the West Virginia Ethics Act, the building and record vault have remained open to all members of the public during extended hours which were paid for through a donation from the West Virginia Oil and Gas Association. Effective today, the first 90 days of that contract come to an end. However, the extended hours, Mondays through Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., will continue with a renewal for another 45 days, beginning Aug. 1 and lasting until the end of November.
"When the Tyler County Prosecutor wrote us seeking an opinion on whether the county could use donated funds to expand access, we were happy to have an opportunity to offer our guidance," said Attorney General Morrisey.
"The Attorney General's opinion isn't law, but it's persuasive," said Furbee of his decision to confer his thoughts with the attorney general.
According to him, the attorney general's opinions matched his own. He stated that one of the duties of the attorney general is to confer and advise prosecuting attorneys on legal matters.
"I just thought that some of the issues being presented to the county clerk and commissioners, and some of the alternatives and avenues, were somewhat novel," he said of his decision to seek advice. "My duty is to make sure they comply with the law."