A question of existence
The Town of Friendly could find itself in serious trouble if a copy of the town charter isn’t found soon.
At their monthly meeting on April 13, Town Council members received a report from their attorney, Luke Furbee, concerning the missing charter.
The town is looking into the possibility of changing elections for town officers from every two years to every four years as a cost-saving measure. Furbee was researching the legal aspects of doing so. When trying to see what the original town charter recommended, he was met with a mystery instead.
“On the extension of the terms of office for municipal officers, I researched the law on doing that and it appears to me that it can be done,” said Furbee. “However, in order to lay that before its people at an election there are procedures to be followed to amend the charter. Well, I can’t find your charter and nobody else can either.”
“Does that mean we don’t exist,” asked Friendly Mayor Bonnie Hostuttler.
“What I am inferring based on the information I have at this time is it’s a lost charter,” responded Furbee. “Whatever charter that existed is lost.”
In trying to find the charter, Furbee checked record at the Tyler County Courthouse and the Office of the Clerk of the West Virginia House of Delegates. Neither place had a copy readily available.
“I called (The Office of the Clerk of the House of Delegates) and had them look for it and called back two or three days later and was told they could find no such charter,” said Furbee. “Then I tried another tactic: I got out a West Virginia Blue Book and looked at the municipal register. It claims the town was incorporated by an act of legislature in 1898. There is no place in Tyler County that has the acts of legislature back that far. “
As to whether a copy of the charter exists somewhere in town, neither the mayor nor council was sure. Town Recorder Susan Stoneking-Webb believed that a copy had to exist somewhere.
“We know Bill Barnhart supposedly had it and his home burned,” said Stoneking-Webb. “I found papers in the mayors office when I was cleaning it up and they said it had been turned over to the next people who came in office and it should be at the courthouse.”
“I don’t understand why the officer whose responsibility it is to maintain those records doesn’t have a copy of it either,” stated Furbee.
“What about on the third, fourth or fifth floor of the courthouse where they have all those old records,” asked Council Member Brenda Kemp. “Could there be anything up there?”
There could be, but I know one day several months ago I looked for a copy of it in the county clerks office and I couldn’t find it,” responded Furbee.
“There are places I can go to find that, Morgantown being one such place,” added Furbee. “But I don’t know it was done in such a way that all of the basic operating procedures for the town were laid out in whatever act they passed or not. Some of those acts just say that X town is hereby incorporated.”
While council can pass legislation and make some changes, without the charter any citizen could challenge any act of council. Furbee was worried that changes in election law could be invalidated,
“I can recommend that go ahead and go on through with it, but I’m not sure that it would be valid,” said Furbee. “If it wasn’t valid, then it would be an anomaly. If anyone tried to challenge it then you might be out more money then you’re trying to save.”
“If we can get it to where it needs to be you could hold a special election later on,” added Furbee. “At this point your regular election is only a little over two months away. I don’t think we can unravel this mystery in time.”