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Contract exemption sought by city

By Staff | Jul 11, 2012

The Sistersville City Council met Monday evening to discuss the business of the city. Among the items on the agenda was a consideration request of an Ethics Commission Contract Exemption that would enable the municipality to purchase a parcel of land in Hanford City from Mayor David B. Fox.

West Virginia State Code Section 6B-2-5 regarding the ethical standards for elected and appointed officials and public employees states that “a public official or public employee may not knowingly and intentionally use his or her office or the prestige of his or her office for his or her personal gain. . .” Dean Rohrig, legal counsel for the City of Sistersville, informed the council members that In order for the City to acquire this property without violating the Ethics Act, it is necessary for the to request a contract exemption from the Ethics Commission.

“If the Council chooses to seek the contract exemption, it needs to pass a resolution based upon the Ethics Commission recommendations,” Rohrig said.

He asked the council to make a determination that the property acquisition was in the best interest of the City; that any decision to seek the Contract Exemption be made after the City has conducted its own due diligence regarding the necessity of the acquisition; and that the discussion and decision of the issue be conducted during open council proceedings, in the absence of the Mayor.

According to a memorandum sent to the council members by Rohrig, S&S Engineers has selected a parcel of real estate owned by the mayor as the site for the pump station to be constructed in Hanford City. “Given the obvious conflict of interest, I have consulted with Teresa Kirk at the West Virginia Ethics Commission.”

“They (S&S) have looked at other properties, but found problems with those properties,” Rohrig said.

The pump station for the extension project was originally designed to be on a lot owned by Jerry and Sylvia Moore on Kahle Street in Hanford City. However, according to City Manager Vance Ash, the property owners refused to sell the land to the city. Because the parcel is located outside the city limits, the municipality cannot exercise eminent domain rights.

The second choice for the pump station was ruled out due to its proximity to the historic Twyford House, located across the railroad tracks from the site. Rohrig indicated that he received a letter from the Division of Culture and History, that raises an issue regarding the house. “They said, in effect, if you are going to construct anything that would have any impact on this (property’s) viewscape – then they wanted us to report that to them. They would then render a further opinion on the use of this property and how it effects this house.”

In a letter, Ashok Sanghavi of S&S Engineers stated his firm’s reasoning behind the third selection. “There are not many empty lots in the Hanford City area. Recently, Calvary Baptist Church bought several lots between Jackson Avenue and Carol Alley. The other empty lots are either not suitable due to location, topography or (they are) in the flood plain,” he said. “Most of the remaining lots in Hanford City are owned by David Fox. Therefore, there is no choice but to locate the pump station on (his) property.”

“The biggest thing that comes out of this is that it’s a cost saver,” Rohrig said.

Sanghavi noted that locating the station on the lot would reduce the length of the forcemain by 1,200 feet, which would result in an estimated cost savings of $30,000.

In conclusion, Sanghavi said he believed the project would be negatively impacted if the pump station could not be located on Fox’s property, as other lots were not available for purchase, were unsuitable for the project, or had cultural resources. Speaking to the importance of the project, he said, “As you know, all of the existing 45 homes discharge raw wastewater into the Ohio River, endangering public health and water quality.”

In June, the council members made a decision to have the parcel appraised. Rohrig contacted Wetzel Valley Agencies to do the valuation on the property.

Based on this and other factors, the council moved to pass a resolution to request Contract Exemption from the Ethics Commission.

Rohrig reminded the council the measure for not a sure bet. “There is not certainty to this,” he said. “We are asking, but there are no guarantees. The fact that we believe it’s a last resort is not enough.”

In other business The council approved the drawdown of $27,000 for the water source project, in accordance with the grant agreement. Additionally, the council approved the final drawdown of funds from an existing grant for repairs at the Willison Family Center.

Council then approved a resolution to authorize the application for West Virginia Community Partnership Program funds in the amount of $17,000 for the floor at the Willison Family Center. The application for funding will be made to the West Virginia Development Office.

Under streets, council approved a motion to allow the City to solicit bids for paving. Mayor Fox noted that the last payment for the previous paving project will be made this month.

The council has allocated $160,000 for a future project. Fox hopes most of the streets on the “wish list”, including McCoy Street and the riverfront, will be paved under the scope of the new project.

The first step in the process is for an engineer to survey the streets and draw up specifications for the potential bidders to follow. Council approved this step unanimously.

Under planning commission report, Tom Gray commended Park Commissioner Alexis Billings. “The City Park is shining like a gem,” he noted.