Sistersville Council failed to establish a meeting quorum
“I’m going to be the mayor as long as I can,” said Mayor Dave Fox to more than 20 Sistersville residents, who filled council chambers of the city building Monday evening for what they expected would be a special meeting to appoint a new mayor.
That posted meeting did not occur because a majority of council members were not present.
For a needed quorum to be established with a council of eight, five members must be present. Because there were only four present, a quorum could not be reached and the meeting therefore could not be called to order.
“The majority of our meetings, we do have a quorum,” stated Councilwoman Ann Doig. “This is a special meeting.”
Council members who showed up were Bill Rice, Mitch Corley, Bill Schleier, and Ann Doig. Those absent were Richard Long, Jason Hood, Colin Marrin and Craig Pritchett.
Other officials to appear included City Commissioner Daniel Grimes, City Attorney Carolyn Flannery, and Chief of Police Ben Placer.
City Recorder Julie Schleier was not present. When contacted later by the Tyler Star News (TSN) and asked about her absence, she cited medical reasons and a doctor’s order not to attend the meeting.
Although no formal meeting occurred, council members and city officials discussed the planned agenda items with citizens.
“We’ve had this problem for as long as I can remember,” said Fox of getting council members to attend meetings. “I’ve threatened them. I’ve sent the cops to ballfields after them. I can only take care of me. I can’t be responsible for the behavior of them.”
“Leadership comes from the top,” said resident Mark Walker.
“I’m here,” said Fox. “I’ve missed one meeting in eight years.”
“Where are your friends at?” asked Walker.
“They’re your friends, you elected them,” replied Fox. “Somebody did, if they’re sitting in this position.”
“We appointed them,” said Councilman Rice. “The other ones quit, remember? They moved out of town or quit.”
“I’m not saying one way or another,” said Commissioner Daniel Grimes of the absences. “But before anyone jumps to conclusions about why someone is or isn’t here, like Rich Long. He never knows until the last minute whether he’s going to get forced over. That’s something he can’t control. And Craig (Pritchett), he got a phone call and had an emergency that dealt with his expertise of his job and he had to go do that. I mean, I’m not going to get mad. Yes I would have liked to have dealt with some of this stuff.”
While they were still waiting to establish a quorum, resident Mark Klages mentioned that the police can be sent to search for missing members.
“The council can tell the police to go get the missing members,” said Klages.
“How do you label missing?” asked Fox. “Are they in town? Do you know that they’re in town? Cause from what I heard they’re out of town. One’s in Minnesota. One’s in Marietta. The other ones are probably working.”
“I texted Dave (Fox) and told him I wasn’t going to be there,” said Councilman Jason Hood to the TSN later that evening.
Chief Placer visited the nearby Hood residence to see if Councilman Hood could attend. Upon returning to council chambers, he stated that no one answered the door.
“There’s no answer,” he said. “Toni (Cunningham, neighbor to Jason Hood) just told me that they got in the truck and left earlier today, the whole family.”
In the hours following the failed meeting, Councilman Hood explained his absence, expressing that he is a father first and a councilman second.
“My son is in football,” he told TSN. “I’m a coach. I’m on midnights (at work). I worked until seven o’clock this morning, came home, went to bed, got up and went to football practice. Now I just got home and I’m leaving for work again.
“I love my son. He’s my life. I’m with him first and the city second.”
When contacted later that evening by TSN, Councilman Colin Marrin explained that he could not attend the meeting because he was handling business in Minnesota.
“Being in business for myself, I don’t know when I’m working,” he said. “This is the second meeting I haven’t been at.”
He said that he had previously made Recorder Julie Schleier aware that she could attempt to contact him if a quorum needed to be established via phone conference. Councilman Hood also expressed that he had been made aware, in the past by Mayor Dave Fox, of the fact that council members can attend meetings via phone conference.
“Everybody was aware that I was out of state,” said Marrin.
He expressed that cell phone service was an issue as he traveled through rural areas.
“She (Julie Schleier) sent me a text earlier asking me if I was going to be there,” he said, explaining that he was out of service range and his text message response to her did not send correctly. He stated, however, that he made it clear when he started as a councilman that he could be reached if they needed to establish a quorum.
Councilmen Craig Pritchett and Richard Long could not be reached for comment on their absences.
Given the fact that a new mayor would not be appointed that evening, Klages asked for confirmation about the position of mayor.
“Can we get a determination for the folks that are here?” he asked. “Is Dave Fox still mayor?”
“You can’t get that, it’s not on the agenda,” said Fox. “You have to have quorum and it has to be voted on.”
“I’m not asking you to vote on it,” he said. “I’m asking you to tell us where we stand, because you effectively resigned last Monday.”
Mayor Fox stated that such resignation did not occur and would not be official until it was in writing.
“Therefore you’re still the mayor until said time?” asked Klages.
“I would never quit being the mayor,” said Fox. “Nor would I let you or anybody else run me out. I will stay the mayor as long as I can.”
Klages stated that he was trying to see that the correct rules were followed.
“If the rules say I’ve got to go, then I’ll go,” said Fox. “There’s no problem there.”
“We just had this discussion last Monday,” said Klages. “The West Virginia code states that if you are not a resident, you cannot be mayor. The city charter only talks about the elections.”
“But you still have to do it legal,” said Fox of his impending resignation. “That’s why I came here tonight.”
“Yes sir, and that’s why I’m asking,” said Klages. “Are you still mayor through the beginning of September until we have the next meeting?”
“The attorney says yes,” said Fox.
Councilman Bill Schleier read from a section of the West Virginia Charter.
“What the West Virginia Charter says is ‘unless otherwise provided in the charter of the municipality, there shall be an elected mayor,'” he said.
“Right,” said Klages. “And the charter talks of the election. It doesn’t talk of the term.”
“It says as long as he is here for the election, he is valid,” said Councilman Schleier.
“Right, he’s valid for the election,” said Klages.
“Why are we discussing this when we can’t make any decisions on it tonight?” interjected Councilwoman Doig. “It (the discussion) should end right now. We can’t make any decisions on it because we do not have a quorum. He’s still the mayor and that’s all there is to it. We’ll see everybody in September.”
Resident Beri Fox questioned if there was a provision in the city charter to deal with continued council absences.
“Is there a requirement for the council members to show up at these meetings, Dave?” she asked.
She was unable to finish addressing the rest of her question with Mayor Fox speaking over her.
“You guys elected them,” he said.
“I’m asking a question,” she said, seeking to know if there was a potential limit on the number of meetings council members can miss.
“I don’t know,” he said. “In eight years I’ve missed one council meeting, and I was sick.”
“And I commend you for that,” she said. “But what I’m saying is for these other guys who don’t seem to take this appointment seriously.”
“I understand. I don’t know if there’s something we can legally do or not. I agree. Is there a law or regulation you can enforce without getting a lawsuit?”
“Is it in the city charter?” she asked, stating that various other boards and committees have such provisions.
“I’m not seeing anything,” said Mayor Fox. “Our forefathers didn’t really do a great charter.”
“The ones (council members) that are here, each one of you needs to be commended for your service in the community,” said Beri Fox.
After a discussion among council members and officials present, it was decided that the agenda items intended to be covered Monday would instead be addressed at the regular council meeting on Sept. 9 at 7 p.m.
“The sooner the better,” suggested Councilman Mitch Corley.
“Put it on September’s (agenda) is what I say,” said Councilman Bill Rice. “Just remember one thing. Next March, six out of eight council seats are open. All you’ve got to do is put your name on the dotted line. I’m not being a smart aleck when I say that. There’s a lot of room for improvement.”
Also on the agenda for the failed meeting was a public hearing for the abolishment of a zoning ordinance and a measure to appoint Officer Rob Haught from part-time to full-time status in the event that another officer should leave.
Questions and comments were answered regarding the zoning ordinance.
“It’s about getting rid of the zoning,” confirmed Mayor Fox.
Wells Inn owner Charles Winslow asked what the original purpose was for the zoning ordinance and if there was any reason to keep it or get rid of it.
“There’s probably reasons to keep it and reasons to get rid of it,” answered Mayor Fox. “But most towns don’t have zoning, especially smaller towns.”
“It creates a lot of problems,” said Planning Commission Secretary Barbara Vincent of the zoning laws.
Mayor Fox expressed that the zoning rules created a problem for the city when they had to be legally bypassed.
Winslow also mentioned that, although abolishing the zoning ordinance would not affect him negatively, some protection would not be bad for citizens in residential neighborhoods.
“There’s plenty of ways to stop things that you don’t want in your city without having zoning,” said Mayor Fox.
When one resident asked about the delay of the dollar store coming into town, Fox answered.
“I don’t think the zoning had any delay on it,” he said. “It was them getting up with all the municipalities: the gas company, the water lines, all that stuff. It’s just like Subway. We gave Subway a permit to build four years ago, and you’re just now getting it. I don’t think that (zoning) had a thing to do with it.”
“If you only need it for one case, it’s well worth it,” said resident Harold Dally.
Most residents present spoke in favor of abolishing the current zoning ordinance. However, no actions were taken because a quorum had not been established.