PHILIPPI - Philippi Mayor Jerry Mouser's questioning whether City Manager Karen Weaver should be permitted to serve on the Philippi Building Commission has sparked a debate among city officials.
Mouser told The Inter-Mountain a letter he wrote to the West Virginia State Ethics Commission on Nov. 17 addressed an issue he has regarding Weaver's alleged double role as the treasurer and secretary of the Building Commission. Mouser claims that Weaver's involvement as both the secretary and treasurer of the Building Commission is against a city ordinance.
"The city clerk shall serve as secretary/treasurer of the Building Commission," Mouser read aloud from the 1970 Philippi ordinance.
"Under the law 'shall' is a mandatory term," Mouser said.
Mouser did not attend the joint meeting between City Council and the Philippi Municipal Building Commission on Nov. 17. Mouser did attend City Council's work session and regular meeting, held after the join session.
During the joint meeting, Howard Swick, the chairman of the Building Commission, said Weaver was only serving as the secretary, and not the treasurer, of the Commission. He said the city finance officer is always the treasurer of the Building Commission, and that Weaver was selected four or five years ago to perform secretarial duties for the Commission by a unanimous vote of City Council.
"Instead of coming to us or a Building Commission meeting and saying, 'Why is Karen the secretary?' - we could have told him - he fires off letters to the Ethics Board," Swick said.
Mouser said Ethics Commission representatives informed him there is nothing in the law that specifically prohibits a city employee from serving on the Building Commission. However, he said Weaver's participation could be considered a conflict of interest because of the 1970 city ordinance.
Swick and Councilman Ed Larry said Weaver's participation on the Building Commission could benefit both entities because she can provide a link between the two and be able to answer any questions raised between by either entity about the other.
Mouser said he received a response from the Ethics Commission, which he said brought up a few "interesting" points.
"They go on to say that the Ethics Commission also recognizes the doctrine of inescapable conflict which arises when two positions are so intertwined they would be impractical for a person to hold both at the same time," Mouser said.
Mouser said the State Ethics Commission also advised him that a municipal employee is not permitted to have overlapping work hours between the two duties.
"I note, however, that your letter states that the elected city clerk shall serve as the secretary/treasurer of the Building Commission," Mouser read from the Ethics Commission's response. "Even if the Ethics Act were to approve the city manager to serve, dual service appears to violate the city ordinance."
Swick said he believes the mayor could be misinterpreting the ordinance. He said codes can be read and interpreted differently by different people.
Contact Melissa Toothman by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.