The county commission is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Hoping for a miracle, or some way out of the dilemma they find themselves, the commissioners delayed voting to take the New River Community and Technical College (NRCTC) to court last Tuesday night until their next commission meeting on Nov. 12. The collision course between the college and the county (over a pool project for which the county could be held in contempt if $1 million is not returned to the Arts and Rec fund) remains momentarily on hold with no reasonable solution in sight.
After meeting with prosecuting attorney Patrick Via for a 35 minute executive meeting to discuss options available to them and consider action on the pending request for refunds from the college, Commissioner Mike McClung gave a report of his meeting on Oct. 2 with NRCTC president, Dr. L. Marshall Washington and his attorney Charles Houdyschell.
In an understatement, he said, “That meeting did not go well.” Dr. Washington and Houdyshell, he said, had offered a settlement figure of $400,000, which the college would keep, giving the remaining balance of $600,000 to the county. McClung called the $400,000 “a ransom,” and refused the settlement offer. He declared, “This [will] be a black eye the college [will] never recover from.” McClung told Dr. Washington he would release the contents of attorney Via’s letter to the college to the press which he stated “would enrage the public.” But he said he held off because a couple of days later, the college had asked for a delay in any public announcements indicating some “good news might be forthcoming.”
As reported in the West Virginia Daily News, “The Via letter revealed the county could potentially become bankrupt if the money was not returned to the county under certain scenarios.”
To McClung’s surprise the “good news” turned out to be last week’s New River Board of Governor’s unanimous vote to give the county “zero” dollars.
“Now is the time this body must act,” McClung declared, preparing to make a motion.
Commissioner Woody Hanna was unwilling to support a motion to sue the college, at least not until tempers had cooled and rational minds might dominate.
“There was a time when being in a suit meant you couldn’t work your troubles out by yourself.” New River, Hanna went on to say, “is the highest educational facility in the county …but it is not setting a good example. We are under a court order to replace $1.3 million to the Arts and Rec fund. The Foundation returned the $300 thousand, but we will not consider the $600,000 in exchange for one million.”
Hanna believes the college is not hurting for funds, citing funding resources around the state where their campuses are located. And, he believes New River is still ahead with the funding for the Arts and Science building project. He also acknowledged that the county commission had made a mistake in authorizing the funds to the college. “We are trying to correct that mistake.”
Commission president Karen Lobban, who remained silent for most of the discussion, added, that if her fellow commissioners had not vetoed the condo deed, “we’d be out of this mess.”
Although procedure does not usually permit the public to comment during the discussion when a motion is in play, the commissioners were hard-pressed for solutions and allowed a few comments to be aired.
Mary Jo Sharp called the college board’s vote “extortion.” She said the judge’s decision was the law of the land and the entire amount had to be returned to the Arts and Rec fund.
Wayne McCoy of Williamsburg suggested the commission have an advisory board so that any decision to hand out large sums of money might be reviewed beforehand.
Frank Tuckwiller offered a series of figures which convinced him that the college is on solid financial ground. His wife Margaret Tuckwiller was of a different mind, “The GCC made a mistake. Accept the $600,000 as a reasonable exchange,” she said.
Finding no satisfying alternatives, Commissioner McClung then moved to take NRCTC to court. “I move to instruct council to commence appropriate litigation to resolve this issue.”
Hanna asked prosecutor Via how long they could expect legalities to take within the court proceedings. Via answered, “At the very least a year.”
Hanna said he wanted to leave the motion on the table for two weeks to allow for any possible action the college might still offer and to wait for cooler heads. “Then I will vote for your motion,” he said.
McClung”s patience was spent. “It comes down to Greenbrier County suing the state of West Virginia. “This is absurd.” But Hanna held sway, stating, “We need help. I don’t like the county commission suing the college.” But he added, “If nothing moves in the next two weeks, I promise I will go with your motion.”
The vote to table McClung’s motion was 2-1 with McClung opposing.