During the Tuesday morning Greenbrier County Commission meeting, the commissioners voted to hire attorney Barry Bruce to represent the county in an update of the long-standing, pending litigation with the New River Community and Technical College Foundation. Commonly known as “the pool litigation,” the suit has stood unresolved for eight years.
The pool in question was housed in a building (now known as the Kyle and Ann Fort Arts and Science Building) on the NRCTC Lewisburg campus, and was at one time the property of the county, under lease to the Division of Highways. The county gave 11 of every 12 months’ rent proceeds to the college, and then later gave the building to NRCTC to support the continued growth of the college. The college offered the building back to the county when a growing interest on the part of the public for a pool project began heating up. Although the county did not take up the offer, the pool issue was thrust squarely into the county’s lap. The Greenbrier County Commission entered into a lease with New River for the aquatic center project in 2010.
At issue is a 2-1 vote by the county commission in Dec. 2012, which allocated $1.3 million in hotel-motel tax money for renovation work on the swimming pool. Since it was not a county-owned facility, an indictment followed, alleging that funding of the project with hotel-motel tax money was “not authorized by law.” At that point, New River returned $300,000 of the allocation following a request for a return of the funds. The remaining $1 million became the subject of a civil litigation. Settlement offers and counter offers went back and forth without reaching an amenable solution.
Bruce, who was involved in the case but in another capacity, said at the meeting he thought the case “could be won if aggressively sought.” He said the commission has two options: “One is to try to force the agreement that was made in principle or to move forward and take some action [to] get the case over with.”
Commissioner Lowell Rose proposed that the commission first reach out to Interim New River President Dr. Kathy Butler on the prospect of solving the issue without litigation. New River President Dr. L. Marshall Washington, who inherited the pool issue from former President Dr. Ted Spring, served the college for five years until he recently resigned.
Commission President Woody Hanna stated that since his defeat in the last election, he wanted to clear this litigation item off the books before the end of the year when Tammy Shifflett-Tincher takes his place.
“I admire your courage,” Commissioner Mike McClung said, who was opposed to funding the pool project from the beginning. “I thought that was a can that deserved to be kicked a while longer.”
In other business:
- Meadow River Trail consultant and grant writer Doug Hylton requested the commission sign a supplemental agreement from the Division of Highways (DOH) for FEMA trail repair funds to be added to the DOH construction funds in the amount of $61,000. The repair delays, he said, were waiting for this transfer to go through, but otherwise, the trail project is cleared for completion, including the final 6.2 miles into Rainelle.
- Greenbrier County Sheriff Bruce Sloan was approved to hire a new deputy sheriff. Zachary Hudnall will fill an existing vacancy, he said. Sloan, who has been acquiring his deputies from local police departments, currently still has two vacancies open, but, he reports, is now hiring from a civil service list.
- Executive Director Al Whitaker with the 911 Center received three bids for two structures scheduled for demolition through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). “This is not a flood-related issue,” he said, but is a planned demolition begun prior to the 2016 flood. One structure is located on River Road in Ronceverte, the other is in Rainelle on Railroad Avenue in the Lilly Park area. The bids, which were opened by the commissioners, were from Hanna & Sons Excavating Contractors, Lynch Construction and Empire Salvage and Recycling. Whitaker said the bids will need to be evaluated to whether they meet the required criteria, including costs for asbestos extraction.
- At the tail end of the meeting, former Lewisburg Mayor DeEtta Hunter, for the second time in two weeks, aired a complaint she has against the 911 Center for allegedly not providing tow truck service for an out-of-gas situation she found herself in a few weeks ago. Hunter said her car had come to a stop in a traffic lane on Rte. 219 near Shoney’s Restaurant, posing a threat for an accident. Calling the two 911 responders she spoke with as “incompetent,” Hunter also insisted Whitaker be held accountable and possibly be relieved of his job.
Whitaker, who was named West Virginia’s Emergency Manager of the Year in 2013, was asked by Hanna to inform the public of the training that all 911 employees are required to have before they are allowed to handle incoming calls. After Whitaker’s list of detailed requirements, Hanna said he was confident that Whitaker would take care of the follow-through procedures to resolve this issue. “Mistakes were made,” he said, “and we’ll put this issue behind us.” Hunter disagreed, stating she wanted to see a full report of the two 911 operators’ employment records.