The Jefferson County Commission, in a special session Wednesday, moved closer to offering former County Administrator Leslie Smith a contract position to help analyze the county budget and find solutions to financial problems facing the group.
The topic had been on the commission's Thursday agenda and was moved to the special session to allow for public input and amendments to a proposed contract. Only two individuals were present at the Wednesday meeting. One, Debbie Royalty, spoke against hiring Smith, who had been terminated by the county and who sued for wrongful termination. Smith received a settlement of more than $200,000 from the county.
Royalty also questioned the legality of the entire process saying that no bid was put out for the contract which would pay Smith a minimum of $10,000 with additional costs added for travel, expenses and insurance.
The meeting ran nearly two hours as commissioners went section by section through a proposed contract for consulting services. Commissioner Lyn Widmyer, who opposed the hiring of Smith, or any consultant at this time, questioned multiple components of the document.
"We are getting close to hiring a finance director," Widmyer said. "We do not need this agreement at this time. I will vote against it."
Joining Widmyer in the sentiment that the need is not a current one, Walt Pellish said he had first agreed with the idea; however being close to finalizing a hire has changed his mind.
"If that new person, when hired, would find it beneficial to consult with Leslie when starting, then let's bring her in," Pellish said.
There was not a majority consensus to put aside the contract altogether, so varying parts were questioned and proposed amendments made. Among the areas of concern voiced by Widmyer were that the contact was too vague and broad. Widmyer also questioned the timeline of budgetary analysis to be made by Smith, calling for a specific period of fiscal year 2014. An amendment made to focus only on that time frame failed for lack of a second.
"I don't think we should look backwards," Widmyer said in reference to Smith analyzing any year other than the 2014 budget.
"It took longer than one year to get in the mess we're in," Dale Manuel said. "We learn from our mistakes or we're doomed to repeat them."
Other sticking points in the contract that were discussed included travel costs for Smith who now resides in Charleston. The commission agreed to limit Smith's visits here to two visits. The group also agreed to pay for 50 percent of insurance costs for Smith's coverage. The motion to split the coverage came from Commissioner Jane Tabb who explained that any potential liability would come against Smith as a consultant as well as against the county who may or may not take the consultant's advice.
Widmyer said several times that she had reservations about hiring Smith because of a settlement agreement that was reached when Smith's suit against the county was settled. Widmyer asked counsel Stephen Groh his opinion on the clause that said that Smith would not apply for employment with the county. Widmyer questioned if being hired as a consultant violated that clause.
Groh explained that the agreement stated that if Smith applied for employment, the county did not have to hire her.
"The agreement doesn't say she can't apply or can't be hired," Groh said. "It says we don't have to hire her."
The vote came to accept the amended contract and have counsel proceed to get the contract ratified. Voting against the motion were Widmyer and Pellish.
"This is one more tool we can utilize to get our current budget under control, using an expert on working with budgets in the state of West Virginia."