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Two in Harpers Ferry case admit to ethics violations

By Staff | Aug 14, 2020

Charlotte Thompson was sworn in as a member of Harpers Ferry Council in June 2019, but lost her seat following the count of four provisional ballots July 29. Toni Milbourne

HARPERS FERRY – While the votes have been counted and a new council member has been sworn into the Harpers Ferry Town Council, additional actions have been taken against one current and one former town council member, in conjunction with the more than year-long battle to count provisional ballots.

Hardwick Johnson, current council member, and Charlotte Thompson, who lost her seat at the time of the recount, have admitted to violating the voting provision of the West Virginia Governmental Ethics Act.

The Ethics Act prohibits public officials from voting on matters in which they, or a business with which they are associated, has a financial interest. Council members in Harpers Ferry receive $2,000 per year to serve. The election contest could have resulted in Johnson or Thompson losing their seat at the council table.

According to documents released by the state Ethics Commission, both Johnson and Thompson entered into conciliation agreements with the WVEC after participating in a hearing on whether to count the provisional ballots in question. Both council members could have been removed from their seats, depending on how the provisional votes fell. However, both Johnson and Thompson remained on the election tribunal during the deliberations and voted against counting the provisional ballots.

Both Johnson and Thompson said they continued to participate in overseeing the election contest on advice of legal counsel, citing the “rule of necessity” required them to participate. The rule of necessity is defined as an exception to the disqualification of a judge, which allows a judge who is otherwise disqualified, to handle the case if there is no provision that allows another judge to hear the matter, according to the conciliation agreement. However, the agreement goes on to say that only four members were needed for a quorum, and those four members would include the mayor, town recorder and two council members who received the highest number of votes. Johnson and Thompson could therefore have recused themselves from the election tribunal, without it losing a quorum.

The same sentiment was expressed by the West Virginia State Supreme Court in the June 2020 ruling affirming the provisional ballots must be counted. The court ruled that Johnson and Thompson should have removed themselves from the process, because both could have lost their council seats.

The conciliation agreements, signed on July 17, 2020, order that both Johnson and Thompson pay $750 each in fines, receive a public reprimand and complete training on the ethics act within 30 days.

With the counting of the four provisional ballots on July 29, the final count had Barbara Humes receiving 92 votes; Jay Premack receiving 90 votes; Christian Pechuekonis receiving 88 votes; Johnson receiving 86 votes and Case receiving 85 votes. Thompson and Deborah McGee, who was the second party in the filing for a recount, both received 84 votes. The victorious council members, including Case and Johnson, were sworn in immediately following the counting of the provisional votes.