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Morrisey advises commission on vacancy

By Staff | Jul 15, 2016

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey guided the Jefferson County Commission on filling a vacancy of the board in a Tuesday press release.

While the applicant appointed to fill the position must be from the same political party as Eric Bell, who resigned from the board after sex-related felony charges surfaced last month, Morrisey’s opinion states that West Virginia law doesn’t prohibit a person from switching political parties in order to fill the vacancy. Bell is a Republican.

“The statute is silent on this point, and no case law speaks directly to this issue,” Morrisey said in the press release. “Because the Legislature has not prescribed a cutoff date for individuals to switch parties to be considered for appointment, we see no basis for imposing one other than the practical limit that an individual must have switched parties before he or she is selected by the County Commission to fill the vacancy.”

The opinion also found that applicants do not have to represent the same magisterial district as Bell.

Moreover, current Jefferson County Commissioner Walt Pellish, whose term expires at the end of the year and was not re-elected for the seat, had originally applied to fill the vacancy. As of July 11, however, his name had been pulled from the list of applicants.

Pellish said he arrived at the decision for a multitude of reasons.

“First of all, let me clearly state that I believe I’m the most qualified person for the job. (However), other things came into play that made me decide, for the greater good of the county, that I would remove myself from the candidacy,” Pellish said in a Tuesday telephone interview. “I felt that I would be putting my fellow commissioners in a very bad position, and I thought it was the wrong thing to do to put them in that position.”

Pellish added that he wanted to be involved in the decision to fill the vacancy.

“I had already recused myself from any discussions, and I thought I need to really be part of the decision making process,” Pellish said. “I will do my duty as a commissioner, and I will strive to select the best qualified candidate that we have available.”

Pellish said he did not hear any concerns from his fellow commissioners about his application, and his decision to pull his application was a decision he came to on his own.

The board will hold public interviews of the top applicants for the vacancy during its July 21 before appointing someone to fill the position.