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Thoughts on the final counting in the Harpers Ferry election

By Staff | Aug 14, 2020

As a concerned citizen and former mayoral candidate in Harpers Ferry, I appreciate Toni Milbourne’s reporting on the resolution to our 2019 town election. However, ending her article with editorial speculation about whether newly certified council member Nancy Singleton Case should recuse herself on Hilltop-related votes seemed out of place and lacking in important details.

For over one year, Case was unjustly denied the seat she had earned on the Town Council by the Board of Canvassers’ decision to not count four neighbors’ votes due to mangled registrations at the DMV. Even after the circuit court told them that was an unlawful move and the secretary of state wrote that they had misinterpreted the regulations, they appealed to the West Virginia Supreme Court. The four provisional ballots of these residents never would have been counted had it not been for a challenge by Case and fellow candidate Debra McGee that cost them greatly in expense and personal effort.

Over 30 people, including myself, contributed to Case and McGee’s legal fund because we believed that electoral integrity in Harpers Ferry was at stake. Hilltop owners Fred and Karen Schaufeld were among the contributors and made no secret about it, having shared their reasoning in a council meeting and in the press. Before SWaN invested $100 million in our community, they wanted assurances that they were negotiating with a lawfully elected council.

We contributors all felt the Tribunal majority’s actions were at best misguided, but more likely an underhanded way to maintain power. Our views were confirmed by the June Supreme Court decision, which stated “the Tribunal’s findings were manifestly wrong and against the clear weight of the evidence presented during the election contest trial[T]he evidence established all the provisional voters were duly registered voters who resided at addresses falling within the boundaries of Harpers Ferry.”

Should Case recuse herself in Hilltop matters because the Schaufelds were among those contributing to her just cause? No. To deny the residents their elected representation would perpetuate the injustices and reward those who have betrayed the town. But if that’s open to debate, perhaps we should also question whether our current mayor ought to be involved in Hilltop matters.

Several conflicts come to mind. First, as an immediate neighbor to the hotel property, Bishop has voiced opposition, to the extent that he brought a personal lawsuit against the hotel in 2016 and, after reaching the West Virginia Supreme Court level, dropped it only when he became mayor. Second, while serving on the Harpers Ferry Planning Commission in 2007-2008, Bishop unsuccessfully sought employment by the hotel owners and during that same timeframe, he attempted to sell SWaN his home for double the appraised value. Though Bishop denied these actions for years, copies of email exchanges were published in the press in 2019, confirming them to be true. And third, let’s not forget that just last month, Mayor Bishop’s adult daughter, who’s lived in Utah for years, was convicted of illegally voting in our town’s 2019 election.

Perhaps we should also ask if recusal is appropriate on the part of council member Hardy Johnson, who, along with incumbent candidate Charlotte Thompson, was recently found to have violated state ethics codes for his failure to recuse himself on the provisional vote decision, since those votes could affect his election to the council. Again, the unanimous Supreme Court decision stated it well, “The respondents assert that the participation of council members Johnson and Thompson as members of the Tribunal ‘ran afoul of common sense, logic, statutory law and the West Virginia Ethics Code governing elected officials.’ We agree.”

Public discussion after the final vote tallying has centered on the healing among factions that should take place in Harpers Ferry. I agree. But true healing can only take place when all sides are able to voice their opinions and take part in town decisions, and when all residents, property owners and business owners are treated with respect.

Chris Craig, of Harpers Ferry