An expected motion to have the mayor of Williamson investigated for allegedly taking possession of property which should belong to the city passed last Thursday. Also, a heated debate over a drug testing policy ensued.
The call for the investigation of Mayor Charlie Hatfield was placed on the agenda by Councilman Randal Price. As the item was broached, Hatfield asked Price how a council conducts an investigation.
“We will clarify that right here,” Price said and then proceeded to briefly take over the meeting as he made the motion for the investigation. Before Hatfield could continue as the presiding officer, Price asked, “Do I have a second?”
Both Councilman Joe Venturino and Councilwoman Sherri Hairston Brown seconded the motion.
“All in favor,” Price questioned the council obtaining three votes – himself, Brown and Venturino. “Any opposed,” he proceeded as Councilman Ralphie Hall cast the only dissenting vote.
The question as to the rightful ownership of the old Williamson High School Complex came during the last meeting when Price presented the council with documents and claimed the property was only leased by the Mingo County Board of Education. In addition, Price said those documents contained a reversion clause that would give the property back to the city if the board no longer maintained a school on the property.
The Williamson High School was closed in 2011 and sold to the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority in September 2013 as a pass through agent for the Mingo County Commission. The lease expired in 2015. The commission took over the ownership of the complex in August 2018 and auctioned shortly thereafter. At that time, a winning bid of $800,500 came from a group of investors which included Halfield, Sam Kapourales and Joe and Cheryl Lycan.
The motion, which was passed with no discussion at any point, stemmed from the council’s Sept. 26’s meeting in which Price and Brown had submitted a written request to City Clerk Meredith Anderson to have the matter placed on the agenda for discussion.
Price attempted to make a motion on the matter at several points during the last meeting’s heated discussion of the issue. However, Hatfield would not allow the motion to be made observing parliamentary procedure guidelines. Price was told he would have to have the topic put on the October agenda and for the agenda to stipulate it was for possible action not just as a discussion.
Brown, Price and Venturino again united forces on the next item on last Thursday’s agenda: Discussion and motion of drug testing ordinance for all city employees, appointees and elected members.
“We discussed this months and months ago. Why is it back on the agenda?” Brown asked. “I don’t know why it is back on the agenda, we were not supposed to take it. I feel like it was put back on the agenda for a purpose.”
Following her comments, Venturino asked who had put it back on the agenda and the mayor responding saying he had the issue brought back before the council.
“Was there a specific reason it was put back on the agenda?” Venturino questioned.
Hatfield said it served two purposes. The first is that insurance companies were becoming stricter with their policies and procedures. Approval of the requiring everyone on the city’s umbrella would be a proactive move. Secondly, he said Williamson still has the stigma of the ongoing opioid crisis and this would be “a good example.”
Current drug testing policies require city employees in safety sensitive positions such as police officers and firefighters. Hatfield wants the current ordinance to be expanded to include all city employees, board appointees and elected officials.
When asked about the legality of such an action, City Attorney Nathan Brown said that he has not had the opportunity to fully explore the issue but his initial response it that such an action would not be allowed. He cited a 1990s case from Georgia that arose after a policy had been adopted to require drug testing before candidates’ names could be placed on election ballots.
“That case went all the way to the supreme court,” Brown said. “Their conclusion was that the issue fell under the Fourth Amendment which prohibits illegal search and seizure.”
Brown said that the new language the mayor wants added to the city ordinance would also violate the same federal standards.
Price produced documents showing the city is violating its current drug testing policy because specified random tests have not been conducted in two years. The city’s contracted testing lab has not performed the tests since June 2017 because of the city has unpaid invoices.
Hatfield told Price that those debts were incurred before the current council took office and that there many other ways to have the testing done that would lost much less.
“We can’t afford to pay the invoices to meet our current guidelines,” Price said. “But the mayor still asks us to be complicit in violating federal standards. I’m tired of being asked to be complicit. Don’t bring that crap to us.”