Williamson Mayor Charlie Hatfield took time during the most recent meeting of the Williamson City Council to address a move the council recently made to have an investigation launched into Hatfield and his involvement in the sale of the former Williamson High School building, saying he “did no wrong.”
During the council comments portion of the agenda, Hatfield told those present that Kentucky-based Campbellsville University had received approval to offer additional classes in Mingo County. He then turned his attention to an action that occurred during the last meeting, during which the council voted 3-1 to have him investigated in regard to the former Williamson High School complex.
“I would like us to remain civil to each other,” Hatfield said prefacing his remarks.
He then asked Councilman Randal Price if all the necessary documents have been turned over to Mingo County Prosecutor Duke Jewell. Price indicated that he had done so.
“I need to prepare my defense, but the prosecutor said he has not gotten the documents,” he continued. “I would like it done properly. I did no wrong. I am in real estate and I know you don’t buy property with title issues.”
Hatfield also cautioned Price that he needed to be careful of his actions as not to violate open meeting laws. Hatfield quoted from a newspaper article which referenced that Price had talked with two other members of the council about the concerns over the property.
“You can’t talk about issue like this outside of the council,” Hatfield said. “You have to be mindful of the sunshine laws.”
Price responded by saying he could talk to anyone he wanted to about any topic as long as the conversation included no more than one other member of the council.
Williamson Police Chief Grady Dotson presented a proposal to the council during the meeting which would increase the fines imposed on people arrested for drug possession.
Currently, the fine for simple possession is about the same amount as for other routine offenses — around $150 to $175 on average, Dotson said.
“I don’t think someone charged with having drugs should be charged the same as someone with a traffic violation,” Dotson said. “It’s just not right.”
Other cities and towns around the state have already taken such measures, he said, adding that the state recently revised its fine schedule. One town he cited specifically was that of Gilbert in southern Mingo County.
“Gilbert has made a declaration that it has a zero tolerance for drugs,” Dotson said. “They have raised their fines for possession to $1,000.”
However, Dotson said that he was reluctant to going that high because it is far in excess of the fines being charged by the state. His proposal is that the fine be raised to $500 which is more in-line with state rates.
“It has deterred activities in Gilbert,” he said. “Stiffer fines would deter people from having drugs here.”
Dotson said about four to five people are cited with simple possession each week.
The police chief was told in order to increase the fines. an amendment would have to be made to the city code. The topic will be put on a future agenda to seek the amendment.
The council also met in executive session with attorney Letitia “Tish” Chafin regarding the recent settlement of a national opioid lawsuit the city in which the city was a participant. Following the closed session, the council voted to opt out of the settlement.
The Chafin Law Firm, which represents more than 20 counties, cities and town involved in the ligation, has advised all of it clients to the same action. To date all of the firm’s clients – including the Mingo County Commissions and the towns of Delbarton, Gilbert, Kermit and Matewan – have followed this recommendation, according to Chafin.
“There has not been a settlement proposed in the national case that would provide a fair and just settlement to the counties and cities in West Virginia who have been so disproportionately affected by the opioid epidemic. Nor is there any other state in the country that suffered as many overdose deaths per population as West Virginia,” Chafin said. “It has been and remains our intention to litigate these cases in West Virginia.”