WILLIAMSON, WV (LOOTPRESS) – As expected, the Mingo County Republican Executive Committee — virtually non-existent until earlier this month — ignored legal advice and selected a late county commissioner’s widow as one of three potential replacements.
When Republican Commissioner Gavin Smith unexpectedly passed away last month, it created a vacancy on the three-member panel.
State law mandates that the replacement be of the same party as the deceased and have been so for at least 60 days prior to the vacancy.
Soon after Smith’s death, the name of his wife, Audrey, surfaced as a possible replacement.
It was soon discovered, however, that Audrey Smith had been registered as an independent when her husband passed. Thus, according to various public and private attorneys, she could not meet the requirement of being of the same party as the deceased commissioner. Further, it was not possible for her to meet the 60-day membership requirement.
Audrey Smith did, in fact, register Republican days after her husband’s death.
Some — including sitting GOP Commissioner Thomas Taylor — insisted she should be named despite not meeting the party requirement and/or length of time.
Initially, the law gives the two remaining commissioners 30 days to agree on a replacement. On the 30th day, Democrat Commissioner Diann Hannah nominated Ernest Sammons for the position but Taylor did not second the motion. Taylor offered no nomination.
Simmons, operator of Twisted Gun Golf Course, was the Republican candidate for sheriff in the 2020 election.
The lack of an agreement by the two commissioners triggered another phase of the process whereby the county Republican committee can provide three potential members to the two commissioners.
Controversy reigned with respect to this segment of the process. First of all, County Clerk Yogi Croaff showed that only two of the potential 14 committee member seats were filled.
That raised the question as to whether a quorum of the committee could be achieved.
Then, Chair Bo Copley began to articulate the belief that Audrey Smith was eligible to be named to the committee list. Prosecuting Attorney Duke Jewell had disagreed with that interpretation of the law.
When the committee met Thursday evening at the courthouse, public comment was not allowed. Therefore nobody informed the committee members — allegedly six by now — of Audrey Smith’s questionable eligibility.
After balloting by the alleged members, Copley announced that the three candidates chosen were Chuck Fortner, Smith and Chuck Hatfield.
Some Mingo Republicans said they expect to pursue legal action to prevent Smith from being a candidate due to the party registration issue.