WILLIAMSON, WV (LOOTPRESS) – Mingo Countians may have to wait a week or more to learn who their third county commissioner will be.
The often contentious selection process to name a successor to the late Gavin Smith continued Wednesday morning at the courthouse in Williamson.
Second on the agenda was selection of Smith’s replacement and several were in attendance in anticipation of that decision being made.
Since Smith’s death, the two sitting commissioners have been unable to agree on a replacement for Smith, who tragically passed away in May.
Their failure to agree triggered a provision in state law that permits the county executive committee to recommend three names as a possible replacement. Those recommendations touched off more controversy when the county Republican Executive Committee recommended Smith’s widow, Audrey, as a potential replacement.
State law is clear that the person appointed to fill a vacancy must be of the same party as was the officeholder who vacated the position.
Further, the replacement must have been a member of the same party for at least 60 days preceding the vacancy.
Gavin Smith was elected and serving as a Republican. His widow was a registered independent at the time of his death. Thus, most observers believe Audrey Smith does not qualify to replace him.
In asking to be appointed to the spot, Audrey Smith has said she will run to complete her husband’s term next year.
Although those in attendance expected the appointment to be made Wednesday, Prosecuting Attorney Duke Jewell explained to the two remaining commissioners — Democrat Diann Hannah and Republican Thomas Taylor — that he had now asked for an opinion about the matter from the Attorney General. Jewell said the AG’s office expects to have its decision by August 10.
That’s one day before the deadline for the commission to select a replacement.
In earlier meetings, Jewell had offered the opinion that Audrey Smith did not meet the requirements to be appointed because she was an independent when her husband passed.
In a strange twist, Audrey Smith asked Hannah to strike her from the potential appointment list at Wednesday’s meeting. One aspect of the selection process allows the senior-most commissioner to remove one name from the list. Then the junior member removes one and the remaining person is appointed.
For whatever reason, Smith openly asked Hannah to eliminate her, saying “Gavin would have wanted Martin Fortner to have it.” Fortner and Chadwick Hatfield are the other two names on the list with Smith. Both of them have indicated that, if appointed, they will run next year to finish Gavin Smith’s term.
Hannah did not respond to Smith’s request that she strike her from the list. The commission then proceeded to other business as they agreed with Jewell to wait on the letter from Attorney General Patrick Morrissey.
Morrissey had earlier told this newspaper that his office had issued no formal opinion in the case but advised Mingo officials to “follow the law, which is clear.”
At least one of the other six people who applied for the appointment said he has consulted with an attorney and is “considering all legal options. The Attorney General is right. It isn’t legal for Audrey Smith to be on that list.”
At this point, the commission assumes it will be meeting next week after it receives the AG letter. At that time, they hope the question of who can be appointed is clarified.
We will continue to monitor and update this story as developments warrant.