Contends lack of transparency in Hancock County
To the editor:
In July 2016, the Hancock County Commission refused to renew its animal shelter operation contract with the nonprofit which had operated the county shelter for over twenty years. Then, the commission immediately requested a legal opinion from the W.Va. Attorney General’s Office regarding legal rights to a shelter excess levy balance of over $360,000 raised on behalf of the nonprofit.
In March 2017, the attorney general provided a legal opinion stating that the commission did not have a right to the accumulated funds and recommended the funds be returned to the taxpayers.
A little over a year ago, I addressed this commission and asked if they had made a decision to return the excess levy money to county taxpayers as recommended by the attorney general. I also made the commission aware of a discussion I had with Attorney General Patrick Morrissey in September 2018. I asked him if the commission spending over $60,000 of the accumulated funds after its shelter takeover was legal. I specifically asked, “How can a commission spend funds they have no legal right too?” He said no one had asked for his opinion on that issue, and it would be best answered by our circuit court. At the end of this December 2018 meeting, Commission President Jeff Davis stated that maybe the commission needs to look into another direction regarding spending these funds.
Having heard nothing regarding the return of the excess levy funds to the taxpayers, as recommended by the Attorney General, I contacted the Attorney General’s Office last June to inquire if anyone from Hancock County had contacted them and what is the status of their office providing further information related to the excess levy money. Later that day an assistant attorney general returned my call. He informed me that he had asked his office colleagues if any of them had been contacted by Hancock County regarding the Animal Shelter Excess Levy Opinion. He said nobody from their office had been contacted regarding the excess levy funds for a couple years.
I attended last week’s Hancock County Commission meeting and asked for an update regarding any decision or plan for the $300,000 that the Attorney General recommended be returned to the taxpayers. The commissioners did not provide any information. I also asked if the commission would tell the residents of Hancock County what they intend to do with this money by the end of March which will be three years since Morrisey’s legal opinion was issued? They did not respond to this request either.
Commissioner Joe Barnabei, Jeff Davis and Paul Cowey need to tell the residents of Hancock County what they plan to do with this money. Again, March 2020 will be three years since the attorney general recommended they return it to the taxpayers.