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Fire board's legality questioned

by James Fisher

REGIONAL WRITER

BUCKHANNON -- While a grassroots campaign has failed to get the Upshur County Fire Service Fee put on the general election ballot in November, an Adrian man has raised questions about the legality of the fire board.

Charles Wilfong sent a letter to the county commission last week, saying the board was never properly established according to state law. In the letter, Wilfong said that state law required the board to be created as a public corporation, but no records were available showing that had ever been done.

Upshur County administrator Willie Parker disputed Wilfong's claim Monday, saying that because the board was created by statute, articles of incorporation didn't need to be filed.

A review of petitions last week showed that there were still not enough valid signatures for the fire fee to be included on the ballot in November.

"It came out 164 short," Parker said. "Even using the most liberal interpretation, only another 98 names were admitted. Pretty much 100 percent of those allowed were because the person signed using a nickname."

On July 18, Wilfong's request to reserve the names The Upshur County Firefighters Association Inc. and The Upshur County Fire Board Inc. was granted by Secretary of State Ken Hechler. That approval, according to Wilfong's letter to the commission, gives him exclusive use of those names for 120 days while he studies the feasibility of forming the two groups.

"I understand that while county officials are probably shielded from personal liability by special provisions provided elsewhere in the law, all parties who continue to act in any official capacity in an organization using my reserved names, or who continue to claim a lawful right to use the above names, should be notified immediately so they may take whatever steps necessary to protect their personal interests," Wilfong wrote in the letter.

Parker said Monday that Wilfong was merely trying to confuse the residents of Upshur County and has sent a letter to Hechler asking that the approval be rescinded. Parker also said the names that Wilfong reserved are not exact matches of the actual county groups.

"Our letter outlines the background of the groups and requests a clarification of the issue," Parker said. "We may be wrong; he may be entitled to the names, that's what we want to be absolutely clear about."

Mary P. Ratliff, Deputy Secretary of State, did not return a telephone message Monday seeking comment about the situation.

In the meantime, Parker has scheduled a fire board meeting for 7 p.m. Aug. 24 in the county commission meeting room. That meeting is to allow fire board members to finalize procedures for collecting the fee.

Regional writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446.

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