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Harris is the go-to man in the Harrison County Courthouse

by Gail Marsh

Assistant city editor

CLARKSBURG -- Working as a reporter, I've run into a lot of people who are a real asset to their places of business.

You've met them -- that one person you can call when you really need to know something or you need to know where you can find something out. The type of person about whom everyone else can say, "Yeah, call them, they'll know."

Jim Harris is that type of person -- to the max.

Jim is the county administrator, with oversight of all the actions of the Harrison County Commission and the 70 employees who work for the commission. He facilitates commission meetings, creating the agendas and handles all correspondence, something he does with apparent ease.

I spent just a half hour with him on Thursday to do the interview, and we were interrupted by one television reporter, at least four phone calls and one soon-to-be-sworn-in commissioner. And that was during Jim's lunch hour.

People depend on Jim for good reason -- he's done this job for a number of years and understands the ins and outs of county government. He has confidence in his ability to do his job, so he's quick to give straight-forward answers. I appreciate that.

I learned that Jim grew up in Anmoore, and except for a short time, has lived there all his life. I also learned that government administration was not his first career.

"Right out of high school I joined the Anmoore Fire Department. My oldest brother was a member and was in the first class to become a paramedic.

"The department got an ambulance back in 1975, and you have to be an EMT to be on it. I took the training and just fell in love with giving care to folks," he said.

Jim also became a certified paramedic. He talked about growing up quickly in the work after a tragedy struck.

"We were so young and had to bury one of our own, Kevin Hall. I think of him often. He was going out on a call and fell and broke his neck. There was nothing anyone could do. We still pay tribute to him every year at our annual awards banquet," he said.

Jim became a dispatcher for the former county Bureau of Fire and Rescue in 1977. The office used to be at the Bridgeport Fire Department. It then moved to a building near Summit Park and then to the Perry Mines facility.

Jim said his first title was "fire alarm operator trainee." He said he became senior operator and "worked through all the rank stuff," eventually becoming 911 coordinator.

He helped to set up what he called "his baby," the enhanced 911 system in 1988. When the bureau began taking police calls it became the Bureau of Emergency Services, and is now located in Nutter Fort.

Jim has held his current position since 1991, and said he still enjoys the work because he does something a little different each day. Until Tom Keeley's resignation, he had only seen one change in commissioners, when Frank Lopez was replaced by Roger Diaz.

"I feel like I'm in a position to help people access the system of government. I field a lot of calls and wind up being the first point of contact, but I help people to get what they need," he said.

What does he remember most? Like many people, the flood of '85.

"That was such a major event, and things really went very well for the bureau. We learned some things from that time as well," he said.

I only asked for a half hour of Jim's time, so I never got to ask him about his outside interests or his family. He was back on the phone when I left.

He did tell me he was going to Alexandria, Va., on Monday for training. So if you have any business at the courthouse, I recommend you wait until Tuesday.

Assistant City Editor Gail Marsh can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at gmarsh@exponent-telegram.com.

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