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Water Board members question Thayer's actions

by James Fisher

STAFF WRITER

CLARKSBURG -- Tuesday's Water Board meeting erupted after outgoing member Russell Lopez said he has asked the state ethics commission to investigate member Charles O. Thayer III.

Lopez questioned Thayer's attendance of some conferences, his actions at the same conferences and his involvement with the Municipal League while on Clarksburg City Council.

Thayer said he welcomed any investigation because he has done nothing wrong.

After Lopez's statement, the meeting disintegrated into a shouting match when Board President Patty D'Anselmi questioned Thayer's motives in sending out letters in April publicly endorsing two candidates in the June 5 municipal election.

Thayer has maintained for some time that there are serious problems with the Water Board and helped initiate a Public Service Commission investigation into a proposed 15 percent water rate increase.

The PSC's investigation did reveal some managerial problems, leading a PSC administrative law judge to call some practices "obscene." But a rate increase was eventually approved.

Thayer, D'Anselmi and Lopez argued for several minutes about the investigation and the legal fees associated with it.

D'Anselmi is seeking re-election while Lopez is not. Thayer's seat is not open.

Discussions on another agenda item also were heated at times as the president of the worker's union asked the board to reopen contract negotiations.

Employees are working under a two-year contract that is set to expire June 30. Because neither management nor the union opened negotiations before March 1, a one-year extension clause automatically kicked in.

Union President Larry Bonnett asked the board to consider negotiating now for a new contract. Board attorney John L. DePolo said taking such action could lead to legal problems for the board. He suggested waiting until after July 1 to begin negotiating.

If negotiations began immediately, DePolo questioned whether that would nullify the automatic extension. If so, that could mean that the contract would expire on June 30. If negotiations became protracted, it could present problems for the board, he said.

DePolo also said it would be practically impossible to adequately research and review all the contract points within a month.

Board members took no action on the request.

Bonnett and union vice president Dave Layton said they believed their request was reasonable because they already have submitted a package of requests to General Manager Dick Welch. Bonnett said whenever contract negotiations have run long in the past, the union has always requested and received an extension.

In other business, board members:

* Decided to wait until the next meeting to review bids on two used Water Board vehicles for sale.

* Tabled an agreement with the city's Park Board to operate Buffalo Lake because the Park Board tabled the agreement at their last meeting. DePolo said there are still a couple of issues to work out on the agreement.

* Decided to assist Robert C. Byrd High School in running water lines to the new softball complex, but declined to pay for all the materials. Welch was directed to contact the school board with the offer of equipment and manpower, but all materials used will be billed.

* Received an update on the Second Street tank project from engineer Mike Hritz.

* Commended the employees for placing second in the state's annual water taste test. The test was held at the state section meeting of the American Water Works Association last weekend at Canaan Valley Resort. Clarksburg placed second out of 14 entries from around the state.

Staff writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at jfisher@exponent-telegram.com.

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