Law Officials at Odds

WHEELING-The Ohio County sheriff’s and Wheeling police departments are at odds over the county’s participation in funded highway safety programs administered by the Governor’s Highway Safety Program.

Chief Deputy Drage Flick said police Cpl. Neil Fowkes, regional coordinator of the West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety Program, failed to contact his department to participate in a recent Click It or Ticket initiative or any other funded program during the past two years.

The issue arose Wednesday after Governor’s Highway Safety Program Director Bob Tipton said the sheriff’s department did not participate in the May 9-26 seat belt sweep throughout the state and has not been involved in other similar campaigns.

“The Ohio County Sheriff’s Department does not participate in any of our funded programs,” Tipton said.

When asked why his department does not participate, Sheriff Pat Butler referred the question to Flick, who alleged Fowkes has shunned the sheriff’s department from such work.

“We have been left out of communication from the highway safety coordinator from the Wheeling Police Department,” Flick said.

He said a conflict developed when the sheriff’s department did not receive approximately $5,000 in state grant money because its application apparently became lost. The funding, instead, came from county taxpayers through an allocation from the Ohio County Commission.

“In 2012, our paperwork got lost,” Flick said. “We did not receive funding for our participation in speed enforcement and DUI enforcement initiatives. We have not been contacted for (funded initiatives) since then.”

Deputy Chief Martin Kimball said the police department never received the sheriff’s department paperwork.

“It never reached our desk,” he said.

Flick also said that in 2013, he contacted Tipton to inquire if the regional highway safety coordinator could be appointed from his department rather than the city’s.

“He replied that it is not customary to move the coordinator to another police department unless there is an issue or the current department no longer wants the position,” Flick said.

Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger called Flick’s move to have a new highway safety coordinator named a “backdoor effort.”

“As far as I am concerned, Cpl. Fowkes is the best highway safety coordinator in the state of West Virginia,” he said.

Schwertfeger said it is not his department’s problem if the sheriff’s department does not want to participate in the programs.

“I am not in a position to coddle them,” he said. “It’s up to them if they want to participate.”

Schwertfeger also disagreed with Flick’s suggestion that the Wheeling Police Department lost the paperwork.

“I disagree with whatever reason they gave … for the paperwork being lost,” he said, adding nobody from the sheriff’s department has approached him about the program.

“I would imagine, because we are professionals, we would love to have their participation in making all of Ohio County safe,” he said. “I do not have time to beg them to participate. That’s on them.”