Inform Public on Authority’s Issues

The happenings over the past few weeks with the Ohio County Development Authority — the agency tasked with overseeing development at The Highlands in Ohio County — deserve a full public explanation. That needs to come from Ohio County commissioners Randy Wharton, Don Nickerson and Zach Abraham.

The matter at hand here deals with how the authority approved a new management contract for The Highlands. That took place Dec. 15, when the board hired former Ohio County Administrator Greg Stewart’s newly formed company to oversee the development. Commissioners have since said the authority’s board may have violated the state’s open meetings laws in how it approved the contract and also with how the board appointed three new members.

Last week, in response to what transpired at the Dec. 15 meeting, commissioners removed several development authority board members and appointed others. Among those removed was former Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie who was replaced by current Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott. Three other members appointed to the development authority board Dec. 15 also saw their appointments annulled. This happened due to the new members’ names not being placed on the agenda prior to the meeting, commissioners said, a violation of the open meetings laws.

The contract with Stewart’s management company — about $200,000 annually — also should not have been voted on at the Dec. 15 meeting, Wharton said, as not all development authority members — including Wharton and Nickerson — were aware that changes had been made to the contract. It is not clear exactly who made the changes to the contract, as Wharton serves as president of the development authority.

“Prior to the meeting, something transpired — I don’t know what it was — but the contract provided in the meeting notice was rejected and moved off the agenda and another contract was placed on the agenda,” Wharton told our reporter.

Nickerson said some board members learned of the new contract in advance, and that they decided outside of the meeting — another open meetings violation — to approve that revised contract.

If that’s true, it’s unacceptable. Commissioners need to do a full investigation of the matter and report those findings to the public. If there are members that still remain on the development authority board that helped to orchestrate the action, they should be removed — immediately. If Stewart’s contract was not handled correctly, it should be brought back before the authority and voted on again. At a time when trust in government is at an all-time low, it’s imperative that county commissioners do the right thing here and not only correct any mistakes made at the Dec. 15 meeting, but give a full explanation to the public as to how they happened and what controls are put in place to ensure it won’t happen again.


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