Marion County Commission unanimously votes to annul controversial job position

Sep. 9—FAIRMONT — The Marion County Commission annulled its April decision that created the position of Director of Media and Events and gave County Attorney Chuck Shields authority to negotiate a dismissal of a lawsuit that alleges the county violated the state's Open Meetings Act in relation to creating the job position.

The suit filed in August by former county commissioner Guy Ward stems from an April 26 meeting where Matt Offutt was hired as director of media and events which the complaint states was conducted in an inappropriate manner.

Friday's vote took place at a special session of the county commission.

"I think we're heading in the right direction," Ward said after the vote.

He was unable to comment further due to the continuing legal work that must be done following the commission's decision.

The annulment vote came after the commission voted to go into executive session in order to discuss a personnel matter. Commissioner Linda Longstreth made the motion to annul the decision to create the position in question, Commissioner Bobby DeVaul seconded the motion and Commission President Ernie VanGuildered concurred.

As of now, the position of Director of Media and Events is completely eliminated. VanGilder declined to characterize whether the status of Matt Offutt, who held the position, was fired.

VanGilder said the position was created to fulfill certain needs that the county commission had.

"We needed someone to do our social media, upgrade our news webpage and also take care of Palatine Park, which was about 33% of the job itself," VanGilder said. "Also, to communicate with outside businesses in the county and develop a relationship with our county government."

The position was initially supposed to be a one-year contract with a 90-day probation period.

During the position's brief life, VanGilder said the county bought a camera, which is part of a larger process to purchase a complete film system.

This is the latest chapter in an ongoing controversy surrounding the commission's actions when it came to creating the position of Director of Media and Events.

At one of the commission's meetings in April, the commission hired Matt Offutt as the director. However, Commissioner Longstreth expressed concern at the time that procedural requirements to fill the position hadn't been met before Offut's hiring. Through a motion, Longstreth proposed postponing the hiring until after procedural requirements were met. However, Commissioner DeVaul amended her motion and moved to hire Offutt, which VanGilder seconded. Offut was hired on a 2-1 vote.

DeVaul had previously referred to Offutt as "my great friend" in a Facebook post. On a follow-up call, DeVaul told the Times West Virginian no favoritism or benefits were involved, and that if hiring can't be done on the basis of personal knowledge of a candidate or friendship, no one could be hired due to the extensive network of friendships he has throughout the county.

However, Longstreth later told the Times West Virginian that the commission did not receive any resumes for the three candidates who were up for the position.

Later in August, former commission member and White Hall mayor Guy Ward filed a civil suit against the commission.

His complaint stated the hiring was conducted in an inappropriate manner. He said the position wasn't even approved before the commission began the hiring process. The commission needs to discuss any position first to decide its budget and other logistical elements before a job is made official. Only then can the hiring process begin. Ward said he didn't even know when the directorship was created, it had never appeared on any prior meeting agendas.

The lawsuit states that there was one ad for the job that only ran for three days and in one newspaper. Offutt was interviewed only two days after the posting.

Ward said these actions violated the Open Meetings Act. He said the issue was that there was no way the commissioners could have put the hiring on their meeting agenda without talking about it before the meeting.

"They saw and made decisions before the meeting," Ward said previously. "It's obvious they did that."

With the position now gone, the next step is for Shields to speak with Ward's attorney and figure out where to go next. Ward declined to comment on what that could look like since it is an ongoing civil case.

After Friday's meeting, VanGilder said he hopes the position will return someday.

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