Hancock Commission addresses ethics issue

NEW CUMBERLAND — Hancock County commissioners will seek a contract exemption after a question of ethics was raised over the use of a Chester car wash owned by one commissioner.

With a 2-0 vote, the commission approved a motion Thursday to petition the West Virginia Ethics Commission for the contract exemption over the use of the Water World car wash on Carolina Avenue, owned by Commissioner Jeff Davis, for the purpose of washing the Sheriff’s Department’s cruisers.

Sheriff Ralph Fletcher provided a letter to the commission, explaining the question was brought to his attention, and the use of the business started under the administration of former Sheriff Jeff Woofter.

Fletcher also stated the Sheriff’s office also utilizes the Falling Waters car wash, previously known as Tender Touch, located on Main Street in Weirton, and that both businesses are about 30 minutes apart from each other.

“Since well before me, I believe under Sheriff Woofter, the department started utilizing that facility to wash their vehicles,” Fletcher said. “We also have another facility in Weirton that we use to wash our vehicles. The question arose whether we should be using Mr. Davis’ (car wash) at all.”

Water World is open around the clock, while Falling Waters is open during normal business hours except for holidays.

In his letter, Fletcher said that 14 deputies live in the north end of the county, nine in the middle and six in the southern end, and for this reason, Fletcher said the car washes at the opposite ends of the county serve as a convenience to the officers.

Fletcher also noted in his letter that the department’s patrol areas are divided into two zones: north and south. He said when officers are assigned their duties, they have the ability to have their vehicles serviced in the area in which they are assigned to patrol.

Furthermore, Fletcher stated if the department was not able to use the Chester car wash, it would “create an unnecessary amount of additional vehicular miles if we were restricted to utilizing only the business located at the most southern local.”

Fletcher said he contacted the state ethics commission and spoke with the commission’s general counsel Kimberly B. Weber, who provided documentation to Fletcher via e-mail and listed previous decisions of the ethics board in a situation similar to this and said that unless a contract exemption is obtained, the employees should avoid the Chester facility.

“Based upon these opinions, the Sheriff Office’s employees should not use Commissioner Davis’ car wash unless the Sheriff’s Department first gets a contract exemption from the Ethics Commission,” Weber wrote.

“Basically what it is, and I’ll probably get the wording wrong as far as memory serves as far as elected officials, cannot have anything within their job, which of being this instance is commissioner, that they are able to obtain or get any special benefits due to the job,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher stated the ethics commission does grant exemptions occasionally, but the request has to come from the county commission since the sheriff’s department does not have the authority to enter into contract.

Commissioners Joe Barnabei and Paul “Rex” Cowey voted in favor of the application.

Because he was the owner of the business, Davis recused himself from the conversation and stepped out of the room while the discussion and vote took place. He returned to the meeting room once the vote was approved.

(Rappach can be contacted at srappach@reviewonline.com)