Although intended primarily to provide a civics lesson for teenagers, a new Charleston Youth Council will be subject to the state Open Meeting Act, members of the West Virginia Ethics Commission determined Thursday.
Members of the commission’s Open Governmental Meetings Committee were divided over whether the youth group should fall under the act, which requires governmental bodies to provide advance public notice of meetings and agendas, and restricts their ability to meet in closed-door executive sessions, among other provisions.
Ultimately, the panel heeded the advice of Commissioner Larry Tweel, a Huntington lawyer, who raised concern that exempting the youth group from the Open Meetings Act could inadvertently set a precedent for other municipal boards or commissions to evade the law.
“I know these are youngsters, and I think we have to be mindful of that,” he said. “However, I’m leery about setting a precedent for other committees.”
According to the request for an opinion, Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin is creating a youth council for city residents between the ages of 14 to 18 to “develop confidence and leadership skills, in addition to promoting their understanding of city and local government.”
The council, which will have between seven and 13 members, will advise the mayor on ways to improve the city’s relationship with its youth. Participants also will be required to attend at least six Charleston City Council meetings, and complete 20 hours of community service during their one-year terms.
Ethics commissioners on Thursday debated at length whether it is reasonable to require the youth group to comply with the Open Meetings Act.
“Having to comply with these requirements seems onerous to me at this age,” said Monte Williams, a Morgantown lawyer. “I appreciate the spirit of the opinion, but I think I come down on the other side of it.”
Commissioner Suzan Singleton argued that it would be a good lesson for young people to learn that, if they are going to serve in government, there are rules and policies they must follow.
Tweel said he was concerned that giving an exemption to the youth group could create a loophole for other municipal boards and committees around the state to exploit.
“Our bend is toward transparency, open government and letting the public see what is going on,” he said.
Also Thursday, the Ethics Commission:
- Approved a conciliation agreement with Hedgesville High School football coach Joseph V. Yurish for use of a public office for private gain for taking a portable basketball hoop from the high school for personal use at his home.
The hoop was part of a sizable donation of athletic equipment to the school’s boosters’ club, with the donor’s stipulation that the equipment either be used by or sold for the benefit of sports teams at the school.
Yurish indicated that he took the hoop home with the intent of buying it from the boosters’ club, but he conceded that he did not put his offer to buy the hoop in writing. He said he returned the hoop this spring, after the school’s athletic director put out a directive that any of the donated equipment that had been loaned out or borrowed be returned to the school.
Under the settlement, Yurish agreed to pay a $200 fine to the Ethics Commission, reimburse the boosters’ club $200 for the personal use of the hoop, and complete an ethics training course by Dec. 15.
- Modified guidelines for Charleston lawyer Brad Crouser to follow when he becomes Workers’ Compensation chief administrative law judge in December.
Commissioners agreed with his request to modify an October advisory opinion, which would have barred him from hearing cases involving former clients for the entirety of his term, to instead require that he disqualify himself from those cases for two years — a commonly used bright-line period for judges in other states.
However, the commission declined to revisit a provision in the October opinion barring Crouser from hearing cases involving his former law firm, Jackson & Kelly, so long as he is receiving retirement payouts from the firm.
Crouser argued that the payouts are a fixed amount, and not based on future profitability of the law firm. Commissioners, however, concluded that hearing cases while having any financial relationship with his former law firm could create the appearance of impropriety.