CHARLES TOWN—Concern to keep county offices downtown instead of moving them farther out in the community has caused former town council member Michael Tolbert to appear before two local governing bodies during the same week.
Tolbert gave a public comment presentation to town council members during their regular meeting August 16 then he gave a similar presentation to Jefferson County Commissioners August 19. During their July meeting, county commissioners instructed County Administrator Stephanie Grove to “explore locations” for a county complex.
“We have not mentioned any locations,” said Steve Stolipher, County Commission president.
Tolbert asked town council members to do what they could to keep county businesses in town. In an interview, Tolbert said moving offices away from town “could have a negative impact on Charles Town and do harm to local businesses. People need to be close to places to eat. Lawyers and other businesses need to be close to county offices for filings and other activities. We’re the county seat.”
Renovating and expanding the area around and behind the existing courthouse should be considered first before any potential move, he added.
“There have been discussions in the past about expanding the current site at the courthouse. We would want to keep the historical front facade of the courthouse and other buildings,” Tolbert said.
Tolbert told council members about the significance of not only the 150-year-old courthouse but of Charles Town itself. Just a few facts he sited: Charles Town was the site of the trial and hanging of abolitionist John Brown for his 1859 raid in Harpers Ferry; it was founded by George Washington’s youngest brother Charles; and even John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, frequented the area before his infamous action.
During the interview, Tolbert said Charles Town epitomizes the John Denver song, “Country Roads.”
“We are near the Shenandoah River and Blue Ridge Mountains. We are unique. At some point, we might consider a small Charles Town museum as part of the county complex. We’re only five blocks from the casino. It would attract people into town,” Tolbert said.
However, he said his main concern now was to keep county offices right where they are.
“We need to step up and take on the responsibility of keeping county offices in downtown Charles Town,” he said.
Following the town council meeting Mayor Bob Trainor said,“We’re not sure the county commission is seriously planning to move the county offices out of Charles Town, but we certainly plan to gather additional information on the subject.”
County Administrator Grove said possible renovations and expansion of county offices and a new county complex have been discussed by prior county commissioners for years.
“I’ve been here 16 years and discussions have been happening even before I got here,” Grove said.
Grove said before the pandemic, contracts were negotiated for possible renovations, but they fell through and no work took place.
“This is a policy decision for the commission. State Code requires the county offices to be located within the county seat of the county,” she said.