HARPERS FERRY – The irony of Harpers Ferry’s mayor and town council going missing for Monday’s election vote recount was not lost on Jerry Hutton.
“I find it extremely sad that on Veterans Day, when we honor the men and women who died and fought for democracy in our country, that we have …members of our Town Council who are continuing to suppress the most basic rights of our democratic republic—the right to vote,” Hutton, a former town councilman, said to about 40 town residents who assembled in Town Hall Monday to witness the recount, which was ordered last week by Jefferson County Circuit Judge Debra McLaughlin.
Four volunteer judges assembled at one end of a long conference table, ready to begin the recount. The start of the scheduled 5 p.m. event arrived and everyone still waited. They waited while talking among themselves and eyeing a clock on the wall. And they waited some more. But the recount, which was organized and circuit court and before that, nearly 10 years as an elected county magistrate.
Noland said her second commission term has been more challenging than her first. She said the job of a county commissioner is officially considered a part-time position, but the increasing issues and responsibilities involved with overseeing the government of a growing jurisdiction have made the position a full-time commitment.
“If you’re doing it right, it’s not a part-time job,” she said.
Noland said she ran for re-election to the county commission a second time because no other Democratic candidate stepped forward to run.
Two candidates have filed to run for the commission’s Kabletown seat next year. Lane Johnson, a Democrat lives east of Charles Town. A retired Army colonel, she recently retired as a civilian personnel manager at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md.
Steve Stolipher, a Republican who lives south of Charles Town, is running. A real estate broker, auctioneer and farmer, he serves as vice chairman of the Jefferson County Planning Commission.
County commissioners are paid $41,395 a year.
Noland said discourse during public discussions and debates has deteriorated in recent years, making the sacrifice of public service much greater.
“It’s the lack of civility in our society that has been difficult to deal with,” Noland said.
“It’s not the county that’s changed,” she added. “It’s the people.”
Noland acknowledged that contentious and sometimes harsh public criticism that she and other commissioners received during the past two years over the Rockwool insulation factory near Kearneysville contributed to her decision not to seek another term in public office.
Confrontations over the factory, including several lawsuits citizens filed against the county and other local government bodies, have been particularly difficult and time-consuming.
The Jefferson County Development Authority, a government body the county commission oversees, assisted state officials in recruiting the factory. However, the county commission’s only direct role in recruiting the factory was approving real estate and personal property tax breaks arranged by development authority officials.
The Payments in Lieu of Taxes agreement, which the Jefferson County Board of Education also signed, later became controversial with some citizens who didn’t want Rockwool to receive development incentives.
Among several public officials sometimes harshly criticized by factory opponents during public meetings and on social media, Noland has defended the need for the factory as an opportunity to diversify Jefferson County’s economy with more local jobs that can support local families.
“A lot of the people had expectations that we couldn’t fulfill,” she said of the county commission’s limited role with Rockwool and its factory.
Asked to give advice to future commissioners, her response included a Rockwool-related message: “As a community commissioner you have to be responsible for the fiscal health of the county. You have to put the county first.”
While it may have drawn the most bitter opposition, the factory isn’t the only issue that has drawn sharp debate before the commission in recent years, particularly as more conservative members of the commission were elected. Other issues became contentious among the public and the commission. One issue was whether to trim an annual $40 household ambulance fee by $5, which Noland opposed but was outvoted by a 3-2 majority. Another was whether to remove a bronze plaque honoring local Confederate soldiers, which was placed on the Jefferson County Courthouse in 1986, which Noland initially opposed removing but then supported after further reflection. Last December the plaque was taken down after last year’s election results brought a 3-2 majority vote to reverse the commission’s majority position on the issue.
Yet another recent contentious issue among commissioners was whether to merge the Jefferson County Public Service District sewer and water system with Charles Town’s municipal utility system, which Noland opposed along with Commissioner Jane Tabb.
Noland and Tabb favored forming a regional utility authority to help insulate public infrastructure decisions from political considerations that could hinder county growth and development. The merger went ahead on a 3-2 vote and was completed last January.
The commission made commitments to pursue the utility merger, but before it became official, the Rockwool factory controversy erupted in the summer of 2018. The factory’s opponents targeted an approximately $10.5 million sewer line that the Charles Town Utility Board was obligated to build under state utility law and that state development officials were funding.
Five lawsuits are still pending in Jefferson County Circuit Court over the factory, including one directly over the City of Charles Town’s approval of the sewer line.
After her current county commission term ends next December, Noland said she plans to rest and spend more time with family and personal activities that she has neglected. She said she doesn’t plan to run for another public office anytime soon.
“I have a lot of hobbies,” she said.