CHARLES TOWN – Dan Casto and others with pro-business nonprofit Jefferson County Prosperity have launched Kids First, a petition drive to oust school board members who voted to pursue eminent domain to gain control of the controversial Rockwool factory site.
“Somebody has to the hold them accountable, and we intend to be the ones to do that,” Casto said.
Once the effort obtains the signatures of 1,000 county residents, Casto said a judicial process would be triggered to determine whether to remove the school board members for misconduct.
School board president Kathy Skinner along with Laurie Ogden, Gary Kable and Arthena Roper voted April 8 to pursue eminent domain in Jefferson County Circuit Court.
Mark Osbourn, who abstained from the vote, isn’t targeted in the petition, Casto said. Osbourn has said he voted to abstain because he doubts the school system has the money to build the new center.
In their legal filings, school officials have contended Rockwool’s site is ideal location for a regional student support center for students with disabilities and for a slew of other uses, a project first made public in an April 9 news release.
Rockwool officials and JCP maintain the center was devised as a pretext to stop a factory that many in the county oppose.
“Right now, they’re wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on this [condemnation] effort … to please a small, very loud subset of the county,” Casto said. “We elected these folks to make good decisions, not bow to political pressure.”
Skinner, Ogden, Kable and Roper declined to comment on JCP’s petition.
On May 1, Rockwool won a federal court injunction to stop the school board from pursuing the property condemnation in Jefferson County Circuit Court.
Last week’s court hearing showed the school board’s April 8 vote violated the state’s Open Governmental Proceedings Act, Casto said.
“We believe that the board of education has really broken the law multiple times at this point and that they’ve neglected their duty, which is to oversee the school board for the benefit of the children and the benefit of the taxpayers,” he said.
If the school board decides to fight U.S District Judge Gina Groh’s ruling, an attorney hired by the school board said the case would “easily” require 1,000 to 3,000 hours of legal work at $250 per hour – or up to $750,000.
Rockwool has asked the school system pay its attorneys fees if it prevails in court. That cost has not been disclosed.
Jefferson County Schools public information officer Hans Fogle said he could not provide how much the school system has already spent in legal fees related to the Rockwool fight.
The school system has hired several lawyers and spent at least $19,000 on advice on how to undo the Payments in Lieu of Taxes agreement school board members signed in September of 2017.
Casto said the petition follows West Virginia Code Section 6-6-7, a section of state law that dictates the signatures of 10 percent of the number of voters who took part in the last school board election are needed to call on a three-judge panel from outside the county to review the petition’s allegations.
According to the Jefferson County Clerk’s office, 8,818 people voted in the May 8, 2018, primary where Roper was elected and Skinner and Ogden elected to second terms.
If any school board members are removed, the board’s remaining members would decide on replacements. If that doesn’t happen, the decision would move to the state schools superintendent.
More about the petition may be found at jeffersoncountyprosperity.com.