KEYSER - Preliminary findings by Keyser city attorney John Athey indicate that incoming mayor Damon Tillman has met all the required qualifications to be officially sworn in.

Attorney says mayor seems to qualify

By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - Preliminary findings by Keyser city attorney John Athey indicate that incoming mayor Damon Tillman has met all the required qualifications to be officially sworn in.
 This came after the Keyser City Council voted 3-1 Wednesday evening to have the city attorney investigate allegations that Tillman does not meet the requirements to serve as mayor.
Tillman’s name was not specifically mentioned during the discussion, and council member Eric Murphy, who brought the subject up during the meeting, said he was not referring to any one candidate in particular.
However, it became clear during the discussion that Tillman was the candidate being discussed. At one point, city council member Terry Liller, who was chairing the meeting for outgoing mayor Ed Miller, commented that the city “couldn’t afford to operate without a mayor” while the allegations were being investigated.
There are only two qualifications for mayor and/or council member spelled out in the city’s charter. The candidate must have been a resident of the city for at least two years prior to the election, and he or she must have “been assessed with and paid taxes upon at least $500 worth of real or personal property.”
According to Mineral County clerk Lauren Ellifritz, Tillman has been registered to vote in the city since Feb. 8, 2016.
Outgoing city administrator Randy Amtower said he researched the candidate in question both at the Mineral County Courthouse and online and discovered that he had “been assessed and paid taxes for property, but it was in New Creek.”
Amtower noted that the charter doesn’t say the assessed property has to be paid in Keyser, but Murphy replied that “it is implied.”
Amtower also said he contacted the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office about the issue, and “they said it’s pretty much up to the council to determine whether they agree that the candidate met eligibility requirements or they did not.”
When former city administrator Penny Sanders, who has continued to work with the city on various projects, suggested that the candidates “may not have been aware of what was in the charter,” Murphy suggested that the city make up an informational packet to give candidates when they sign up to run for office.
The packets that were handed to the candidates for this election made no mention of the tax eligibility requirement of the charter. Tillman said he met every requirement that was in the packet that was handed to him.
Murphy said he felt the immediate situation needs to be addressed.
“So do we think we should seek any legal advice on this?” he asked. “I mean, right is right and wrong is wrong, and we need to get it rectified.”
Council member Jennifer Junkins said, “I think in this case, it’s over,” referring to the fact that the new mayor is due to take office next week.
Liller commented, “I guess we ought to go ahead and seek a legal opinion.”
Council member Karol Ashenfelter therefore made a motion to consult the city attorney for an opinion, and Murphy seconded it. At first the motion stipulated that the city would spend no more than $500 for the attorney’s investigation, but that was later dropped because they felt it would not provide sufficient time for the attorney to look into the issue.
“So if it costs $5,000, we should still go ahead with it?” Junkins asked.
“At that point,” Murphy replied, “it would be ridiculous.”
The motion passed 3-1, with Junkins voting against. Council member Sonny Alt was not present.
Later in the meeting, Liller noted that he didn’t think the council should “hold anything up while we’re waiting on an opinion. We can’t afford to operate without a mayor.”