With the results of Tuesday’s election, the members of the Keyser City Council now find themselves in a position that we don’t believe they’ve ever been in before - having a city employee serve on the five-member council.
Jim Hannas, who has been the streets and sewer supervisor for the city for several years, was the top vote-getter Tuesday and will take his seat on the council as soon as he is able to take his oath of office.
Also elected were Mike Ryan and Billy Meek, who were both already serving on the council due to appointments previously made by the mayor when two seats became vacant.
Surprisingly, according to the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, it is apparently perfectly legal to have a city employee serve on the council, as long as the city’s own charter does not forbid it.
We could find no such stipulation in Keyser’s charter, although the document is admittedly quite outdated, with its references in regard to such things as the regulation of blacksmith shops, cow houses, pig pens and privies within the city, among other interesting references which seem quite amusing by today’s standards.
What the charter does say about qualifications for the mayor and council members is simply that they must have been a resident of the city for at least two years prior to the election and have been assessed and paid real estate or personal property taxes within the city.
It also states that, in order to take office, they must swear an oath to uphold the state constitution, must faithfully and impartially complete the duties of their office to the best of their ability, and not do anything that would financially benefit themselves - either directly or indirectly.
And there is where Mr. Hannas is going to have to be very careful.
While he is in office, if the council takes up discussion or makes any decisions involving pay raises or benefits for employees, he will have to excuse himself from the discussion and voting.
Conceivably, if the issue is a contested one, Hannas’ inability to participate in the vote could lead to a 2-2 split vote, with the mayor being forced to break the tie.
In addition, Mr. Hannas’ wife also works for the city, so he would have to excuse himself from any discussion or decisions on pay raises/benefits in the city office.
If the city officials have any questions about how to navigate this new territory, we would suggest speaking with someone on the Mineral County Board of Education. If any of their members ever have what could even be conceived as a conflict of interest, that member recuses him/herself and leaves the room while the vote is taken.
Mr. Hannas is also going to have to be very particular about what he does and when he does it - keeping his day job duties separate from his duties as an elected official.
From what we have seen already, we believe Mr. Hannas will strive to do the right thing in his new position.
Even Wednesday, the very next day after the election, as we asked for a photo of him to run on the front page with his fellow winning candidates, he declined because he was " on the city’s time."
We also believe, however, that it’s going to be a very thin line for Mr. Hannas to walk.
He will certainly be breaking new ground as he walks that line.