Logan County Circuit Judge Eric O’Briant issued an order from the bench Wednesday giving the mayor and council 30 days in which to provide a proper forum for hearing an election contest, brought by former council candidate Carmellia Rachel Dingess against the eligibility of current Council Member Roger Muncy.
Town attorney Adrian Hoosier, of The Hoosier Law Firm in Charleston, responded to Dingess’ Petition with a motion to continue the hearing.
The basis on which Hoosier wanted to postpone the hearing was the absence of the town recorder, Cheryl Merritt. O’Briant overruled the motion, finding that the recorder’s attendance was not needed.
All members of the Council and Man Mayor Jim Blevins did attend the hearing.
During the hearing, Dingess represented to the Court that, following the June 14 election, she timely filed a contest of the same, alleging that Muncy was ineligible to a seat on the Council because he was not a qualified voter and not eligible to hold a seat on the Council pursuant to state law. Dingess said that the members of the Council continued to “put her off” refusing to deal with the issue and decide the contest following the state’s election code.
The Council, without officially ruling on the contest, certified the results of the election to the Secretary of State on June 21.
On Sept. 16, Dingess had filed a Petition for a Writ of Mandamus seeking O’Briant’s order that the Council act. In support of her Petition, Dingess filed several exhibits all of which questioned Muncy’s residency. Exhibit one was Dingess’ actual notice of contest. Exhibit two was an affidavit from Muncy containing a notification of his candidacy and a statement that he was “a qualified voter of the Town of Man.” It also certified that he was eligible to hold the office.
Dingess also presented documentation from the Logan County Sheriff’s Tax Office showing that Muncy owns residential real estate in Hensley Heights, which is outside town limits. Furthermore, Dingess attached a copy of a petition signed by residents of Hensley Heights, some time ago, which appears to contain the signatures of Muncy and his wife. The petition requested the town to annex Hensley heights into the town, however the annexation never occurred.
A review of records on file in the Logan County Clerk’s Office reveals that Muncy is not registered to vote in any Logan County elections whatsoever. His name was purged from the voter roles in 2005 for failing to vote in any elections.
To date the town has officially responded to the challenge in one filing saying, “For years (Dingess) has long attacked long-time Council Member Roger Muncy’s eligibility to server [sic] as a member to the council without sucess. (Dingess) has ran for Council and beaten by Muncy on many occasions ... (Dingess) simply places her personal bias towards Muncy over the Democratic process and demands that the Town of Man spend money and resources to complete a process that is simply not necessary.”
At the conclusion of the hearing, O’Briant directed the town’s attorney to set a date for the council hearing and inform Dingess of that date prior to leaving the courtroom.
After some discussion the hearing was set for Nov. 18 at 6:00 p.m. During the discussion one town official said, “We already know what we are going to decide. Why don’t we just do it now?” Had that happened, the town would have clearly been in violation of the state’s Sunshine Law (W.Va. Code §6-9A-1 et seq.), which requires a cetain number of days of advance notice of non-emergent meetings governing bodies of governmental agencies.
Once the council does decide the contest, Dingess, if aggrieved by the decision, may appeal. A removal petition may also be filed against Muncy by the Prosecuting Attorney of Logan County, any town official and/or a particular number of qualified Town of Man voters.
Dingess represented herself in the circuit court hearing.