By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
Attorney Pat Nichols was at the Tucker County Commission meeting as a result of a claim that was filed against the estate of the late Robert White. After Commission President Lowell Moore called the meeting to order and Reverend Kevin Keplinger opened with a word of prayer and The Pledge of Allegiance, Patricia Wood, the neighbor of White, addressed the commission. In March, she filed a claim as well as a motion for a hearing, stating, “While the time for filing claims was still open, the estate executrix was selling off the assets of the estate before claims could be filed and certainly before they could be heard.” Wood stated that the executrix claimed there were no assets within the estate except for a few personal items, though Wood suggested, “This assertion is patently false.” She stated that all personal properties of White became the property of the estate, including a herd of cattle, three tractors, guns, and other tools and equipment. “These items were not accounted for in the value of the estate,” Wood continued. “The cows have been sold, the herd has been sold, and Mr. White owed me at the time of his death, a calf, the offspring of one of his females.” The herd consisted of approximately a dozen cows which were bred by a bull owned by Wood, all of which were allegedly sold as well.
Wood told the commission, “I want this commission to enjoin the executrix of the estate from selling off the assets before these claims can be addressed.” Another neighbor, accompanied Wood and her husband to the hearing, who supposedly has a claim filed against White’s estate as well. “And I would also suggest that in the interest of preserving the assets in the estate and making them available to pay meritorious claims like mine and Mr. Jones and maybe others that the executrix be removed and that a fiduciary from the county be appointed to oversee the estate so that we can proceed with our meritorious claims despite the false assertion that there are no assets.”
According to Wood, White and her husband were co-farmers on White’s land where he provided pasture and they provided hay. She stated this claim is strictly business, not personal.
Nichols responded on behalf of the estate explaining the claim listed seven issues totaling $3,320. “One of them says they loaned him cash of $450, I didn’t see any documentation that says there was a note or anything that acknowledged the debt,” Nichols said. The concern over an agreement the parties must’ve had relating to the calf or hay also was not accompanied by any written proof. “There’s a claim here about loaning him a five gallon gas can and he didn’t return it, there’s $200 for some other hay, $400 for a wood stove, and we’re here just merely to address the claim and I believe the burden is upon the claimant to prove those items that are owed by the estate and if they proof X amount of dollars then they have a judgement against the estate and they can proceed from there,” he said. “But all the other things that Mrs. Wood talked about, that’s not here for the commission today, that’s not even plead or brought before the commission today,” he added. Nichols explained that this could go before a fiduciary commissioner and described that process if the claimant wished to proceed with that option.
Wood wished to respond to Nichols’ statement, saying, “The agreement between Bobby (White) and Jeff and I was always an oral agreement, it was an agreement between neighbors, friends, co-farmers, and I would like you to take note of the fact that, in this area, agreements of this sort are very common.” She continued, “Business between neighbors is often done on a mere handshake, there’s hardly ever a written contract, but a contract there was and we held up our end and I believe had Bobby lived, he would have made good on his end.” Wood said all agreements between parties were on handshake agreements, because, “That is the way things are done here.”
Nichols added that there’s a statute called Dead Man’s Statute that is problematic in this case. This statute is described as “a statute designed to prevent perjury in a civil case by prohibiting a witness who is an interested party from testifying about communications or transactions with a deceased person (a “decedent”) against the decedent unless there is a waiver.”
After consulting with Prosecuting Attorney Ray LaMora, Moore announced, “This is kind of an unusual thing for us, agreeing that at one time a handshake was enough but it is not written proof. Moore made a motion to appoint Brent Easton as a fiduciary commissioner to handle the situation, “This is out of our jurisdiction right now,” Moore said. Commissioners Jon Bush and Fred Davis agreed unanimously and the motion carried.
Minutes from the May 13 meeting and the canvass of ballots were approved. James Snyder with the Tucker County Health Department was present to offer a Coronavirus update. He began, “Well COVID is still here, despite what a lot of people think, it is not gone.” Another positive case was detected recently within the county and that individual is in quarantine. This brings the county total up to five positive cases. Numbers are jumping drastically in other states and there are several outbreaks happening across West Virginia, most of which are from churches reopening. “We need to go back to the precautions we were doing,” Snyder said which he feels people are straying away from.
More testing is going on across the county, which Snyder admits there are some false positives though he feels strongly that the tests are mostly accurate. He stated that most businesses are reopened though restrictions are in place and should be followed. “It has to happen, we have to get back to life, but we need to do so carefully,” Snyder urged.
Kevin White, Director of OEM, reiterated Snyder’s comments and encouraged the public to wear masks. “That is one thing that has been a little bit disheartening to me is the lack of people wearing masks when they’re in stores and gatherings such as this,” he stated. First responders are still being provided with adequate PPE equipment with additional supply in storage if needed.
Calls with stakeholders have and will continue on the first and third Mondays of each month. “I think that has given James (Snyder) and myself a platform to get information out,” White confirmed with an estimate of 80 participants across the county each week.
The trailer that was purchased largely through grant funds should arrive within two to three weeks with the truck still in progress. The stream cleanup project is going to be done but is currently on hold due to the pandemic. Moore thanked White and Snyder for their guidance through the outbreak, stating, “It couldn’t have been handled any better.”
Sheila DeVilder, County Administrator, began the employee reports saying the pre bid meeting for the brick restoration project, made possible from the courthouse facilities grant, with the bid opening scheduled for June 24. DeVilder has also gotten the applications to begin the process for the upcoming grant year. She is awaiting a quote on an estimate to restore the jailhouse brick if the grant is successful.
Brett Ware, 911 Director, explained the multitude of upgrades that have been taking place over the last couple weeks at the 911 Center. Additional upgrades are expected to take place throughout this week and next month as well. There were communication issues recently due to an upgrade that took place on a tower maintained by the state. The synchronization caused this issue that lasted nearly two weeks, but has since been addressed.
County Planner Dennis Filler updated the commissioners that the phone system upgrade installation is being conducted and the switch over is expected to take place July 6. The sewage study proposal for the Davis and Thomas area is beginning to move forward. Filler has received a letter from the town of Davis agreeing to participate and is awaiting more. “That is good news for our county,” proclaimed Moore. Davis told Filler he has been receiving complaints from citizens over trash in the Thomas and Pheasant areas and would like to work alongside Filler to address those concerns.
Assessor Chris Michael introduced his new employee, Janice Barb, to the commissioners who approved her employment effective May 16. No meetings have been held since which is the reason for the back date. The commissioners welcomed Barb aboard and expressed they are happy to have her.
County board appointments consisted of reappointment of Dennis Filler to the Solid Waste Authority, Cory Chase, J.R. Helmick, and Sandra Frank to be reappointed to the development Authority, and Savannah Hull Wilkins to join the Cultural District Authority. The application for the CDA will also have to go to Charleston for the approval as well.
An advertisement to hire a full time maintenance employee has been in the paper for two weeks resulting in three applicants received. Those three were interviewed and a motion was made by Davis to hire Ryan Hart effective July 1 for the position. Bush and Moore were in unanimous agreement.
A list of delinquent taxes for 2018 was approved by the commissioners to be printed in The Parsons Advocate, erroneous assessments were approved, as well as approval of the payments.
Tucker County Clerk Sherry Simmons provided an Election Day update, saying, “It was one of the smoothest elections we have ever had.” The ballot canvass of votes was complete making the results official. The amount of absentee ballots mailed out were 1,694 with a return of 1,629 with the remainder unreturned. There were 177 voters who participated in early voting with 942 doing so on Election Day. “That is an overall total of 2,748 voters giving us a 48.24%,” stated Simmons. She thanked the voters, her staff and volunteers, poll workers, and postal service workers for their contribution to a successful election.
Moore recently attended a Region Seven meeting for the annual directors evaluation, which he said went well. Bush had nothing to report on at the time and Davis announced that the Tucker County Landfill will not be accepting tires on the free day in July. Tires will be accepted again beginning in August. Free days are on the first Thursday of each month.
The Tucker County Commission will reconvene on Wednesday, July 8 at 9 a.m.