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Oceana mayor under fire from city councilman again

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A member of the Oceana City Council has filed another ethics complaint against the town's mayor after $30,000 the council approved for upgrades to the town water system was unavailable when the water plant's operators tried to order necessary equipment.

In the complaint, sent Sunday to the West Virginia Ethics Commission, City Councilman Don Morgan alleges that Mayor John Roach gave the money to the Kopperston Public Service District, without council approval, to settle a past debt.

Under a 2011 agreement, Oceana runs the water system and collects payments for nearby Kopperston. However, Morgan said Oceana has been using the Kopperston water fees for other purposes -- payroll, street sweeping, weed cutting -- and has not been maintaining its water system.

The Oceana water system, which serves Oceana, Kopperston, Lynco, Lillydale and Crouchs Farm, lost more than half the water that was pumped out of its water plant last year. According to its filing with the state Public Service Commission, 55 percent of the water that left the plant was lost and unaccounted for in fiscal 2012, which ended in June.

The Public Service Commission considers any rate of lost, unaccounted for water above 15 percent to be unacceptable.

Oceana's lost-water rate, nearly four times the acceptable rate, is high but not unique.

"This just happens with a lot of these older systems that have not been able to make the capital investments to keep the system up," said PSC spokeswoman Susan Small. "Some of these pipes are 75 to 100 years old."

Morgan, who is the water plant operator in Pocahontas, Va., and in Man, Logan County, said the $30,000 the council recently approved would make a big difference, potentially reducing operating costs by as much as 50 percent.

Oceana ranks 240th out of 395 cities, districts and municipalities around the state in terms of water affordability, according to PSC records.

Much of that money would have been used to buy three new altitude valves, which control water as it goes in and out of central tanks.

The money for the valves was approved at a council meeting in early July.

When water plant operator Mike Morgan, Don's brother, filled out the purchase orders for the needed parts in early August, he was told by city Treasurer Tami Morgan (who is not related to Don or Mike Morgan) the money was unavailable, according to Jesse Womack, a member of the City Council and the town's water commissioner.

On Thursday, Tami Morgan said she had been unaware the council had approved the new equipment. She said the city is now in the process of purchasing the necessary equipment, and has been for two weeks.

Womack said no one told him until Thursday morning that the equipment was being purchased, after Tami Morgan was contacted by the Gazette-Mail.

Roach did not respond to repeated requests for comment. In May, City Attorney Lela Walker sent a memo to the Oceana mayor and City Council, advising them not to speak to The Charleston Gazette.

Don Morgan filed a second ethics complaint against Roach on Sunday. In it, he alleges that Roach is holding special council meetings and not advising all council members about the special meetings.

"They call the special meetings constantly," Womack said, "particularly when it's something important."

Morgan said Roach is calling two to three special council meetings per month, and holding them on Wednesday nights (when many people go to church) and Friday nights, so that fewer people will come. Regular council meetings are held on the second Thursday of the month.

"It's just an effort to keep people from coming," Morgan said. "The last time I served on the council, in 2008, we had one special meeting in a two-year period. Now there's three a month."

In October, Morgan filed ethics complaints against Roach; two city councilmen, Bryant Whisenant and Mike Fleshman; two former city council members and three other city officials. In those complaints, Morgan alleged that the mayor and City Council allowed the city mechanic, Ken Graham, to operate an unlicensed private garage out of his residence. Morgan alleged Graham spent nearly $97,000 of the city's money on auto parts over a two-year period and that much of that money was spent for his personal business.

About $47,000 of that was spent at Hometown Auto Parts, a local NAPA affiliate.

In May the Ethics Commission determined that there was probable cause to pursue the complaints and it began formal investigations.

In a letter to Graham dated May 1, the commission wrote:

"The invoices from Hometown Auto Parts bear your name as the person who received those parts on behalf of the Town of Oceana. Amongst those invoices are invoices which have no indication as to why those items were purchased. It is alleged those undocumented invoices were for items used in your private business and/or for private work on the personal vehicles of town council members."

The Ethics Commission would neither confirm nor deny the existence of any investigations.

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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