Mason And Nelsen Face Off For Commission
(Editor’s Note: The Wetzel Chronicle mailed questions to all political candidates in races of local significance. Their responses will be printed in the April 28 and May 5 editions of the Wetzel Chronicle in a simple question and answer format.)
Incumbent Don Mason is facing Keith Nelsen in the primary election for the Democratic nomination to the Wetzel County Commission.
Mason is a lifelong resident of Wetzel County. Married to the former Nettie Morris of New Martinsville, they have four children and five grandchildren.
Mason graduated from Magnolia High School and attended Marietta College, receiving a degree in Chemical Technology. In order to improve his performance and carry out the responsibilities of a county commissioner, he has attended West Virginia University Local Government Leadership Academy, earning the Certificate of Distinction.
Currently president of the commission where he has served for 11 years, Mason also serves as Chief Elected Official of Region Five Workforce Investment Board, secretary of the Executive Board for Bel-O-Mar Regional Council, Board of Directors Regional Economic Development Partnership, and Board of Commerce.
Mason will keep pursuing the teamwork concept to build a united front for future progress in all areas. He believes that in order for a county commissioner to fulfill his duties and responsibilities to their constituents, he must be in the courthouse every day to attend to county commission business. Mason also believes the most important is fiscal accountability to the citizens.
Keith Nelsen is a lifelong resident of New Martinsville. He is the son of Mildred Morgan, husband of Tammy Sue Mattox Nelsen, parent of Nicholas Nelsen, recent grandparent, and avid Steelers fan.
Keith is a 1973 graduate of Magnolia High School, a member of Moose 931, and a member of the Reader Fire Department. He attends New Martinsville United Methodist Church.
Keith began his work career at Morgan’s Pure Oil / Union 76 gas station. He later drove a delivery truck for Magnolia Distributing and J.C. Mensore Distributing for nearly 20 years. Currently he is manager of the PSD 1 in Reader. He has volunteered with the ambulance squad and fire department in New Martinsville over the years.
He has been the project manager for three large water projects in Wetzel County and most recently finished the Jacksonburg extension at a cost of nearly $4 million. The combined projects were close to $8 million for the people in the county since 1992.
For the past seven years Nelsen has been New Martinsville’s second ward councilman. During his tenure he was chairman of the Animal Control, Police Committee, and Electric Committee. Currently he is chairman of the Street Committee.
Wetzel County does not have an ordinance to take care of abandoned, dilapidated buildings. Do you support the passage of such a rule? Why or why not?
Mason: Wetzel County would be in the minority as compared to other West Virginia counties in having a dilapidated building ordinance. Most counties throughout the state do not have such an ordinance.
During my commission time, the Wetzel County Commission has discussed for public safety and welfare formulating a dilapidated building ordinance, as given by West Virginia Code Chapter VII, Article I, section ff.
I believe in orchestrating a dilapidated building ordinance. The commission needs to minimize the effect, and be careful not to infringe too heavy on the private property owner rights.
I would want to hold a series of public meetings throughout the county in order to receive comments and input from the citizens before creating a dilapidated building ordinance and its passage.
Because the counties’ municipalities have their own ordinances and building codes, the ordinance would cover areas outside the municipal boundaries.
Nelsen: Anytime you can put into place an ordinance that potentially improves peoples lives in a way they deserve is a positive step. People should not have to livearound buildings that have become dilapidated or abandoned through no fault of their own. Involvement from the local and/or state levels of government can be a necessary and useful tool in instances such as this. I would support this type of rule or ordinanceso long as itis not used in a discriminatory manner. Equal and fair enforcement to all is the only way it can work.New ordinances must be able to be properly funded to be able to get the results people want and need. Wetzel County, like most cities and counties in the state, have this same problem and typically have no way to properly fund such a large issue. Safety must prevail and the people of Wetzel County need to be a factor in these type of issues. A committee of citizens from the communities in the county would be a step in the right direction to help pinpoint problem areas.
Do you have a plan for progress in Wetzel County? Give some specific steps to achieve that goal.
Mason: I believe the main source of growth and progress for Wetzel County lies in our natural resources, such as natural gas and coal.
As a member of the Board of Directors for the Regional Economic Development Partnership (RED), I and the other county commissioners will work together in cooperation with leadership of the many natural gas companies now located in Wetzel County to focus on how best to utilize the tremendous economic impact and limit the environmental and logistic impact the natural gas exploration will have for Wetzel County and our residents.
I will actively work with the West Virginia Development Office (WVDO) in positioning the Wetzel County Commission to be leaders in possible ancillary opportunities in the coal and gas industry.
The Wetzel County Commission, along with RED, will work to address training needs for current and upcoming positions in the natural gas industry. We will work with Superintendent Bill Jones and the West Virginia Community College to identify the requirements and tailor programs to train not only our current students, but also the adult workforce for employment opportunities in this growing field.
I will work actively with RED and the WVDO to identify other areas of economic growth for the benefit of Wetzel County.
Nelsen: A plan of progress for Wetzel County is not an easy question. I like to think the county already has a plan that involves local government at all levels and includes the many communities and towns now. The commissioners must include the people from the county in all major decisions to make progress a success. Perhaps the people could be polled about what they want in a priority manner for the commissioners to start with. The commission must continue funding for theambulance program here. Good equipment is a must for them to function professionally and productively. Fire departments are called out routinely for everything from a tree or rock in the road to major fires and related emergencies. It is imperative for them to worktogether with the county and help keep them solvent. I would like to see meetings made more convenientfor the public to be able to attend. We will certainly be successful and achieve any goal, provided the commissioners remember the people they serve.
How has the influx of natural gas activity within Wetzel County affected the county commission’s job? Are there any actions you would like to see the commission take in response to this development?Mason: Anytime you have major industries locating in a county there are always positive and negative reactions on local government such as the County Commission. Fortunately in most cases the positives outweigh the negatives.
In the Wetzel County Commission case, the natural gas exploration of the Marcellus Shale has brought positive affects on oil and gas severance tax revenue. In 2009 the increase was 23 percent.
As a result of the tax revenue increase this helps the Commission in our budget planning and providing better services to our citizens.
Increases in occupancy of our motels and patronage of our local businesses is always a healthy environment for county government, along with some employment benefits.
The negative affects are that citizens living in the exploration areas are experiencing their roads being destroyed by large heavy truck traffic, safety issues because of increased heavy truck hauling, and surface-owner rights issues.
The three Wetzel County Commissioners are members of Chesapeake Energy Citizen Advisory Panel, which is made up of Chesapeake management, public officials, private citizens, land owners, and non-profit organizations. The mission is to address the problem issues and concerns brought on by the natural gas exploration. The panel meets once a month.
Because of the economic benefits the citizens of Wetzel County will realize in the future, I think the commission needs to teamwork with everyone involved in developing a natural gas business in Wetzel County.
Nelsen: I cannot with certainty, how this boom to Wetzel County has actually affected the commissioner’s job. I suspect it has opened eyes and made them realize that in order for commissioners to function with the daily operation of the county they must answer questions of the people in an informed and concerning manner. They must learn how these operations work andoperate to be able to let people know why things are done the way they are. Roads, homes, farms, and towns are being changed forever. The newfound wealth for people and tax dollars generated must be used in a manner that helps all citizens not, just a few. Many small projects can use this moneyfor better improving small communities. The commission must help struggling groups to keep their respective organizations running for the benefit of the people. Senior Centers, Lions Clubs, Community Resource organizations, and all the different groups that are only there to offer help must be considered. Perhaps some of the new money coming into the county can be used for this purpose and integrated into the budget. Even festivals and fairs need help to put on their contribution to the county. I would support an initiate to help low income families pay theirutility bills during lean times. These gas companies could easily help fund a community project such as this. I suggest to all people to get involved in your respective community. Volunteer. Attend meetings. Learn how government works. Ask questions. Help local leaders work toward a better next day.
Early voting is taking place now through May 8 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday; 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Thursday; and 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday at the Wetzel County Courthouse in New Martinsville or ballots can be cast on Election Day, May 11.