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Getting to Know Your Local Candidates

By Staff | Apr 20, 2016

Shown are three of the candidates in the Wetzel County Board of Education race — Bill Jones, Carolyn Gatian, and Christie Priem. Photo by Lauren Matthews

Several functions held within the past week have offered the opportunity for Wetzel County’s residents to get to know those running for elected positions.

A “Meet the Candidates” forum was held at Pine Grove’s Byrd Center on Monday, April 11. This event was sponsored by the Wetzel County Farm Bureau and Pine Grove’s Park Committee.

A separate function was held Tuesday, April 12 at the Wetzel County Mollohan Center.

Candidates gave brief biographies on themselves at each function. Several of these bios have been featured in the Wetzel Chronicle throughout the past several weeks. The Wetzel Chronicle will feature coverage from both events in the April 20 and April 27 issues of the paper.

Candidates were also asked questions by fellow citizens in attendance.

Here are several of the tough topics covered, including the candidates’ responses:

Wetzel County Commission

Intros and Goals If Elected:

Steve Pallisco: Pallisco said his goal for being a county commissioner started several years ago when current commissioner Don Mason’s term was up. “If he would’ve retired, I would’ve run then. At that time, he had done a fantastic job. You don’t fix things that aren’t broken.”

Pallisco added that his only promise is that he will carry his work ethic over to the county seat.

Charlie Clements: Clements said Wetzel County has a bright future, which it needs to get ready for now. “We’ve seen many parts of the state that have been devastated by loss of coal industry, and the sun is beginning to shine on us with development of natural gas, which would bring us back to a positive position.”

Lisa Heasley: Heasley said she comes from a financial and technical background. She said she likes to “build from the basics and move my way up.” Heasley said she understands that Commissioner Mason’s shoes will be hard to fill but would be thrilled to “be a part of what these guys have done in the past.”

Keith Nelsen: Nelsen said he has a history of public service, what with his experience of serving on Public Service District. Nelsen said he wants to see the rest of the people in the county “get good water.” Nelsen, if elected to the commission seat, wants to continue working on additional infrastructure projects.

Thoughts on Economic Development:

Nelsen: Nelsen said the work he has already done, along with work done behind the scenes “and as a team, lessons from all that, gives me great insight for that kind of stuff.”

Nelsen said there was money involved in every one of the projects “and figuring out how to get money to do the jobs is very important.”

Pallisco: Pallisco said he felt the oil and gas business is fantastic. He said has worked with the regional development group and the chamber, as well as spoken with individuals out in the county. He said he does not think the county needs to rely solely on gas business though. “It may not come through. We need to continue to build and work with these different groups. We need to be positive and bring people in, work on getting the infrastructure fixed and get the whole county cleaned up. Clean up drugs.”

Heasley: Heasley said her technical skills could be put to good use with drawing residents in. Specifically, Heasley spoke of utilizing social media. “I feel that more updates and letting people know what is going on in the area, letting people know what we have, doing research and finding companies that see some of the resources we have, putting up pictures and letting them know where we are, what we have, and what we can give.”

Clements: Clements cited his experience on the Route 2/I-68 Four Lane Project. He said he wants to expand the highway. He noted that the area has the river, along with the railway, but he wants to continue with his work on expanding Route 2, I-68.

Availability As A Commissioner:

Heasley: Heasley said she works part-time as a bookkeeper for a restaurant. She said her hours are flexible, and she lives on Main Street, which means she can quickly commute to the office if need be.

“I have a lot of free time. My kids are grown and moved out; my husband travels for business. I have a lot of time to get the job done, to listen to concerns.”

Clements: “The short answer is that I’m retired,” Clements noted but added that he is the “type of person that works.”

“I firmly believe that people, when they stop, they quit. I want to be the type of person that the undertaker has to run me down when I’m dead.”

Clements said his work in the tax office will not tie him down. “I’ll be there 24/7.”

Nelsen: Nelsen said if he is elected to the position of commissioner, he will retire from his job as manager of the Public Service District. “I’ll give my full attention and focus to the commission office, just as I have with the mayor’s office. It is a full time job in itself.

Nelsen said he has missed very few meetings in his four years as mayor. “My record will stand for that. I’ve made time for everything as I was supposed to. Being retired will give me that extra time I need devote to being on the commission.”

Pallisco: Pallisco said he will retire within the first six months of 2017. “I’ve been a public servant for 14 years,” he said, adding that he, as well, has attended most of his meetings.

Wetzel County Sheriff’s Office:

Intros and Goals:

Mark Eller: Mark Eller noted that he wants to address the drug problem. “That is the biggest problem we all have, and that is my main goal. We have to work with everyone in the county, residents and all.”

Eller said he would also like to introduce a patrol during school bus hours, in order to ensure the safety of the children.

Eller said he would also like to provide the deputies and workers in the tax office with all the equipment they need to perform their jobs.

Mike Koontz: Mike Koontz said he began his career with the sheriff’s office in 1992. He said in 2012 he was appointed as temporary interim sheriff “to fulfill the duties of the sheriff that had left office early.”

Koontz said he was appointed to chief deputy for Sheriff John Brookover.

“I’ve been dedicated to serving Wetzel County for several years. As chief deputy I’ve prepared and administered the budget and made sure the office worked within that budget.”

Koontz said he has worked with obtaining grants for personnel and equipment in the office.

He said one of his main goals is to deal with the heroin problem in the county. “Heroin is killing our community, not just those using but the families and children of those people.”

James Hoskins: James Hoskins said that while sheriff previously, he developed and initiated programs that would be beneficial for Wetzel County, including a special response team and officers in the schools. He said he authorized grants for equipment, technology, and personnel. He said he initiated the officers in the school programs which was beneficial in getting a resource officer at Valley High School.

Hoskins said there is more to get done in the county, including getting a deputy and officer in each of the county’s schools, as well as creating options for those that are beating or combatting drug addiction.

Qualifications For Sheriff:

Hoskins: When asked what is the best reason that qualifies him for the job, Hoskins said he began his career as a law enforcement officer in 1998, was elected to sheriff in 2004 and 2008, and “you learn along the way things you have to do.”

“Having served two terms of sheriff previously, it makes me more than qualified to run for office and hold office.”

Koontz: Koontz said in his 23 years of experience, he has served as sheriff temporarily and is currently serving as chief deputy.

“I’ve done a lot of the duties of the sheriff. I’ve worked under five different sheriffs, and I know what to do and what not to do. I think the experience I’ve gained throughout my career, serving Wetzel County, qualifies me to serve as sheriff.”

Eller: Eller said he possesses the will to be sheriff. “I meet all qualifications set forth by the state. I’m fair, and I’m honest. I have volunteered in the county for 25 years; I have hundreds of hours of trainings, and I will take all the training necessary to be sheriff. I want to help the county, and make this the best county in West Virginia.”

Future Actions to Fight Drugs:

Koontz: Koontz said he wants to implement an anonymous tip line, “so citizens can call with information to help us.”

Koontz said law enforcement also needs to focus more on traffic. “We need to initiate more road patrols and work on the traffic problem. Drugs are coming into the county somehow. We need to get some of those cars stopped and start gathering more information. Koontz said he also wants to continue to work on a localized task force.

Eller: Eller said he also wants to implement an anonymous tip line, as well as give trainings to citizens of Wetzel County.

“We need to stop the drugs, even if it means a K-9 unit at the front of the schools so the drugs don’t get into the schools.”

Eller said the county has to work together “the magistrate, prosecuting attorney, and school system. “We all have to work together, and I’d like to get support from the whole county.”

Hoskins: Hoskins said the county needs to focus on its children. “We need to educate them about drugs, what problems arise. If we don’t get them young, the drug dealers do. We have to be able to speak to our children about this. With the immediate problem, I think we need to speak to the public. They know what is going on, and they know who may or may not be a problem with the drug issue. We need to focus and listen carefully. We need to take some of their information to try to get drugs off of the streets.”

Non-Law Enforcement Side Of Job:

Hoskins: Hoskins said the non-law enforcement side is to deal with the treasurer’s side of the sheriff’s office.

“Sometimes, as sheriff, you need an attorney that knows what they are talking about. Sometimes terminology can be rather chaotic with that, but you need to have a level of commitment from staff and employees. I believe the ladies in that tax office are very well qualified to handle that and advise me of any problems I might need to correct. If it is a non-law enforcement matter, I have no problem in having faith in the staff that is there now. They’ve done a good job while I was there, and I would never hesitate to keep them there now.”

Koontz: Koontz said the level of organization needed is high.

“The ladies in the tax office do an excellent job. There is 80 plus years of experience, and they do a very good job of keeping all tax records. There is nothing needing fixed. We’ve received a clean audit report for fiscal year 2015. There are no write-ups from the auditor’s office or nothing needing fixed as far as any audit filings.”

Koontz said he has been conducting most of the administrative duties of the office for the past three years as chief deputy.

Eller: Eller said he feels he is fair.

“I know the ladies in the tax office do a great job, and the deputies. Basically the sheriff is an administrative title. He puts his name on everything. I don?t want to be a rubber stamp sheriff. I want to get involved with everybody, a close working relationship and give them what they need.”

“It takes common sense to be the sheriff, basically that’s all.”

Wetzel County Assessor

Rise In Property Values

Eric Burke: “No one likes to have property values go up, but sadly that’s the way things are going,” Burke noted.

Burke encouraged for continuous studies “to make sure we are at the right level at property values so we aren’t charging people too much.”

“Property values equate to higher taxes, so we need to make sure we do a year-to-year study.”

Scott Lemley: Lemley stated that his office does conduct annual studies.

“An important thing I need to bring up with oil and gas, with properties selling. If John Smith sells property to EQT, that doesn’t affect residential land prices. It affects commercial,” he said.


Scott Lemley: When asked about plans to be accessible as an elected official, Lemley said he believes he is extremely accessible, “whether in office, or at home.”

Lemley said he has been asked to visit residents on their property, which he has followed through.

“We come out if you have any concerns. We have done best to answer oil and gas questions.”

Lemley said he has taken three to four of his employees with him to trainings, as well as offered trainings to all of his staff members.

Burke: “It is very important to be accessible in the office, but it is very important for the assessor to be seen out in public, especially with new properties. I think he should be more hands-on and letting him see that we are out valuing stuff and sending representatives,” Burke said.

Best Qualities:

Burke: Burke cited technology, stating that the office is still behind in technology, when compared to other counties. “I have experience in business and computer engineering and computer programming, so I can really make decisions that will advance our technologies without leaving those decisions up to contractors.”

Lemley: Lemley cited the fact that he is the sitting assessor and the public has put its trust in him. Lemley noted that he has a master’s degree in business administration from West Virginia University.

He also noted that contrary to what Burke alluded to, he has been hands-on.

“I’ve went out and visited properties. Mr. Burke and I went out to properties and talked to residents.” Lemley stated that if a resident ever needs him to visit, he is willing.

“We have advanced in technology. We have tax maps online. Residents can file personal property taxes online, and we are moving forward,” Lemley said.

Wetzel County Magistrate:

Changes They Would Advocate For

Lisa Kocher-Yoho: Yoho said she was not sure what one could change, from a judicial standpoint. “If elected magistrate, I would definitely look into what it takes to do something like that. But at this time, I don’t have knowledge of what that would be.”

Billie Zimmerman: Zimmeran said that as magistrate, she would have to follow the state code. “Not having knowledge of what I would be able to change, of what I’d not be able to change, I would just have to say that I’d follow with what the state has given me, to keep that code.”

Judith Goontz: Goontz stated, that as magistrate, she has been taught that year after year, West Virginia is one of the top three magistrate systems in the United States.

“I’m proud of my caseload. I keep it down. We do jury trials. We are busy all the time. I’ve worked under six or seven circuit judges in my time, numerous public defenders, probably two or three prosecutors,” Goontz added.

“I know what I’m doing, and I’m not changing anything,” she said.

Administrative Tasks:

Zimmerman: When asked about administrative tasks, Zimmerman cited her experience with the police department. She said she had dealt with administrative duties through municipal courts.

“I know the magistrate is busy, very busy, but so are the police departments, so are municipal courts. I would just take my administration experience and apply it.”

Goontz: Goontz noted that her tasks as magistrate do take time. “I’m there when they need me,”

Kocher-Yoho: Yoho said working with family court for six years has helped her with learning the administrative processes with the court system. She said she gained the ability of how to schedule cases and work with the docket.

Wetzel County Board of Education:

More Testing?

Warren Grace: Warren Grace said he would not advocate for more testing. “As a matter of fact I would be a strong advocate for less testing. We spend a great deal of instructional time doing testing, interim testing and preparation. Frankly we have reduced the art and science of teaching, to teaching the test. I think that is terribly wrong. I think the State of West Virginia is off base with that.”

“I will do whatever I can do, working with the school board association to get associated with them.”

Grace said he knows there are individuals who feels how he does, that the increase in testing is an effort by the federal government, with Common Core, to get public education in all states.

“It is wrong. Emphasizing testing is wrong, and it needs to stop.”

Cooley: Cooley said testing is an amazing tool and is good to monitor students, as well as teachers’ methods of teaching.

Cooley said she feels testing is currently being abused.

“Currently the tests they are doing is what students are supposed to know by the end of the year. To take the test at the beginning of the year has set these kids up for failure.”

“They are supposed to fail. They don’t know the information yet. To put that much emphasis on these children are creating stress on the kids. We need to spend more time in the classroom teaching materials. “

Gatian: Board Member Carolyn Gatian said that assessments aren’t taking away a teacher’s ability to teach but “giving them a guide or roadmap to what the students are going to look forward to.”

“I do appreciate the beginning of the year test,” Gatian said. “I’m not sure we need to do these tests every nine weeks.”

Gatian said she does appreciate assessments and how they give the ability to see where students are leading, “so I would advocate for more assessments in our schools.”

Priem: Priem said that the General Summative Assessment is required by state law. “I believe that, since the beginning of time, students have had testing to use as a benchmark for the success of children and to prove children are learning. I have no problem with children working hard and never believed that they should receive a participation trophy.”

“At the end of the day they need to be prepared for the workforce and college.”

Priem said teachers should prepare the children.

Jones: Jones said testing in West Virginia is out of control. “One of the things our House of Delegates agreed on in this last session was to limit testing to two percent of the instructional time that our kids have. It was vetoed by the governor, probably from the superintendent who is in love with Common Core.”

Keeping Teachers In Wetzel County:

Cooley: In regards to keeping teachers in Wetzel County, Cooley said teachers are at an all-time low “for morale.”

She said teachers are not receiving teaching materials they need.

“Currently we don’t have a math curriculum set up,” she said.

Cooley said teachers need to be provided with everything they need “to effectively reach out and touch students.”

“That in itself will increase morale,” she said.

Cooley also said she would advocate “to the fullest extent”

Gatian: Gatian said, in terms of pay, the board has always been cautious because of its budget. “We’ve been fortunate that the community and county has approved an excess levy to not only offer incentives for teachers for pay but also to keep eight schools running.”

“When it comes to pay you have to be very cautious. Once given, it can’t be taken out. I’d love to give everyone raises but to say let’s spend it all, that isn’t my role.”

Gatian said that when it comes to morale “I’m not a cheerleader. I don’t know how to raise my pom poms and say ‘hoorah’ or ‘ra-ra,’ but I say thank you. I appreciate what our teachers do every day, and thank you is what I’m going to say now.”

Priem: Priem said she thinks that it is hard to attract teachers to a school system when the performance is “as low as the county has been recently.”

Priem said if the performance of students is improved, “I think it would be easy to attract teachers to the area.”

Priem said she felt low pay would always be an issue in any job.

“I know that last year, the teachers, I’m pretty sure the teachers got a raise at the beginning of the semester and a bonus around Christmas.”

“I know that it sounds like everyone is trying to give more money, but there isn’t money to give.”

Jones: Jones said that as far as money is concerned “we are in a crisis.” He cited no budget at the state level, as well as ongoing issues a lack of money to fund public employees’ insurance.

“As far as this county is concerned, we’ve treated teachers well in terms of raises and supplements and such.” However… “teacher morale is bad. If teacher morale is not improved, we will lose quality of teachers, because they aren’t going to stay.”

Grace: Grace said the state of West Virginia “is in a very bad financial supply.”

Grace said the state has attracted “a lot of really good people.”

“We have a lot of really nice kids. Our teachers deserve more than what we are getting. I think we all kind of recognize that. It’s always a balancing act between taxation verses expenditure.”

Despite financial issues, Grace said there are still things that can be done on a local level to keep morale high, such as “including teachers in decision making and including them into how the system operates.”

Alternatives to College:

Gatian: Gatian said she felt the connection between Wetzel County Schools and West Virginia Northern Community College is “a strong partnership.” She said she advocates for more county students to go to MOVTI, but the county is limited on how many students can be sent.

Gatian said the school system could ask for more monies to be spent for TSA groups.

Priem: Priem stated that after the closure of Ormet, Monroe County’s school system started a dual-credit program, in which students in sixth grade can start earning college credit.

Priem said she would also like to see, someday, the votech career center reopen in Wetzel County.

Jones: Jones said he agreed with Priem about the technical center. “It would be a monumental task, but we need our technical center back. We are failing those kids in sending them to St. Marys everyday. That is a long way down there, and they get quality instruction, but it would be great to have it here. That would be one of the things I’d like to see happen in the future.”

Grace: Grace said he found himself agreeing with Priem and Jones but the expenditure would be “extremely expensive.”

Grace also added that “we need to meet (the kids’) needs, not our needs. We need to survey our kids and say “How can we help you? How can we find ways to make you successful in life?”

Coolly: “One thing that I definitely feel is necessary in this area is some sort of vocational training, and I’d like to get back to the basics, with home economics. These kids today are so focused on their day-to-day things that they are not realizing some of our basic living skills, that really need addressed.”