An audit and Ethics Opinion has caused the Doddridge County Clerk’s Office to alter practices when it comes to extended hours and overtime pay for county employees..
Doddridge County Clerk’s Office has recently changed the way it does business during the extended hours for the use of the Records Room.
The audit revealed the clerk’s office extended hours to provide access to public documents to certain representatives of oil-and-gas companies.
County Commission stated the county operates extended hours due to the massive influx of oil-and-gas abstractors who do land research in the records room.
“We’ve been doing it for a couple of years. There are so many abstractors that every courthouse in this general area has a lottery or some method to allow a certain number of people in the record room for a certain amount of time,” Commissioner Robinson said.
According to the audit report, during the extended hours, county officials denied access to the general public and certain other oil-and-gas company representatives.
In their response to the audit, county officials said they did not publish the extended hours, but they never denied access to the general public. County officials noted that if someone inquired, they were allowed to work in the records room during the extended hours.
The Clerk’s Office will continue to operate extended hours three days a week. The County Commission has now made the information public. Clerks are continuing to allow anyone to use the record room during that time.
Also reviewed during the audit was the issue of clerk pay during the extended hours. The audit found employees of the County Clerk’s Office were paid by an outside party in the oil-and-gas industry during the extended hours, and this compensation was not included in their normal payroll calculations.
County Commissioner Shirley Williams said the pay issue also has been addressed.
“We still continue to hold it open” Williams said. “The oil and gas companies no longer pay the employees overtime costs, we now pay that directly.”
Auditors also noted county officials failed to determine and/or request an advisory opinion from the West Virginia Ethics Commission to determine whether this arrangement would violate the Ethics Act. County officials said they were not aware an advisory opinion was necessary.
According to the audit, county officials failed to adequately address and request a proper interpretation of pertinent West Virginia and Internal Revenue code sections before actively participating in this payment arrangement.
Doddridge County changed its procedures after a similar issue was raised recently in Tyler County. The West Virginia Attorney General’s Office received an inquiry that resulted in an opinion being issued by the West Virginia Ethics Commission.
Recently, Tyler County had questioned the overtime pay issue of keeping it’s courthouse open. Doddridge County had been practicing it prior to the letter that went to the West Virginia attorney general. The ruling was that it was legal, but the opinion was the county commission or the clerk could not bill for this time. When Doddridge County officials found out about the opinion, they altered their practices to fall in line with the ruling.
Oil-and- gas companies are permitted to make contributions to the county commission. The money will go into the budget to be used as the county sees fit. The county can choose to use the money to help offset the cost of extending courthouse hours. This restructuring ensures that county employees are being paid only by the county.
The county does not bill for the time, nor does it solicit the donations.
Once the County Commission found out about the attorney general’s opinion, they changed the methods at that time.