CHARLES TOWN – The Jefferson County Commission rejected a petition to put incorporation of the Blue Ridge community of Mannings to a vote last week, citing problems with documents accompanying the request.
[cleeng_content id="135208184" description="Read it now!" price="0.15" t="article"]These problems included allegations from one resident that her signature on the petition had been forged, and that a map submitted with the petition had been improperly altered.
This was the third time an incorporation petition was presented to and denied by the Commission in the last eight years. The petition’s main backers – Blue Ridge developer and landlord Paul Ashbaugh and local government consultant Fred Blackmer – argue that granting a petition would simply give residents a choice whether or not to incorporate.
Commissioners expressed support for letting residents vote, but ruled that the petition that had been submitted, which relied on signatures that were six years old, including some signatures of individuals who had since died or moved away, did not meet the legal requirements necessary to begin that process.
“I’m really tired of dealing with this year after year after year. I think this needs to go to a vote,” said Commissioner Patsy Noland. “I can’t support (the petition) when it’s not right.”
Commissioner Walt Pellish said far too much time and money were being wasted on the effort.
“If the people of Mannings want to vote one way or another, God bless ‘em, but the signatures should be current,” Commissioner Walt Pellish said. “If somebody brings that in to us, fine.”
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Grove, who works as the commission’s attorney, advised commissioners to reject the petition, citing the legal principle of “res judicata,” which maintains that a court should not take up a case upon which it has already ruled.
Blackmer had previously argued that there were, in effect, two petitions before the commission – one being the request to begin the incorporation process and the other being the physical document containing landowners’ signatures.
Grove also addressed allegations that had been brought up at a public hearing at Blue Ridge Elementary School earlier this month, where one woman said that she had not signed the petition and that her signature must have been forged.
“I did compare the signatures in the clerk’s office, and they do look different,” Grove said. “If those allegations are true, it would be a felony.”
Ashbaugh said he believed the woman signed the petition but was distracted at the time and must have forgotten.
“Sometimes people in a hurry, when you’ve got a kid crying and everything, they don’t think (about) what they’re doing,” he told the commission. “I wouldn’t jeopardize this whole petition over one signature.”
Grove also pointed out that Ashbaugh had notarized most of the signatures on the petition, even though he was one of the petitioners.
“That is a misdemeanor,” Grove said. “You cannot notarize signatures when … you have a disqualifying interest.”
Worse, Grove said a map submitted with the petition that had originally been drawn up by a certified engineer, may have been altered without removing an official seal. “That is a felony as well, if those allegations are, in fact, true,” she said.
“I’m not threatening anyone with prosecution,” Grove said. “I want to make that clear. I am just turning it over for an investigation.”
Commissioners voted 5-0 to reject the petition.
Blackmer was not present for the ruling on the petition.
He said he could not comment on the Commission’s decision because he was not aware of all the actions it had taken.[/cleeng_content]