Morgan County Commissioner Bob Ford wants to force critics of the proposed Dollar General store off the board of the Economic Development Authority (EDA).
In particular, he wants Jerry Berman to resign.
And if Berman doesn’t resign, he will seek a vote of the Commission to force him out.
Berman wrote a song against the Dollar General and sang it with a group of fellow singers before the February 17 Morgan County Planning Commission meeting at the county courthouse in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.
The song played on a news report by WHAG — NBC 25 Hagerstown, Maryland.
“Mr. Berman, as well as any other members of the EDA that may have participated in protesting the company at the last Planning Commission meeting, should resign,” Ford said at a meeting of the Morgan County Commission this morning.
“Since that meeting, I have had several citizens in the county ask me who is this Berman fellow that wrote and lead the singing of some song protesting Dollar General,” Ford said. “I said — you mean Jerry Berman — he is on the EDA. The next thing they ask me is — what the hell are you running down there?”
“Then they say — he needs to go back to where he came from,” Ford said. “And I say — I couldn’t agree more.”
“Perhaps there are some who think this type of behavior was cute or effective,” Ford said. “No, it was silly and it makes our county the laughingstock of the state.”
“I personally have been talking to some site selectors for commercial development in the county,” Ford said. “They have asked me — what’s going on up there with the Dollar General store? Man, it’s made its way clear to Charleston.”
“There are a lot of citizens in the county who are frustrated, tired of statements that a handful of people think they know what’s best for Morgan County’s citizens, making condescending statements like they’re going to save the county, that this small group of noisy people knows what is best,” Ford said.
“It’s my belief that the EDA’s charge is to bring value to our county, enhance our tax base, create jobs for the county,” Ford said. “Not act as a zoning board, not to pick and choose what companies you want to locate in our county or where you want them to locate. As long as they meet the permitting requirements you should be supporting them.”
“We are not going to start back door zoning,” Ford said. “The citizens of Morgan County spoke very clearly about zoning.”
Ford said that he is investigating other members of the EDA Board for making anti-Dollar General statements on social media.
He would not identify the board members he is investigating.
Ford said if he finds evidence that other EDA board members made anti-Dollar General statements, they will be gone too.
The EDA Board members are: Berman, Commissioner Brad Close, George McVey, Mary Lou Trump, Larry Mann, Dave Banks, Jeanne Mozier, Susan Webster, Jerry McGraw, Betsy Heath, Beth Peters Curtin, Paul Mock, Connie Perry, John Allen Swaim and Mark Harrell.
Ford said that while members of the public have a right to express their opinion against the Dollar General store, members of the EDA board do not.
“As a board member, you waive your right to protest,” Ford said. “You either are for economic development, or you are not.”
Any economic development?
“As long as it is legal, and not morally corrupt,” Ford said. “As long as it doesn’t corrupt public welfare.”
“People like Jerry Berman have turned Morgan County into a laughingstock,” Ford said.
“We are not the Beverly Hillbillies. If Jerry Berman doesn’t like the criticism, that’s tough. He’s gone.”
You mean, he’s off the board?
“If he doesn’t resign, we will vote him off,” Ford said. “We have the authority.”
Berman is a long time resident of Morgan County, a lawyer, sits on the both the EDA board and on the Morgan County Chamber of Commerce board and was the 2013 Morgan County Commission volunteer of the year.
“If I’m a hillbilly, we’re all hillbillies,” Berman said.
“I exercise my free speech rights and I can be bounced off the EDA?” Berman asked. “What does that say for open discussion and exploring different avenues to improve our county?”
Berman said that as a member of the EDA, he has sought to get the Dollar General site moved from the corner of Oakland Road and US 522 down the road a few miles to the Morgan County Business Park.
“I’m trying to focus on getting the EDA to locate the dollar store where it should be — in the business park,” Berman said. “I should be able to express my opinion on what is good economic development. If the county becomes a string of dollar stores, that is not good for our economic future. It will discourage other businesses from coming here. Economic development should not be anything goes. I have a right to say what is good for economic development.”
“What is ironic is that the Commission has been standing in the way of the EDA functioning in a coherent way so that it can explore things like the dollar store in the business park,” Berman said. “We put the park out there for just this reason.”
“The protest song was meant to say — let’s stop this Oakland Road Dollar Store development,” Berman said. “I’m not saying no dollar stores. It’s about location.”
The proposal to put the Dollar General store on Oakland Road has split the community.
Hundreds of people have turned out for public meetings to protest the proposal.
But there is widespread support for it too.
Ginger Johnson, who works for the Morgan County Commission, has collected more than 120 signatures from people in southern Morgan County who favor the Dollar General going in at the Oakland Road site.