Jeannie Ford led the campaign in Berkeley Springs earlier this month against the Morgan County school levy, which was defeated 56 percent (1,672) to 44 percent (1,323).
When we interviewed Jeannie Ford after the vote earlier this month, she told us that she and her husband – Morgan County Commissioner Bob Ford — “are not on the same page on the levy.”
“As soon as I mention the levy, he leaves,” she said. “My household has been in disarray ever since this levy thing started.”
In fact, Bob is against the levy and voted against the levy.
Bob said that during the campaign, he told Aaron Close, Vice President of the Board of Education, that “if somebody asked me about the levy, I would say I opposed it, but I wouldn’t work on the campaign against it.”
“My wife ran the campaign,” Ford said. “I had nothing to do with it.”
But Morgan County resident Mike Clement said that he saw Ford put in an anti-levy sign on Householder Road in the northern part of the county on April 26.
“I was driving by and the first thing I thought when I saw him was — that’s Bob Ford and what the hell is a County Commissioner doing way out here putting up anti levy signs?” Clement said.
Ford admits that might be true that he put up that one sign.
“A woman on Householder called my wife and said she wanted a sign,” Ford said. “Jeannie didn’t know where Householder Road was. We were going out to dinner, and we drove by there and delivered the sign.”
“But if he saw me put the sign up, it’s the only anti-levy sign I put up,” Ford said.
There is talk that the Board of Education is planning on putting the school levy back up for a vote in December.
Ford thinks the Board of Education doesn’t have the legal authority to put it on the ballot again.
“I called the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office today and asked them if the school board had the authority to put it up again,” Ford said.
Ford said he asked the Secretary of State for a written opinion.
Ford says there is conflict between the West Virginia code sections — Chapter 18 and Chapter 11 — governing school levies, with one section requiring petitions from 40 percent of the registered voters (that would be more than 4,000 signatures in Morgan County) and another requiring 100 signatures to put the measure on the ballot.
Problem is, Ford says, the school board didn’t get 100 signatures or 4,000 signatures. They got no signatures.
Ford says he knows of people in the county – he won’t say who – who are planning to file a legal challenge against the school board if the board moves to put the measure on the ballot again this December.
When asked why he’s opposed to the school levy, Ford said – “it’s a waste of money.”
“The school board should not be an economic engine,” Ford said. “The superintendent makes $111,000 a year. The treasurer makes $83,000 a year. And she has a bureaucracy under her.”
Ford said that certain people in the community wanted to make Morgan County into an arts community and a bedroom community. And they did.
He says real estate people became “wealthy” as a result.
Instead, Ford would have brought industry to Morgan County to create a “real tax base.”
Ford says that the property tax on industry is double that of residential property.
“Residential property taxes can’t carry the load of the county,” Ford said. “The tax base here is horrible.”
Ford says things are so bad here economically, that his catering operation – Bob’s Big Beef – does only two percent of its business in West Virginia.
“We do most of our business in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.,” Ford said.
Ford said that a school board public hearing on the levy earlier this year “was a charade.”
“They had Connie Perry, Charles Trump, and Daryl Cowles answering questions,” Ford said. “Where was the school board? Where were they hiding?”
“I was a county commissioner for six years, and we sat right before the people and answered questions,” Ford said. “If you are going to ask people to spend money, you need to answer questions. This county is lacking leadership. If I’m making a decision, I will be the one to take the heat. I’m not going to hide behind the county planner. People are fed up with this BS.”
On the issue of citizen participation at County Commission meetings, Ford said he didn’t necessarily agree with Commission Chair Brad Close’s recent decision to push public comments to the end of the commission meetings.
“I prefer to run them the way we ran them when I was commissioner with Glen (Stotler) and Tommy (Swaim),” Ford said. “We had people come in occasionally with redundant ideas. But we let them have their say during the meetings.”
“Our meetings were always conducted pretty fair and upfront. The meetings never got out of control.”