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Council members vote to be civil in politics

November 27, 2018

HUNTINGTON — Members of Huntington City Council passed a resolution on Monday aiming to make a statement about restoring civility in politics.

Council members also passed an ordinance that adds the potential for jail time for people found to be trespassing.

Also, members of the city’s Administration and Finance Committee discussed the possibility of Cabell Huntington Hospital giving the city a one-time payment of $1 million in exchange for giving up the right to name three people to the hospital’s board of directors.

Mayor Steve Williams, who is president of the West Virginia Municipal League, asked council members to pass an ordinance to “restore civility,” a commitment to be respectful to one another despite political and ideological differences.

Williams said the Municipal League is asking other municipalities within its network to pass similar resolutions, becoming the first in the nation to do so.

“We have just a few responsibilities as elected officials. One is to certainly be responsive to our constituents and the second thing is to represent our constituents with civility and respect,” Williams said. “That has been declining in short order, in large order, in recent years.”

The ordinance passed unanimously, with council members Alex Vence and Charles McComas absent.

Council members also unanimously passed an ordinance that amends the city’s existing trespassing law to add the possibility for jail time and increased fines for people found to be trespassing.

The ordinance will provide a penalty option to jail first-time offenders for up to three days and issue them a citation not exceeding $100. Repeat offenders could be jailed up to 30 days and be fined up to $500.

Previously police officers could only write citations for people found to be trespassing, particularly in homes found to unsafe for habitation. Police said people would not pay the fines and would keep returning to the homes.

Members of the Administration and Finance Committee discussed an ordinance that would see Cabell Huntington Hospital give $1 million to the city’s general fund. In exchange, the city would no longer name three people to serve on the hospital’s 18-member Board of Directors.

In May, the hospital announced it would complete the acquisition of St. Mary’s Medical Center, which would make the combined medical center the second-largest in West Virginia.

Cabell Huntington Hospital Board President Dr. Kevin Yingling said the hospital is currently operating with a “clunky and difficult” organizational structure. The hospital is operating with a board of directors from both Cabell Huntington Hospital and St. Mary’s Medical Center as well as the Mountain Health Network Board of Directors, which oversees both hospitals.

“We went to New York City to seek bonds to support this acquisition and we faced a lot of questions from bond rating agencies saying, ‘Why are you structured this way?’” Yingling said. “We had to explain our way through this multiple times when we know in the back of our minds that there’s a better organizational structure.”

This move would put the hospital in a position to create one board to oversee both hospitals together in the future. The hospital has agreed to follow the city’s original guidelines to appoint people to the board that are from the city and make up a representation of different ages, sexes and social classes.

Williams said he supports the move because the hospital is more qualified to name people to serve on its board than the city is.

“My opinion is the city needed to get out of political appointments to the board of directors,” he said. “The health care system is so complex now it needs to be void of political influence.”

The move would not affect people currently serving on the board. Cabell County Commission passed a similar resolution at a Nov. 19 meeting. The hospital will give the county $1 million while the county also gives up the right to name people to the hospital’s board.

The proposed ordinance was forwarded to Huntington City Council to consider during its next meeting.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

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