Mason mayor sanctioned by ethics commission


October 22, 2012

MASON — Mindy Kearns, mayor of Mason, has been sanctioned by the West Virginia Ethics Commission and has released a statement about it to the Point Pleasant Register.

Kearns was fined $1,750 for appointing herself as water and sewer commissioner and voting to increase her compensation for these two positions. Kearns said she has already paid back this amount in full and “did not set out to intentionally do something unethical.”

Both the mayor and town council members for the Town of Mason receive a salary for attending their monthly meetings. According to the commission, in the past, council members and the mayor have appointed themselves as the head, or commissioner, of a certain department, such as the water and sewer department, as well as the departments for police, trailer permits, dilapidated buildings, streets, and parks and recreation. Council members and the mayor receive extra compensation for serving as commissioner for these departments, which was $125 a month each for the water and sewer commissioner.

When Kearns assumed the office of mayor on July 1, 2011, she appointed the council members to their respective departments and appointed herself as water and sewer commissioner, increasing her mayoral salary. The commission states Kearns proposed an increase in compensation for the water and sewer commissioner during a council meeting on July 7, 2011. Council then adjourned into executive session to discuss the matter and Kearns remained in the room and participated in the discussion. Following the executive session, a motion was made to approve the compensation increase, which Kearns also voted to approve.

Later in September 2011, according to the commission, a council member who had been absent from the July 7 meeting, filed a complaint, saying that Kearns had “improperly participated in discussions and votes relating to increasing her salary, and had failed to recuse herself from the matter.” The complaint also stated “that by hiring herself as an employee and by accepting a raise in her current term of office, she was using her office for her own private gain.”

Kearns released the following statement to the Point Pleasant Register about the situation:

For at least the past 12 years, since I began work as a clerk at the Mason City Building, it has been the tradition of the mayor to also serve as the water commissioner and sewer commissioner, with additional pay. When I took office as mayor in July 2011, I asked the council for a pay increase for those positions. There hadn’t been an increase given in those 12 years.

As mayor, or any other elected municipal official, a person cannot ask for a pay increase during his or her term. Since the positions of water and sewer commissioners were not included in the mayor’s salary, nor are they elected positions, I did not feel this was wrong.

Around September 2011, a complaint was filed against me with the West Virginia Ethics Commission. Once I was made aware of the complaint, I immediately stopped accepting compensation for the positions of water and sewer commissioner.

The WV Ethics Commission determined it is unethical for the mayor to hold the water and sewer commissioner positions with additional pay. On Oct. 4, 2012, the ethics commission accepted an agreement under which I would repay the increased compensation of $1,250 to the town. This has been paid in full. I was fined $500 by the ethics commission, and this has also been paid in full.

I realize ignorance is not an excuse. I sincerely apologize to the residents of Mason and assure you I did not set out to intentionally do something unethical. I now look forward to leading the Town of Mason to the best of my ability for the remainder of my term, which ends June 30, 2013.

In addition to the fines, Kearns also received a public reprimand and a Cease and Desist stating Kearns would not accept payment as the commissioner for the water and sewer departments or any other form of competition other than her mayoral salary.

Information for this article was taken from a conciliation agreement released by the West Virginia Ethics Commission. The Ethics Commission defines a conciliation agreement as an agreement which “allows a person to resolve a complaint by administrative settlement thereby avoiding the inconvenience and expense of a public hearing. Conciliation agreements may be entered into at any state of an investigation or proceeding. The respondent’s cooperation, and the savings of time and expense are matters the commission considers in establishing the penalties to be imposed. All conciliation agreements are subject to public disclosure.”