WILLIAMSON – At a regular meeting of the Mingo County Commission, Vivian Livingood, Mayor of Gilbert, responded to a recent news article in which the Mingo County Commission addressed issues raised at a recent Gilbert Council meeting concerning fire department funding.
Livingood appeared before the commission to request funding for the annual Skirmish on the River. The commission approved $600 for the event. Following the motion to approve funding, Livingood and the commissioners discussed hotel and motel taxes for the town of Gilbert as well as assistance with dilapidated buildings.
Following the discussion, Livingood addressed recent news articles that have been published in the Williamson Daily News. In a Feb. 17, story about the Gilbert Council Meeting, Gilbert Volunteer Fire Department (GVFD) Mike Tolley was quoted as saying that the commission had failed to share the cost of a generator to be used by the GVFD.
The Mingo County Commission had responded to the article, listing funding provided to the town of Gilbert in recent years. The Commission’s response article was published Tuesday, March 1.
Livingood addressed the article as well as provided the media with a copy of her statement. In a lengthy presentation, Livingood states, “Have you ever transcribed the minutes of a hearing or a meeting? Well, it isn’t easy, to say the least. I spent several hours yesterday doing just that, of the Gilbert Town Council meeting which was held Feb. 8. I read your story and never take anything I read for truth, as I always back up with fact. I got the tape of our council meeting and sat down to the chore of transcribing every word, so I could see exactly what I did say and at what discussion of the meeting it took place.”
“First of all, the quote wasn’t exactly correct. The wording was changed a bit, but it was close. Town council was having a discussion on the Gilbert Volunteer Fire Department spending their own funds to purchase a large capacity generator that will be used should we need a warming station or a place our citizens can stay in a catastrophic event. Chief Mike Tolley reported he had been asking the county commission for a generator for four years. He said he attended a meeting and asked again. He was told my Commissioner Smith the price was too high. One of the ladies got a copy from an office of a proposal for a generator for East Fork Volunteer Fire Department that was listed at a cost of $21,000. Chief Tolley was given a copy of this proposal or what he thought to be an invoice. He assumed this generator was being ordered for EFVD. This is where that information came from; it was on the paper that was obtained from the county at their meeting. Chief Tolley asked the commission if they would go half with Gilbert on the purchase and was told no, they didn’t have the funding. When Chief Tolley was reporting this to Gilbert Town Council, someone commented from the town’s water employees that a recent state health inspection had the inspector say that Gilbert was ‘on the ball’ to get things in order and be prepared for emergencies as we have just gotten a large generator for our water plant in case we lose power and now trying to get one for our fire department. At this point in the meeting, I (Mayor Livingood) said, ‘You have to, because it’s not going to happen with county leadership. You have to get into place the things your community needs and we’re not any more apt financially than they are and in fact, we’re suffering just as much as the whole county is. But we have to look at ways to cut expenses and make things work that are really needed and what’s important for our future here.’ That was my quote! This conversation was all about the purchase of a nearly $30,000 generator that we know we need if we ever plan on having an emergency shelter in place that can actually warm the people if they need to stay there. Guess what? The generator is not going to happen under county leadership. My quote was exactly that, we must get this on our own if we are going to get it,” Livingood continued.
Livingood continued stating, “Now, the commission has seen fit to write this article, telling everyone what they have given to Gilbert and it appears trying to make us look ungrateful for what we have gotten in the past. We have never been ungrateful and I feel this story that was printed is purely political to try to shed poor light on me, as Mayor, and to the town of Gilbert. I noticed you had the office assistants spend a great deal of time on collecting data for your numbers you printed in the article. We spent a little time on that same matter yesterday and can’t match the figures you quoted. I would like a copy of what you say you gave and when you supposedly gave it. You list dates of 2008 to 2015 for the town of Gilbert. That just happens to be the exact terms of my being mayor of Gilbert. Are you saying no one ever approached the commission for any type of funding before I became mayor, or are you just trying to show how great you have been to the town in my leadership? When I became mayor, I saw that other entities around the county were receiving funding assistance. I started approaching you to ask for things for Gilbert because we are, in fact, a part of Mingo County. Gilbert deserves funding just like any other part of the county. We pay taxes too. You came up with a total of $48,500 and our numbers are $28,500; which we stand to be corrected if you show us your proof. We did receive a $10,000 contribution toward our sidewalk project. It was greatly appreciated. We strive to bring our town up to par when tourists in by the thousands each year. Funding is spent to cut grass, weeds and to keep the trash picked up. We have asked for help at special events to get weeds cut and we have gotten that. It was appreciated.”
The response continued stating, “Do you need me to remind you, Mr. Hubbard of what took place the day you brought the $10,000 check to present to Gilbert on the sidewalks? You, Commissioner Smith and then Commissioner David Baisden, came to town hall and had forgotten your camera for a picture. I ran to my house to get my camera. We did the ‘cheese’ smiles and got the photo op. The minute the picture was taken, you, Commissioner Hubbard, reached over and grabbed the check out of my hands and told me, ‘I am going to hang on to this check until Truman (Chafin) comes through with his match of what you said he would give.’ You politely folded the check into your jacket pocket and told me I would receive the check later if Truman came through. I went home and thought about it and left you quite an irate voicemail when I couldn’t reach you on the telephone. In so many words, I told you to keep your check and never come around me again because what you had done was wrong. I told you that Truman had made a promise and I was sure he was going to keep his word. I believe you changed your mind after receiving a call from Mr. Harless’ office about holding the check. It suddenly got delivered to Gilbert. Do you think this was politics at play? This is why this county is suffering. I could have made phone calls to several entities and asked them to give a statement about Gilbert and how well we have handled finances and our people, but I didn’t need a pat on the back like you did in the article. Do you really think people cannot see through you?”
Livingood then addressed funding listed in the article on various contributions the commission has given. “You may want to know that Gilbert thinks highly of the STOP Coalition. It is a good program and does what it is supposed to do. It is not however, run by the Town of Gilbert. Its funds are entirely separate and cannot be in the category of what you have given to the town. Nor can Little League donations. You give to all areas of the county and God knows, our children need these donations so they will have things to do and not turn to drugs. Do you intermingle funds in your accounting practices? I think not. Gilbert has no control over the funding of the STOP Coalition but we highly support it. It is a non- profit that has mostly federal funding. We also have no control over the Kiwanis Club, although we think it is a fine organization with helping the communities around it. As for the Gilbert Volunteer Fire Department, Mike Tolley has been the chief for five years now. He took over when the fire department was falling apart. The membership was low, our accreditation was lacking and the station was in poor shape. Chief Tolley turned our department around. He does an excellent job as a volunteer. Remember that word, volunteer. It is something every person should do in their lifetime. It means unpaid. It is what I do for Gilbert. I am an unpaid mayor and I do it because I care about our communities. You have only given the yearly $2500 allotment to Gilbert Fire Department since Chief Tolley took that position. He was not chief when you gave $9,000 to assist with the replacement for the fire station roof and he was not chief when you assisted in purchasing bunker gear for members who had none. So, he was accurate when he was quoted as saying he has received no additional funding except for what all fire departments receive…”
Livingood then asks why Gilbert was singled out and a comparison was not provided for other towns in Mingo County such as Williamson, Delbarton, Matewan or Kermit. “You have singled out Gilbert, and I feel that it is political…” Livingood stated.” In conclusion to Commissioner Hubbard’s statement that he was so surprised to read the comments made by Mayor Livingood and Chief Tolley, I would have to ask ‘Really?’” Livingood responded. “What have you done to bring this county to the forefront?” Livingood questioned. She then lists other problems including cell phone towers.
Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith responded stating, “They bought the property off my father in law. We have begged and begged trying to get a company to come and you cannot.”
The discussion continued focusing on an action plan for a county in economic decline. Livingood discussed a need for unity during this current economic crisis. “I had to respond because you saw fit to single me out and put that in the paper,” Livingood stated in conclusion.
Smith responded stating, “Mrs. Livingood, this county has worked with you as it has worked with all municipalities as we have done through our fire departments, our little leagues, and our cities. We have tried to treat each fairly. What was greatly offensive to me personally was that Mr. Tolley’s statements were not true. What he was quoted as saying in the paper was that the county commission had spent $21,000 to buy a generator for East Fork which was not a forth of a size of the town of Gilbert and that Gilbert did not get anything. That is not true. We told him that we had been approached by many different fire departments that were trying ways to get generators and that we would help him and instruct our grant writer to help him trying to obtain grant funding the same the other fire departments were trying to receive funding. We even, as was Commissioner Hannah’s idea, discussed approaching shops that were rebuilding engines to see if maybe they could rebuild one. He said no. He had one quote for $41,000. I knew that East Fork had put it out for bid and they had a bid that was less than half from his price. I said, ‘You ought to look at this and contact this distributor and see if maybe you could get something cheaper,’” Smith responded. “His statements were not true,” Smith continued.
The discussion continued, focusing on the differences in opinion between the Gilbert Fire Department and Commissioner Smith. Livingood responded stating, “I got highly offended when I read it. I never said a word about what you did to me over there but when you picked me out and singled me out then I felt like you deserved it back. You did me wrong that day. You treated me horribly by jerking that check out of my hand and telling me you would give it when Truman came through. That was so wrong.”
Smith responded stating, “I would ask the Finance Department to provide Mayor Livingood a copy of every check and all documentation that was used in that article.”
Livingood stated, “I would appreciate it greatly.”
Commissioner John Mark Hubbard responded stating, “My response was not political. It was because of what I read.”
Livingood stated, “You didn’t bother to call and ask me about it, did you?”
Another member of the audience asked, “Why a check would be taken back if it isn’t your personal money?”
Smith stated, “The only reason the check would be taken back if it was given on a commitment that the main parties being there… The way I believe, I remember it was that the city was doing a portion of the match, the county, and the state was going to do a portion of that match. All the funds had to be available to get the grant application. It would not have been fair for the county to contribute its funds and the grant not come to fruition.”
“Explain it however you feel fit to explain it. It was wrong…”Livingood stated.
“I am not embarrassed by any of the actions of this commission. I think the commission has treated you fairly and we have worked together during disasters and will continue to do that,” Smith stated.
Hubbard responded stating, “When Gilbert flooded and people were lost and were trying to get the roads opened up over there. I think I was more active… I was staying at the Stonewall Jackson Resort for a meeting that was being held with the Coal Association and when that happened…I was knocking on doors asking people to come with equipment…and did they not provide? I have always attempted to help…”
The discussion continued with Livingood stating that, “I have trouble understanding why you singled me out? You tried to put me in a poor light and that we were ungrateful.”
Smith responded stated, “The comments that Tolley was quoted as saying Mayor, if you look at from our perspective look very ungrateful to try to act like we were spending money on Dingess and not on the town of Gilbert…”
The conversation continued with the back and forth between Livingood and Commission.
The next meeting of the Mingo County Commission will be held March 15 at 4:30.
(Editor’s Note: Due to space restraints, the entire conversation between Mayor Livingood and the Mingo County Commission could not be used for this article.)
(Courtney Pigman is a news reporter for the Williamson Daily News. She can be contacted at [email protected], or at 304-235-4242 ext. 2279.)