By Ron Gregory
WILLIAMSON — The Mingo County commissioners took little time filling their latest vacancy.
Commission President Greg “Hootie” Smith confirmed Tuesday evening that he and Commissioner John Mark Hubbard had selected Ronnie Blankenship of Myrtle to join them.
Blankenship, whose residence is in Lee District, was one of those who applied earlier for the vacancy created by the forced resignation of former Commissioner David Baisden, who resigned in disgrace after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges,admitting that he had sought to purchase tires for his personal vehicle at government prices.
The chain of events that led to Blankenship’s appointment is complex. After Baisden resigned, Hubbard and Smith accepted applications and conducted interviews with potential commissioners. Their choice was former Mingo County Board of Education member Mike Carter.
Carter sought the Democrat nomination for Baisden’s unexpired term but lost in the primary to County Clerk “Big Jim” Hatfield. No Republicans filed for the position.
Then, in a surprise development, Hatfield announced that he was withdrawing as a candidate because of health concerns. Hatfield sent a letter of withdrawal to the State Election Commission. The commission, which includes Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, concluded that Hatfield was off the ballot the moment he submitted his withdrawal letter. But they further maintained that the election commission had to verify that Hatfield had withdrawn due to “extenuating personal circumstances” if a replacement was to be chosen. When no motion was offered by the five members of the election commission to grant Hatfield’s request on the basis of extenuating personal circumstances, it was announced that no name could be included on the ballot to replace Hatfield.
Although local Democrats, including County Democrat Executive Committee Chairman H. Truman Chafin, questioned that definition of the law, the county executive committee made no attempt to replace Hatfield. Instead, two candidates — Diann Hannah and Bill Duty — filed petitions and will appear on the ballot on Nov. 4. Hannah will be listed as a “People’s Choice” candidate and Duty will be listed as “unaffiliated.”
Carter, who could have served until a winner of the November election was certified, decided to resign instead. That left the position vacant again until the certification of the Nov. 4 balloting takes place. It was those circumstances that led to the appointment of Blankenship.
Smith said the commissioners did not take applications for the new vacancy, “because the term is so short, four months or so, and we had applications from those who applied when Mike was appointed.” Smith said he and Hubbard agreed on Blankenship as the replacement. The item was on the agenda at Tuesday’s 4:30 p.m., meeting, he said.
Smith noted that the commission “is making every effort to be open and we invite the public to come to our meetings.” He said the commission meets the first Tuesday of the month in the morning but scheduled the third Tuesday meeting for the evening “so working people can attend.”