WELLSBURG - State Del. Tim Ennis, D-Brooke, has been chosen to fill the Brooke County Commission seat held by the late Bernie Kazienko, though the remaining two county commissioners had disagreed over how it should be filled.
There was tension Tuesday afternoon in the commission's meeting room as county commissioner Norma Tarr voted against fellow commissioner Marty Bartz' recommendation of Kirk Kazienko, the son of the late commissioner whose seat became vacant with his death on Dec. 5.
Bartz said Kirk Kazienko wouldn't be solely a sentimental choice because he holds a degree in business administration and displayed leadership in carrying on the Bernie's Kids Christmas toy drive soon after his father's death.
Tarr recommended instead Ennis, who is in his ninth term as a representative of the 2nd Delegate District, which includes Brooke County and part of Ohio County.
She said she chose him for his experience in securing state funds for improvements to infrastructure and economic development.
Bartz approved her choice but said he had preferred to fill the seat with someone who didn't intend to run for the office in this year's primary and general elections.
State law dictates that the commission fill the position, within 30 days of its vacancy, until voters can select someone through the next regular election. The winner will serve the remaining five years of Kazienko's six-year term.
Bartz stressed he believes Ennis is a "wonderful" choice for commissioner but was concerned that by appointing him, he and Tarr would appear to be favoring him over other candidates in the upcoming elections.
Ennis thanked the commissioners for their support and expressed regret that he will step into the seat following Kazienko's death.
"Bernie was the heart and soul of Brooke County in my opinion. None of us wanted to be here today," he said, speaking of the circumstances that led to his appointment.
Ennis confirmed he plans to run for the seat in the upcoming elections and said early next week he will submit his resignation from the seat in the House of Delegates, which already was slated to appear on ballots this year.
Ennis said to fill his seat there, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will choose one of three individuals to be nominated by the Democratic Executive Committee.
Bartz said Ennis and Kazienko were among 17 applicants for the seat and he interviewed all except four. He said one of the four was a Republican and state law calls for the seat of Kazienko, who was a Democrat, to be filled by someone from the same party.
Bartz said the other three weren't residents of the Wellsburg Magisterial District, where Kazienko lived, and he preferred to fill it with someone from there, though it's not legally required.
He said he submitted 15 questions to each of the other 13 applicants and was impressed by the responses of all. Bartz, whose own seat in the Follansbee Magisterial District is up in this year's election, added he hopes the other applicants will run for a county office.
Wellsburg residents Bill Williams and Wayne Buxton complained that Tarr didn't play an active role in filling the seat. Buxton noted she wasn't involved in interviewing the applicants.
Kirk Kazienko agreed, saying Tarr "entered the search to replace my father half-heartedly."
Tarr acknowledged she didn't take part in the interviews but said she did review the applications.
Tarr earlier questioned advertising the seat, saying she and Bartz shouldn't waste the time of hopeful applicants when each had someone in mind for the job.
Bartz said then he hadn't set his mind on anyone and would consider all applicants.
On Tuesday Tarr said, "All I'm looking for is what's best for Brooke County. By appointing Tim, I had the future of Brooke County in mind. Nine months is a long time for us and we do need to get some things accomplished."
Had the two commissioners been unable to agree upon an applicant, the decision would have fallen to the seven members of the Brooke County Democratic Party Executive Committee.
Bartz said the committee could have chosen anyone, including someone outside those who applied, and that would be a disservice to those who applied.
In addition to Ennis and Kazienko, letters of application were received from Bill Schwertfeger and Steven Snyder, both of Follansbee; and the following Wellsburg area residents: Howard Armstrong, Mark Fedak, Richard Ferguson, Anthony Filberto, Burton Jennings, Heidi Kirchner, Phillip Mazzella, Ron Michaux, Norm Schwertfeger, K.D. Shaffer, Arthur Sullivan, Lloyd VanHorn and Linda Viderman.
On Tuesday Ferguson, the county's sheriff, withdrew his application, saying he felt he should complete his current term, which ends this year, instead.
The applicants' places of residence don't necessarily reflect their magisterial districts because Brooke County's Weirton, Follansbee and Wellsburg magisterial districts aren't limited to the cities for which they are named.