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Graham to chair Jefferson County Board of Commissioners

STEUBENVILLE — Commissioner Thomas Graham has served as a Jefferson County commissioner for 18 years, and the board is turning to that experience to lead the way through what it is sure will be a challenging 2021.

Graham was voted chairman of the board of commissioners for 2021 Monday morning during a reorganization meeting inside the courthouse.

“I look forward to working with Commissioner (Tony) Morelli and Commissioner (Dave) Maple, who has handed me the chairmanship this year,” Graham said. “Let’s look forward to a better 2021 health-wise and get this virus situation behind us.”

“I am very confident with (Graham) as chair,” said Maple, who served as the chair in 2020. “You have managed this office through the chairmanship many, many times quite successfully.

“I want to thank (Graham) and (former commissioner Tom) Gentile for the year of support and co-work.”

The biggest challenge right off the bat for Graham’s term will be the budget. The commissioners have noted shortfalls in initial budget hearings that will make for some tough decisions as they work to overcome and finalize the county’s finances for the year.

“This year will be a difficult year,” Graham said. “We have budgetary work to do. Hopefully we will get it done, passed and completed sooner rather than later.”

Morelli will spend the first year of his term on the board as vice chairman.

Both thanked Maple for his work as chairman in 2020, navigating the county through the challenges of COVID-19.

“I want to commend Commissioner Maple for his past leadership as chair of commissioners,” Graham said. “It’s a difficult position, a lot of calls, a lot of research that has to be done, help filling out the agenda, working with (the office staff), getting things ready for the meeting — the chair takes on a lot of that responsibility.

“Congratulations, Commissioner Maple — I appreciate your hard work and look forward to this upcoming year.”

“Even though it is only my second meeting, I attended a lot of meetings (in 2020) and I would ditto Graham’s comments on the job that Commissioner Maple did,” Morelli said. “It wasn’t easy — COVID hit during his chairmanship and that was handled well. It took a lot of strategy to keep the meetings going. He did a great job.”

All three offered praise to the commissioners office staff, Stacy Williams and Crystal Conaway, clerk and assistant clerk, for assisting in keeping the office running through the challenges of 2020.

“I want to thank the staff here especially,” Maple said. “The 2020 challenges of COVID in this office, all the offices in the courthouse and other county offices was unprecedented. Thank you for your ability to keep the meetings going. We got new technology, we learned new technology.”

Both were re-appointed to their roles for 2021.

The commissioners also praised the local media, including the Herald-Star, for helping get information to the public during the challenging 2020.

“The role that the press plays in important,” Maple said. “It keeps government on its toes and it also helps relay the messages out to the community.”

Morelli was appointed to serve on the GIS board, a role previously held by his predecessor, Gentile, while Maple was re-appointed to serve on the data processing board. Graham will serve as the representative to the Jefferson-Belmont solid waste authority. Maple was re-appointed to the 9-1-1 board.

The majority of the appointments by the board were re-appointments of various county employees, with at least two – a position on the 9-1-1 board and a BHJ board appointment from Morelli — to be revisited in an upcoming regular meeting.

The commissioners also voted to continue to meet at 9 a.m. on Thursdays throughout 2021.

The rules for special meetings, staying compliant with sunshine laws, and a motion from Maple to continuing allowing Zoom/teleconference participation in meetings as long as the need is there due to the pandemic, also were approved.

The first resolution of the year was approved, continuing the public participation policy, which has been in place in similar form since 2002. It requires members of the public who wish to participate in a meeting to contact the office prior to the meeting to get on the agenda. It also allows the chairman to recognize and allow any member of the public not on the agenda to speak.

“It’s an important piece of maintaining an orderly meeting,” Maple said. “Advance notice gives us time to understand the subject, research and make it a more beneficial use of the person’s time.”

“It’s not to stifle the public’s participation — it gives us time to research the issue,” Graham said, noting prior to the policy being in place a lack of a policy made for “crazy” situations.

The board will meet in regular session on Thursday.

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