[Published in the Martinsburg Journal on October 24, 2016]
Two of the fundamental requirements for democracy are the integrity of the vote and the integrity of the public record.
Both are in jeopardy in Jefferson County. Starting with early voting on October 26, and Election Day on November 8, our county has the opportunity to preserve our democracy or watch it vanish before our eyes.
In 2004, Jennifer Maghan defeated Scott Coyle. It was a classic battle between the court house “in crowd” versus a broad coalition of reformers and citizen activists.
John Ott had been Clerk for 24+ years. In his final years, he had allowed the Clerk’s office to fall into corruption and dysfunction.
Prior to Jennifer’s tenure, our votes were stolen, padded, and altered.
- Voter registration rolls altered to allow phantom votes for favored candidates.
- Vote count altered to help favored candidates.
- Public was barred from monitoring vote count.
- Ballots removed or added to help favored candidates.
- Ballot boxes unsealed and resealed.
Activists documented illegal access to ballot boxes. Uncaring County Commissioners and ambivalent state officials ignored a mountain of evidence, including photos.
In one election, 150 uncounted ballots were “found” at 2:00 in the morning. The vote count for the anti “in crowd” candidate was reported as going down! The votes were accurately recounted (50 went to the reform candidate) only because the activists monitoring the ballots began shouting in the Court House and alerting the media.
Many public records were also fraudulent:
- Land titles and other documents backdated, fabricated, and altered to cover illegal acts. Many of these were entered into court cases as evidence.
- Land titles and other public documents “lost” when needed, especially when required for evidence in court cases.
- Land titles “misfiled” or renamed to frustrate public access, and hide actions.
- Title and land transfer fees not charged to “in crowd” – depriving our county of millions in revenue.
- Land transactions were hidden from the public. “Do not publish” stickers were placed on certain transactions to stop them from being forwarded to the Spirit of Jefferson. The “favored few” were able to hide their land purchases, allowing them to amass holdings prior to major subdivision applications.
- After hour’s access was only for the “in crowd”.
During these dark years, only dedicated local activists, at great personal and financial cost, were able to expose the truth and occasionally stop illegal acts.
In addition to these illegalities, the Clerk’s staff was universally unhelpful and officious to the public, except to the “in crowd”.
The public was shut out of information as nothing was online. The public could only access public records during office hours, except the “favored few”.
How our tax dollars were spent was also hidden and falsified.
- Financial operations were never independently audited.
- Clerk’s office covered for malfeasance and help hide secret accounts.
- The public could not access the county’s financial records.
In 2004, against the odds and being outspent 10-1, Jennifer Maghan shocked the “in crowd” with a 500 vote victory margin. Jennifer immediately launched a dramatic and swift reform effort. The “in crowd” demonized her and tried to stop her at every step. Jennifer never wavered in her commitment to make things right. She was re-elected by a landslide in 2010. Her success revolutionized everything and made Jefferson County a state and regional leader in digital documents and public access.
Jennifer’s honesty cost the “in crowd” millions dollars as they had to pay their transfer fee obligations and endure proper public scrutiny of their real estate dealings.
The “in crowd” is now desperate to retake control of the Clerk’s office. They have waited twelve years to bring back the corruption and favoritism of the old days.
Herb Snyder is part of this “in crowd”. Snyder’s brother, Lee Snyder, and his business partners, were some of the primary beneficiaries of the old regime. A Snyder run Clerk’s Office will reverse Jennifer’s reforms. A Snyder run Clerk’s Office will shut out the public.
Jacki Shadle worked on Jennifer’s Clerk Team. Jacki is our only hope for preserving Jennifer’s hard won culture of honesty and openness. https://www.facebook.com/jackishadleforcountyclerk/