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Baby, it’s finally cold outside
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The leaves may still be hanging on, but 5 nights in a row below freezing have moved Hampshire County to the threshold of winter.

The turn in the weather produced a couple of near records at the National Weather Service’s Romney reporting station.

And those leaves that clung to their color beyond expectations? They’re on the verge of doing what we all figured they would do a few weeks ago, forest Bill Pownell says.

“A good strong wind or a rain and most of what we’ve got is going to come down,” Pownell said Monday.

He had predicted in early October that the area’s color peak would be around Oct. 27, some 2 weeks later than the state’s tourism office was touting, and he was right.

“I saw some really pretty trees this year, but everything was scattered out,” he said. “It wasn’t real intense anywhere.”

The low in Romney dipped below 32 last Wednesday, Nov. 3. Only twice before since records began in 1892 has the 1st freeze been that late — Nov. 3 in 1984 and Nov. 5 in 1971.

The freeze marked a decided end to October’s unseasonable warmth.

The mean temperature in October was 60.7, tying it with 1984 as the 2nd-warmest October on record. Only October 1919, with an average temperature of 62.6 was warmer.

The typical October temperature mean is 54.1. Mean temperature is calculated by averaging out the hourly temperature of the 31 days.

This October’s average low was 49.6 and average high was a comfortable 71.6. The lowest temperature this October was 37 on Oct. 19. The high was 82 on Oct. 4.

‘I hate that we’re here’
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Quiet JJC closure hearings started and finished last week

The school closure process required a formal hearing at the school that is being closed, as well as at the schools that will receive the reassigned students from that closed school.

The school board met last Tuesday at both Romney and Slanesville Elementary Schools, and Wednesday wrapped up the process with a 3rd and final hearing at JJC.

At these public hearings, there was an opportunity for commentary from the community, though both hearings at Romney and at Slanesville saw no appearances from community members.

Gayle Allen, kindergarten teacher at Springfield-Green Spring Elementary, was the only appearance in front of the board at the final JJC hearing, offering her thoughts on the school closure.

“This may be the last time I can speak publicly about the incredibly misguided idea of closing good, small community schools,” Allen began. She detailed her own upbringing, noting that when she went to big schools in middle and high school in New Jersey, she was “one of hundreds, and then thousands.”

She also recalled the closure of both the Grassy Lick and Mill Creek schools, saying that when they closed, it left the small communities “feeling hurt and lost.”

“What I’m concerned about at this time is the statement that these students will be reassigned and relocated to either Romney or Slanesville,” she added. “Guys, Springfield is still open for another year or 2. Let the parents have a choice and decide whether or not they want to transport their children to Springfield.”

Springfield-Green Spring is the last remaining small community school before the consolidation that will happen once the 3 new schools are built in the county, she continued.  

All 5 board members supported Allen’s suggestion, noting that while they couldn’t change the official verbiage in the closure proceedings, families always have the choice to transport their child to an out-of-district school, as long as they understand that it’s their responsibility to get the child either to their school of choice or to a bus stop on a regular route that can take the child there.

As far as JJC’s closure, board president Debbie Champ said that she wished things were different.

“I hate that we’re here,” she admitted. “I was one of the Mill Creek (school) kids, and I’m a huge proponent of small community schools. I just wish we were doing this with the rest of the consolidation; it would be easier for me to swallow.”

Board member Dee Dee Rinker cited the top reason for the school closing, saying that due to the bond passing and the declining student population at the Levels school, the closure was “inevitable.”

Board member Bernie Hott echoed the Champ’s feeling about the closure, mentioning that he has family ties to the school.

“My grandkids went here; I’ve been a proponent of this school now for many years,” he said. “I said that I’d never vote to close the school, because it had the numbers here to justify keeping it open. Unfortunately, things change.”

With 21 students currently enrolled, the numbers continue to dwindle.

“Doesn’t make too much sense to me to keep it open,” Hott added.

The proceedings included 2 recommendations from Superintendent Jeff Pancione: the recommendation that JJC closes permanently at the end of the 2021-22 school year, and that the CEFP (Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan) be amended to include the closure of the school.

With 4-1 votes supporting each recommendation (with Champ offering the only “no” votes), the board will move forward with official closure proceedings, and JJC’s doors will close at the end of the school year.

Judge facing conduct charges
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CHARLESTON — Judge Carter Williams has been charged with violating the rules of judicial conduct in the aftermath of a traffic stop in Moorefield this summer.

Williams was stopped when Moorefield Police Officer Deavonta Johnson saw him with a cellphone in his hand behind the wheel on July 11.

Before the evening was over:

• Williams’ driver’s license was revealed to be 3 months expired.

• The judge called Johnson’s supervisor during the stop and more than once referred to Johnson, an African-American, as “your boy.”

• He launched a tirade about police being on their cellphones while behind the wheel.

• He later called Moorefield’s police chief and mayor along with fellow judge Charles Carl.

Details of the stop — and allegations of prior run-ins with law enforcement — were outlined in a complaint issued by the state’s Judicial Investigation Commission on Oct. 25.

The state’s Judicial Hearing Board will consider the charges after the turn of the year. If the board finds any of the charges valid, it will make recommendations for disciplinary actions to the State Supreme Court. Consequences can include reprimands, fines or unpaid suspension for up to a year.

During the stop, Johnson said Williams was holding a cellphone in his right hand near the steering wheel while driving. Williams said he had just retrieved his cellphone from under his seat after dropping it, but Johnson said Williams was talking on the phone.

“Respondent immediately identified himself as ‘Judge Williams,’” the Judicial Investigation Committee’s filing states. “From the outset, respondent acted in a manner unbecoming a judicial officer.

“Judge Williams asked in an angry tone why he had been stopped. Officer Johnson explained it was because respondent had a cellphone in his hand. Judge Williams stated that he lost his cellphone and had just pulled it up from under the seat when he was stopped.”

Johnson then asked Williams why he was yelling and twice asked to see Williams’ license, registration and insurance.

“Respondent said he did nothing wrong,” the filing states, noting Johnson asked a third time for Williams’ information. “I’m not going to give you my license and registration.”

Williams later acknowledged Johnson had reasonable suspicion to pull him over.

“And you all aren’t ever on yours?” Williams asked Johnson. “I drive by a lot of times and you all are on yours. You’re never on yours, right? … Let me tell you something, you all are on yours.”

Williams finally gave Johnson his license, registration and insurance, still “irritated” that he was pulled over “for no reason.” He also told the officer to give him a ticket so he could take it to municipal court and go to trial.

“Its ridiculous what you’re doing,” Williams told Johnson. “It’s ridiculous.”

Johnson asked Williams what was ridiculous.

“’Cause you all have yours in your hands,” he replied. “I’ve seen it many times. You all have yours and you don’t get pulled over. Don’t tell me it’s on official business. I hear your cases every day in court. … Give me a ticket. I am really irritated about this whole … give me a ticket.

“You just pulled me over for no reason. Pulled me over for no reason. Give me a ticket.”

Johnson then discovered Williams’ license had expired about 3 months prior on his 55th birthday.

Meanwhile, Williams called off-duty Moorefield Police Lt. Melody Burrows.

“Your boy pulled me over for being on my cellphone and I wasn’t on my cellphone!” he told Burrows before detailing his side of the story.

Burrows testified that she believed Williams called to stop the issuance of the ticket. Burrows did tell Johnson not to issue Williams a ticket. She also testified that Williams called Johnson, who is Black, “your boy” repeatedly during the call.

Johnson returned to Williams’ car and told him he wasn’t giving him a ticket.

“You can write me a ticket or not,” Williams said. “I don’t care. I’ll take it up to town and we’ll go to trial, buddy. That’s fine with me, and I’ll tell you what. The next time I see any of you on the phone I am stopping you right there and calling the State Police. Any of you. … I’ve seen this crap enough, and I’m tired of it.”

Williams then grabbed his license, registration and insurance out of Johnson’s hand before leaving without waiting for Johnson to release him.

Later that evening, Williams called Moorefield Police Chief Stephen Riggleman on his cellphone, again saying he had “just had words with one of your boys” before telling his version of the story. He also told the chief he was tired of being disrespected, that he planned to call the State Police if he sees officers on their phones and that he could call the chief anytime he wanted. Riggleman told Williams not to call when he was home with his family before Williams hung up on the chief.

Also that evening, Williams called former Moorefield Police Chief Steve Reckart at home. The judge was critical of the Moorefield Police Department and Johnson. He also hinted that he might treat future cases involving the department differently.

Williams then called Burrows again, saying he was “sick and tired of Moorefield PD running around like a bunch of thugs, harassing innocent, hard-working people” and questioning whether “my boy” should even have a job in light of a May 2020 felony charge of wanton endangerment that later was dismissed without prejudice.

Williams also called fellow Circuit Judge Charles Carl that evening. Carl testified that Williams was “really intent on proving himself right.”

At 10 p.m. that evening, Williams visited Moorefield Mayor Carol Zuber’s home. During the 45-minute conversation, Williams said he wanted to file a complaint against Johnson and complained about the Moorefield PD and Johnson. He told her Johnson had pulled him over previously for running a stop sign but did not issue a ticket then either.

When the mayor said she’d look at Johnson’s body cam video the next day, Williams hung his head and disclosed that he had been an “a**” during the stop.

The next day, Hardy County Prosecutor Lucas See watched the stop video as well. Unsure of how to proceed, See contacted retired Circuit Judge Donald Cookman, who previously served as chairman of the Judicial Investigation Commission.

Cookman told See to gather information, take it to Judge Carl and to contact the Office of Disciplinary Counsel to report the incident. After Williams talked to Carl and See, Williams said he wanted to report the incident himself. He did that on July 15.

Riggleman prepared a ticket charging Williams with improper use of a cellphone and driving without a valid license. He negotiated a plea deal with See to plead no contest to the driving without a valid license charge. In exchange, the cellphone charge would be dismissed without prejudice. Williams was ordered to pay $30 and court costs.

The 24-page complaint also details other traffic stops involving Williams for expired registration and failure to wear a seatbelt. He wasn’t given a ticket during any of those stops, and the officers reported Williams’ demeanor was fine during those stops. It also says he was pulled over 3 different traffic violations from April to July of this year.

The commission’s formal statement of charges says probable cause exists to formally charge Williams with the violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct and that formal discipline is appropriate.

The Judicial Disciplinary Committee filed a judicial ethics complaint against Williams on July 15, and he called the JDC the same day to verbally report his conduct. The Judicial Investigation Commission filed its report July 30 seeking, in part, Williams’ suspension without pay pending the outcome of the disciplinary matter.

The Supreme Court deferred ruling on the suspension without pay in an Aug. 3 order that also stated Williams agreed to no longer preside over criminal cases in Hardy County and is prohibited from hearing any matter involving the Moorefield Police Department and/or its officers during the pendency of the proceedings.

A Sept. 30 Supreme Court order found probable cause and ordered the matter remanded to the Judicial Inquiry Commission. That order led to the formal statement of charges being filed late last month.

Williams was elected to an 8-year term on the 22nd Judicial Circuit in 2016.

The West Virginia Record contributed to this report.

AL LEONARD (1918-2021): A golden moment
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For Goldenseal’s complete interview with Al Leonard, pick up a copy at Cacapon Resort State Park, Blackwater Falls or Brushy Ridge Farm in Augusta. You can order a copy online. Just type Goldenseal in your search bar.

Foxes taught trapper his skill

Al Leonard’s renown as a trapper spread across West Virginia last week in the state’s Goldenseal Magazine.

The 103-year-old Hampshire County outdoorsman’s smiling face was the cover of the quarterly magazine.

But the acclaim turned out to be posthumous. The Missouri native who made Hampshire his home for more than 60 years died last Wednesday, 2 days before Goldenseal hit newsstands.

Leonard was a legend in the trapping community.

“He’s passed his knowledge down to me, and I’ve passed it on to my nephews and will to my grandsons and they’ll pass it on at some point too,” retired teacher Paul Roomsburg said in 2014.

Leonard’s specialty and passion were red foxes. His fondest memory is capturing 25 in a single day early in his trapping career.

He taught himself to trap, or rather, the foxes taught him.

“I’d go out in the snow and watch what they did and where they went, and that’s how I learned to trap them,” he recalled to Goldenseal.

What he learned became known as the Al Leonard Method and he spent much of his later years teaching it to others.

The method is meticulous, from where the trap is placed to the angle it’s set in the hole and secured to removing its scent.

The Al Leonard Method wasn’t developed overnight.

“It took me a long, long time to learn,” he said. “Oh, the fox made a fool out of me, he did. I’d get a little better each year.”

His lessons in tracking and trapping foxes began in the fields of Iowa when he was 10 years old.

Flash forward to the 1950s when Al was working in Hagerstown, Md., and started coming to Hampshire County to fish in the summer.

In 1959 he moved here to stay.

“I never left.”

County now offering vaccines for kids
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Do you want the good news or the bad news 1st?

The bad news, or rather, the non-news: Covid-19 case numbers in Hampshire County don’t appear to be dropping. They aren’t spiking, either, but the numbers do remain steady, said Health Department Director Tamitha Wilkins, as Hampshire and surrounding counties such as Hardy and Mineral remain stoutly in the red on the 5-color state Covid map.

“With our numbers, we’re not seeing much downward trending,” she said, clarifying that when the health department posts their daily updates on Saturdays and Sundays, the “new case” numbers may be lower simply because most people don’t test on the weekends.

And the good news? Hospitalization numbers are lower than they’ve been in months, Wilkins said.

“Right now we have 1 person hospitalized,” she said. “That can change at any given time, and the hospitalizations we’re seeing are people 7 to 10 days out who are having respiratory issues and are short of breath.”

On top of low hospitalization numbers for the county, there’s good news in the vaccine department as well: the Center for Disease Control has approved the pediatric Pfizer vaccine for kids aged 5-11.

In fact, the health department will be holding its 1st vaccination clinic for kids on Friday, Nov. 12 from 9 a.m. until noon. Pharmacies, who are not generally approved to offer kids under 18 regular immunizations, have been approved to administer Covid shots during the vaccine rollout.

“The good thing is that there is such accessibility (to the vaccine) countywide,” Wilkins remarked. “It’s not like when they first rolled it out last December.”

Right now, just under 40 percent of the county’s population has been fully vaccinated for the virus, with 65.7 percent of folks aged 65 and older having received their 2 doses.

To schedule an appointment at Friday’s vaccination clinic (held at the health department in Augusta), call them at 304-496-9640.

Vaccines are offered not only at the health department in Augusta, but at pharmacies around the county as well. Call the pharmacy nearest you to find out more details about scheduling appointments, walk-in availability and more.

‘Family comes first’
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Mayfield faces challenges of small-town finance as new bank president

When Mayfield officially took over on Oct. 1 as a part of the succession plan following the passing of Dean Young in August, he wanted to continue the bank’s tradition of valuing family and connecting with the community as a small-town financial institution.

His background is more than just banking, too: after attending WVU where he studied finance and played football, he took a job running the Hampshire Center up on Sunrise Summit. The Morgantown-native was hardly a stranger to the area.

“My family used to camp here,” he reminisced. “I knew Hampshire County pretty well from that Route 50 trip. We’d always stop at the Dairy Queen on the way out of town as kind of our going-home treat.”

When the job at the Hampshire Center opened, he thought he’d give it a whirl.

Mayfield said after his time at the Hampshire Center concluded, he worked at another Genesis-run center in Cumberland, and then moved to Martinsburg.

That was a tough career, he recalled, and the demands on his time were extensive, so in 2008, his journey took him to the Bank of Romney. He started Oct. 1, 2008, exactly 13 years before he would take on the title of “president.”

Family is extremely important to him, Mayfield said, and banking was a better fit for him, his wife and his kids.

“9 to 5 sounds a lot better than 365 days a year, 24 hours on call,” he said. “Banking has been much more structured for raising a family. Family comes first here. That’s what I like about it.”

Mayfield, a Springfield resident, wears a number of hats here in the community; bank president is just the tip of the iceberg.

He’s a father of 3 and a grandfather of 4.

He’s the president-elect for the Rotary club (his wife is the president).

He’s the treasurer of the county’s Economic Development Authority, and he’s on the board of E.A. Hawse health center.

“A lot of folks here know me as ‘Coach Mayfield’ from coaching Little League, middle school and high school (football),” he added with a laugh. “I have plenty of coaching experience.”

Mayfield said that one of his top goals is investing in the Hampshire County community, in whatever capacity he and the bank can. He’s working with the Development Authority to come up with sustainable, affordable childcare countywide, and while nothing is set in stone right now, the goal reflects his “family comes first” mantra.

There are other challenges that face community banks such as Bank of Romney as well, Mayfield described, including competing with massive entities in the finance realm that only seem to grow.

“It’s really tough as a community bank,” he admitted. “We are constantly trying to increase our relevance in today’s banking world. That’s my challenge: how do we educate our customers and the community to the benefit of keeping dollars circulating locally?”

One of the moves Mayfield has made as president has been to work with his staff to update the Bank’s website, and within the year he wants to add online deposit, online loan applications and remote capture for their app.

“Obviously, the top goal is following the bank’s mission statement, which is meeting the financial needs of the community while investing in the community and enhancing stockholder value,” Mayfield explained. “That’s a fancy way of saying service is very important to us, so we’re going to continue to look at our digital access platforms.”

Expanding digital options, continuing the bank’s tradition of community investment and highlighting the importance of family and small community banks lead Mayfield’s list of goals, and he’s only just over a month into his new role.

“It is not as sleepy as I used to think,” he chuckled. “If you want to be successful, you have to take into consideration a lot of factors that could get in the way of profitable performance.”

He added that with Young’s passing in late August, both the bank as a whole and the community are trying to figure out how to move forward.

 “It’s still kind of soon, and we are all dealing with the loss of Dean (Young), and all the responsibilities he was taking on,” he commented. “But everyone knows everyone’s name here, and I try to make it a purpose to know everyone who works for me, if they have kids, what their family situation is.”

It all goes back to family at the Bank of Romney: “Family comes first.”