Jack Walker Published

Hearing Will Determine Whether Two Jefferson County Officials Stay In Office

With four columns and a spire, the Jefferson County Courthouse stands before a clear blue sky. The flag of West Virginia stands to its side.
A panel of three judges from West Virginia's 23rd Judicial Circuit Court will determine whether two county commissioners remain in office.
Jack Walker/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

This is a developing story and may be updated. 

Two members of the Jefferson County Commission could be removed from office, depending on a decision from the state’s 23rd Judicial Circuit Court.

Proceedings began Tuesday in a hearing against Commissioners Tricia Jackson and Jennifer Krouse, who came under scrutiny in late 2023 for skipping months of meetings while still collecting their salaries.

Jackson and Krouse described their absence as a protest against vacancy proceedings.

The commission was required to appoint one of three candidates selected by the Jefferson County Republican Executive Committee (JCREC) to a seat vacated by Republican Commissioner Claire Ath in June 2023.

But the commission quickly came to a deadlock. Jackson and Krouse raised concerns over both the JCREC’s nomination process and the commission’s vacancy procedure.

On Facebook, Krouse said the Commission was not provided “actual conservatives,” and that elected Republicans are often “incompetent, self-interested [or] closeted liberals,” MetroNews previously reported.

In November, a judge ordered that Krouse and Jackson resume attending meetings, and they obliged.

The commissioners’ absence drew attention from state lawmakers, who moved to clarify vacancy protocol with a bill that swiftly passed both chambers.

While meetings have since resumed, local authorities said they are still pursuing legal recourse over what they described as a months-long standstill in local government.

In March, the two commissioners were charged with 42 misdemeanors.

And Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Harvey said he would follow through with a petition he filed in November 2023 to remove them from office.

Harvey, also a Republican, did not respond to a request for comment on this story Wednesday morning. At the time of the request, a staff member at the attorney’s office said Harvey was at the courthouse for the hearing, which continued through Wednesday.

However, in the November petition — first published online by the Spirit of Jefferson — Harvey described it as his “sworn duty to protect the county, uphold the rule of law and hold all citizens, including elected officials, accountable for their unlawful actions.”

Later in the petition, Harvey argues it is a “mandatory duty” in the West Virginia Code for county commissioners to fill vacancies.

“By refusing to attend meetings, [Jackson and Krouse] have willfully blocked the commission from performing its mandatory statutory duty,” he wrote. They have also “stated their opposition to the slate of replacements put forward.”

Signs posted to a bulletin board outside of the Jefferson County Courthouse display the county seal, a sign, a sign on meeting times and a sign on the location of the meeting room within the building.
Jefferson County Commissioners Tricia Jackson and Jennifer Krouse refused to attend meetings from early September to late November 2023.
Photo Credit: Jack Walker/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

During the first day of the hearing, Harvey’s arguments centered around tasks the county commission was unable to complete during the commissioners’ absence, The Journal reported.

Because of their absence, the commission struggled to meet quorum. This meant they were unable to hire 911 dispatchers, provide a grant to victim advocates or apply for funding to improve the county courthouse, the Associated Press reported.

Additionally, Harvey questioned witnesses about posts the commissioners made to Facebook denouncing candidates selected by the JCREC.

In September, Krouse wrote that the candidates all had “strong ties to progressive, green energy,” according to the petition.

This contradicted previous claims that Jackson and Krouse were avoiding commission meetings out of concern for vacancy protocol, Harvey argued.

The office of legal counselors for Jackson and Krouse declined to comment on this story.

In her cross-examination, Jackson and Krouse’s attorney Traci Wiley asked members of the commission why they refused to remove the vacancy procedure from meeting agendas.

Previously, Jackson and Krouse stated they would attend meetings so long as the vacancy was not discussed.

“The law stated we shall appoint,” said Commissioner Steve Stolipher, a Republican, during his testimony. “If I had taken it off the agenda, I would be breaking the law.”

As of Wednesday morning, neither Jackson nor Krouse had yet testified during the hearing.

But on March 14, after she was initially charged with the misdemeanors, Krouse provided a written statement to West Virginia Public Broadcasting likening the legal proceedings to the “corruption” and “poisonous ideology” of politicians in Washington D.C.

“What is happening to Commissioner Jackson and me is a travesty and it is unamerican,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, the political establishment of Jefferson County [has] decided to use the legal system, which they control, to persecute their political opponents.”

In his petition, however, Harvey described it as a duty of his role as prosecuting attorney to pursue the commissioners’ removal.

Jackson and Krouse’s actions left Harvey “no course of action” but to file a petition for their removal, he wrote.

This hearing is separate from the 42 misdemeanor charges Commissioners Tricia Jackson and Jennifer Krouse face in criminal court. For more information on those charges, see our previous reporting.