Commissioners lead the way in Kicking Butts

BUCKHANNON — The Upshur County Tobacco Prevention Coalition’s efforts to reduce smoking and smokeless tobacco use is gaining ground in at least one arena — county government.

Ahead of county commissioners signing a proclamation at their March 1 meeting declaring March 21 Kick Butts Day in Upshur County, county administrator Carrie Wallace noted that a couple commissioners had ceased using tobacco products over the past several years.

“I think it’s important to note that a majority of our commissioners were tobacco users two or three years ago, and now none of them are,” Wallace remarked.

Ginny Dixon, chair of the Upshur County Tobacco Prevention Coalition presented the proclamation to the commission, as well as several state and local statistics. Dixon said 1,800 children under age 18 become new smokers in West Virginia every year. Meanwhile, about 19.6 percent of high school students — which is 17,400 students statewide — are smokers.

“Approximately, 47,000 Upshur County children will ultimately die prematurely from smoking,” Dixon said. “Adolescents’ bodies are most sensitive to nicotine, and they are most easily addicted than adults.”

The proclamation declares March 21 to be a national day of activism during which residents are encouraged to assist in creating a smoke-free environment.

“I would like to personally thank the commission for their support because it’s time that we put tobacco behind us,” Dixon said. Commissioner Terry Cutright made a motion to approve and sign the proclamation, which was seconded by Troy “Buddy” Brady before passing unanimously.

In other commission news, Elissa Mills addressed commission on behalf of the Buckhannon Animal Care and Control Commission, of which she is a member.

“I’m sure everybody knows by now, but we have a dog park here in the City of Buckhannon,” Mills said. “There’s an entire committee of us, and it took a lot of work because we had a lot of money to raise. We managed to get all of that accomplished and the dog park opened last fall. The weather wasn’t necessarily perfect when it opened, but when we got it open and let the dogs in, once they got used to the space, to see the dogs running and playing, I would have thought it would have warmed the coldest of hearts.”

Mills also mentioned the dog park now features a special fenced-in area for smaller dogs with the goal of keeping them away from larger dogs.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever had a tiny toy or pocket dog, but those little dogs have a tendency to think they’re 10 feet tall and bullet-proof,” Mills remarked, “so we want to keep them away from the Rottweilers and the Dobermans and the shepherds. So far, there have not been any problems with any of the dogs or with any of the owners.”

Mills then said she had several complaints to report on behalf of city residents and the animal care and control board, noting the complaints were about a specific county employee.

“I am going to offer you all the opportunity to address this in another time at another place,” Mills said. “We have had some issues pertaining to animal care and control — or lack of care — and one individual’s lack of willingness to help with the control.

“I would be referring to a county employee,” Mills added. “Shall I continue?”

Typically, items involving personnel, property or litigation are taken up in a closed-door executive session per West Virginia Code 6-9A-4.

When the commission indicated Mills should continue, she said the animal control officer, Dustin Hollen, who is employed through the Upshur County Sheriff’s Department has “shown a distinct unwillingness to address the situation or address the situation in a compassionate manner” when there have been complaints.

Mills said although she hadn’t witnessed all the alleged incidents herself, she has heard Hollen does not always respond when he’s paged out.

Commission president Sam Nolte said, “Elissa, sometimes he may not even be in town. He’s just one guy. If it’s after-hours, it’s a little difficult.”

Brady said that although he’s heard complaints about past animal control officers, he has yet to hear one about Hollen.

Hollen, who attended the March 1 meeting, said he had no comment to offer in response to Mills’ comments other than to say that he does the best he can.

The next commission meeting will be at 9 a.m. on Thursday, March 15.

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