Did city retaliate against whistleblower?

Electrician says his contract was terminated after questioning permit fee

BUCKHANNON — Buckhannon’s former electrical inspector appeared before city council last week to question municipal officials about why they decided to terminate his contract at the end of March.
Addressing council at their Thursday meeting, John Marteney, who served as the city’s electrical inspector for approximately five years, said he recently questioned why a local business was charged a permit fee lower than what was listed in the city ordinance. Three weeks later, Marteney said public works director Jerry Arnold informed him that his services would no longer be needed.
Marteney left the meeting with Arnold feeling unsatisfied, as questions about the city’s motivation for terminating his contract continued to linger. He came to the public comment portion of Thursday’s council meeting seeking answers.
“I’ve come before you tonight to try to bring some closure as to why the abrupt change in appointing me in this position and then going the code enforcement inspector avenue,” Marteney said. “I just would like to gain some insight.”
The city’s zoning and code enforcement officer, Vincent Smith, is now serving as the city’s in-house electrical inspector, officials disclosed at Thursday’s meeting.
Mayor David McCauley said the change was simply a matter of saving money.
“We determined that we could be more efficient and more economically able to discharge this function by doing it entirely in-house with our existing staff,” McCauley told Marteney. “We have not one, but two electricians; we have not one, but two engineers; and now we have an architect on our staff.”
“So as we’ve checked into the code and with the state fire marshal’s office, we believe that we can discharge that function that we had previously assigned to you with our full-time staff, so that’s pretty much it in a nutshell, combined with a couple of things … You had expressed some concern about the compensation that you had been receiving, and it just seemed to be the appropriate time for us to begin considering other options, and that’s pretty much the way it happened.”
McCauley said terminating Marteney — who was a contractual, at-will employee — had nothing to do with the quality of his services.
“Please don’t take this as a reflection of, ‘Oh, gee, they thought I didn’t know my stuff,’” the mayor told Marteney. “That’s definitely not the case, and I’m sure you’ll be doing work in Buckhannon and any way we can help you flourish as an electrician, you can count on us to do so. We appreciate you coming before the council and we hope we’ve resolved any questions that you might have.”
Marteney indicated he wasn’t satisfied with the mayor’s response. He addressed the issue of pay, saying the city didn’t charge enough for an electrical permit for Community Care of W.Va., located at 37 W. Main Street. According to Marteney, since the “building value” amount was $370,000, the electrical permit should have cost $370; however, the city only charged the health care business $100.
“You still haven’t addressed the point that you had issued an electrical permit for less than the amount that your ordinance called for, and you’re telling me because I brought that to your attention, that kind of started this ball rolling, so therefore I was going to be shorted for my services and now that kind of got the balling rolling to where now you’re going to bring it in-house,” Marteney said. “I don’t understand.”
The mayor said he wasn’t aware of the particulars surrounding that specific permit.
“I don’t know anything about that, so I’ll defer to Mrs. (Amby) Jenkins or Mr. Arnold,” McCauley answered. “I don’t deal with permits, so I don’t know anything about that.”
Referring to the Community Care of W.Va. permit, Marteney said he had received the information in the mail, brought it in and questioned it, and then three weeks later was informed by Arnold that the city was terminating its contract with him.
“My answer was to show up and have Mr. Arnold inform me that my services were no longer needed,” Marteney said. “So, you can hopefully see my side of it. It’s null and void. March 31 has come and went and I’ve turned in my final invoices, but I wanted the opportunity to present this and to try and gain some understanding. I want to make sure my reputation stands for the way it is. I’ve strived very hard to build and maintain the reputation I have.”
Arnold addressed the permit issue as well as Marteney’s supposition that he had been released from the electrical inspector position because he had highlighted a discrepancy between the city’s ordinance and what it charged Community Care of W.Va. He said the city had been contemplating transferring electrical inspection services to Smith prior to Marteney identifying the issue with the Community Care of W.Va. permit.
“We had talked about this process prior to him coming in and talking about this issue, so to say that this spawned the concept of doing electrical inspections in-house is not completely accurate,” Arnold said. “The issue with the permit that I understand is, that same business that’s coming into Buckhannon on a remodel of that building had just paid out over $900 on electrical permit fees for other work, so that was part of the thinking. Now, keep in mind, our number one goal is to encourage the development of Buckhannon.”
Another factor in the decision to terminate the contract was that Marteney had made it clear that he wasn’t available every day to check on permitted buildings to see whether electrical inspections were needed, Arnold said.
According to Arnold, Marteney had informed Smith that he (Marteney) “wasn’t the police for council to enforce this ordinance,” meaning Marteney was going to rely on those who needed electrical inspections to call him because he didn’t have time to visit permitted sites on a daily basis to see if they had started their electrical work.
Arnold said Smith — who has assumed Marteney’s former duties — will soon be working three days a week instead of two days a week and will consequently be paid for the additional hours he works. Smith will already be aware of the permitted sites as a result of his other responsibilities as the city’s zoning and code enforcement officer.
“John (Marteney) had indicated that he couldn’t go to the permitted sites every day to see if they’d started their electrical work and he would wait for them to call him and if they didn’t, he wouldn’t go to their site essentially,” Arnold explained. “Vincent is visiting those structures every time we get a building permit.”
Marteney said he wanted to make sure the city’s termination of his contract as electrical inspector wouldn’t impact his ability to serve as an electrician. McCauley assured him that it wouldn’t, and that city officials would happily recommend his services to anyone seeking a skilled electrician.

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