WILLIAMSON - Amid investigations at the state and federal level, two Mingo County officials stood their ground Wednesday morning as shouts for resignations erupted during an at times chaotic Mingo County Commission meeting.
Commissioner Greg "Hootie" Smith and County Prosecutor Michael Sparks both said they will not step down from their positions, and Smith said he wouldn't ask Sparks to leave. In a prepared statement, Sparks said he stands on his record and accused political rivals of trying to take advantage of the situation.
"The latest media grandstanding by others is a perfect example of the petty factional politics and personal vindictiveness that has plagued Mingo County government for decades," Sparks said, as groans filled the cramped commission room in the county courthouse.
"While I deeply respect the freedom of speech and assembly, self-serving demagoguery serves no constructive purpose and merely reinforces the prevailing negative image of Mingo County," he said later in the statement.
Both Sparks and Smith confirmed they have and continue to cooperate with a federal investigation that has already lead to the arrests of the county's only circuit judge and a county commissioner.
In August, Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury and Commissioner David Baisden were indicted on federal charges following an investigation by the office of U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
Investigators allege Thornsbury corrupted the judicial system in repeated attempts to frame the husband of an ex-lover. Baisden, who until recently served as the county's purchasing director, is accused of trying to extort the county tire provider in an attempt to receive a discount on tires for his personal vehicle.
Baisden could not attend Wednesday's meeting, said Commission President John Mark Hubbard. Smith told WOWK-TV Baisden decided not to attend because he went "out in the field" with the county work program.
Part of the indictment states Sparks suspected some of the alleged illegal activity from Thornsbury, but he did not report the activity to anyone. Sparks confirmed Wednesday the Office of Disciplinary Counsel is investigating him in connection to circumstances outlined in the indictment.
Several people Wednesday pointed to that activity and leveled a slew of their own allegations in their calls for his resignation.
Local attorney Della Cline-Gentile accused Sparks of bringing an unfounded ethics complaint against her client, Magistrate Dee Sidebottom, and spreading false allegations about Sidebottom. Calling the office "a disgrace," Cline-Gentile also alleged defendants she represents in cases are not regularly contacted by the prosecutor's office.
"So I suppose the question is, what kind of circus have you been running over there, Mr. Prosecutor?" said Mike Baisden, owner of a local bed and breakfast and outspoken Sparks critic.
Mike Baisden - who said he is not related to the indicted commissioner - asked the commission to formally request Sparks' resignation. Others accused Sparks of ignoring their cases or not listening to their complaints.
The statements, made during the public comments portion of the meeting, quickly turned into shouts directed at Sparks. Sparks stood before the commission, at times interjecting.
That led to more shouts, some echoing from unseen people who couldn't squeeze themselves into the meeting.
When Cline-Gentile responded loudly to an accusation from Sparks that she was bitter because she was turned down for a job in his office and Thornsbury's office, Smith jumped in.
"I believe it's the voters who put people into office and it should be the voters that remove people," Smith said. "If the voters want to file the proper procedures to have a person removed before the election, they have the right to do that."
The crowd didn't quit. Baisden called on Sparks to resign temporarily, until the end of the federal investigation. Another woman yelled out sporadically that all of "Team Mingo" - a faction of elected Democrats in the county - should step down until the end of the investigation.
Smith, who is part of the faction and treasurer of the Team Mingo 2012 political action committee, said he would not resign. Hubbard, who is also part of the faction, did not comment after the meeting.