CHARLESTON, W.Va.--The Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Commission gave the contractor accused of stealing thousands of dollars in timber from Coonskin Park a choice Thursday: pay us back or face a lawsuit.
Chuck Bailey, legal counsel for the commission, said the value of the timber and damage to the forest totals $149,608.
With that information, the parks commission voted to give David Bowen, owner of Russell Trucking, 60 days to pay up or be sued.
"There were many people involved in this conspiracy ... and they knew they were robbing their parks," Parks Commission President Anna Dailey said, referring to those who worked for Bowen.
Investigations have thus far revealed Russell Trucking removed much of the timber late at night, and reports of logging trucks going to and from Coonskin Park have been coming in since the logging was first reported.
Dailey said by allowing Bowen the opportunity to pay the parks back, a potentially costly lawsuit could be avoided.
"The problem I have with civil suits in general is that unless there's attorney's fees attached to that, it's going to cost the victim almost as much as the wrongdoer," she said.
But some parks commissioners (and members of the general public) still had questions as to how so many logs could be removed without any park employees noticing.
Retired Adj. Gen. Allen Tackett, a member of the parks commission, said he didn't understand why no one checked on Russell Trucking while they were present in the park. He said even if the trees were taken out at night, they must have been cut during daylight hours.
"I just don't see how that much timber left this place without people seeing it," he said. "A citizen detected it or else I'm not sure we would know about it today."
Parks Director Jeff Hutchinson, who lives on the Coonskin Park property, said there wasn't a way for him to know logs were being taken out overnight.
"At midnight, I'm not normally out in the park," he said, later adding, "We do not have 24 hour police protection anymore. There's not an employee here that's happy about this."
Parks Commission member John Huddleston said he wanted members of the board to remain silent about the incident if litigation is filed.
"I just don't want any remarks," he said.
Margaret Zaleski, the parks visitor who has a background in timbering and first alerted the commission to the logging, was at the meeting. She has attended every parks commission meeting since she asked about the logging in June, but hadn't commented again until Thursday.
Citing meeting minutes from May, Zaleski said she still had questions about the decision to even allow Russell Trucking into the park.
However, Dailey limited Zaleski's comments to two minutes, saying she was "re-hashing" material the commission already covered. Dailey became visibly upset when Zaleski asked to speak.
"I have lost my patience with her," she said.
After Zaleski spoke, another member of the public, Nancy Ward, addressed the commission and called for Hutchinson's termination. She said as a business owner, she couldn't understand how a manager who allowed theft to occur under his watch could remain employed.
Ward said she was in disbelief at "the fact that (Hutchinson) lives in this park and didn't go up in that loop for two months ... and the fact that we're supposed to believe no one knew this was going on."