By Maralisa Marra
At last week’s City Council meeting June 27, city officials discussed how to move forward on the issue of the Charles Street property owned by Charleston company NAJ, LLC.
City Manager Chad Edwards said the property, which was destroyed by fire, is one of many neglected properties owned by the company. He is considering the idea of reaching out to other affected municipalities to collectively sue the company.
“You do it all at once, the whole state, and then we can get the state looking better and hopefully grow our population a little bit,” he said.
Over several months, beginning in February, city officials planned to sue the company, decided not to sue if the company agreed to hand over all NAJ-owned property in town, then considered suing once again upon learning the company had purchased yet another property in Shinnston.
In his update to the council last week, Edwards said, “Trey is not in favor of us pursuing a lawsuit,” referring to City Attorney Trey Simmerman.
Edwards said that even if the city does sue NAJ, LLC, Simmerman advised him that there is no guarantee that the company will not be able to buy more property within city limits.
According to Edwards, many cities have had similar issues with NAJ, LLC buying up properties then neglecting them like the property on Charles Street. He said since other cities are having the same problem, he has toyed with the idea of speaking with Simmerman about all of the municipalities affected suing the company together. Edwards said NAJ, LLC also has property in Lumberport.
Robert Johns, of NAJ, LLC, has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
Outgoing Mayor Patrick Kovalck said, “This is where the Municipal League ought to step up,” because he said they have the ability to lead a class action lawsuit. The West Virginia Municipal League is a statewide association of city governments that provides assistance to cities and also advocates on their behalf at the state Legislature.
Council discussed other ideas, including fining the company $100 a day or police delivering a warrant for them to appear in court. Edwards said NAJ, LLC had neglected to show up to municipal court after a previous code violation.
Councilmember Mary Ann Ferris said she was concerned about how to deliver the warrant to the Charleston company. Chief of Police Jon Harbert said, “I would gladly go serve a warrant on those type of people because they do nothing but cause more problems for anybody’s community,” but he also agreed with Kovalck about suing the company through the Municipal League.
In other matters, Edwards said the paving of Simon Drive is a priority and Spring Street should be repaired soon. A meeting was scheduled with Ferguson Waterworks about the water meter installation issues for Thursday, June 30.
Kovalck said, “It has been an honor, it really has, to be your mayor,” as he commenced his term as mayor. He also handed out over 25 keys to the city to people who’d been supportive and helpful through his tenure.