ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Belmont County Commissioner Mark Thomas accused his challenger in November's election, Republican Pete Bendo, of showing disrespect to the board of commissioners as the two exchanged heated words during Wednesday's commission meeting.
Bendo has been attending recent commission meetings, and the last two weeks he has asked the commissioners why they don't begin their meetings with a prayer. On Wednesday, Thomas took issue with him as he believed Bendo to be rolling his eyes and laughing at commissioners as they spoke of matters at the East Ohio Regional Industrial Park.
"Quite frankly, your attitude stinks," Thomas told Bendo from his desk. "You are mocking either me or this board. Whether you realize it or not, you are."
Bendo asked him to further explain.
"You are sitting back there laughing, you are smirking and you're making comments," Thomas responded. "If you have an issue, please ask it to the board.
"It's very clear why you are here, and that's OK. But listen, this is a professional meeting that needs to be held in a professional manner."
Bendo again questioned the reference to his attitude.
Those attending commission meetings are asked to sign their name on a sheet when entering the commission chamber, and note their reason for coming to the meeting. And Thomas told Bendo he noticed on last week's sheet he listed "humor" as his reason for attending.
"Most days, it is," Bendo said.
Thomas continued to press the issue.
"That's why you're here? For humor?" he asked him.
Bendo responded he was at the meeting "to learn."
"I'm here to learn what you do here because I plan on taking your job in November," he told Thomas. "You made this political, mister, not me. It's your rules. You're violating your rules."
An announcement at the beginning of each commission meeting tells visitors the following: "This is a public meeting for the purpose of doing county business. We ask that there be no personal or political attacks. If so, you will be asked to leave and you will be removed immediately."
Commission President Matt Coffland had addressed Bendo's question about prayer earlier in the meeting, telling him the commission had yet to receive legal word as to whether prayer before a public meeting was permissible.
"I give thought to prayer all the time," Coffland said. "I pray every day."