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Clendenin's controversial (and illegal) mini truck for sale

CLENDENIN, W.Va. -- For the past four or five years, the biggest bone of contention in the town of Clendenin has been the town's four-wheel-drive mini truck.

Now, the controversial vehicle is going on the auction block, to be sold via sealed bids.

"It was a political hot potato," Clendenin Mayor Gary Bledsoe said this week. "It still is, to this day."

The Clendenin Town Council agreed to buy the small utility truck around 2008, under the administration of then-Mayor Bob Ore. City officials used the vehicle to haul brush and debris and carry salt on the town's more narrow and hilly streets, where it's hard to get a full-sized truck.

However, mini trucks cannot be legally registered under West Virginia law, and town officials spent years trying to navigate a maze of regulations in an attempt to get the vehicle street legal.

In the end, the Town Council approved an ordinance legalizing the use of the mini truck within city limits, but Bledsoe and others in town questioned the legality of the arrangement.

When he was running for mayor, Bledsoe promised to find out, one way or another, if it was legal to use the vehicle in town. If someone in state government told him Clendenin could legally run the mini truck in town, it would keep plying the streets. If not, Bledsoe said, the vehicle would be sold.

Town officials got a legal opinion in writing earlier this month from the state Division of Motor Vehicles, and the news wasn't good for the future of the mini truck.

"Generally speaking most mini trucks do not meet federal safety standards and cannot be registered with the state or operated upon the highways," wrote John Bonham, assistant general counsel for DMV. He said cities can't pass their own ordinances that superseded state law.

Bledsoe -- who defeated Ore and another challenger in the election for mayor in June -- said he doesn't have anything against the truck itself. He just didn't want the town running it illegally.

"I would prefer to use it," he said. "For what we used it for, it was perfect. It's the perfect vehicle to sweep the streets and haul brush up to the landfill we have here to dispose of brush. And you can't beat the mileage."

Maintenance crews love the little truck, which uses about $20 in gas every three weeks. Since the mini truck has been retired, town officials have been using a Ford F-150, which costs $75 to fill up with gas.

Bledsoe and Clendenin Police Chief David Brinckman thinks state lawmakers should pass a law legalizing mini trucks for municipal use. For small towns like Clendenin, the vehicles are versatile, relatively inexpensive and cheap to run.

"For small towns, it's perfect," Bledsoe said. "The Legislature's going to have to change the law on it."

Meanwhile, Bledsoe is in the market for a small four-wheel-drive pickup like a Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma or Chevrolet S-10, and the mini truck will be sold to the highest bidder.

Sealed bids will be accepted through Sept. 6. Bledsoe said bids will be opened Sept. 9.

Anyone interested in bidding can send a sealed bid to Clendenin Town Hall, P.O. Box 694, Clendenin, WV 25045. Bledsoe said to write "sealed bid" on the envelope so town officials don't accidentally open it. For more information, call 304-548-4192.

But buyer beware: You can't drive your new mini truck on the road.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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