By JOSELYN KING
For The Times Leader
WHEELING - Ohio County Board of Education member Tim Birch says late at night when he takes out the garbage, he dons a robe and sports his ever-present wide-brimmed hat as he heads outside.
Birch - who also serves as director of public works for the city of Wheeling - said the hat has been a signature piece for him for about 40 years. This week it became a center of discussion among his fellow board members, who debated whether his wearing of the hat during meetings was appropriate.
"People know me by my hat," Birch said. "I ran for election with the hat, and I accepted the nomination with the hat. It's just a part of me, that's all I can say about it."
Birch said there is a long history of melanoma in his family, and he took an interest in protecting his skin from cancer while still a teenager.
"And back in college, I started experimenting wearing different hats," he said. "Most kids, I guess, experiment with drugs. I experimented with hats."
He tried ball caps, flat caps and many other types of hats before settling on a wide-brimmed hat. For Birch, 59, that was more than 40 years ago.
"Now working for the city and all the meetings I have to attend, I've found that when I go indoors and take my hat off I have to find a place to put it," Birch said. "When I do finally find a place to put it, and the meeting gets done and I leave, I usually forget my hat. Then when I leave, I have to come back and find my hat again. I've found the most efficient way to take care of my hat is to just wear it all the time."
Board member Christine Carder opposes Birch's wearing of a hat during meetings. She told him this week there is a policy against students wearing hats inside their school buildings, and that his wide-brimmed lid could lead to students wanting to wear their hats indoors.
"For some reason, this is my way of disrespecting something, and that couldn't be further from the truth," he said in response to Carder's contention. "My hat to me is like what hair is to anybody else, and I guess that's where I'm at with it."
Birch brushed off Carder's issue with his hat, adding there are more important issues the board should be addressing.
<"I've gotten a lot of criticism over this in social media, but that's not why I'm here," he said. "I didn't mean for this to get this big, or take on a life of its own. I'm not trying to prove anything or dis anybody. For me, it's just like putting your shirt on everyday."