CHAPMANVILLE - The recent removal of the Chapmanville Water Board chairman led to a somewhat contentious exchange between one councilman and Mayor Raamie Barker during the town council's regular session on Tuesday, Sept. 10.
On Aug. 30, Dean "Doc" Williams, who had been serving as chairman of the Chapmanville Water Board, received a letter - dated the next day on Aug. 31 - relieving him of his position. The letter was signed by Barker and printed on official town letterhead.
"Pursuant to the codes and ordinances and the power invested in me as Mayor of Chapmanville, you are hereby removed as a member of the Chapmanville Water Board, effective immediately," the letter reads. "Subsequently I (Mayor Barker) will be assuming the chairmanship of the water board. The town council will be asked to approve my recommendation of your replacement. We appreciate your service on the board."
Williams, who had been serving in the five-year appointed position since 2015, was one of five other candidates who ran against Barker in the mayoral election earlier this year in June. Barker handily won re-election, but his closest competition came from Williams, who came in second, earning about 30 less votes than Barker.
At the Sept. 10 council meeting, Barker nominated Gary Neil to replace Williams on the water board. Neil formerly served as a councilman until he was defeated in the June elections.
Just as council members Tony "Psycho" Robison and Joel McNeely motioned to approve Neil's nomination, councilman Ben DesRocher interjected and cited town ordinance code that reads that water board members "may be removed only for cause in the same manner as an elected official," meaning there has to be a just cause for removal. The letter Williams received did not indicate a specific cause for his removal.
"What was the cause?" DesRocher asked, as he read the letter. "It doesn't say anything about why."
"I'm not required to say why," Barker responded.
DesRocher then showed the ordinance to town attorney Rob Kuenzel, who noted that it does indeed state that a reason is required for removal. He added that if there is a reason, he believes it should be addressed in executive session.
"Well, I'm not going to change my mind on it," Barker told DesRocher. "I'll send you a letter laying out those causes because the person who I have removed is really the only person who is entitled to that knowledge. I'll send you the letter and you can share it with him."
The exchange then led to a back-and-forth disagreement on how the code should be interpreted, until Kuenzel found language from two town ordinances that states that just cause must be restricted to something of a substantial nature that is "directly affecting the rights and interests of the public," and that an appointed officer should not be removed for matters which are "trivial, inconsequential, hypothetical or for mere technical violations of the statute or official duty without wrongful intention."
With that information, the council voted to withdraw Neil's nomination until further legal research from Kuenzel could be conducted. Councilman Robison even suggested holding a later special meeting to fill the vacancy after that research is complete.
DesRocher then asked if Williams is still on the board or not.
"As far as I'm concerned, the seat's still vacant," Barker said.
"I beg to differ," DesRocher responded.
"Beg all you want to, but that's the way I see it and if you want to take some action contrary to that, go ahead," Barker said. "It's getting close to 9 o'clock and I don't want to sit here and look at everybody all night long."
"I'm the mayor," Barker added. "I said as far as I'm concerned. If he tells me laws otherwise, maybe I'll change my mind, but he has not advised me that that's wrong."
DesRocher then asked Kuenzel about Barker's comments, to which Kuenzel responded that based on his limited research at the meeting, a valid reason is required for Williams' removal. Barker then put Kuenzel on the spot.
"OK, I sent a copy of the letter to you before it was mailed," Barker said. "Your response was that it looked good to you."
"It was, at that time" Kuenzel responded. "I thought that, until tonight - that the mayor, as the chief executive, has the ability to hire and fire, appoint and un-appoint, until I didn't have the ordinance in front of me."
"Well, I've got reasons I don't feel like I can talk about in an open, public meeting and it's certainly too late tonight," Barker responded.
Finally, Kuenzel told Barker that he believes the letter should just be amended to list what the reasoning is, but that it not be copied and sent to everybody.
"Alright, so it's just going to kind of hang in the mist," Barker concluded.
In an interview conducted on Saturday, Sept. 14, Williams claimed that he has still not been given any reasoning as to why he was removed from the position.
Dylan Vidovich is a news reporter for HD Media. Contact him by phone at 304-896-5196.