Case moving to Nicholas
by Ron Gregory
CHARLESTON – The extraordinary writs filed against Richwood city council will apparently be automatically transferred to Nicholas County circuit court, according to Mayor Bob Henry Baber.
The writs of prohibition and mandamus were originally filed in Kanawha County because Baber’s lawyer, Richard Robb, listed State Auditor J.B. McCuskey as a defendant. When Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit dismissed McCuskey from the case, that led to a question of venue. Tabit ruled the matter should more appropriately be heard in Nicholas.
The major issue is an attempt by city council to place Baber on “paid administrative leave,” a term used in neither state law or the city charter. Council has claimed that it placed Baber on “leave” following questions about the mayor’s use of a state purchasing card.
Baber maintains that the purchasing card issue is simply a smokescreen for an unsupportive council “to cancel the will of the voters.” Baber was elected as mayor by one vote after a recount of the election.
Some court observers had believed that Baber would have to refile his motions in Summersville but the mayor said that is no longer his understanding. “I am told by my lawyer that it will just automatically be transferred to Nicholas,” he said. “We are just waiting to hear a date.”
Meanwhile, the city and its recorder and “acting mayor” Chris Drennen have not yet responded to a Corridor Chronicle Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documentation as to how the city hired the Charleston law firm of Frost Brown Todd to represent them.
Such hirings must be done in public meetings, according to state law.
Meanwhile, after the hearing in front of Judge Tabit, the attorney representing city council denied that his family in Nicholas County had any ties to school consolidation “as far as I know.”
While the motives of city council have been questioned in the mayor removal scenario, some have speculated that the council actually favors consolidation of the old Richwood High School with Nicholas County High. Both the RHS and Richwood Middle School locations were damaged by severe flooding last year.
By law, the city has five working days to respond to the FOIA request. If that period expires with no response, the Chronicle will likely petition the circuit court to order the release of the requested information.