Smart or deceptive?
As most readers are aware, the Corridor Chronicle sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to Richwood City Recorder Chris Drennen on November 3. The request was sent by both U.S. mail and electronic mail.
Despite having just five working days to respond, in some form, to the request, we have now reached at least nine days since the letter was mailed.
Displaying the typical arrogance that has been the theme of Drennen and her cohorts on city council, no response of any kind has been received.
At first blush, it appears that city officials, so concerned about the actions of Mayor Bob Henry Baber, have total disregard for the laws of the state. Council placed Baber on “paid administrative leave” because of unproven allegations that he violated state purchasing card regulations. While their self-righteous indignation was transparent, apparently their actions as a public body are not.
Recent reports from Richwood say that Drennen, designated by council as “acting mayor,” has removed all of Baber’s personal items from the mayor’s office to be replaced by those belonging to her. Such arrogance and open hostility for the will of Richwood voters is ridiculous.
The Chronicle’s next step with regard to the FOIA would be to institute a petition for a writ of mandamus in Nicholas County circuit court. This would, in theory at least, force the city to make public documents that allegedly are already open, public documents. The city would normally end up paying for the paper’s attorney and court costs. Maybe they are willing to do this without regard for finances, but it is apparent they have something to hide.
All of this is made even more ironic by the fact that the paper is basically seeking to see where, in a public meeting, the city retained the services of Frost Brown Todd as legal counsel. The firm appeared in Kanawha circuit court to represent the city council when Baber filed for writs of mandamus and prohibition there.
However, the paper’s lawyer pointed out that in filing a potential Nicholas County writ, he would likely have to name Baber, since he is really still the mayor. Thus, a newspaper that has openly questioned the motives and intents of city council with regard to Baber would actually have to sue HIM to ask for records as to how the city hired a law firm that appeared in court against him.
Oh what a tangled web we weave … or something like that.
It remains an open question as to whether city council and Drennen recognize this loophole or they are simply trying to continue hiding the truth from the public. Having watched them in action, we are reluctant to give credit where it may not be due. It is more likely that the arrogance of city officials leads to their FOIA lack of response.
Interestingly, the California transplant who has led council’s charge to unseat Baber, told a Chronicle reporter he would not respond to any questions since the journalist is “not a resident of Richwood.” Meanwhile, with a smirk on his face, he gives interviews to reporters from Charleston media with no question as to residence.
The state auditor’s office, investigating Baber’s purchasing card use, has reportedly scheduled an early December meeting with the mayor to discuss the allegations. Meanwhile, city council and Drennen do nothing to move the city forward, concentrating all of their energies on discrediting Baber.
There are genuine concerns that a majority of council members is quietly in support of school consolidation that could cost Richwood its middle and high school. Nothing they have done so far indicates the stories are not true.
For the moment then, the Chronicle is reluctant to file a writ against a mayor who has only a positive record of accomplishment and who likely has no access to the meeting minutes we are seeking.
Nevertheless, council’s un-American performance will not forever be ignored. Eventually, the facts will come out.