- CORRIDOR CHRONICLE
Panel to determine Baber fate
by Ron Gregory
email@example.comCharleston – The Chief Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has ordered that a three-judge panel be impaneled to consider the removal from office of Richwood Mayor Bob Henry Baber.
It has been a lengthy battle to this point, with Baber and members of city council at odds over several matters. Council ultimately placed Baber on “administrative leave with pay” last fall. Baber has argued that neither state law nor the city’s charter permits such action. Nevertheless, the Richwood city police chief, at the direction of council, has asked Baber to be silent during public meetings at city hall and even went so far as to arrest the mayor for continuing to speak at one session.
To begin with, the major issue appeared to be usage of a state-issued purchasing card by the mayor. Initially, last fall, council said the mayor had failed to account for all usage of his card. Baber blamed most of the situation on his preoccupation with a “1,000-year flood” that hit the town about the time he assumed office as mayor.
State Auditor J.B. McCuskey’s office has investigate the purchasing card expenditure and allegedly has been looking at other city financial records. To date, the auditor’s office has been silent about what they may have discovered.
For his part, Baber now claims to have documented that all expenditures on the card are city-related. Nevertheless, council has refused to acknowledge Baber as mayor and appointed an “acting mayor” to serve in his place.
The controversy also expanded to an ongoing battle between the mayor and federal officials regarding school reconstruction after the flood. Baber maintains that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has conspired with others to attempt to replace Richwood’s schools that were destroyed by the flood with alternate facilities in Summersville. After considerable wrangling on that issue, it appears that a compromise will allow a new 6-12 grade school to be constructed in Richwood.
City council filed the petition asking for the mayor’s removal by a three-judge panel, as prescribed by West Virginia Code 6-6-7. Chief Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman ordered the hearing at the request of temporary Nicholas County Circuit Judge James Rowe. The judge, who is a senior status judge, is filling in for the elected judge who was disqualified from serving his term for two years.
Judge Rowe had a hearing on the matter last week and the order is result of his recommendation that the three-judge panel be impaneled and convened to consider the charges against the mayor.
In her order, issued May 17, Justice Workman appointed Paul M. Blake, judge of the 12th Judicial Circuit; David H. Wilmoth, judge of the 20th circuit; and Robert E. Richardson, judge of the 11th circuit, to hear evidence in the case. They are tentatively set to convene at 9 a.m., June 15, in the Nicholas County circuit courtroom. The case is to continue until resolved.
The state code cited says an official can be removed prior to the end of his or her term if the judges determine he or she is guilty of “official misconduct, malfeasance in office, incompetence, neglect of duty or gross immorality or for any of the causes or on any of the grounds provided by any other statute.”
Council, who has been represented in the matter by Summersville attorney Jared Tully, has accused the mayor of misconduct, malfeasance, incompetence and neglect of duty, although the specifics of the allegations are vague. Former South Charleston mayor, lawyer Richard Robb, is representing Baber.
Workman’s order gives the parties until May 31 to exchange a list of witnesses, exhibits and stipulations. Evidence concerning use of the purchasing card is also to be provided by that date. The parties are required to meet prior to June 12 to ascertain what facts they may be willing to stipulate to.