By Wendy Holdren
Beckley Mayor Emmett Pugh will step down from his post effective Dec. 31, as part of a settlement agreement with the West Virginia Ethics Commission.
Although Pugh admits no guilt to the nine ethics violations charges against him, he has voluntarily agreed to retire as mayor, as well as pay $7,000 reimbursement for the cost of the investigation.
Also in the agreement, Pugh has agreed not to hold public office for five years, beginning Jan. 1, 2014.
Beckley Common Council will appoint a mayor to serve the remaining two years of Pugh’s term, then a mayor will be elected during the 2016 municipal election.
The nine ethics violations were made public knowledge in April 2012, and included the use of public office for private gain, accepting improper gifts, use of a public office for his own private gain and private gain of another and prohibited interest in public contracts.
“Basically, there is no admission of guilt on my part on any of the charges that were levied against me by the Ethics Commission,” Pugh said Thursday after the settlement agreement was made.
He said as for his early retirement, it “really does not impact” him, as he was not planning to run for mayor again in 2016.
Other sanctions in the agreement with the Ethics Commission include a public reprimand and divestiture of all ownership interests at Burning Rock.
“As for the public reprimand, I don’t know how you can be publicly reprimanded when you haven’t admitted any guilt. I feel like I’ve already been reprimanded in the past by certain members of Common Council and by the media to some extent.”
One of the violations charged that Pugh had authorized Beckley Public Works to use, at the city’s expense, city-owned equipment and labor to pave roads and install sewer lines in the Woodlands Village housing subdivision.
“I run the city the same way it was run since 1968. There’s really no difference in paving practices for trying to get property into the city,” Pugh said. “It’s just the way we’ve done business. It’s the way I was taught. We’re not doing anything different. At the end of the day, the bottom line is, I’m not admitting to any violation of the Ethics Act.”
Pugh said the facts found by the Ethics Commission and the facts found by his counsel, attorney Stuart McMillan with Bowles Rice, were essentially the same, just the interpretation of them was different.
“It’s a matter of interpretation of those facts. I interpret them one way and they have interpreted them another way. Quite frankly, I think they’re wrong, but they think they’re right.”
Pugh said when the commission approached him about a settlement last month, “it opened a door.”
While Pugh and his counsel were ready for the hearing, he said he was able to save a lot of money by reaching a settlement.
“This thing has been going on for four years. I think that’s entirely too long. It has become very wearing on me.”
Pugh said he hopes to see the Comprehensive Plan for the city through, as well as the Beckley Intermodal Gateway project and other current city projects.
As for Pugh’s civic leadership roles, such as his involvement with the United Way of Southern West Virginia and Beckley Area Foundation, he said he will remain active in those roles.
As for the Planning and Development Council for Region One and the Fayette/Raleigh Metropolitan Planning Organization, both of which he serves under the capacity of the mayor of the city of Beckley, he said he will step down from those positions.
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