The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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December 13, 2013

Council may choose outside 4 Beckley mayoral hopefuls

BECKLEY — With the tenure of long-time Beckley Mayor Emmett Pugh ending on Dec. 31, members of the city’s Common Council plan to select an interim mayor at a special Jan. 2 meeting.

Pugh’s term was set to end June 30, 2016, so the interim mayor will serve for two and a half years.

Council members have a pool of four candidates, all of whom submitted their resumes to council for consideration, from which to choose.

Councilman-at-Large Cedric Robertson, Ward II Councilwoman Ann Worley, former radio broadcaster Bill O’Brien and accountant Tony O. Martin applied for the position.

But it could turn out that none of the four is chosen.

According to city ordinance, says City Attorney Bill File, council members have the option of nominating anyone for the mayoral position.

“It’s a situation where any council member has a right at that meeting on Jan. 2 to place into nomination anyone that councilperson wants to nominate,” explained File.

He added that the nominee must be at least 18 years old and a resident of the city of Beckley.

Once all nominees are submitted to council, each nominee will be submitted to council members individually.

Council members will vote on one nominee, then move on to the next nominee, said File.

Assuming all seven common council members are present, a nominee must have the votes from four council members to be selected as the next mayor.

O’Brien said he was unaware of any other interest.

“I haven’t heard of anyone else,” said O’Brien, who submitted a letter of interest last June.

Worley said she was aware of the rule and added that it is important to keep the public informed that nominations may still be made by council members.

“It’s still open,” remarked Worley, adding that she was not aware of any other citizen having expressed interest in the position.

“Unless something drastically changes, I don’t see it,” she said. “Nobody’s come to me, but I can’t speak for the other (council members).”

Robertson said he’s unaware of other candidates, as well.

“If it’s not a deadline ... some other people might show interest,” he remarked. “But we won’t know that probably until Jan. 2 when the special council meeting is held.”

Martin said he agrees with File’s explanation of the law, but believes citizens should be allowed to elect an interim mayor.

Noting that O’Brien had remarked during a recent event at Tamarack that people have asked how they can support the campaign, Martin said he’s had a similar experience.

“What do we do? When is the election?” Martin said he’s been asked.

“What upsets me is this process got in motion months ago, but here we are, nearly three weeks away from having a new mayor, and the majority of citizens in the Beckley area don’t even know we’re about to have a new mayor, let alone what the process is,” said Martin.

He added that “council has had ample time to nail down that process and to inform the citizens of how they’re going to proceed.”

Martin, a businessman, also said that the interim mayor should have already been in office and learning the mayor’s duties from Pugh.

“I appreciate Councilman Chris Hall, who said let’s send letters and go that route and look at the credentials and experience of those who want to serve as mayor for the next two and a half years,” Martin added.

Martin said outside of the four current applicants, he is unaware of anyone else being interested in serving as interim mayor.

Councilman Ron Booker said although the code could be read to allow other applicants, he would not consider voting for an applicant who has not already applied.

“I would go so far as saying that if nobody has expressed interest in being the mayor (by now), I am definitely not going to be interested in considering anyone else,” he said. “I haven’t had time to research that person’s background.”

Booker added that he thinks it would be more equitable if Worley and Robertson were recused from the voting process altogether.

By law, council members may not vote for themselves, but they may vote in favor of another candidate.

“They should have no involvement, whatsoever, in the process,” said Booker. “They should not even sit up on the bench.

“That’s the fair thing to do.”

Booker said he’s concerned that under the current guidelines, a council member could vote for another candidate, in return for gaining favors once that candidate is appointed.

—  E-mail: jfarrish@register-herald.com

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