The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

October 11, 2012

No action taken on Oak Hill mayor

OAK HILL — An Oak Hill woman called on the city’s mayor to do his job or resign from his post this week, but the city manager and some council members say they believe the mayor is fulfilling his limited duties under the city’s charter.

On Monday, Becky Coleman told the council that she questions the legality of her brother-in-law, Bruce Coleman, serving as acting mayor “while the elected mayor is not doing things with the National Guard and in town.” She says the elected mayor, Jon Lopez, is “getting paid to do a job but is abdicating that responsibility to someone else.”

Council went into executive session to discuss the comments, but took no action.

Bruce Coleman, a council person from Ward II, was appointed in January as acting mayor for one year after Lopez signed up for Guard duty.

“I don’t have a problem with it,” says City Manager Bill Hannabass. “Our charter clearly states the mayor has no administrative duties, so there’s not that much ground to run afoul of.”

“City governments run differently, and in Oak Hill, Bill Hannabass does everything,” says council person Diana Janney. “The only time the mayor is needed is to sign off on a few things...(or) for ribbon cutting ceremonies.

“The length of time that Jon Nick had to be absent, they could only count up four or five situations, and even the situations when he was in town (and unreachable), I think he was at work.”

Oak Hill follows what is known as a “manager plan” form of government, where the City Manager acts as chief administrator.

Janney and Tom Oxley, two council members who were willing to comment on the matter, say they do not think Lopez's service is a major issue.

Janney says Mrs. Coleman’s comments took her by surprise.

“I really personally don't see a problem myself and I really don’t know where that’s coming from,” she says. “I was a little astonished by it because Mr. Coleman had showed interest in being interim mayor if we needed one. We didn't know it would be an imposition.”

Oxley says that while the mayor fills an important position, generally speaking they are not required to spend much time at city hall.

“The right mayor in that role can be very influential in policy and statewide matters,” he says. “But I cannot imagine the mayor or acting mayor would be overwhelmed with duties, so I think the complaint brought forth by Mrs. Coleman was basically unfounded.”

The mayor’s official role is to preside over city council meetings. He or she is also occasionally needed to sign arraignment documents at the city’s police department when a judge is not available, says Oxley.

The town’s charter states that if a vacancy in the mayor’s position occurs for any reason, the council can vote to appoint “a qualified person” to fill the vacancy. It does not specify whether or not the person can be on the city council.

Hannabass thinks both of the city’s two wards are still being represented fairly. Mr. Coleman is from Ward II, and as acting mayor he now has no vote on council business. But Oxley, the city's council person at large, is from Ward II, so both wards still have three votes on the council.

There is nothing “black and white” in the code saying the elected mayor should not be paid while absent, says Hannabass. Oxley also does not think there is a “method or procedure to withhold salary from an elected official, and it certainly wouldn't be council's role to do that.”

The mayor’s salary is $5,000 per year, according to Janney. The city’s budget contains $6,110 for the mayor’s office.

“It’s a touchy subject, and I think everyone recognizes that,” says Hannabass. “Every time it was brought up, people tell the mayor ‘I want you to do what you feel is best for the City of Oak Hill.’ It’s his personal decision to make.”

Acting Mayor Bruce Coleman did not immediately return a phone call for comment.



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