CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Richwood Mayor Bob Henry Baber first stood and then sat at the head of the table at his town’s most recent Council meeting, but that’s almost all he was allowed to do.
Council members posted a one-item agenda — contracting for the legal services of Kay, Casto & Chaney — for their meeting this past Thursday.
Baber tried to post a different, longer agenda.
Council wasn’t having it.
“So we have a regular agenda here. This is a regular Council meeting,” Baber began to say Thursday evening.
That’s when City Recorder Chris Drennen, serving as the acting mayor, broke in.
“Mr. Baber, it is the belief of Council that you’re not currently the acting mayor. I ask that you please…”
“By what authority?” Baber responded.
“By authority of the vote of Council,” Drennen responded.
This is how it’s been going for a few weeks now in Richwood. The town is still recovering from summer 2016’s catastrophic flooding, is locked in a battle over school consolidation that’s gone all the way to the state Supreme Court and now is in a crisis over the mayor.
Problems came to a head at the end of September when Council members confronted Baber over documentation of spending on his state-issued purchasing card and asked him to resign. Baber refused, and Council voted to place him on administrative leave. Now Baber is questioning Council’s authority to do so.
That’s why he continued to try to serve as mayor during Thursday’s meeting — and Council members rebuffed him.
Even the Council member who led a prayer before the meeting alluded to storm clouds.
“Heavenly father, we come here together tonight as a group that we may challenge each other to be courageous and knowledgeable and respectful for the things that are coming up. Heavenly father, we need to be courageous on this. We need to be a working Council. I pray for the Council members as we go through these little situations that we have. And I know heavenly father that we’ll leave it in your hands and if we do the right thing and thank you heavenly father for the many blessings of today and yesterday and the ones coming tomorrow.”
The rest of the meeting — seven minutes captured on video by Summersville Community Television — went about as well as you might expect.
After Baber’s initial comments were halted, attorney Richie Robb stepped forward. Robb, who served for three decades as mayor of South Charleston, said he was representing Baber.
Robb said that he’d spoken on the telephone the prior day with a lawyer for Kay, Casto & Chaney.
“He spoke to me there is a concern for Council’s participation and responsibilities with respect to a number of purchases that have gone on over the past,” Robb said.
That’s when several Council members started speaking at once.
“That’s part of the investigation.”
“We’re not going to do that.”
“We can’t talk about an ongoing investigation.”
Police Chief Allen Cogar then moved toward the front of the room, standing near Baber and Robb but not yet speaking.
Drennen told Robb, “We have one single agenda item this evening. That is the only thing we intend to cover. If you would like to notify us in writing and let us know what your intentions and findings are, we would be glad to receive that. As it is we intend to conduct Council this evening based on this agenda item.”
Robb pointed to what Baber had brought and said, “This is an agenda as well.”
“Well, that’s not posted by Council,” said Councilman Chuck Toussieng. “Council has the right to post the agenda.
“I always post the agenda,” Baber said.
Police Chief Cogar moved closer and spoke up.
“Hold on, this is a government process,” Cogar said. “There’s state law; you’re not allowed to interrupt. I’m under the authority here to make sure this meeting goes smoothly and quickly. It doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong. That’s what’s going to happen.”
Robb began to say, “I was speaking, and I was the one who was…”
Cogar: “But you’re not on the agenda and you had no reason to speak here.”
Drennen then started speaking to go on with Council’s preferred agenda while Cogar continued to address Robb. “This meeting will start as of right now,” Cogar said. “Or you will accompany him where I’ll take you.”
As Council discussed a motion to enter into an agreement with Kay, Casto & Chanety, Baber sat down near the head of the table beside Drennen.
One of the Council members asked why the town could afford legal representation now when he’d asked a few weeks ago to start paying back thousands of dollars the city owed its attorney. He was told to reserve his questions for a finance meeting and walked out.
Drennen reminded everyone that a motion was on the floor.
“All in favor?”
“So I make a motion that we adjourn.”
“All in favor?”
And with that, Council members quickly got up and gathered their belongings.