CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Bob Henry Baber, whose removal from office as Richwood’s mayor was upheld by a three-judge panel, says history will absolve him.
Baber sent reaction to the panel’s decision to media outlets overnight. His comments were sent from his iPhone.
“I don’t have internet service at my home, it’s been turned off. I’m broke,” he wrote to media outlets.
“So I have not yet read the court findings in detail. The City Council has broken me, financially. But I am not a broken man. I AM STRONGER THAN what passes for governance in RICHWOOD. I condemn the Council for their shocking waste of energy and money on nothing but a witch hunt.”
A three-judge panel that ruled on whether Baber’s mayorship duties should continue did not see it the same way.
“Under the given circumstances presented herein, the Respondent’s behavior is the epitome of an improper abuse of one’s political position to gain personal favor, advantage, or gain,” the panel wrote.
“Moreover, Respondent’s attempt at trivializing his gain and exalting his selflessness, offers this Panel no solace from this type of objectionable self-dealing conduct.”
The panel concluded he should immediately turn over all papers, records, equipment and property of his office or property belonging to the City of Richwood.
Richwood Council asked Baber to resign last September over undocumented spending on his state-issued purchasing card. He contended that Council did not have the right to remove him. Council then moved to impeach Baber.
Baber filed a lawsuit against Richwood Council and the state Auditor’s office, which was investigating the town’s spending, in Kanawha Circuit Court. The Auditor was dismissed, and the lawsuit moved to Nicholas County.
In May, the three-judge panel was appointed to hear whether Richwood’s city council was within its rights to remove Baber as mayor.
Nicholas Circuit Judge James Rowe, who is a senior status judge on temporary assignment, requested the panel.
The panel included Fayette Circuit Judge Paul Blake, Randolph Circuit Judge David Wilmoth and Judge Robert Richardson, whose judicial district is in Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties.
The judges issued their ruling on Friday, upholding Richwood Council’s removal of Baber. The Charleston Gazette-Mail first reported the ruling.
The 32-page ruling concludes the panel “is of the opinion that the Petitioner has presented clear and convincing evidence to show that Bob Henry Baber committed one or more instances constituting maladministration, official misconduct, and/or financial mismanagement while said Bob Henry Baber was the Mayor, or was acting in the capacity of the Mayor, of Richwood, West Virginia, and further, that said acts, having been established by sufficient proof, warrant the removal of Bob Henry Baber from his elected position as Mayor of Richwood, West Virginia.”
Baber was accused of several misdeeds, but the ones that really got him in trouble were his willy-nilly use of a state-issued purchasing card and his pursuit of reimbursement for bills on his property and cell phone.
On the purchasing card, Baber had argued that he hadn’t properly read the requirements because he was stressed and busy because of the flood that hit right as he was elected mayor. He also contended some aspects of the purchasing card requirements were vague.
The panel didn’t buy that.
“The Panel also places little weight on Respondent’s ignorance argument and the same is not well taken, as the Panel finds that the Respondent is a former college professor who is an educated man of better than average intelligence.”
Moreover, the panel wrote that Baber was far too lax with his purchasing card responsibility.
“Considering the allegations and evidence as a whole regarding the Respondent’s delegation of his P-Card, expenditure of city funds through the use of the Respondent’s P-Card, and often times unauthorized, questionable expenditures, this Panel is greatly troubled by the apparent nonchalant attitude taken by the Respondent in relation to the expenditure of public funds during a devastating time in the history of the City of Richwood.”
The panel also said he clearly crossed the line with by seeking reimbursement for his private bills.
Baber received payments from city funds over three months for electric bills amounting to $931.82.
The electric bills were for a building with a lower business front with an overhead apartment. The apartment was occupied by Baber’s daughter, Cara Perkins, 27, and the lower section was unoccupied business space.
Baber had items that had been donated for flood relief be placed in the lower space. Baber contended that required the use of fans, heaters and dehumidifiers — and the power to keep them running.
“The Respondent argues, and would have this Panel believe, that his actions in permitting the use of his building for the storage of flood items was selfless and humanitarian in nature. Based upon the foregoing and the evidence made a part of the record in this matter, this Panel is not inclined to do so.”
One of the bills, the panel noted, would have applied to power used prior to the flood date.
And, the panel found, this kind of benefit was particular to the mayor.
“Lastly, although under the exact same given circumstances another private party sought reimbursement for electrical use during the storage of flood related items, the Respondent was the only one to receive reimbursement on this basis.
“The Panel finds this is clear evidence that, due to his position as Mayor of Richwood, West Virginia, Bob Henry Baber received special financial benefit in the form of reimbursement for power usage at his’ personal business property.”
Baber also received reimbursement for his personal cell phone bill. The panel said the case about that matter is not as clear but said there was enough evidence to view what he did as improper.
The panel noted that Baber sought reimbursement for the month prior to the June 2016 flood. It also noted he was the only official to receive reimbursement for cell phone service.