FAIRMONT, W.Va. — A new Fairmont City Council is nearly official, as the 57 missing ballots from the general election have been counted and the results certified.
Marion County Commission certified the results of the races for the first and fifth districts during its Wednesday meeting.
Joshua Rice and Barry Bledsoe will now take seats on Fairmont City Council — a flip in both races from the results prior to counting the missing ballots.
“I still feel badly for the people who thought they won and ended up losing. They were in limbo for a long time,” Mayor Tom Mainella said during an appearance on WAJR’s “Talk of the Town.” “The good part about it is the mistake was found, and it was corrected.”
It took two months to rectify the issue, and Mainella said he’s glad to see it come to a conclusion.
“We’re in a 10 day waiting period now for somebody to contest the election,” he said. “The time period for a recount is over, but I understand that there’s a 10-day waiting period that will end on the 26th if anybody wants to contest the election, but I believe it’s over with.”
While much of council and the commission are still surprised that the mix up occurred, Mainella said “technical things happen.
“That was a human error. There was nothing wrong with the machine,” he said. “That was just somebody that made a mistake, either unplugged the hard drive too soon or pulled the power cable out of the wall. Things like that happen, and when they happen you have to deal it and it was dealt with properly.”
What Mainella said he found more odd than the missing ballots themselves was the tie that came out of the general election.
“Before this 57 votes were found, two of our council races ended up in a tie. It’s strange that one would end up in a tie, let alone two, when you have several thousand voters,” he said. “That added time to the process, and then when they found the 57 votes, that just started the whole thing over again.”
With that now behind them, Rice and Bledsoe will take their seats on council during its Feb. 12 meeting, at which time Mainella said council’s biggest priority needs to be finding new city manager.
The previous city manager, Robin Gomez, left at the end of 2018 after three years in the position to take a job in Georgia.
“Luckily we had a city manager, Bruce McDaniel, who had served for 10 years, he was willing to come back on a part-time basis and manage the city,” Mainella said. “That made me feel good because he’s experienced, he’s a good hand, he’s steady and we knew what we were getting. It’s a good thing that he was willing to come back, but we need to start the process.”
Mainella said the city will start advertising for the job Jan. 28.
“We hope to find a city manager who can manage people, who is a visionary and has got everything it takes to be a city manager,” he said.
Additionally, Mainella feels it’s important that the new hire have local ties to Fairmont, or at least to the North Central West Virginia region.
“Bruce lived here when he became city manager and he served for 10 years. We had another city manager, Jay Rogers, who lived here and he served for 6 or 7 years,” he said. “But if you go back and you look at city managers of Fairmont, if they’re good another city offers them more money and they leave because they have no reason to stay, and if they’re not too good, they just leave.”
Ideally, Mainella said the catch basin for applicants would be within 100 miles of Fairmont.
But he is optimistic that the right hire exists somewhere close to home.
“I think there’s someone here, whether they have experience or not, that can do the job, that won’t work three or four years, be offered more money elsewhere and then leave,” Mainella said. “That’s my desire. I don’t know if I can convince other council people of that or not, but I think that’s probably the most important thing.”
Of course, it’s also important that the new hire have the ability to manage people.
“We need somebody who can negotiate union contracts with the policemen, the firemen and the steelworkers,” Mainella said. “We need somebody who can look ahead, see where we want to go and what projects we need to accomplish first. We need somebody who can do it and do it good.”
Once administration is in place, Mainella said they can get back to doing good for the city of Fairmont.
Like many West Virginia municipalities, the city’s also been tackling its dilapidated buildings.
“We’ve torn a lot of buildings down recently and taken a lot of houses that haven’t been lived in for 50 years that are gone now,” Mainella said. “There’s vacant lots. We’re looking at adding some sidewalks to some streets that really need it.”
Mainella said he’d also like to see the city develop a rails to trails.
“You can see how busy it is in Morgantown, and we probably have a better location for our rails to trails here because it’s right on the river and it’s open, so we have a lot of room for retail development. So we need to get that started. We’ve talked and talked and talked about it for years. Something needs to happen.”