CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Former Clarksburg Councilman Gary Bowden believes the push from the current council to oust Martin Howe as city manager is part of a personal vendetta.
“I think what’s alarmed quite a few people in our city is that within a week — maybe eight or nine days of being sworn in — they had all but publicly announced they were going to try to get rid of our city manager, and I don’t know that amongst the things they wanted to do to refurbish our city was to immediately get rid of the city manager before they had even had their first meeting,” Bowden said Thursday on WAJR’s “Talk of the Town.”
While Bowden said he understands a new council wanting to effect change in the city, he feels the motivation is misplaced.
“There’s at least one of the newly elected council members who’s a long-time city employee, and there’s no love lost between him and the city manager. A lot of people knew it. I don’t think everybody did, but a lot of people knew it,” he said. “A lot of people insist that this is very personal. It’s got nothing to do with Martin’s general management of the city. It’s a personal issue.”
The council member Bowden questions is James Marino, appointed as the city’s vice mayor during a special meeting July 1.
“One of the other newly sworn in council members (Lillie Junkins) is this gentleman’s sister-in-law, so she’s essentially reading from the same playbook. They’re basically going to move down this road,” Bowden said.
The timeline of the matter is what Bowden said has him most concerned.
“There’s not been an official council meeting with these new members yet, and already they’ve decided they’re going to remove the city manager. I think that surprised a lot of people,” he said.
Howe, however, didn’t seem to be surprised.
In fact, Howe came forth through an intermediary and suggested resignation, pending a buyout of his contract.
That’s when council came back with a resolution addressing allegations relating to Howe’s performance. Among those are urban decay, misappropriation of funds and unprofessionalism.
“Some of the issues, urban decay, homelessness, and things like that, that’s not a one-man repair by any stretch,” Bowden said.
Having served on council for two terms and working closely with Howe, Bowden feels Howe’s performance as city manager has been positive.
“I thought Martin came a long way from his time in 2004 when he started, with no experience in the role of city manager. I think he’s well-regarded and respected across the state of West Virginia.”
Bowden pointed out the progress the city of Clarksburg has made under Howe’s leadership — road repairs, senior housing, a state-of-the-art aquatic center, and most recently the revitalization of the Robinson Grand.
“I think he’s done a lot of positive things, and in general I supported him and thought he was doing a good job,” he said.
Any failures, Bowden said, are just as attributable to the city council.
“I was part of the council for the last eight years. Did we get it right? Maybe not,” he said. “We’ve got things that need to be remedied in our city, there’s no question. But these are issues that most metro areas in our state and in this country are dealing with.”
Four votes during Thursday night’s meeting would pass the resolution and in effect suspend Martin Howe as city manager. After a 30-day investigation period, council will hold another meeting to either retain or remove Howe from his position.
If council does move forward with removing Howe, Bowden worries for what that means for the overall direction for the city of Clarksburg.
“We would have to make a city manager search, and that can be a long process. If you find a highly regarded, highly educated, highly trained city manager, that’s going to be a process,” Bowden said. “And frankly, when you do things like this, it doesn’t make your city look real attractive to a perspective new city manager.
“Some of these issues that they want to jump in and change in the first 100 days, as they described it, that’s not going to happen if they immediately cut the cord with our city manager,” he added. “They’re going to create a lot more issues going down the road where we’re going.”
The meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the council chambers of Clarksburg City Hall.