CHAPMANVILLE — After two months of heated debate over the matter, Chapmanville Mayor Raamie Barker has publicly gone on the record about his reasons for removing the town’s former water board chairman Dean “Doc” Williams.
The issue began Aug. 30 when Williams, who had been serving in the position since 2015, received an official letter from Barker informing him of his immediate removal from the water board. The letter did not provide any specific reason for his removal, and since then, the issue has caused some tension at monthly meetings of the Chapmanville Town Council.
At the Sept. 10 meeting, councilman Ben DesRocher argued that certain town ordinances, as well as state code, require “just cause” be provided in order for any employee to be removed. DesRocher and Barker sparred over the matter for several minutes.
Town attorney Rob Kuenzel eventually advised sending an amended letter to Williams that outlined the reasoning. During the council’s Oct. 8 meeting, Williams addressed the council members and claimed he still hadn’t received a letter. He and Barker both said they had met privately about a week prior as well.
The issue was once again brought up by DesRocher at the council’s meeting Tuesday, Nov. 12.
“Seventy-four days ago today, Doc received his letter stating he was dismissed from the water board,” DesRocher said. “I have heard that he’s received a letter stating the reasons, but the ordinance says ‘members may be removed only for cause in the same manner as an elected official,’ which isn’t a letter that doesn’t state just cause.”
“What do you think is just cause?” Barker asked.
“Just cause isn’t ‘just because,’ ” DesRocher responded. He then asked Barker to provide a reason, just as he did two months ago.
Breaking what he called his own rule of not wanting to discuss such personnel matters in an open forum, Barker said he could no longer trust Williams because of certain activities with town employees.
“He interferes with the function and duty of our employees,” Barker said. “Several of them have come to me complaining about it. I told him I couldn’t trust him in that job. I needed people that I had to work with, and I wanted to be able to trust him, but his goal is strictly political – not my opinion, and I think that’s just cause.”
Barker assured council that his decision to fire Williams was not political. Williams was one of five candidates who ran against Barker in the June mayoral election. He lost to Barker by 30 votes.
“I don’t think there’s any reasonably minded person who would not understand that he was my opponent in the election, and yet he got defeated, and yet he still goes around and gives orders to the employees of this town,” Barker said. “A couple of them, he told them that I was going to fire them, which I had no intention of doing — so I cannot, in all faith, in all conscience … God’s my judge — have somebody like that working in an official capacity.”
Barker added that he has documentation of many instances in which Williams intervened in areas in which he had no business doing so. He said it all shows a pattern of what he would have to deal with in the future and that he believes he could make no progress with Williams.
“I like him, as I said, and I know he loves the town, but I don’t think any of you would put up with something like that,” Barker said. “That’s the just cause, right there.”
DesRocher responded that Williams was not in a position to say he’s going to fire anybody because it would hold no merit. Barker said that if he has to, he will arrange a hearing with all the people he says he has heard complaints from.
“It’s not a position that has merit to whether he can hire and fire town employees,” DesRocher said.
“No, it’s not, but the employees don’t know that,” Barker said. “They don’t know what kind of games he’s working, you know, they just get annoyed and they get scared, you know, that he’s telling them something. There’s people at this table right here that he’s told I was going to get rid of, fire, ‘stick them in the back … knife them in the back,’ and so forth.”
“But isn’t that hearsay?” asked councilwoman Robin Adams Mutters. Barker responded that it’s not because the complaints have come to him directly first-person from employees. He concluded that there are more reasons, but that the trust issue was the biggest one.
“You got what you want now,” Barker said.
Barker asked DesRocher why he didn’t come to him privately about the matter, to which DesRocher responded that it has been a public issue for two months. Barker reiterated that personnel matters shouldn’t be discussed publicly.
DesRocher then said an executive session could have been held instead, and Barker asked why he didn’t ask for one. DesRocher said if Barker would have suggested an executive session, he would have.
“How many times have you asked me to have an executive session since you’ve been on the council that I’ve turned you down?” Barker asked. “None, and a lot of times, you don’t even give me an advanced warning about what you’re going to talk about. I don’t mind people throwing my feet to the fire about the law, but I think I did what the law required.”
“OK,” DesRocher responded.
Just as the discussion seemed to be over, councilman Gary Bledsoe interjected and asked both DesRocher and Mutters if they had ever met privately with Williams to discuss the issue or any other business the council takes up.
“Have you ever met with him late in the evening hours? Just you two, and Williams?” Bledsoe asked.
DesRocher denied such an assertion, which would be a violation of the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act – commonly known as the Sunshine Law, an ethics law meant to ensure that proceedings of all public agencies are conducted in an open manner.
“I don’t talk to him about ongoing issues,” DesRocher said. “I don’t, because I know that can lead to bigger issues.”
“Two council members at the same time makes it look like there’s a discussion going on, don’t it?” Bledsoe said. “I asked that question, it’s up to you to answer it. Have you ever discussed business with him before, like we have here, outside of this building?”
“I have no reason to discuss ongoing business with him,” DesRocher said. “I asked water board questions when he was on the water board.”
“Well, you wasn’t saying ‘Hello’ at 9 o’clock at night,” Bledsoe said. DesRocher then outlined his work and personal schedule and remarked that when he does sometimes like to stop and visit people.
“I like to have a personal life, I would think,” DesRocher said. “Wednesday nights, I’m at church, so in the evenings, yeah, I like to stop by and talk to people, but it’s not always concerning official town business.”
Bledsoe responded that he was hoping to get an answer different than the one he received. DesRocher once again denied it, telling Bledsoe that he has no reason to discuss ongoing town business with Williams.
“Small town, you’re friends with everybody,” Mutters said. “That’s what this is for. If they want to know, they can come here.”
“Well, I didn’t hear, but I could see,” Bledsoe said.
After more back and forth, Bledsoe eventually changed his tone. “I respect your honesty, because I think you are,” Bledsoe said.