CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — The Clarksburg City Council canceled a special meeting to consider indemnification for former council members that was scheduled for Aug. 24.

The special meeting’s sole agenda item was to consider the approval of a resolution to indemnify former mayor James Marino, former vice mayor ​Lillie Junkins and former council member ​Gary Keith and cover legal fees and costs relating to accusations made by the West Virginia Ethics Commission. The three former city council members are facing state ethics charges.

According to city officials, the meeting was canceled because the council is waiting on additional information. Details were not given as to what information it is waiting to obtain.

12 News spoke with the complainant, Clarksburg resident Ryan DeBarr, who said he filed the ethics complaint in January 2022 because the state constitution does not allow elected officials to extend their own terms in office, and it could jeopardize a pending lawsuit against the city for lead waterlines. He argued that you can’t settle those kind of suits if the government is not properly constituted.

DeBarr explained that he was sent a copy of the “notice of investigation,” which said the council members would not be able to use the city attorney—meaning they would need to hire their own attorneys. It advised the city attorney that there would be ethical conflicts in representing the three former council members, and that he should contact the West Virginia State Bar for more advice.

DeBarr said when he checked back in about a month ago, there was a notice of hearing, with city attorney Richard Marsh listed as the former members’ attorney. DeBarr explained that he brought this up with a few of his friends who are attorneys, and they called it “a huge conflict of interest,” saying, “There’s no public interest in defending an abuse of power, jeopardizing the lead water suit.”

The City Manager’s response to Ryan DeBarr’s FOIA. (Courtesy: Ryan DeBarr)

The complainant then filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which asked about who authorized the city attorney to represent the former members, as well as who waived the conflict of interest. A response from the city said it was a matter of “attorney client privilege,” but DeBarr said he believes it could potentially lead to additional ethics charges for the new council members for abusing the city attorney’s representation, as well as the West Virginia State Bar taking disciplinary action against the city attorney.

DeBarr posed the question, “if someone can extend their own term in office, what else would fly?” and said, “I think it has to end somewhere, and maybe this will be the thing to get people’s attention.”

At this point, the meeting to consider the resolution has not been rescheduled. The agenda for the canceled meeting is available on the city’s website here.