CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – Suspended Clarksburg City Manager Martin Howe has filed a lawsuit against the city and three members of city council.
In the lawsuit filed July 18, Howe accuses Mayor Ryan Kennedy, Vice Mayor James Marino and Clarksburg City Council member Lillie Scott-Junkins of conspiring to remove Howe from his position.
According to the lawsuit, the issues began in 2014 when the City of Clarksburg created the position of assistant city manager. It states that Marino, who was the director of personnel for the city, applied for this position, but Anthony Bellotte, who recently retired, was ultimately hired.
The lawsuit alleges that Marino was frustrated with not being hired as assistant city manager, and he made his frustration known. It further states that in 2014 and 2015, Howe and others investigated and reviewed complaints of purported wrongdoing against Marino.
On May 16, Clarksburg City Council voted to adopt a new employment contract for Howe, prior to the city’s municipal election on June 4. At that time, Marino and Scott-Junkins were elected to Clarksburg City Countil, with each taking office on July 1.
The lawsuit claims that after being elected, but before taking office, some or all of the defendants began to threaten, discriminate and retaliate against Howe and others for the investigations related to Marino. Moreover, it states that Marino intended to use taxpayer funds to investigate Howe, since Howe had been associated with investigations of Marino in 2015.
According to the lawsuit, on July 3, Marino confronted Howe about information Marino had requested on June 19 related to various positions within the city, including the assistant city manager position. During this incident, the lawsuit states that Marino acted in a threatening manner. Howe stated in a July 3 memo to Kennedy that he believed the incident to be politically motivated, as he understood that Marino wanted to repeal and eliminate the position of assistant city manager.
Following the incident on July 3, Kennedy requested that Howe come to his law office to meet with him, according to court documents. Bellotte accompanied Howe to this meeting. The lawsuit states that when Howe and Bellotte arrived, Kennedy, Marino and Scott-Junkins were all present. Further, the lawsuit claims that Kennedy, Marino and Scott-Junkins were meeting behind closed doors about Howe’s employment, without notice to the public, other city council members, Howe or Bellotte.
At this meeting, Howe told the defendants that it was his understanding that they wanted Howe to leave quietly, according to court documents. Howe then provided the buyout sum contained in his contract to the defendants. The lawsuit states that Kennedy, Marino and Scott-Junkins rejected the buyout proposal and stated that Howe should resign.
In an email reply to Howe’s memo, dated July 4, Kennedy stated that he was unaware of the incident involving Marino, and that such conduct was unacceptable and inappropriate, according to court documents. The lawsuit states that these statements from Kennedy are inaccurate, as Kennedy was in a secret meeting with Marino and Scott-Junkins on July 3 at Kennedy’s law office.
Following these events, the lawsuit states that the defendants drafted an agenda for a special meeting to consider a resolution to suspend Howe. In that resolution, Howe was accused of being responsible for urban decay, misappropriating funds and being unprofessional. Council passed the resolution on July 11.
On July 6, Howe emailed all city council members, stating that he would not resign, and he believed he was best suited to guide Clarksburg moving forward, according to court documents.
The lawsuit states that the defendants are leading a charge to terminate Howe based upon historical, good faith reports and investigations of alleged wrongdoing and for politically motivated reasons.
Moreover, at the special meeting on July 11, the defendants “fostered a circus environment, a kangaroo court, without any leadership, control, direction or meaningful discussion of Howe’s employment,” the lawsuit alleges. It also states that the defendants failed to produce any material related to Howe’s employment.
In count one of the lawsuit, Howe accuses Kennedy, Marino and Scott-Junkins of using their insider positions to retaliate and discriminate against Howe; conspiring to avoid open and objective consideration of Howe’s employment; and discriminating and retaliating against Howe.
In count two of the lawsuit, Howe accuses the defendants of violating the state’s whistleblower law, in that, the defendants retaliated and discriminated against Howe based upon his prior report and investigations of alleged wrongdoing concerning Marino.
Howe is seeking compensatory damages; attorney’s fees and costs; and any other relief the court deems appropriate. He is also seeking a temporary and permanent injunction issue prohibiting the defendants from engaging in retaliatory, discriminatory and unlawful conduct and reinstating Howe to the active position of city manager; $5,000 fines for each defendant for their conduct; and a finding by the court that “the [d]efendants committed acts of retaliation and discrimination with the intent to discourage the disclosure of information, such that the acts…are deemed as official acts of misconduct and malfeasance in office…which finding may serve as the basis for removal of the [c]onspiring [d]efendants from the Clarksburg City Council,” according to court documents.