WESTOVER, W.Va — During a Westover City Council meeting on Monday, personal tensions between council members boiled over in public. While a newly-vacant council seat took front and center at the meeting, council members were at odds from the start of the meeting.
The tense exchange began during the period for general council comment, when Councilwoman Edie Viola took aim at Councilman Ralph Mullins. Viola repeatedly called Mullins a liar in regards to a post on group webpage in connection with a statement made by Mullins about his initial appointment to council. The group seemed to be an issue with several council members throughout the meeting.
The argument eventually ended after Mayor Dave Johnson moved the meeting forward.
However, they tensions quickly bubbled back to the surface through discussions over a newly-vacant council seat, after council unanimously approved Steve Lawrence’s resignation. Lawrence resigned because he is relocating, which leaves his seat open for appointment by council per the City charter.
Citing several lawsuits against the City and its police department, Mullins raised the possibility of a special election to fill the seat.
“I believe public confidence has been shaken to a degree,” Mullins told 12 News. “And I believe the people have the right to choose.”
A ballpark estimate for an election is up to five-thousand dollars and the council member would serve a year and three months, the remainder of Lawrence’s term. They would then have to run for re-election.
The idea of a special election did not sit well with everyone on council.
“I take exception that it’s an overwhelming amount of people that want to spend $5,000 to have an election,” said councilman Steve Andryzcik.
No matter how the next council member is decided, there is now at least one candidate. Charles “Alli” Jackson is a longtime Westover resident and a former city clerk. During public comment, he announced he is vying for the empty seat.
“We have no minority representation here in Westover, but we do have minorities,” Jackson said. He cited the lack of diversity as a major issue for council. “As you see, we have limited space but council’s never full. Why? Because as part of the procedures of the city, they never respond to citizens if they have questions.”
Jackson said he’s aware of the negative publicity surrounding the city, but wants to be part of the solution.
As far as the very public and volatile exchange between council members at the meeting, Jackson let his disapproval be known after announcing his candidacy.
“I thought that was just very unprofessional. On everybody’s part.”
Westover City Council will address the vacant council seat at their next meeting on April 19th.