MORGANTOWN — Morgantown City Councilor Ron Dulaney, addressing a series of inflammatory remarks from Deputy Mayor Mark Brazaitis, cautioned his colleague, “We’ve got to stop throwing grenades.”
Brazaitis has taken shots at WVU, the Monongalia County Commission, the Mylan Park Foundation and a number of individuals since the city’s focus pivoted from trying to purchase the Haymaker Forest to funding improvements for the Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners (BOPARC).
He called the development of a $40-plus million track and aquatic center at Mylan Park a “tragedy” because it is being developed outside city limits. An English professor at WVU, Brazaitis said his employer is “gutting this town.” He called for an ethics review of former Morgantown mayor and BOPARC member, Ron Justice, who is currently the Mylan Park Foundation president. Brazaitis also claimed county residents don’t pay their fair share for using BOPARC facilities.
He claimed to be speaking in “Biblical terms” during a recent BOPARC meeting, during which he said the city’s parks were being pulled down by “wolves.”
During the council member reports late Tuesday night, several councilors addressed the seemingly daily flow of rhetoric.
Dulaney said he vowed to champion consensus-building when he ran for council, leaving him to rethink his vote for Brazaitis to return for another year as deputy mayor.
“The honest answer is that was a mistake. If I had to vote again, I would have voted otherwise,” Dulaney said, citing the public jabs Brazaitis has made on Facebook and during a recent town hall.
“I do not believe in antagonistic politics, and I would beg my colleague to be assertive, to speak up, but can we please be respectful when we’re working with other folks,” Dulaney said.
Councilor Rachel Fetty said the current environment makes it difficult for other council members to be heard on issues important to constituents.
“We’re making it hard on each other, and I’d like us to stop doing that. If we can try a little bit harder to be a little more careful about what we say, I think that would be helpful,” Fetty said, “I would like to be heard, too.”
Councilor Ryan Wallace said he welcomes “difficult, intense conversations” both in public forums and online.
“I’m all for that,” he said. “But the more civil we can keep it, the better, because it’s not productive if it’s uncivil.”
For his part, Brazaitis said he’s not angry or vitriolic, but he’s also not willing to back down. While he conceded the situation is far different, he asked what might have resulted had historic figures like Martin Luther King Jr. shrank from criticism
“ ‘You are not being civil’ is a phrase the powerful often use to shame and quiet the powerless,” Brazaitis said. “Had Martin Luther King Jr. been ‘civil’ in the ways white Americans in the 1950s wanted him to be civil, he would simply have shut up, and African Americans would still be drinking at separate-but-equal, water fountains.”
Brazaitis said that as a “white, male, heterosexual who is wealthy” he has an “extraordinary moral obligation” to aid the less fortunate.
“There’s nothing civil about gutting BOPARC and leaving us with $38 million in capital needs. BOPARC is broke. We can’t pay those needs off right now. We cannot,” Brazaitis said.
“WVU should be paying them, and I’ve asked WVU to pay them. I’ll continue to ask them to pay. There’s nothing civil about leaving BOPARC in that strait.”
Mayor Bill Kawecki said nobody on council is questioning the deputy mayor’s passion or civic mindedness, just his choice of words.
“We, as a council, share many of your goals. The difficulty I think we have is the way, sometimes, you translate those goals into public comment,” Kawecki said. “That’s the majority of our disagreement.”