MORGANTOWN — The Morgantown City Council removed the deputy mayor designation from embattled 6th Ward Councilor Mark Brazaitis on Tuesday by a 5-2 vote and approved 4th Ward Councilor Jenny Selin to take over the role.
Brazaitis and Councilor Barry Wendell voted against removing the largely ceremonial title from Brazaitis.
When the floor was opened for nominations to fill the newly open position, Brazaitis nominated himself. The council voted 6-1 against that nomination.
The vote to select Selin also went 6-1, with Brazaitis the lone dissenter.
The council’s move culminated more than two months of frequent and sharp public criticism of Monongalia County, WVU and other local stakeholders by Brazaitis in his capacity as deputy mayor and city councilor.
Mayor Bill Kawecki said the council shares many of Brazaitis’ goals and passions but can’t support his methods.
“I think what we find disagreeable is the way it’s being presented and the way it’s being interpreted,” Kawecki said.
“There are people here we ’ll need to deal with, regardless of what your considerations are about them. These are people that are necessary for this community.”
Brazaitis went against the wishes of council and BOPARC in unsuccessfully presenting a levy to the county commission to fund a new ice rink. Brazaitis said he pitched the levy not as a member of council, but as a representative of the Mason-Dixon Figure Skating Club.
Councilor Ryan Wallace has taken exception to the way Brazaitis conducted himself.
“I don’t believe it was proper for the deputy mayor to go to the county commission to request levy funds in the manner in which he did after council voted specifically against that , ” Wallace said. “Once a decision has been made by council, I feel it’s important for council to abide by that decision.”
A WVU English professor and author, Brazaitis has spoken and written extensively about mental illness, including his own battles with depression.
He checked into Ruby Memorial Hospital, and later, Pittsburgh’s Western Psychiatric Institute after police were called to his Courtney Avenue residence Aug. 6, resulting in a 15-hour overnight search by the Morgantown Police and Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department after Brazaitis fled from the home.
WVU ultimately removed Brazaitis from the classroom this fall and barred him from campus pending an evaluation through the university’s Faculty and Staff Assistance Program.
Brazaitis said he is not currently suffering from any mental illness.
Council members said their vote to strip the deputy mayor designation were not in response to any personal health issues, but in the way Brazaitis chose to conduct himself publicly, both in meetings and online.
Additionally, it was noted multiple times that members are not interested in removing Brazaitis from his elected seat.
In supporting Brazaitis, Wendell said he wasn’t willing to align himself with some in the community calling for council to take action.
“I have to say, I have to look at the people who have been against him. Not on council, but in the public and in the media, and I can’t really be associated with them,” Wendell said. “And I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong for him to present himself as an individual at something.”
Ultimately, Brazaitis said, he’s not afraid to go after what he feels is in the best interest of the city.
“I’m for the people of Morgantown. I always have been. I always will be. I’m proud to be for the people,” Brazaitis said. “I’m not afraid. I’ll never be afraid when the people’s interests are at stake.”
He claimed his openness about past mental issues were seized upon by some in the community for political ends.
“A, you either don’t understand mental illness, or B, you’re using my well-documented history, my singular, tough, life-altering encounter with clinical depression in 2004 — that was a long time ago — as a cynical political ploy to make yourselves look, what, not enlightened, not very wise, not compassionate, ” he said. “Again, I’m for the people of Morgantown.”