MORGANTOWN — Five candidates vying for four seats have stepped forward to challenge for positions on Morgantown City Council in April’s municipal election.
Ron Bane (1st Ward), Barbara Parsons (2nd Ward) and Aaron Metz (7th Ward) will face incumbents Rachel Fetty, Bill Kawecki and Barry Wendell, respectively.
In the 6th Ward, Jay Redmond and Dave Harshbarger will face off to fill the seat left open by Mark Brazaitis, who has chosen not to seek re-election.
Incumbents Ryan Wallace (3rd Ward), Jenny Selin (4th Ward) and Ron Dulaney (5th Ward) are unopposed.
The Dominion Post reached out to the challengers about why they want to join, and in some cases return, to city council.
Bane, a WVU employee who served on council for 16 years before losing to Fetty in 2017, said he’s always interested in being part of the decision making process, noting he’s spent the last two years as a member of the Morgantown Utility Board (MUB) and Mountain Line Transit Authority.
He said his interest in running isn’t about going after Fetty — who’s seeking her second term — but about a desire to address three issues he sees with the city.
“First, we’ve got to work on our transparency, and that has to be always. There seems to be a lot of misgivings about putting information out,” Bane said. “We’ve got council members who don’t know stuff they need to know. That needs to stop, because if they don’t know it, then the public doesn’t know it.”
Bane went on to say that council needs to find common areas on which it can speak with one voice on behalf of city residents.
Lastly, he said, the city should lead as Monongalia County’s seat instead of squaring off with the county commission.
“The relationship between the county commission and this council is awful. It’s awful,” Bane said. “We’ve got to get along with the county commission, and not only that, we should be reaching out to Westover, Star City, Granville, because we really are in this together.”
Parsons, who recently ended an 18-year run on the Monongalia County Board of Education, said she wants to put the experience gained in that position, and others, to work for city residents.
“Listening and observing the issues at the council level and some of the issues in the community and having served on a number of boards of directors … I thought maybe I can bring something to the situation,” Parsons said. “Maybe I can bring some order, better communication and more of a planning focus.”
Parsons, who was recently appointed to the MUB board, will face the city’s current mayor in Kawecki, who is seeking his fourth two-year term.
She said she’s excited about the opportunity to help lead Morgantown, a city with a “dynamic environment” and leadership role statewide in terms of economic development.
While she said city council is different than the BOE, good leadership is pretty universal.
“The city is different than the school board, obviously, but the same principles of leadership apply. The same principles of governance apply and I’m a strong proponent of good governance,” Parsons said. “And if I think I can make a difference and make governance better, I’ll certainly try.”
Harshbarger, a wellness professional with WVU Medicine, said Brazaitis’ announcement that he would not seek re-election in the 6th Ward coupled with the encouragement of friends and community members got him in the race.
He explained that he’s served in leadership positions with the South Hills Neighborhood Association and the Mon River Trails Conservancy, and assisted with the push to ban smoking indoors in Monongalia County.
“I’m from Morgantown. I grew up here and I chose to come back to Morgantown in 1995 to raise my family. Morgantown is a great place and I want to help it become an even better place that we can all call home,” Harshbarger said. “So when I knew this seat was going to become open … I said it’s time to step up and maybe do a little bit more for my community.”
Harshbarger went on to say that he’d like to bring a focus on health and wellness to the city’s decision making process — be it through improvements to the city’s recreational infrastructure or finding ways to bolster the city’s network of sidewalks.
“I think also, from an environmental standpoint, we should be doing all we can to be proactive about keeping our water clean and our air clean,” he said.
His opponent, Redmond, is participating in his fourth council election. He was elected to council in 2015 and served one term before losing to Brazaitis.
Asked why he chose to throw his hat in the ring, Redmond says it’s “strictly civic duty.”
“I thought there would be more people interested in running. When I saw that wasn’t going to happen, I felt like the voters of the 6th Ward deserved to have a choice, and that’s why I’m doing it,” Redmond said.
“Representative government doesn’t work unless there’s participation from the citizens. I don’t believe the city council has been representative of our population, but unless people at least make the easy effort to get out and vote, then we’re not going to have a representative government. That’s unfortunate for the city, and it’s certainly not good for democracy.”
Redmond said he’s sold all his businesses and is volunteering with a number of agencies, including Main Street Morgantown, with which he’s currently planning an event.
He explained that he has concerns with the current state of city leadership.
“I don’t feel like we’re getting the leadership we need. There are problems with leadership, communication and relationships,” he said. “I think we’ve got to get those basic governance issues straightened out before we start talking about specific issues.”
In the 7th Ward, Metz is looking to spoil Wendell’s bid for a second term.
The owner of Fallout Shelter, a bar/arcade opening soon on Fayette Street, Metz has previously worked as a field representative and district director for Congressman David McKinley, R-W.Va.
Metz said his young family and new business have led him to think a lot about the choices being made by the city.
“I just want my family to grow in a town that I’m proud of and where I want to spend the rest of my life. I want my children to go to school here. I want them to grow up here,” Metz said Right now, I love Morgantown. I love this city. I just don’t see it going in the direction I think it needs to go. I want to help change that.”
He points to issues he sees with how the city handles parking downtown as well as what he calls an “unstable atmosphere coming from city government” as some of the issues that hurt the city’s ability to attract and keep investment.
Like Bane, he said the city’s relationship with the county commission paints the city in a negative light.
“There are problems with relationships. I’d like to see a better relationship with WVU and the students, but more importantly, I’d like to see a better relationship with the county commission. Right now, council’s relationship with the county is strained and that really needs to change.”