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Tensions high during Westover council meeting, no motion made to investigate council

WESTOVER—Tensions were high during Thursday night’s special Westover council meeting centered around whether to initiate an investigation into allegations made against council, which failed after no council members made a motion to proceed.

The allegations discussed were those allegedly made by First-Ward Councilmember Ralph Mullins in a radio interview with WAJR’s Talk of the Town. City Attorney Tim Stranko alleged Mullins’ statements, which would be investigated, included:

  • “Everything runs through the Mayor”
  • “The City Attorney will not speak to me”
  • Mayor/City Attorney refuse to act on (Police Officer Aaron) Dalton disciplinary matter
  • The Dalton matter was kept from Council
  • Mayor/City Attorney withheld the August 2020 police petition from Council
  • Mayor withheld information from Council.  As a result, Council found out about two police cases in the media
  • Westover City government is corrupt, and it starts with the Mayor. (paraphrased and repeated multiple times by both Mullins and host of the radio show)
  • The City Attorney negotiated with (former police chief Rick) Panico deletion of complaints against the Mayor from his first tendered resignation

Mullins said many of these allegations were never said or were represented inaccurately.

“This is truly astounding,” Mullins said. “There are — I’ve read these [allegations] , I got access to this an hour before the meeting and I can tell you that nearly every single one of these statements here — some of them, first of all, were never made on that radio show. I never mentioned the word corrupt and I never said it starts with the mayor. I said, ‘everything was run through the mayor’.”

In a statement to council, Mayor Dave Johnson addressed the allegations.

“I take seriously the allegations of misconduct recently made in the media by Councilman Mullins,” Johnson said. “City Council is the governing body of Westover. By convening this special meeting, I request city council carefully and publicly review Mullins’ allegations and proceed to see as it deems necessary and proper.”

The mayor also addressed the audio file posted to YouTube of a meeting between city officials, which included allegations against Dalton.

“The self-serving and misleading accusations made a year ago by former police chief Panico were secretly recorded during a meeting discussing the remarkable failure of his leadership at the police department,” Johnson said. “The recording was recently anonymously posted on the internet. This underhanded attempt to shift blame for Panico’s failures is both obvious and contemptible.”

In response to the mayor’s statement, Richard Panico told The Dominion Post, “I did not get a letter written against me by the whole police department. So, I guess that the concept about my leadership goes out the window, nor can the mayor prove that I was an inadequate or a lacking leader or he would have fired me.”

Tensions rise between council, mayor, attendees

After Mullins refuted the allegations, Stranko said he would answer questions. Johnson then asked if Mullins had any questions for Stranko, to which Mullins requested to make a statement. The mayor responded, “well, you can wait on your statement.”

The mayor then asked if any other council members had questions for Stranko. Jeff Hunt, a resident of Westover, said he did. The mayor responded, “No, you don’t have any questions.” 

Hunt then called Stranko a “bootlicker” to which Johnson said, “watch yourself“ and added if Hunt continued, he would be “listening to it [the meeting] outside.”

When Johonson asked if council members wanted to make a motion to initiate the investigation, Mullins repeated he would like to make a statement. The mayor said he could make a statement during the discussion period if a motion and second were made.

Mullins then made a motion to make his statement, not to pursue the investigation. Johnson asked for clarification as to whether or not he was making a motion to investigate.

“You want to make a motion?” Johnson said. “Ralph, this isn’t hard, just kind of follow the bouncing ball here.”

The meeting, which did not include a citizen’s commentary period, adjourned after no motion was made. Some citizens were left confused and tensions began to rise. 

One attendee asked, “What was the purpose of this meeting?” Another, “what was [the investigation] pertaining to?”

An argument then began between Johnson and Hunt.

“You know what, Dave? You’re a punk,” Hunt said.

In response, Johnson said “Why don’t you stick around afterwards?” to which Hunt said “I will, why don’t we go outside now? I want to end it with you pal. I want to take it outside now. I want to end it once and for all, you piece of s—.”

Meeting concludes

Following the meeting, attendees gathered outside. Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, said she was proud of the residents for continuing to attend the council meetings. She said this meeting was evidence more eyes should be on Westover.

Charles “Allie” Jackson, a resident of Westover, said he thinks there needs to be serious changes in the City of Westover.

“I’m just as confused as everybody standing around here [about] what this was about,” he said.

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