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Westover Mayor Johnson won’t seek re-election in ’22, cites ‘recent negativity’

MORGANTOWN — In a letter to members of Westover City Council, longtime Mayor Dave Johnson announced he will not seek re-election in 2022.

The letter was delivered to council on Wednesday as part of the Oct. 18 regular meeting packet.

Councilor Ralph Mullins had requested that meeting’s agenda include discussion of an independent investigation into allegations that include wrongdoing and abuse of power by the mayor.

Mullins told The Dominion Post on Thursday that while he was “somewhat surprised” to receive the mayor’s letter, he intends to follow through with that request.

“I absolutely do. I understand that the mayor has said he will step down, but I feel like this has become an issue of public trust. There are issues that need to be looked into,” Mullins said. “We need to find out if these allegations have merit and who, and to what extent, individuals were involved.”

While he said he intends to elaborate more during Monday’s meeting, one of the major issues Mullins has raised includes the mayor’s involvement in the Aaron Dalton situation.

Dalton is a Westover Police officer who remains on paid administrative leave while a defendant in two federal civil rights lawsuits stemming from a January 2019 incident in which Andre Howton was pulled from his home and beaten. The incident was caught on Dalton’s body-worn camera.

Mullins, citing former Westover Police Chief Richard Panico, has said Johnson’s involvement in that internal investigation was improper and an attempt to obstruct justice on Dalton’s behalf.

Johnson, in his seventh, two-year term as mayor, referenced the ongoing turmoil in his explanation to council, noting the stress of the job is negatively impacting his health, raising concerns from friends and family.

“This has not been an easy decision because representing the people of Westover has been an honor, and one I take very seriously,” Johnson wrote, adding, “I don’t think that any mayor’s office has been more successful in getting things done, but honestly, it has gotten harder and harder to deal with the recent negativity, which is counterproductive to our success.”

During Johnson’s tenure as mayor, the city has more than tripled in size, from just under 300 acres to just over 1,000.

That growth includes three significant commercial developments — Morgantown Mall, The Gateway, and WestRidge — which have added about $4 million annually to the city’s bottom line, according to City Attorney Tim Stranko.

Mullins admits there have been a number of positive developments during Johnson’s tenure and said he wishes Johnson the best in his future endeavors.

He also admits he has serious doubts to whether council will move forward with an investigation, “but at least it will be a matter of public record.”

Edie Viola, who’s been on Westover Council going back more than two decades, looks to be a tough sell.

“Honestly, I’m tired of Ralph Mullins and I’m tired of the constant allegations and insinuations. I’m tired of it,” Viola said. “If he has something … He keeps talking about having all these documents and all this evidence. Well, put it out there. Let’s see it. I’ll tell you I haven’t seen any of it.”

Viola said she supports Johnson, adding “I’m disgusted by what’s going on.”

“I’ve been on council for 24 years and I can say the mayor has done nothing but work tirelessly for this city,” she said. “Look at what’s been accomplished. You can put a lot of that on the work the mayor has done building for this city’s future.”

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