WESTOVER, W.Va. – After responding to presumed allegations against Westover mayor Dave Johnson, city attorney Tim Stranko asked for the allegations to be put in “simple sentences” and debated among council members to determine what the next step should be.
Stranko made the statement after sharing a memo at last meeting explaining the allegations. Following a period of growth, Stranko said city leaders must pull together to maintain the current positive growth.
“This city right now is on a threshold or a precipice,” Stranko said,” We’ve three major commercial districts to this city over the last eight years, we’ve increased revenue by $4 million and not added a dime to the tax burden of these citizens. Now, are we ready to plan for the future or are we going to fight with each other.”
Over the last several weeks many members of the community and council have become impatient with the status of the Aaron Dalton case. Dalton has been on paid administrative leave for more than a year in the wake of two federal civil rights investigations.
The length of the investigation and allegations of withholding information have resulted in multiple allegations from specifically, First Ward councilman Ralph Mullins, but also frustration among members of the public.
“What’s going on now I don’t recognize as governance,” Stranko said, If you’re keeping score at home, we’ve had multiple secret recordings, we’ve had anonymous letters, we’ve anonymous internet postings all with a level of anger that debilitating and destructive.”
Former chief Rick Panico spoke during the public session and wondered why the administration would take a defensice stance following the release of a 90 minute recording of a meeting he had with Stranko, Lt. John Morgan and councilamn Steve Andryzcik. The meeting was held after 11 officers signed a petition accusing Dalton of several violations of law, city code and calling for his resignation.
Westover officials have stopped short of blaming Panico for the Dalton scandal, but have commended his work in the field while citing his perceived lack of effectiveness in administration.
“Who would expect in a public meeting that it would be secret?,” Panico said,” It’s in a city hall, its being recorded in public- why should you hide anything. Of course, I can see the city attorney being upset because of the things he said about Delegate Danielle Walker, I’d be upset too.”
During that meeting Stranko can be heard saying,” We’ve already got Danielle Walker and the rest of them screaming about it’s unsafe to be in Westover- what a terrible thing that is for the city.”
First Ward councilman Ralph Mullins alleges the mayor has committed several abuse of power violations, along with using code enforcement to target a local business and improperly handling the Aaron Dalton investigation. As Mullins said in the September 20 special meeting, he has multiple forms of proof and wants to present it to an independent body, outside the control of the mayor.
“The documented evidence that I have in my possession will be turned over to any law enforcement agency or independent investigative body that investigates these claims,” Mullins said.
Stranko urged council members to get their allegations or problems in written form and allow them to be reviewed with the possibility of resolution. Stranko admitted he has no binding authority to set a timetable, but wants elected officials to understand what constituents expect from them.
“This kind of a circus we have going on right now is not helping us prepare for the future,” Stranko said,” We’ve got a great opportunity here, a great opportunity, and we should be planning for that instead of blood sport which is what’s going on right now.”