MORGANTOWN, W.Va. Morgantown city council members elected leadership for the coming year and called for action on homeless issues and support for the police department.

First Ward Councilor Joe Abu-Ghannam was elected mayor after dual nominations. Abu-Ghannam, Jenny Selin, Dave Harshbarger, and Bill Kawecki voted for Joe Abu-Ghannam. Fifth Ward Councilor Danielle Trumble received votes from herself and Third Ward Councilor Louise Michael. Seventh Ward Councilor Brian Butcher abstained in the vote for mayor.

Fourth Ward Councilor Jenny Selin was elected to serve as Deputy Mayor by a vote of 6 to 1. Danielle Trumble was the lone no-vote.

Michael read from a prepared statement calling for a council debate during an upcoming committee of the whole meeting. She described the problem as a serious threat to public safety. Her request is an extension of continued calls from residents during the public session of meetings to address the problem.

“This is a difficult and extremely complex issue that we need to discuss,” Michael said. “It is important to me that the business owners and residents that contact me feel that the city is hearing them.”

Michael proposed an expansion of the local organization that requires approval from the city manager to camp within city limits. The code specifically prohibits camping in city parks, but her proposal would expand that to other city properties.

“I consider our city to be kind and compassionate, welcoming everyone, but at this time it appears this community’s kindness has been taken advantage of,” Michael said. “We need to send a message that the city will no longer tolerate nefarious behaviors.”

Police Chief Eric Powell told councilors that his officers have worked very hard to develop relationships with key community partners that help the homeless population. Powell said his group of officers continues their hard work and is deserving of their support in the face of misconduct allegations from the people they’re helping.

“Reserving judgment and maybe being supportive from the get-go,” Powell said. “Maybe having an understanding that things aren’t as black and white as they are portrayed, and having that understanding to start with.”

Powell said allegations of excessive force are completely untrue.

“It’s not our policy. It’s not how we operate, and it never has been,” Powell said. “And anybody that is trying to paint us in that light is flat out lying to you.”

Kelly Rice, a social worker hired by the city about a year ago, has been very effective in helping those populations. Rice has developed important relationships with treatment providers and mental health professionals that have helped her fellow officers, among others.

“She has connected numerous individuals to services to address whatever problem they could be struggling with,” Powell said. “Whether it is substance abuse or mental health issues,”

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