Candidates for Morgantown’s 1st Ward interview with council

MORGANTOWN, W.VA. — Candidates for the vacant First Ward City Council seat faced questions from current council members during a special meeting on Tuesday.

Four nearly two hours, the five potential appointees answered questions their backgrounds, visions for the city, and their thoughts on some of the current issues facing Morgantown.

Seth Collins, Jenny Thoma, Michael Bradley, G. Darren Taylor and M. Joe Abu-Ghannam all applied to be the eventual replacement for the now vacant seat which would’ve been occupied by Patrick Hathaway, who was elected to represent the First Ward but announced shortly after the municipal election in April he was moving out of the city and could not fulfill the term.

“Tell me how do you think that you can represent your ward and what you would do for the ward and what your idea of what a council person should do,” said longtime Morgantown City Councilor Bill Kawecki ahead of the interviews.

Seth Collins was the first person who was interviewed to start off the meeting. Collins, a Morgantown native and current WVU student, was the First Ward write-in candidate who ran against Hathaway in April’s municipal election. Collins, who is also pursuing a Masters Degree in Public Administration, is hoping to use his skills and knowledge of the community, to help improve Downtown Morgantown businesses while working to improve quality of life around the city as well.

“I think I’m pretty in the middle on a lot of topics,” said Collins. “I think discussions are very important, because that’s usually where decisions get made as well, I think that I am someone who can be easy to work with, I think those are all qualities you should have in a city council person,” he said.

Jenny Thoma, was the second person interviewed and presented her case as to why she was qualified to represent the First Ward. Thoma, has been a Morgantown resident for 13 years and has been a part of several local organizations while working as a public defender. She has also been recognized for her work by Equal Justice Works, winning the inaugural Public Interest Award and for her work with the West Virginia Innocence Project. A graduate of the WVU Law School, Thoma is hoping to use her legal experience as well her knowledge of Morgantown to help improve life in the city.

“So I spend all of my time trying to achieve the most good that I can in my work position, within the boundaries of what is permissible under the law,” said Thoma.

Michael Bradley, followed Thoma and much like the previous two candidates, had a unique set of qualifications to present to Morgantown City Council. Originally born in Morgantown, Bradley found his way back to his hometown after spending several years in the New York area as a newswriter, editor for WNYC and for BBC Radio. Now retired, his hope is to bring his interpersonal skills as well as his longtime residency to help improve the city and the First Ward.

“Now that I’m retired, I want to do what I can to maybe help other people do good things,” said Bradley during his portion of the meeting.

G. Darren Taylor, was the fourth person interviewed and presented what he could do representing the First Ward. Raised in Morgantown, Taylor has worked with several local businesses while working as a representative for Effectv, an advertising firm for Comcast. One of his main goals, if chosen to be a part of council, is to improve the business environment in Morgantown, so that more services can be provided via economic growth.

“I’m a pro-business advocate, I believe in making our city and our area inviting to businesses wherever the businesses are in the tri-state area,” said Taylor discussing his views.

M. Joe Abu-Ghannam, closed out the special meeting by throwing his hat into the ring. Ghannam, is orginially from Virginia but has lived in Morgantown for over a decade and has worked with several Morgantown Area youth. During his time in the Morgantown Area, he’s taught students as a teacher for Morgantown High School, where he teaches business and finance, while also being the school’s wrestling coach. Ghannam also has taught less fortunate kids at the former Alternative Learning Center as a Emotional Behavior Disorder teacher. His hope is that his experience in the classroom can carry over into Morgantown City Council Chambers.

“To truly have the best students, we need to have a city that embraces the idea, the idea of being from all different backgrounds, having all different experiences, viewpoints, families cultures, to allow the opportunity to expand,” said Abu-Ghannam.

Morgantown Mayor Jenny Selin, stated that she expects a decision to be made on the position within the next week or so. After that, one of the five candidates will be welcomed into Morgantown City Council and is expected to hit the ground running with several discussions ranging from hosting in-person meetings to COVID relief funding.