CHARLESTON – The mayor of Richwood is suing the City Council and state auditor for putting him on administrative leave after he refused to resign last month.
Chris Drennen, Robin Brown, Sherry Chapman, Virginia McKenzie, Britt Nicholas, Ann Spencer, Charles Tousseing, Glen Weiler and State Auditor John B. McCuskey all were named as defendants in the suit.
On Sept. 21, the City Council and Mayor Bob Henry Baber met at a regular council meeting in City Hall and, at the end of the meeting, the council moved for an executive session, according to a complaint filed Oct. 23 in Kanawha Circuit Court.
Baber claims no explanation was given if the purpose of the executive session when the motion was made and he was unable to address the authorization for the proposed executive session because he had not been informed it was going to occur or its purpose.
During the executive session, Brown asked Baber to resign from his office as mayor and, when he refused to resign, Tousseing proposed he instead be placed on administrative leave with pay, which was approved by the respondents and they resumed the regular council meetings where they announced their decision, according to the suit.
Baber claims during the following days, he continued as mayor as he had prior to the meeting.
On Sept. 25, Drennen identified himself as interim mayor and informed Baber that he would on administrative leave with pay until the outcome of the investigation by the state is completed.
Baber claims McCuskey is conducting the investigation.
The investigation involves a purchasing card administered by the State Auditor’s office into purchases made or authorized by Baber on behalf of Richwood in his capacity as mayor after the severe flooding in 2016, according to the suit.
Baber claims the purchases occurred over a period from February through July in a total amount of approximately $6,500.
The petitioner, has identified and reported to the state all but approximately $200 of the expenditures with no evidence of wrongdoing, according to the suit.
Baber is represented by Richard A. Robb.
The case is assigned to Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit.
McCuskey issued a statement on the lawsuit, calling the lawsuit frivolous.
“On Monday, October 23, Bob Henry Baber, mayor of Richwood, filed a baseless and frivolous lawsuit against our office seeking to stop the ongoing investigation into the financial records of the City of Richwood,” McCuskey said.
McCuskey said when his office conducts a financial investigation, they are first and foremost protecting the people’s money.
“That’s our primary objective,” McCuskey said. “The State Auditor’s Office will not allow a public media stunt to distract us from any ongoing audit or investigation. All this does is cost the people of Richwood, and the State of West Virginia, both time and money.”
McCuskey said Baber continues to call press conferences outside the State Auditor’s Office and publicly makes known the existence of the ongoing investigation and audit.
“Then, he files a lawsuit complaining the investigation is distracting him from the performance of his duties in Richwood.” McCuskey said. “Notwithstanding Mr. Baber’s actions and comments, our office will continue to work diligently and efficiently to provide a thorough audit and examination of the City of Richwood’s finances; and to seek prosecution for those who may have misused taxpayer dollars.”
Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 17-P-399