Candidates react to Mayor Keown's endorsement of current city council members
In an unprecedented move earlier this week, Morgantown Mayor Linda Keown interjected herself into the race for Morgantown City Council with an official endorsement of all current members who are running for reelection - Edra Dean Hampton, Terrell House, Sharon Johnson, Gary Southerland, and Russell Givens. The sixth member - Rick Scott isn't seeking reelection.
Now, a few of those candidates who were not endorsed are speaking out. At least one of those candidates who wasn't endorsed candidates will be elected to the council.
Harold Ray West, a former member of the council, said he had never heard of an incumbent mayor getting officially involved in a city council race.
"In Morgantown, going all the back to George Wilson, Lake Sailing, Charles Black, and Eva Hawes, I can't remember a mayor getting involved in this way," said West.
West, who said he's been approached by city residents critical of the decision, said the mayor's endorsement calls into question the independence of the council and seems to suggest that she wants a council of "yes" people.
"When the executive branch gets into bed with the legislative branch, the people lose their voice," said West. "Working together is important but people also want a council to be independent of the mayor when necessary."
West cautioned that the mayor would have to work with whoever is elected and making endorsements in the race can make that more difficult.
Candidate Allen Meredith echoed some of West's concerns. In a emailed response, Meredith described the move as "unprecedented" and indicated that it is the voters of Morgantown who will ultimately decide who is on the next city council.
"The voters will have the final say on this matter. I have nothing against the mayor or any of the current City Council members but no one person can and /or should influence the selection of the city council membership," said Meredith. "That is the right reserved to the voters of our city and to them alone."
Meredith also questioned the appropriateness of the mayor's endorsement, especially in race that is not about political parties.
"This endorsement is unprecedented in local government politics and especially so in a nonpartisan election. I don’t recall any other endorsement of this sort in either the history of the city council or magistrate elections in our city and county," said Meredith. "This is a line that just wasn’t crossed in past administrations. I don’t dispute the right to do this but I don’t think it is necessarily right to do it."
Despite not being endorsed by the mayor, Meredith suggested that is full steam ahead for his campaign.
"All of that being said I will continue my pursuit for the office of city councilman and if elected will work with my fellow councilmen to the best of my ability," said Meredith.
For her part, candidate Dionne Merritt indicated that she is keeping her focus on the campaign trail and the people of Morgantown.
"I am not interested in who's endorsing whom," said Merritt.
In her letter of endorsement, Mayor Keown described the current council members as "excellent servants of the community."
"They have been devoted to making our city a better place to live. They have spent many hours in planning, attending several work sessions and training sessions, along with attending the usual monthly council meetings which usually last two hours or longer," said Keown, who cited ongoing city projects as justification for her endorsement.
In conclusion, Mayor Keown said "these council members have proven they have been wise servants and an asset to our community. Go to the polls on Tuesday, November 6th, and vote for these five incumbents."
The General Election is set for Tuesday, November 6. Polls are open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.