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Judge hears Beckley city manager ordinance lawsuit

By Josephine E. Moore, The Register-Herald

BECKLEY, W.Va. — The interpretation of Beckley’s charter, established nearly a century ago, was debated Friday during a hearing in a Raleigh County courtroom as part of a lawsuit against the city’s recently passed city manager ordinance.

The lawsuit, filed by Doug M. Epling, a local icon for his ownership of various coal mining operations and the West Virginia Miners Baseball Club, takes issue with Beckley’s city manager ordinance due to the powers it takes away from the mayor, arguing the move requires a vote by the people.

Beckley’s attorney countered by saying the city’s charter negates the need for a public vote because it grants the council the authority to switch to a city manager government and transfer powers from the mayor to a city manager.

Hearing the city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit was Raleigh County Circuit Judge Andrew Dimlich, who asked if a case like this had even come up before.

“No, your honor. I believe this is a matter of first impression,” said Karen McElhinny, the attorney representing the city of Beckley.

“I have not found a case on it, your honor,” said Debra Varner, Epling’s attorney.

“Amazing,” Dimlich replied.

McElhinny said Beckley is unique because its charter outlines the steps the city would need to take should it choose to transition from a strong mayor government to a city manager government.

“As far as we know, no other city in West Virginia has that type of charter, but that’s always been the charter here in Beckley,” McElhinny said.

She added that the charter, passed in 1927, also received approval from the West Virginia Legislature.

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