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Clarksburg Council ousts member over conviction

 

Exponent Telegram photo Sam 'Zeke' Lopez
Exponent Telegram photo
Sam ‘Zeke’ Lopez

By Jim Davis

The Exponent Telegram

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Clarksburg City Council voted 6-0 Thursday night to oust Zeke Lopez, despite the embattled councilman’s claims the move was unconstitutional and the first volley at getting rid of City Manager Martin Howe.

By its vote, City Council determined during the special meeting that Lopez’s conviction of misdemeanor domestic assault of his wife was a crime of moral turpitude, requiring that his office be vacated immediately.

“Tonight’s vote is our final action, and together we will deal with the consequences of those actions,” Mayor Cathy Goings told a crowd that spilled from council chambers into the hallway at City Hall.

The consequences will be a civil action that Lopez plans to file against council, The Exponent Telegram has learned.

The suit, which could be filed as early as today, would seek a judgment declaring the moral turpitude clause in the City Charter is unconstitutional and council exceeded its authority in challenging the qualifications of a fellow member.

Lopez, who was convicted last month, said as much in comments that Goings permitted him to make before recusing himself from the vote.

The state Constitution stipulates only that citizens seeking public office be entitled to vote, and Section 5 of the City Charter is unconstitutional in that it seeks to place an additional qualification for serving on council, Lopez said.

Furthermore, Section 7 of the City Charter grants council certain powers, but determining the qualifications of fellow council members is not one of them, the councilman added.

Lopez further alleged that council had an ulterior motive in removing him.

“It’s not about my wife. It’s not about me. It’s about getting rid of the city manager,” Lopez said.

In prepared comments, Goings said council has struggled the past seven months to conduct city business while under a cloud of uncertainty regarding Lopez.

“We have exhausted every avenue presented to us,” Goings said. “Not only has it been emotional for the Lopez family, but it has taken its toll on this council as well.

“Our last and final option was to unite together as a council to restore credibility and integrity to our city,” the mayor added. “The future of this city is our most relevant concern.”

The mood of the crowd was mixed, with half the audience giving Lopez a standing ovation when he left the meeting and half applauding Goings after she finished her statement…

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