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Embattled Wood County GOP chairman retains seat

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Rob Cornelius remains chairman of the Wood County Republican Executive Committee after a unanimous vote by an arbitration board for the state party.

According to a copy of the board’s decision provided by Parkersburg Mayor Jimmy Colombo, the board ruled that a June 18 special meeting in which fellow committee members voted to remove Cornelius from the chairmanship over recent behavior was invalid.

During Tuesday’s Parkersburg City Council meeting, City Attorney Joe Santer announced he’d been notified of the decision by West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas that afternoon. City officials had been monitoring the situation because the committee is involved in nominating candidates for council’s 7th District seat, and two factions within the committee claimed they would handle it.

The decision comes after a nearly 11-hour hearing Saturday in Charleston. According to the memo, Cornelius made a motion at the end of the hearing for a directed verdict saying the other committee members failed to establish the validity of the meeting. The motion was granted by a 5-0 vote.

“I thank the panel for their work, and I look forward to serving the Wood County Republican Executive Committee without further distraction,” Cornelius said in an emailed statement Tuesday evening.

The memo did not elaborate on why the board determined the meeting was invalid. However, Lucas said Tuesday evening a memorandum opinion elaborating on the decision would be sent to local committee members, likely this week.

Roger Conley, a vice chairman of the Wood County committee, said he and other committee members who supported Cornelius’ ouster will wait until reviewing that decision to determine their next step.

“We will look at it, talk about it and decide where we go from here,” he said.

Conley said he and other members were disappointed.

“We’d hoped for a different outcome, but that didn’t happen,” he said.

Conley attended Saturday’s hearing along with Wood County executive committee members Barbara Fish, Greg Smith and Lewis Rexroad and their legal counsel, according to the decision. Cornelius represented himself.

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel has requested a transcript of the hearing.

The June 18 meeting was called in response to actions by Cornelius, including remarks he allegedly made to two fellow Republicans outside a press conference in which Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell announced his retirement and Cornelius wielding a baseball bat when a process server attempted to deliver a subpoena to his home.

Cornelius claimed the meeting was improperly called and did not attend. It was later revealed that in the week prior to the hearing, he appointed 15 people to vacancies on the committee, which put in doubt whether the 13 people who attended the June 18 meeting constituted a quorum. Conley has said the other committee members didn’t learn of the appointments until after the meeting.

Another issue was whether it was proper that a vote on Cornelius’ removal was taken at the same meeting in which the specifications against him were announced.

“Obviously we’re disappointed” with the decision, Conley said. “We’d hoped for a different outcome, but that didn’t happen.”

Conley noted the decision appeared to be based solely on procedure.

“It was not an endorsement by the West Virginia GOP of the chairman’s conduct,” he said.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, City Council voted 7-0 to declare the District 7 seat vacant. Councilman Aaron Read, a Republican, announced his resignation July 6, citing an upcoming military deployment.

Parkersburg’s charter tasks the municipal executive committee of the party to which a departing council member belongs with nominating three potential replacements. The mayor is then to appoint one to the seat.

However, neither Democrats nor Republicans have active Parkersburg executive committee, so the county committees step in. Cornelius began accepting applications after Read’s announcement. Since only three people applied, he did not convene a meeting of the members of the committee who live within the city.

Conley had said he and other committee members would accept applications and make nominations.

The resolution for the vacancy was on the agenda for council’s July 14 meeting, but Santer advised council to table it while the chairmanship issue was resolved.

Colombo said Tuesday that he had received the nominations from Cornelius and would proceed with scheduling interviews with those individuals. The nominees are Warren Bigley, a 30-year-old loan collections employee for United Bank; Theresa Cross, a 49-year-old technology coordinator for Wirt County Schools; and Robert Noland, a 35-year-old owner of an independent sales firm.

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