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Incoming Parkersburg mayor says relationships key

Parkersburg News and Sentinel photo by Evan Bevins Newly appointed Parkersburg Mayor Jimmy Colombo poses for a photograph in his family’s business, Jimmie Colombo’s Italian Restaurant, on Friday, the morning after he was selected to fill the unexpired term of retired Mayor Bob Newell in a 7-1 vote by Parkersburg City Council. Colombo previously served as mayor from 1998-2005.
Parkersburg News and Sentinel photo by Evan Bevins
Newly appointed Parkersburg Mayor Jimmy Colombo poses for a photograph in his family’s business, Jimmie Colombo’s Italian Restaurant, on Friday, the morning after he was selected to fill the unexpired term of retired Mayor Bob Newell in a 7-1 vote by Parkersburg City Council. Colombo previously served as mayor from 1998-2005.

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Toward the end of an interview Friday morning at his family’s Jimmie Colombo’s Italian Restaurant, newly appointed Mayor Jimmy Colombo stopped to take a call on his cell phone.

“Joe Manchin,” Colombo said with a smile. “What you doing, guy?”

The U.S. senator, who appointed Colombo to West Virginia’s parole board five years ago when he was governor, was calling to offer his congratulations on Colombo being named Parkersburg’s mayor in a 7-1 vote by Parkersburg City Council on Thursday.

 

He was one of three candidates nominated by the Wood County Democratic Executive Committee, along with committee Chairwoman Jane Burdette and Jody Murphy, executive director of the Pleasants Area Chamber of Commerce and PLeasants County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“You don’t worry,” Colombo said to Manchin. “I have your number. If I need anything, I will call you.”

Colombo may have a good relationship with Manchin, but he said it’s his relationship with City Council and the public that will be key over the next 18 months, as he completes the unexpired term of retired Mayor Bob Newell.

 

Newell retired June 3, the day before the start of a hearing by a three-judge panel to determine whether he could remain in office. He was accused of having an affair with Finance Director Ashley Flowers and misusing public funds. He neither confirmed or denied the former and strongly denied the latter.

Colombo served as Parkersburg’s mayor from 1998-2005. He opted not to run for a third term and was succeeded by Newell, who served as police chief for four years under Colombo.

Asked whether he ever expected to be occupying the mayor’s office again, Colombo said, “Not really.”

“This is really a golden opportunity for me because I really loved being mayor, I thought I was effective, but didn’t know what a four-year commitment would be,” he said.

Colombo said he has no intention of running for a full term in next year’s election. He doesn’t see himself as a “lame duck” either, saying he worked right up to the final day of his last term.

Regaining public trust by tackling problems and showing he can make a difference will be important, Colombo said.

During his five years on the parole board, Colombo said, he’s refined some of his skills, which he thinks could help him work with council in a “topsy-turvy” time.

“It gives me a better understanding to both sides of the conversation,” he said.

Though he knows many of them, Colombo has worked with just two of the current nine council members – Mike Reynolds and John Rockhold. Although he’s familiar with the city from his previous tenure as mayor, he said he’s coming in with a clean slate.

“I’m approaching it as I don’t have a rearview mirror on,” Colombo said. “I will try to treat each of them as fair as I can and I will try to keep them in every loop I can.

“It’s more than talk. You have to communicate with each other,” he said.

One of Colombo’s first tasks will be deciding how to deal with Flowers, who has been on paid leave since her February arrest on charges of child endangerment. Some council members and then-acting Mayor Joe Santer have said she should be dismissed due to financial posting errors and inappropriate actions related to the alleged affair, including a lawsuit filed by five of her subordinates claiming sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, that was settled for $90,000. Flowers’ attorney has filed a claim against the city, saying Flowers faced retaliation and threat of the loss of her job for admitting to the affair with Newell.

The Municipal Building was closed Friday in honor of West Virginia Day. Colombo said one of the first things he’ll do this week is review the facts of the matter and determine what course of action to take.

Beyond that, Colombo said he doesn’t anticipate any changes in administrative positions.

“I think change can be detrimental, as long as people are doing a good job,” he said.

Colombo appointed Santer as city attorney in 1998, and he said he’s familiar with most of the other department heads. Development Director Rickie Yeager is the exception, but “I know he’s good.”

Being mayor again really won’t affect Colombo’s presence at the family restaurant, he said, noting his son Michael handles day-to-day operations. He’ll still be there frequently though.

“I come in and shake hands,” he said. “I probably will still do that. I think being visible helps.”

In addition to being at the restaurant and visible in the city, Colombo wants to try having “office hours” on the second floor of the city building, so residents can feel more welcome to stop in and talk with him about their concerns.

“Can’t fix some of them. Some of them you can,” he said. “But I can listen pretty good.”

Although he hasn’t been in office for a decade, Colombo said he’s kept up with important issues, like the city’s participation in West Virginia’s expanded home rule program, including a 1 percent municipal sales tax set to go into effect July 1. But he acknowledged there are differences between following a topic from the outside and being directly involved as mayor.

City funds spent on the Point Park Marketplace, whose ownership was transferred from the city to its Municipal Building Commission last year, have come under scrutiny by some council members and residents in recent months. The commission, which has no staff or budget of its own, has not officially met since the transaction.

Colombo said he supports the marketplace and Downtown Farmers’ Market but wants more specific information on plans for it.

“This city, this council deserve to have a business plan and a budget” for the marketplace, he said.

Colombo said he’ll return to the city building Monday with a scheduled prayer group, then address as many employees as he can in council chambers.

“I really want to talk to them about why I wanted to be mayor,” he said. “I just want to tell them I appreciate them.”

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