PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Embattled city Finance Director Ashley Flowers released a public statement Wednesday saying she had an affair with Mayor Bob Newell.
“It has affected many people, including my family, the City and Council members and for that, I am truly sorry,” she said in the emailed statement.
During a Wednesday evening meeting in which City Council voted not to hire an outside attorney for a possible investigation or other action against him, Newell apologized for the embarrassment caused by the situation but did not admit to having an affair.
“I certainly have no problem taking responsibility for my actions,” he said. “I certainly have no problem apologizing to the entire community.”
A complaint was filed with the West Virginia Ethics Commission against Newell alleging misuse of municipal money, time and property as a result of the alleged affair with Flowers, based on electronic files distributed by thumb drive to various officials and individuals in the area.
The origin of the drives and whether their contents and an apparent recorded conversation between Newell and Flowers posted online reveal any violations of law, are the subjects of a West Virginia State Police investigation.
In addition, five employees of the Finance Department filed suit against the city claiming sexual harassment and a hostile work environment over conversations, photos and videos related to the alleged affair.
Flowers’ emailed statement began with an apology: “I want to sincerely apologize for my decision to have an affair with Bob Newell.”
Flowers is on paid leave following her arrest last week on child endangerment charges after she allegedly left her 22-month-old daughters in an unattended, unlocked car outside Grand Central Mall. She was released on a $100,000 bond.
“I want to put this behind me and concentrate on my beautiful twin girls first and foremost, and second on my job and career by continuing to work hard for the taxpayers,” her statement concluded.
Newell did not have much to say about Flowers’ words.
“I’m sure what she is doing she feels is in the best interest of her children, but I’m not going to comment or acknowledge that statement,” he said.
Newell has said he is limited in what he can say about the allegations because of the ongoing investigations.
At the special council meeting, Newell described some of the comments directed against him at last week’s council meeting as “pretty hurtful,” but he said he holds no ill will against the people who spoke against him “in good conscience.”
“Your concerns about that are recognized by me in a positive light,” he said.
The mayor said he believes the investigative process will reveal that city business was conducted properly at all times.
After speaking, Newell said he would leave the meeting so there would be no appearance he was trying to influence council as it decided whether to hire an outside attorney. He appointed City Attorney Joe Santer to act in his stead for the rest of the meeting.
Santer’s status as legal counsel for both council and the mayor is what led to the resolution in the first place. If council did want to take some sort of action against the mayor, he would have a conflict of interest.
Councilwoman Sharon Lynch made a motion to go into executive session to discuss the matter, citing the exemption for personnel issues under the state’s open meetings act.
Councilwoman Kim Coram said she did not expect anything to be discussed except whether to authorize funds for an outside attorney.
“I don’t believe this is a personnel issue,” she said.
But Lynch said she didn’t see how the discussion could be separated from personnel matters regarding the mayor.
“When you make the decision to hire an attorney, there’s usually a reason,” she said.
Ultimately, council voted unanimously to go into the closed session and met in the small conference room adjacent to council chambers for about 45 minutes.
When they returned, they voted 6-3 against authorizing the funds to hire an attorney. Only Coram, Council President J.R. Carpenter and Councilman Roger Brown voted for it.
Councilman Aaron Read sponsored the resolution along with Brown and Carpenter but ultimately voted against it.
“I feel that Mr. Santer is able to explain himself as (to) what he can and cannot do as far as legal counsel,” he said. “I feel that at this point in time there would not be” a conflict of interest.
Councilman John Rockhold described hiring an attorney now as “Premature. Ineffective. Expensive.”
But he added that that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t support bringing in outside counsel as more information comes to light.
“That day and time is not here now,” Rockhold said.
Coram said she disagreed with the council members who voted against the resolution but understood their reasoning.
“I just feel like it’s a proactive measure,” she said of retaining an attorney. “It doesn’t say that we feel anybody’s innocent or guilty.
“To me, it’s better to have mechanisms in place,” Coram said.