PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — The committee chairwoman, a former mayor and a former reporter were nominated by members of the Wood County Democratic Executive Committee Thursday to be the mayor of Parkersburg for the next year-and-a-half.
Jane Burdette, Jimmy Colombo and Jody Murphy were chosen from among eight applicants seeking to fill the unexpired term of Mayor Bob Newell, who retired last week on the eve of a hearing before a three-judge panel to determine whether he could remain in office over allegations of misuse of public funds related to a reported affair with Finance Director Ashley Flowers.
The 20 committee members and two proxies were asked to pick three names on their ballots. Sixteen of them checked Burdette, who abstained from voting. Half selected Colombo, who served as mayor from 1998 to 2005, and Murphy, a former Parkersburg News and Sentinel city hall reporter who now serves as executive director of the Pleasants County Chamber of Commerce and Development Authority but still lives in the city.
They edged out former county party chairman James Ball, who also served on City Council, and Paul Miller, a West Virginia University at Parkersburg instructor and former House of Delegates candidate, who each received 10 votes.
Acting Mayor Joe Santer received six votes, while former Parkersburg Police Chief Gerald Board, who lost the 2012 Democratic primary to Newell by 99 votes, got two. Former Councilwoman Sherry Dugan, who owns Das Rookhaus, did not receive any.
Burdette said she was surprised to be on the final list emerging from such a distinguished group.
“There were some excellent candidates, and if you listened to what they had to say tonight, they’re bringing a wealth of knowledge, a wealth of experience,” she said.
Each candidate was given three minutes to make introductory remarks. After all eight had spoken, they were given two minutes to answer questions from the committee, with the exception of Ball, who was working out of state and recorded his remarks in advance.
Speaking to the committee, Burdette cited her professional experience as a grant writer and consultant for nonprofits and volunteer activities with various organizations.
“I’ve overseen budgets from one dollar to $68 million. I’ve overseen staff from as small as two to over 400,” she said.
As mayor, Burdette said she would find out what is going on with the city’s finances and work to increase transparency.
“There’s a lot of individuals that don’t feel that we’ve been really honest, and we have to work very hard to make them believe that everything we’re saying and doing is for the best of the citizens,” she said.
Burdette was the only one of the three candidates selected who did not rule out a potential run for mayor in 2016. While she said she has “no intention at this point,” if appointed, she said she would consider running based on her experience over the next few months.
Colombo, who owns Jimmie Colombo’s Italian Restaurant, said he didn’t want anyone thinking he was applying for the vacancy as a stepping stone for a run in 2016 and he had no plans to do so. He said he felt his experience and energy could benefit the city.
“Statewide, we have become sort of a joke, our city has,” Colombo said. “The quality of our people, we are much better than that.”
“I know all the department heads. I know everybody in every room,” he said. “They know that I want a great city, and I want them to be a part of making this a great city.”
Colombo said he would investigate the facts and consider whether Flowers, who is on paid leave following her arrest in February on felony child endangerment charges, should be terminated and replaced. He said he also favors an audit of city finances, as some council members and citizens have requested.
Colombo said he was happy and excited to be selected. He confessed to having some butterflies in his stomach before addressing the committee.
Murphy emphatically said that even if appointed he would not run for mayor, or any other office, in 2016 or beyond.
“I’m a different choice. I’m not a politician,” he said. “But I have the temperament, the knowledge, the know-how, the innovation to deliver stability, stimulate growth and create excitement.”
Murphy said he got to know about the inner workings of the city while covering it for the News and Sentinel for several years, and city employees, administrators and council members got to know him.
Murphy said he thinks he would have the support of at least seven members of council. A two-thirds majority of the members present – six if eight or all nine are at the meeting – is required to appoint the new mayor.
After the names were announced, Murphy, whose boisterous speech drew laughs and apparently interest from the committee members, was briefly at a loss for words.
“I’m stunned. Honestly, I’m stunned,” he said. “I’m really excited that I get to further share my platforms and ideas with City Council.”
The city charter calls for the nominees to be selected by the municipal executive committee of the party to which the mayor belonged. Since that group has not been active for years, state and local party officials determined the responsibility fell to the county committee. Just nine of the voting members were residents of the city, which some citizens have questioned.
Committee Vice Chairwoman Karen Campbell, a Vienna resident, said she was pleased with the slate the committee submitted.
“I find it very interesting that the three candidates are a variety … of candidates for City Council to consider,” she said. “They weren’t mirror images of each other.”
Committee member Rick Freed, a city resident, said he appreciated the aggressiveness the candidates showed.
“I’m happy with it,” he said of the nominations. “We just need to move forward, get what was done in the past” behind us.
A date has not been set for council to vote on a new mayor. Council President J.R. Carpenter has said he would like to call a special meeting before the next regularly scheduled session on June 23.