Wood County GOP committee ousts its chairman

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — The Wood County Republican Party Executive Committee removed Rob Cornelius as chairman on Thursday evening.

Cornelius, who was not present at the meeting attended by approximately 40 people, faced one charge of “conduct tending to injure the good name of this (Republican) organization.” That charge had six specifications.

* Specification 1 said Cornelius threatened a process server with a baseball bat on May 19.

* Specification 2 said Cornelius was disorderly, made “cat calls” and laughed aloud during a June 3 press conference in the Parkersburg Municipal Building while then-Mayor Bob Newell was speaking.

* Specification 3 said Cornelius was threatening and disrespectful by yelling across the room to Becky Deem, “I’m the Republican Chairman and you’ll never be in the House of Delegates,” during the June 3 press conference.

* Specification 4 said on June 3, Cornelius shouted at Sarah Townsend in a crowded area “are you sleeping with the mayor?”

* Specification 5 cited a June 15 interview with The Parkersburg News and Sentinel in which Cornelius stated party Vice-Chairman Roger Conley was lying about having enough petition signatures to call a special meeting.

* Specification 6 said Cornelius was disrespectful on June 15 on social media and in emails, accusing Deem of assault, a charge which the Wood County Sheriff’s Office declined to pursue.

The meeting began with a motion to suspend all of Cornelius’ elected duties, then broke for a short recess while three members of an investigating committee discussed the validity of the charges. Members of the committee were Rocky Peck, Barbara Fish and Lewis Rexroad, as voted on by the executive committee members present, Conley said.

Conley entered a statement of not guilty on Cornelius’ behalf before the investigating committee began its work. The investigating committee returned from recess at 7:50 p.m., announcing there was enough merit to go forward with the charges.

Only members of the executive committee voted on the charge and the six specifications. All six of the specifications passed with a vote of guilty, although not all were unanimous votes.

Of the six specifications, the specification on June 3 concerning Cornelius shouting at Deem, the specification on June 15 about enough signatures for the meeting to take place and the specification on June 15 of Cornelius spreading disrespectful speech on social media and in emails passed with a unanimous vote of guilty.

All but three members of the executive committee voted to remove Cornelius, Conley said.

The executive committee will vote on a new chairman at its next regular meeting on June 21, Conley said.

The West Virginia Republican Party is intervening, allowed under Article 16 of its bylaws, state Chairman Conrad Lucas said Thursday night. The state party will review the situation, during which it will continue to recognize Cornelius as chairman, he said.

The party issued a statement after the local executive committee meeting that was attributed to Lucas and Melody Potter and Kris Warner, state party national committee members.

“Tonight, several Republicans in Wood County met to take steps regarding their leadership. At the request of many Wood County citizens, the West Virginia Republican Party will exercise its jurisdiction to review those steps,” the statement said. “At this time, the State Party continues to recognize the leadership of the Wood County GOP as it was during the historic 2014 election. Now comes a time for Wood County to take a breath and begin to move forward and focus on the 2016 election.”

Conley said he was surprised by the statement from the West Virginia GOP, but had no other comment.

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