PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Members of the Wood County Republican Executive Committee approved a resolution this week apologizing for actions by Chairman Rob Cornelius, who left the meeting before the vote was taken.
The group also voted during its regular meeting Tuesday to revise its bylaws related to the removal of officers and appointed five people to an investigative committee tasked with reviewing evidence of Cornelius’ conduct ahead of a potential vote to remove him as chairman.
Cornelius said he left Tuesday’s meeting, held at the Judge Black Courthouse Annex, due to the disruptive behavior exhibited by some members.
“Frankly, none of these actions matter because I, the legally recognized chairman of this executive committee, had adjourned the meeting, owing to the riot conditions that occurred at the hand of the disaffected minority of committee members who are determined to cause trouble for me, personally, and our party,” he said in an emailed statement Thursday.
Bob Fish, a former executive committee member who belongs to the National Association of Parliamentarians, attended Tuesday’s meeting.
“To say the meeting was raucous is probably an understatement,” he said.
However, Fish said part of that was due to Cornelius’ “inappropriate” rulings of motions by some committee members as dilatory or out of order. And according to Robert’s Rules of Order, Fish said, the chairman does not have the authority to solely adjourn a meeting. He must ask if there are any objections or take a vote.
“If the chairman makes proclamations from the chair, he has to do them with the approval of the committee,” Fish said. “He attempted to adjourn the meeting just on his own say-so.”
Cornelius said in his statement that the entire meeting was disrupted and normal business could not be conducted.
Cornelius and a number of committee members have been publicly at odds since June. A majority of committee members present voted to remove him as chairman on June 18, but Cornelius contended the meeting was improperly called. Also questioned was whether it was proper to vote on his removal at the same meeting in which specifications against him were announced.
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.
An arbitration board convened by the state Republican Party voted to keep Cornelius as chairman following an 11-hour hearing on July 25 in Charleston.
The apology resolution cites five incidents from May to July, starting with Cornelius’ confrontation with private investigator Debbie Totten-Rectenwald at his residence on May 13. Totten-Rectenwald was attempting to serve Cornelius with a subpoena for the hearing before a three-judge panel to determine whether former Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell could remain in office due to allegations of an affair with then-Finance Director Ashley Flowers and misuse of city funds.
Cornelius has previously said he armed himself with a baseball bat he keeps by the door for defensive purposes because the woman, who he did not know, had opened his screen door and was reaching into his house, holding a piece of paper. Totten-Rectenwald said in May she only opened the screen door after Cornelius told her to give him the subpoena.
The resolution states the committee apologizes for Totten-Rectenwald being “inexcusably threatened with a baseball bat.”
Three of the other incidents stem from a June 3 press conference in which Newell announced his retirement on the eve of the hearing, which was initiated as a result of a petition Cornelius filed in Wood County Circuit Court.
Cornelius entered after the conference started and made multiple audible remarks as Newell spoke.
“In doing so, Mr. Cornelius failed to conform to the standard of civility and respect the citizens of Wood County should expect from members of the Wood County Republican Executive Committee who are in attendance at a public meeting,” the resolution says, before apologizing to the county’s citizens.
Cornelius said he found the reference to civility and respect ironic given the direction Tuesday’s meeting took.
“Screaming, yelling, baseless accusations and personal insults directed at me from these very same people were the order of the day, and our routine meeting was unable to even have minutes read, a treasurer’s report presented or the Pledge of Allegiance completed without disturbance,” he said.
After the June 3 press conference, Cornelius “made a vulgar and insulting comment … to a woman he did not know when she complained of his behavior,” the resolution says. The committee apologizes “with humility and shame,” it says.
Cornelius then allegedly made “abusive comments” to Becky Deem, the wife of state Delegate Frank Deem, R-Wood, when she tapped him on the shoulder and asked to speak with him, the resolution says. Cornelius filed a complaint with the Wood County Sheriff’s Department, saying Deem physically assaulted him. The department determined there was no criminal violation.
“The Wood County Republican Executive Committee repudiates Mr. Cornelius’ actions involving Mrs. Deem and apologizes to Mrs. Deem for Mr. Cornelius’ defamation and slander,” the resolution says, adding apologies to the sheriff and prosecutor’s offices for “Mr. Cornelius’ waste of public resources.”
The final incident was described as “lengthy, repetitive and sometimes hostile questioning” of Totten-Rectenwald, Deem, committee member Barbara Fish, Bob Fish’s wife, and “two other representatives of the Parkersburg community” at the July 25 arbitration hearing.
In his statement, Cornelius linked the attempts to oust him as chairman with his efforts to get Newell removed from office.
“All citizens who stand for open and honest government should mourn for those so willing to stand with the disgraced former Democrat Mayor of Parkersburg to destroy this Republican Party,” he said.
Lewis Rexroad, a vice chairman of the Wood County Republican Party, has previously said the action to remove Cornelius had nothing to do with Newell.