Two Parkersburg city councilmen seek other offices

PARKERSBURG – Parkersburg City Council seats won’t be on the ballot until 2016, but this year’s election could nevertheless alter the city’s legislative body.

Councilman Roger Brown, a Republican representing the 3rd District, is running for Wood County commissioner while Councilman John Kelly, a Republican in the 7th District, is seeking a West Virginia House of Delegates seat in the 10th District. If both men win, there would be two vacancies on the nine-member council.

Revised in 2008, the city charter says a vacancy is to be filled by the mayor appointing one of three candidates submitted by the municipal executive committee of the party of which the councilman was a member.

The last time a council member left in the midst of his or her term was in 2004, when Councilwoman Betty Mather resigned. Because of the amount of time remaining in her term, a special election was held under previous rules, and current Councilman Mike Reynolds was elected by residents of the 6th District to complete the term.

The discussion of how Brown and Kelly would be replaced is academic until and unless one or both are elected to a new office. First, they have to make it out of the primary.

Kelly is one of seven candidates in the Republican primary for one of three 10th District House seats. Also running are Courtney Lynne Ahlborn, Mike Azinger, Vernon Criss, Frank Deem, Amanda “Amy” Knicely and Debra L. Steed.

“It’s going to be an exciting race,” Kelly said. “But four of those people aren’t going to be there for the general election.”

Brown is one of four Republicans running for the commission seat currently held by Democrat Wayne Dunn, who is unopposed in his primary. The other GOP hopefuls are Sam Baker, Raymond Jones and Bob Tebay.

Brown and Kelly said they considered runs for the offices they’re seeking before they ran for City Council in 2012.

“I looked into it two years ago, and I was in the wrong district,” said Brown, a union electrician.

Although commission members are elected countywide, each one represents a specific district. Brown’ wife suggested he give council a try to see how he liked government. He said he originally thought his district, whose seat is occupied by Commissioner Steve Gainer, would be on the ballot in 2016, the last year of his council term, but learned it was this year instead.

As a commissioner, Brown said he would like to work on legislative matters and ways to bring industry to the area.

He said he hopes the people who supported his council candidacy will back him in the commission race as well.

“Hopefully they’re the same ones that are going to put me in the county commission,” Brown said. “I’ll still be working not only for Parkersburg but for Wood County.”

Kelly said he’s wanted to run for the House for a while but felt like he couldn’t take the time to do so when he was working. After he retired from DuPont, he said, he didn’t want to knock out some of the current office-holders.

But with Delegates Tom Azinger and John Ellem choosing not to seek re-election, Kelly felt the time was right.

“There’s never going to be a better time for me to jump into it,” he said.

Kelly said one reason he wants to go to Charleston is to capitalize on the opportunities before the state with the growing interest in oil and natural gas drilling in deep-underground shale formations. That includes the potential ethane cracker plant Brazil-based Odebrecht hopes to build in Wood County.

“We’ve got an opportunity to bring some jobs back here, and it’s going to be an exciting time in West Virginia,” he said. “We can’t continue as business as usual.”

Whatever the outcome of the House race, Kelly said he won’t shirk his duties as a councilman.

“By no means am I going to let the people of this district or the people of this city down,” he said.

If elected, Kelly said, he would make a recommendation on who should replace him. He’s not concerned over the idea of Mayor Bob Newell, a Democrat, appointing his successor. Partisan politics are a bigger deal at higher levels of government, he said.

“In city government, you don’t always even remember which parties people serve from,” Kelly said.