Modesitt: Few willing to take post

PARKERSBURG – An officer with the local Fraternal Order of Police Lodge said some people approached about filling a vacancy on the city Civil Service Commission were reluctant to do so because of recent controversy.

“I don’t think anybody is particularly (enthusiastic) about going to serve on a commission, on a volunteer basis, not getting paid, and just getting smeared every time something comes up that the mayor doesn’t like,” said Rick Modesitt, a former Parkersburg Police chief and secretary for Fraternal Order of Police Blennerhassett Lodge 79, which represents the city’s police officers.

Mayor Bob Newell disputed both Modesitt’s assertion that he was attempting to smear previous commissioners and his statement about having multiple candidates turn down the appointment.

“I would say that he is being untruthful,” the mayor said. “Everybody knows he’s been a polarizing political figure ever since I won the election against him (in 2004).”

The lodge announced last week the appointment of former City Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Sharyn Tallman to a seat on the three-member board, which hears grievances and certifies test results required for new hires and promotions within the police department.

One commissioner each is appointed by the city, the lodge and the Chamber of Commerce of the Mid-Ohio Valley. The lodge’s seat has been vacant since November when Newell filed a petition to remove its chosen representative, Joe Gonzales, in Wood County Circuit Court.

In a letter seeking the resignations of Gonzales and fellow commissioner Robert Campbell, Newell’s appointee, the mayor called the commission “grossly dysfunctional” and accused members of “multiple intentional and dishonest acts” which cost the city more than a quarter of a million dollars in legal fees.

Gonzales’ attorney filed a response in Wood County Circuit Court denying all wrongdoing.

Among the disputed issues were the commission’s refusal to sign off on the results of a 2011 sergeants’ exam, preventing promotions within the department, and the delay of subsequent tests, as well as the commission’s reversal of the termination of an officer whose firing was eventually upheld in circuit court.

Campbell stepped down in November, saying in his resignation letter that he was doing so “because of the hostile environment you (Newell) have created over the last several months” and accusing the mayor of writing “derogatory, defamatory, unprofessional, demeaning and threatening letters to the commission in an effort to get your wishes.”

Newell on Monday denied he had engaged in a smear campaign against anyone.

“We negotiated back and forth with that commission for nearly two years,” he said. “The fact of the matter is, I really waited too long.”

The mayor also noted the city’s Municipal Pension Board voted to join the city in a writ to compel the commission to give a patrolman’s test, and a group of officers represented by a private attorney intervened in the promotions matter.

Modesitt said Tallman was selected unanimously by the members present at the lodge’s regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday. He declined to reveal specifics about the vote.

“It is a fraternal organization. I’m not authorized to say anything,” Modesitt said.

When asked about the climate surrounding the commission, Tallman said she’s not looking at the job politically.

“This is politics aside,” said Tallman, who served on council for 12 years and ran against Newell for mayor in 2012.

Tallman said she appreciated the confidence the lodge had in her.

“I look forward to the position,” she said.

Modesitt said other candidates were considered, but of the four or five people the lodge reached out to, only Tallman was willing to serve.

“I don’t think most citizens relish the thought of being smeared in the media every time something like this comes up,” Modesitt said.

Newell said he did not have trouble finding a replacement for Campbell and noted the chamber moved quickly to appoint someone when its representative, who was not accused of wrongdoing, resigned around the same time.

“The chamber had no problem filling that spot, nor did we,” he said.

Newell appointed attorney George Zivkovich, while the chamber selected former City Councilman Tom Joyce.