Budget talk with ex-finance director questioned

Craig convicted of embezzling from city in 2010

PARKERSBURG — Some city officials are questioning the presence of a former finance director convicted of embezzling municipal funds at an informal gathering of some council members to discuss the budget process.

Parkersburg City Council President J.R. Carpenter confirmed Monday that he and first-year Councilmen Dave McCrady and Eric Barber met over the weekend at former Councilwoman Sherry Dugan’s home to talk about the budget in general. Also there was former Finance Director Randy Craig, who was terminated and arrested in 2009. He pleaded guilty the following year to embezzlement and was ordered to pay $25,709.66 in restitution.

“He was a wealth of information on how to assimilate the different funds,” Carpenter said of Craig in regard to the Saturday gathering. “It was a relaxed atmosphere where they could ask questions.”

Craig worked in the Finance Department for about 25 years.

“He doesn’t have any authority” over the current budget, Carpenter said. “But he does have the knowledge.”

Carpenter said he has been trying to help first-time council members prepare for their first budget hearings, which are now in progress, and questions about Craig’s conviction for embezzling from the city are not “pertinent.”

“What he’s done in the past is really irrelevant,” he said.

Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce, who was a member of council when Craig’s tenure came to an end, said he has no issue with council members conferring within the confines of state open meetings law, but questions the choice of adviser.

“Randy Craig would not be the guy I would want to get budgetary advice from,” Joyce said. “In my humble opinion, he violated the public trust, moreso than anyone I’m aware of in recent memory.”

McCrady said he’s been to two sessions organized by Carpenter to learn about the budget process, which he appreciated. In neither case was a quorum of council members present and no decisions were made, he said.

But McCrady said Monday he did not realize Craig was going to be at the weekend session.

“If I’d have been told that that was what was going on, I’d’ve never been there,” he said.

Barber said he is new to city government and did not realize who Craig was at first.

“I wouldn’t have agreed to that meeting,” he said. “That’s not really someone you want to solicit advice from.”

Craig said the Saturday gathering wasn’t the only time he’s been asked for advice by an elected official or municipal employee since he stopped working for the city.

“This isn’t the first time and I hope it’s not the last time,” he said.

Craig said as an American he’s free to talk to whoever he wants and if people have the confidence in him to ask for his help, he’s willing to give it when he can.

“If people have got a problem with it, that’s their issue,” he said. “If this is a big issue to some people, I would tell them right now, give me a call.”

Asked if he understood why some people might be concerned given his conviction for embezzling city funds, Craig said, “the past is in the past.”

“There’s two people that know the whole truth: myself and the good Lord,” he said. “I learned a hard lesson in the past. I made my life better. … I’ve moved on. I’ve learned.”

Councilwoman Sharon Kuhl and Councilman John Reed said they were not invited to the weekend session but heard about it after the fact.

“I had major concerns when I found out who all attended the meeting,” Kuhl said.

“After what he’s been through, I don’t know that I would rely on him,” Reed said of Craig.

Dugan described the meeting at her home as “a tutorial. It was a learning experience.”

After running for mayor against Joyce, Dugan has continued to attend council and committee meetings and the budget hearings.

“That’s the best way to stay informed,” she said, acknowledging that she’s considering another run in 2020.

McCrady said he does not want the meeting to cast a bad light on council.

“We’ve got a good bunch of people working together. We’ve got a great council,” he said.