Parkersburg City Councilman Eric Barber leaves Democratic party
Cites ‘anti-Christian rhetoric’ of county party chairman
PARKERSBURG — City Councilman Eric Barber recently changed his party affiliation from Democrat to none, citing what he called “anti-Christian rhetoric” coming from the party’s Wood County Executive Committee chairman.
“I left the party because of (Chairman) Daryl Cobranchi’s anti-Christian rhetoric, and I can’t be a part of that platform,” Barber said after Tuesday’s city council meeting, during which he expressed frustration over “liberal activism and agitation” related to a recently rejected nondiscrimination ordinance.
Cobranchi responded Thursday by saying his words at recent council meetings and elsewhere were meant to promote the First Amendment and the separation of church and state.
“I don’t know what anti-Christian rhetoric he was referring to,” Cobranchi said.
According to Wood County Clerk’s Office records, Barber made the switch to unaffiliated on Sept. 18. The first-term councilman was elected last year as a Democrat, but has been at odds with Cobranchi and others over the non-discrimination ordinance, which Barber co-sponsored but ultimately voted against.
“It’s not that I’m rejecting the Democratic Party,” Barber said Thursday. “I’m just rejecting the current platform and messages being promoted.”
Cobranchi has protested the rejection of the ordinance and has spoken in favor of it at council meetings.
The ordinance — which would have prohibited discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on gender identity, sexual orientation, genetic information and veteran status, areas not covered by West Virginia’s Human Rights Act — was voted down 6-3 on Aug. 8. Two weeks later, Cobranchi said religious beliefs are not reasons to vote against the ordinance.
“The opponents cited their religious beliefs,” he said. “Why did you as a body seem so beholden to a particular interpretation of a few verses in Leviticus?
“For far too long, this council has acted as if the only people whose opinions matter are conservative Christians,” Cobranchi said.
He also told council members it was inappropriate to open their meetings with the Lord’s prayer.
On Thursday, Cobranchi said he was the one who notified the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation about the practice, leading to a 2015 letter from the group asking the city to stop.
In response, council moved the prayer to before the meeting comes to order and stopped having it led by a specific council member and asking people to join them. A subsequent letter from the group said that wasn’t enough.
Barber said Cobranchi’s complaints about the prayer and talk of a lawsuit over it also troubled him.
Cobranchi said Thursday he expects the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia to file suit over the recitation of the prayer, following a ruling this summer from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes West Virginia, about a North Carolina county commission opening its meetings with a Christian prayer.
“They will sue, and they will win, and when that happens, the city will pay damages,” Cobranchi said, adding he does not want his tax dollars to be used defending an unconstitutional practice.
A message to the ACLU of West Virginia was not returned Thursday afternoon. Patrick Elliott, a staff attorney with the Freedom from Religion Foundation, said the organization was reviewing the Parkersburg situation in light of the appellate court’s ruling.
Cobranchi said his involvement with both the FFRF and the ACLU are unrelated to his work with the county Democratic Executive Committee.