PARKERSBURG - A local man who assisted with the failed recall of city officials contends he was the subject of a politically motivated background check last year by police.
Joe Backus said he and Parkersburg Tea Party director Sandy Staats were the subject of background checks by city officials stemming from his ties to a recall effort of Mayor Bob Newell and members of Parkersburg City Council.
"They had no justification in doing what they did," Backus said.
Joe Backus said he and Parkersburg Tea Party director Sandy Staats were the subject of background checks by city officials stemming from his ties to a recall effort of Mayor Bob Newell and members of Parkersburg City Council. (File Photo)
Backus said he was alerted to the checks by a person who submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the city. Backus, who would not identify who that person was, said he sent his own FOIA on March 13 and received a reply from City Attorney Joe Santer the following day.
Santer confirmed a background check was conducted.
"The request was made due to concerns arising out of the reported intense and strong animosity bordering on hatred then exhibited by certain individuals associated with the Parkersburg Tea Party and which was aimed at some of the city officials and the fear this could boil over and become a safety issue for those working in the City Building or attending city council meetings," Santer wrote.
Santer stated the background report was obtained by police Chief Joe Martin and was shown to Newell. It was "not utilized or disseminated in any other fashion or with any other person," Santer stated in the letter.
"There was not then, nor has there been since then any active investigation concerning you." Santer said.
Backus has been a longtime critic of Newell and has been outspoken against the city user fee. He also is running for city council District 5 as a Republican.
Backus said he is not and never has been a member of the tea party, but assisted the group in its recall effort by going to door-to-door to solicit signatures. Backus also said he filed a civil rights complaint and has retained attorney Bill Merriman. He said the West Virginia State Police indicated it would investigate the complaint.
It's obvious city officials were attempting to dig up dirt on both him and Staats, Backus said.
"I wholeheartedly believe they were going to use it to try to discredit us, especially if the recall would have progressed," Backus said. "They have no justification for running those checks. I was not under investigation for anything past or present."
Newell said they had justification. City officials were warned of potential threats based on Parkersburg Tea Party meetings by residents and city employees who attended, Newell said.
"We absolutely have a right to check for a history of violence," he said.
Backus said there were no such threats at any tea party meetings he attended.
"I don't know what it would be. We hadn't done anything to bring that on," he said. "There were no threats, nothing criminal done or implied."
Backus said no one was as involved in the recall effort as he and Staats.
"None of the others were doing what we were doing, or as vocal," he said. "We were the heart of the recall movement. I started the recall movement."
The efforts to recall the mayor and several members of city council failed, but prior to initiating it Staats said their intention was to "intimidate" council members to influence their vote.
Newell is no stranger to threats. As a police officer, he said his house and police car were shot at in a 1985 incident. In 1980, officers recovered a bomb that was intended for Newell's house, he said.
As mayor, he's twice been sent photos of his house from anonymous senders.
Newell noted the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, occurred about a week prior to when the background checks were conducted in January 2011.
"It wasn't just that she was shot, she had been targeted by the tea party," Newell said. "Obviously, the shooting wasn't connected to the tea party, but no one knew that at the time."
The Parkersburg Tea Party also was caught in a flap last fall when Staats created a satirical photo of Newell, depicting him as a Nazi.
Staats did not return a phone call seeking comment. She sent the newspaper an email stating she had no comment and was conferring with an attorney.
Newell said they ran background checks on Backus and Staats after they were informed the two had been convicted of a crime.
"There is certainly enough reason when you find out someone has a criminal record," Newell said.
"I made some mistakes as a youth. Nothing serious," Backus said. "But I made some mistakes."
Backus admitted he settled a destruction of property charge when he was 19. He also had a 1992 shoplifting charge in Wood County Magistrate Court.
"I haven't been in trouble since I was a youth," Backus said. "That was a long time, about 20 years, ago. I have not been convicted of any felony as an adult.
Backus also admitted he was expelled from Ohio Valley University. Backus maintains he was "done dirty" at OVU where he said he was expelled for emailing another student over a girl.
"The email was not vulgar or threatening, but they kicked me out," he said.
Backus implied Newell had a hand in his expulsion, pointing out that Becky Mathis Stump, who serves as legal counsel for OVU, also was appointed as an administrative law judge for the city, a position that was approved by city council.
"I don't want the city running background checks on people not under investigation. I don't think it is right that elected officials tried to get dirt on them," Backus said.
However, it's not unusual, Newell said.
"If we feel they may be a security threat," Newell said. "We are the police. That's what we do."