PARKERSBURG - A lawsuit allegedly filed on behalf of the local Fraternal of Police against Mayor Bob Newell, Police Chief Joe Martin and the city was not sanctioned by the lodge, according to officials.
Greg Collins, a four-term past president of the lodge, said he spoke to more than a dozen members and no one knew anything about the suit.
"It caught everybody off guard," he said Friday.
"The people I talked to are not happy and did not know about it," Collins said.
The lawsuit, filed in Wood County Circuit Court Thursday, accuses the city of breaching an agreement by failing to pay longevity increases and overtime.
The Fraternal Order of Police, Blennerhassett Lodge 79 Inc. and Chris Morehead are listed as plaintiffs in the suit. Morehead is president of the lodge.
It was filed by attorney John Triplett Jr. of Marietta.
The suit names Martin, Newell and the city as defendants.
The News and Sentinel's attempts to contact Morehead Friday were unsuccessful. Morehead told WTAP the membership approved the suit with "an overwhelming vote." And "the action was taken by the entire FOP as a body."
Morehead's statement contradicts that of several officials, who claim members of the FOP had no knowledge of a suit being filed.
"This is political and unethical," Martin said. He accused Morehead of "self motivations."
According to Collins, Martin, Newell and Mike Stalnaker, a lodge trustee, dozens of officers have contacted them inquiring about the lawsuit.
Martin, who is a member of the FOP, said he spoke with four of the lodge officers and they were all unaware of the suit until it was reported on the evening news.
Stalnaker said he was on the committee that was supposed to review a possible suit.
Stalnaker said a committee was selected in March or April, but it never met. He was never contacted and had no idea of the suit until Friday evening.
"I never got a phone call and never heard anything about it again. I have my own opinions as to what is going on."
The suit was filed just days before the primary election in which Newell is battling Gerald Board in the mayoral race. Board is a longtime FOP member and past president. He was endorsed by the lodge in the race for mayor.
Board issued a statement Friday night disavowing that he or any other member of his campaign had any prior knowledge of this impending lawsuit.
"I retired as chief of police on Nov. 13, 2009. According to the information released, the alleged reduction in benefits occurred around July 2010 which apparently has resulted in this lawsuit being filed. It appears to be a breach of contract disagreement between the City of Parkersburg and the Fraternal Order of Police. In my opinion, this is a matter to be resolved by the appropriate legal counsel, the circuit court, the Fraternal Order of Police and the current city administration, not in a political forum."
Collins said he has not talked to anyone who knew the suit was filed. He spent the better part of Friday evening fielding phone calls from fellow FOP members.
"They don't want to be out front and don't want to be part of a controversial and political issue."
Collins stressed he was speaking only on his behalf and not as a representative of the FOP.
"I don't want to make the same mistake they made," he said.
Stalnaker said he wasn't present at the lodge's monthly meeting Wednesday, but spoke with several members who were present.
"I spoke with guys who were there and they said no one said anything about it."
An FOP member, who asked not to be identified, attended Wednesday's meeting.
"The meeting we had Wednesday - the day before this was filed - it was never brought up," the member said.
The member said Morehead never disclosed anything about filing papers, which is a violation of meeting protocol.
"He should have disclosed what was going on. It was never done. Never mentioned," the member said.
The member also said while a committee was formed to look at the possibility to consider a lawsuit it was never voted on to bring a suit against the city, let alone Martin or Newell.
The Blennerhassett Lodge of the FOP encompasses much more than just the Parkersburg Police. It is also comprised of the members of the West Virginia State Police, the Wood County Sheriff's Department and other law enforcement agencies in the region.
Officials said the FOP has a meeting set for this afternoon to discuss the suit.
Newell said the city will be on the courthouse steps Monday morning filing motions to have it dismissed.
Newell said the suit listing Blennerhassett Lodge 79 is an "absolute misrepresentation to the court."
"The FOP did not sanction that."
"I got dozens of calls from police officers stating they didn't know anything about this," Newell added.
"I have overwhelming support from police officers today, which I appreciate."
Newell stressed he was not going after the FOP, but the parties responsible.