PARKERSBURG - A lawsuit against Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell and Police Chief Joe Martin by the Fraternal Order of Police Blennerhassett Lodge 79 of Wood County will continue as filed, according to the plaintiff's attorney in the case.
John Triplett Jr., the attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the lodge, issued a press release Saturday evening after a special meeting by the lodge which was called following the announcement of the suit on Friday.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Wood County Circuit Court and alleges that the city of Parkersburg breached 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.
The suit names Martin, Newell and the city of Parkersburg as defendants.
In Saturday's release, Triplett said media reports had created an impression that the lawsuit was not the will of the members of the lodge or represented their feelings. As a result of concerns raised, a special meeting was held Saturday afternoon in which all lodge members were able to address any concerns and a vote whether to proceed with the lawsuit was taken by secret ballot, he said.
"The results of this vote was overwhelming to proceed with the lawsuit and to ratify the action taken," Triplett said in the release.
"It is likely that an amendment to the complaint will be filed adding additional class representatives as plaintiffs."
Triplett said the plain wording of the lawsuit indicates it deals with actions beginning in 2010 which contradict the Parkersburg Police Department written policy which was revised on March 18, 2009.
"This vote demonstrates that contrary to Chief of Police Joe Martin's statement, that Officer Morehead's actions were not unethical and self serving but rather the expressed will of the FOP Lodge as demonstrated by (Saturday's) vote," he said.
A lodge member who attended Saturday's meeting said only 22 members were present. Many police officers were not able to get to the emergency meeting held Saturday on less than 24 hours notice, FOP officials said.
"The action taken was not taken for political reasons. The lodge has by vote of the members endorsed Gerald Board for mayor. Despite their endorsement of Board for mayor, this suit was not coordinated with any candidate for mayor," Triplett said in the release.
On Saturday, Mayor Bob Newell reiterated his point that he has no problem with employees trying to obtain benefits.
"As long as it is done properly," he said.
However, Newell said the city will still seek dismissal of the suit, because he and Martin were named.
"They named me and Martin and this was an ordinance by city council," Newell said. "Law supersedes any policy."
Newell maintains the suit will have to be refiled to name Parkersburg City Council. He said the city will also pursue misrepresentation by Triplett, in filing false information. Newell claims the suit does not represent the entire FOP.
"It is still not sanctioned by the entire body as stated," Newell said.
In the press release, Triplett said although the Parkersburg News and Sentinel quoted Newell as saying he has the overwhelming support of police officers, "the lodge endorsement demonstrates to the contrary."
"The lodge appeciates that Mayor Newell, as reported by WTAP, advised he supports their right to fight for their benefits," Triplett said in the release. "The lodge hopes that despite the endorsement of his opponent, the mayor will do all in his power to restore the police officers' promised wages."
Parkersburg Police Sgt. Greg Collins, a four-term past president of the lodge, issued a statement late Friday evening.
"I can tell you that I personally do not wish to be involved in this frivolous lawsuit," he stated in the release.
"The local FOP lodge has, for a few, become a venue for personal vendetta and political attacks."
Collins stated it was "immature and completely irresponsible" to use a position in the lodge "in such an unethical manner."
Collins said his statement is not politically motivated. As an officer he said he'll support whomever the citizens elect as mayor.
"I don't tolerate the intermingling of politics in police work," he stated.
"Real police officers want to focus on policing and helping the less fortunate, not politics!"