Joyce, Dugan, write-ins vie for Parkersburg mayor
PARKERSBURG — Two contested primaries yielded a rematch of the 2016 mayoral race in the City of Parkersburg.
Republican Mayor Tom Joyce is seeking a second term as the city’s chief executive, while Democrat Sherry Dugan is asking voters to put her at the helm.
Theirs are the only names that will appear on the ballot, but Byron Meeks and Mark Meredith — who finished third and fourth, respectively, behind Joyce and Mike Cottrell in the GOP primary — have thrown their hats back in the ring as write-in candidates.
Address: 2102 Foley Drive
Occupation: mayor, co-owner of St. Joseph’s Ambulance Service
Past offices: first term as mayor, two terms on City Council
Joyce said it’s been an honor and privilege to serve as the city’s mayor and he hopes to continue to do so for another four years.
“I think I have proven that I can effectively lead the city,” he said.
A key to success is being cooperative, Joyce said, particularly with City Council.
“Parkersburg is really, certainly pre-COVID, is in the best financial state it’s been in for years,” he said.
One of the most important steps taken in that direction, Joyce said, was the closure of the fire and police pension funds to new hires in 2017, allowing the city to change its method of paying for its pension liabilities. That resulted in higher payments up front, which led to sizable increases in police and fire fees. But over the long term, the payments are expected to decrease, rather than taking up an ever larger portion of the budget.
“The impact will be ongoing for years,” particularly 15 or so years down the road, when the pensions are substantially funded, Joyce said.
Joyce said he’s proud of the general condition of the city’s parks and the addition of amenities like the splash pad at City Park. He said he wants to continue investing in street repair and stormwater improvements as well.
“No one has ever come up to me and (said), ‘our parks look too good’ or ‘you’re paving too many streets,'” Joyce said.
In a new term, Joyce said he’d like to see even more focus on slum and blight, although there may not be a way to speed up activities because of due process requirements when dealing with and perhaps acquiring someone else’s property.
“It is cumbersome, and it should be,” he said.
When it comes to addressing the drug problem, outside of law enforcement, Joyce said the city’s role should be cultivating partnerships to help young people make the right decisions. That’s why the administration allocated $40,000 in the budget to the Boys & Girls Club of Parkersburg’s Smart Moves program and the Wood County Recreation Commission.
Address: 1 Wharton Drive
Family: mother, Kit Ruehl; sons, Steve and Stewart; three grandchildren
Occupation: owner, Das Rookhaus
Past offices: one term on City Council
Dugan said she would bring her experience as a small business owner and working with multiple volunteer organizations to the mayor’s office.
She likes to sum up her plans with the acronym “F.I.R.E.D. U.P.,” which references financial responsibility, infrastructure, rank-and-file employees, economic development and drugs, along with a call to “unite Parkersburg.”
Dugan said she would demonstrate financial responsibility by being transparent with citizens about how money is spent.
Infrastructure must be dealt with in a timely and appropriate manner, Dugan said. She wants to continue progress made by Joyce’s administration working with the Parkersburg Utility Board to make sure recently paved streets aren’t dug up for water line repairs.
Dugan suggested morale among city employees is “not at an all-time high.”
“We have a wealth of experience down there. They have ideas; they have suggestions,” she said. “Not everything is going to come to fruition, but at least we could sit down at the table and discuss it.”
Dugan said the Development Department should take a more active role in drawing employers to Parkersburg, but the city could also try to take advantage of the growth in telecommuting.
“Possibly we can encourage young people to come to Parkersburg and live while they work for a company in another place,” Dugan said.
On the drug front, Dugan said the police do a great job, but are sometimes limited by laws passed elsewhere.
“We need to give them a little more teeth to be able to do what they need to do,” she said. “The mayor’s office could try to take a stronger interest in what’s happening in Charleston to try to get some of these things changed.”
The city should work with drug rehab centers to send people from out of town who drop out of programs back where they came from, Dugan said.
As for uniting the city, Dugan said various groups should be working together instead of against each other. She said she doesn’t feel like volunteer organizations have received much encouragement from the city in the last four years.
Address: 2601 Liberty St.
Family: wife, two children
Occupation: maintenance, Mitcham Group
Past offices: ran for mayor in the Republican primary
Meredith said he decided to take another shot as a write-in candidate because the pandemic made campaigning so difficult.
“I don’t really think a lot of people were able to hear my message,” he said.
To spread that information in the era of masks and social distancing, Meredith said he’s gotten cards printed with a QR code folks can scan with their smart phones to be directed to information online.
Meredith said many of the issues facing the city are related, such as the way dilapidated properties provide locations for illicit activities like drug use. Creating jobs and broadening the tax base would give the city more resources to address slum and blight, he said.
There should be a “happy medium” between calls to defund the police and a heavy police presence, Meredith said.
“Those guys don’t get called out to tea parties,” he said. “They need our support. We need to understand they have a difficult job.”
Meredith noted “defunding” efforts also focus on making sure there are resources to help address a variety of issues, including mental illness and drug addiction. He said the city should coordinate with groups to make sure those resources are available.
Meredith said there should also be better coordination among city, county and state agencies to help make economic development projects happen.
“We’ve always just missed it by that much,” he said.
Sometimes there are more complicated issues at play, Meredith said, but in other cases, “I think it just takes meeting with the people … and saying we’re all on the same team here.”
Address: 1507 Lynn St.
Family: wife, Crystal; sons, Drake, Dawson and Dakota
Occupation: owner, Byron’s Garage
Past offices: ran for mayor in the Republican primary
Meeks, who could not be reached for comment for this article, said during the primary he was running to be a voice for citizens who feel like they can’t speak up. He said he wanted to do more to help the homeless in the area and pledged to put 75 percent of the mayoral salary toward programs for veterans and children.
In September, Meeks filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia against the city code director, two code officials and a Parkersburg Police lieutenant, claiming they shut down his business and violated his constitutional rights by threatening to tow vehicles he was repairing at his home-based business and charging him with receiving/transferring a stolen vehicle. Meeks said he had the title and notarized bill of sale for the car police said was reported stolen out of Rhode Island.
Attorneys for the city officials have filed a motion for the case to be dismissed, saying the issues stem in part from Meeks parking the customer vehicles on property he owns that is not zoned for commercial use.
A suit he filed against Joyce, the police chief and the code director claiming harassment and improper seizure of vehicles at his business was dismissed earlier this year after a federal judge ruled it had not been properly served and failed to state a claim for relief.
Evan Bevins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.