Keesee Calls For Town Council Action On Mayoral Criminal Charges

A public speaker continued to call for action relating to Mayor Travis Copenhaver’s criminal charges during the Oct. 14 Alderson Town Council meeting.

Local attorney Ryan Keesee recently spoke at the September 20 special meeting of Town Council, which listened to hear callers about the charges against Copenhaver—felony burglary, conspiracy, child neglect and misdemeanor assault.

Keesee returned to council on Oct. 14 with questions.

“My question and my comments [tonight] are not about the mayor’s conduct,” said Keesee. “That meeting, we covered it. The outrage, the town was not happy at the continued flaunting of the rule of law by our mayor. This comment is directed toward the council. Why haven’t y’all done anything? … Have a vote. Take a stand. Yea or nay. To let the voters of this town know where you, as councilmembers, stand on the behavior of our mayor. It will be very important when this council will be seeking re-election in 2023.”

He was critical of council after the special session.

“We met last up at the community center to discuss the charges currently pending against our mayor, Mr. Copenhaver,” said Keesee. “Comments were made, solicited from the community, and that’s all that was done. Nothing else was done that night, at that meeting. The subject of that meeting was the mayor’s actions and what the Town Council wanted to do about it. Town Council didn’t do anything.”

During the special council meeting, City Attorney Grady Ford explained that the council could pass a motion calling for removal, but do not have the authority to enact the removal.

“I have previously been asked by the council to investigate the manner of options in relation to these matters,” Ford explained. “I prepared a legal memo detailing some of the options council might have in the situation. … The council may pass a motion, [but] they do not have the authority to remove the mayor. They can pass that judgment but the only way they can curtail and remove an elected official is [this prescribed way]. They can make motions to do anything but in the absence of an agreement from the elected official, [the council cannot single-handedly remove the mayor.] That is the law. The council cannot cause the mayor to step aside [directly].”

According to West Virginia State Code 6-6-7, elected officials are subject to removal only for official misconduct, neglect of duty, or incompetence. There are multiple parties that can make that decision.

“Who is it that can bring these removal actions? Under the same code section, one is the council, the governing body. … The second is the prosecuting attorney of the county or municipality. … And finally, if an appropriate number of qualified petitioners bring a petition for removal under this statute. Qualified petitioners are defined as people who vote in the previous election. You have to meet a certain threshold … and in a class four town like Alderson, you have to get the lesser of either 50 [registered voters] or 10% of registered voters [20 voters out of the 200 who voted in the last particular election].”

From there, the case would be considered by judges on several levels.

“It would be reviewed by the circuit judge in either Greenbrier or Monroe county to see if it rose to the level where it would go forward,” Ford said. “… A panel of three judges would serve as an arbitrator, a fact finder, essentially a trial on whether or not these allegations constituted … were official grounds for removal.”

If the council does not elect to move forward with the call, a petition with over 120 Alderson voters calling for Copenhaver’s removal has also been circulating the town, according to organizer Jennifer Fry.

Keesee did not offer a specific recommendation for the council, but called for any action.

“The agenda posted for the day said this council will not take action not on the agenda, and I’ll say right now that I have no intention that this council take any action on what I’m about to say, because it’s not on the agenda. But I am going to comment on it. … I don’t mean to say that you should do something. That you should start proceedings to remove Copenhaver as mayor, but you haven’t had a vote to decide to do it or not to do it. That should be on the agenda before a meeting before the council of this town, to take a position one way or another.”

He also hinted that an action could have happened before the special meeting was adjourned.

“I recall being at that meeting, and it was adjourned when a council member wanted to speak. The council quickly adjourned before that councilmember could speak. I believe a motion was going to be made to have a vote whether to move forward with proceedings against Mr. Copenhaver or not. The vote was not had. The motion was not allowed to be made.”

Of the four councilmembers present, none confirmed this was the case. After the meeting, the missing councilmember, Charlie Lobban, did not respond to a request for comment on Keesee’s remarks.

After Keesee spoke, Copenhaver called for a motion to adjourn the meeting. The council sat quietly for nearly 30 seconds before another hear caller asked an unrelated question. No further comments were offered.

When asked for comment after the special meeting, Copenhaver provided a letter from his attorney, John Bryan.

“I am counsel for Travis Lee Copenhaver in regards to the above-styled criminal action currently pending in the Magistrate Court of Greenbrier County, West Virginia. Accordingly, I have advised him to make no public or private statements to any individual or entity regarding the charges. This is a matter of routine in any pending criminal case.

“As always, the defendant in a pending criminal case in America is innocent until proven guilty. These are guarantees under the state and federal constitutions. My client absolutely maintains his innocence and is confident that after being provided with his constitutionally-required due process, that he will be vindicated of the allegations. While this process takes place, my client will continue to serve as the mayor of the Town of Alderson, as he has done for the past eight and a half years. He has resigned as a municipal judge in the Town of Alderson, until such time as the pending charges are resolved.

“Any questions about this may be directed to my office. Thank you for your patience. My client looks forward to getting his day in court, and being able to put this difficult time behind him.”

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