Beckley businessman sues city over ordinance establishing city manager

BECKLEY, WV (WOAY) – A Raleigh County businessman is suing the city of Beckley over its controversial decision to move to a city manager style of government.

Doug Epling filed the lawsuit on Tuesday, alleging that the city council broke the law when it passed an ordinance that would establish a city manager and strip the mayor of many of its powers.

According to the complaint obtained by WOAY Wednesday afternoon, Epling is asking the court to rule the ordinance unlawful, strike it, and force the city to put the issue on the ballot in a municipal election.

“This Ordinance plainly violates the City Charter and runs afoul of constitutional guardrails, in the form of due process rights, through a change in the form of local government that was initiated by and through City Council, where such actions are only permitted through a vote of the citizens of Beckley,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit’s argument hinges on the rules put in place by the Beckley city charter that govern the office of mayor and making changes to the charter itself.

Section 7 of the city charter does allow the city council to appoint a city manager, but the lawsuit says the ordinance passed earlier this month goes further and alters the powers held by the mayor, which are defined by the city charter and not the city code.

“As mayoral powers are provided for within the Charter, amendment can only be made by ordinance at the next regular municipal election,” the lawsuit says.

The city council is still hearing from concerned citizens who are opposed to the change in city government. At the regularly scheduled council meeting Tuesday night, multiple people stood up to provide comments in opposition to the council’s decision.

A common theme among those opposed to the bill is a fear of lack of transparency. Others worry that the city manager could easily become corrupt without oversight by the citizens of Beckley.

Proponents of the city-manager style of government say that it would allow the council to select a qualified person to provide knowledgeable, stable leadership over the city. The city manager would be appointed by the city council members who are elected.

Earlier this month, the council voted 4-3 in favor of the ordinance establishing a city manager, shifting city government to a weak mayor style of government.

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