White Sulphur Springs mayoral dispute heads to court

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- First, the 21-year-old mayor of White Sulphur Springs resigned after being accused of looking at pornography on a city computer.Then, he had second thoughts and tried to rescind his resignation. City officials said no.Now, the matter over who is mayor will be resolved in court.Thomas D. Taylor, the former -- and, he would argue, still -- mayor of White Sulphur Springs, has taken his case to Greenbrier Circuit Court in a bid to be reinstated. He says his resignation was not accepted legally."There is only one mayor in White Sulphur Springs and it's my client," said Taylor's lawyer, Barry L. Bruce. "Thomas is one of the youngest mayors in the United States. He ran on a platform of fiscal conservatism and that is what the people wanted."But Taylor resigned from his post on Sept. 25, citing "personal reasons," after being called to town hall on a Sunday by Police Chief James Hylton and City Recorder Peggy Bland.Taylor argues that White Sulphur Springs City Council members never voted to accept his resignation. He also claims Hylton and Bland accused him of looking at pornographic images on city computers and forced him to resign or face a personal lawsuit "even if he did not commit the alleged acts," according to the complaint in Greenbrier Circuit Court.Also, neither Bland nor Hylton told City Council they were going to meet with him and "demand" his resignation, according to the complaint.Bland stepped in as acting mayor after Taylor resigned. Council has since chosen Lloyd Hanes, who was a councilman, to be mayor.Steve Hunter, city attorney for White Sulphur Springs, said Taylor has found an old case that says a resignation must be tendered to a "competent authority," for it to be accepted."That is what he has hung his hat on," Hunter said.But he argues, "I don't know of any more competent authority in a city than a city recorder because they become acting mayor when the mayor resigns."Bruce said, however, that there is nothing in Bland's job description that says she can act on behalf of the board in their absence."Had they added that to her job description, that she can be an authority in their absence, then fine, but they did not," he said. "The law in West Virginia is clear. A public official's resignation has to be accepted by the board he governs," Bruce said. "That didn't happen here."
Checking the mailTaylor says the allegations against him arose after he stopped by city hall one night with his wife to check his mailbox -- something he said he did at the beginning and end of each workday.He said that at the Sept. 25 meeting, Hylton accused him of accessing two different clerk's computers and looked at pornography on the computers."I said, 'That's absurd.' I didn't do anything," Taylor said. He says he didn't have any way to access computers in the building.He said Hylton told him there would be a $12 million lawsuit filed against him and the city because of exposing the clerks to pornography, something Taylor said he knew neither the city, nor he could afford."So I resigned. They forced me into it," Taylor said.
Hylton did not return messages left at the police department. Hunter, the city attorney, said he was speaking for all city officials in the case.
Bruce said numerous people have keys to the building,"Hylton saw Taylor's car there one night and that is what he is basing his accusations on," Bruce said. "This is a police chief -- a chief -- with no proof."Council members convened an emergency meeting the day after Taylor resigned. Taylor also claims that meeting was illegal, because the public and council members weren't notified in a timely manner that the meeting was being held or what was supposed to be discussed.During that meeting, the board read Taylor's resignation letter, but the matter was not voted on or discussed, Taylor and Bruce said.According to the minutes from the Sept. 26 meeting, Hunter said the matter of the resignation "was not something to be discussed in public."Two days later, on Sept. 28, Taylor tried to rescind his resignation and served a letter to each council member. "There is no time prior to being served a copy of the rescission letter that city council ever voted to accept [his] resignation," according to the complaint.Hunter says Taylor's resignation was legally accepted. He said the city's position is that once a resignation is tendered, it cannot be withdrawn for any reason without the permission of City Council.He also made mention of a State Police investigation of Taylor, but neither he nor State Police would provide details of any such investigation."I think there are a lot of things that may come out in the State Police investigation that are a little more involved than just pornography," Hunter said.Hunter declined to comment on what those additional charges could be or when the State Police started to investigate Taylor.At the emergency meeting that addressed his resignation, the former mayor's mother, Cynthia Taylor, said her son's resignation was prompted by a phone call from the police chief. She said her son had an alibi for an incident she claimed Hylton called her son about in late September.Hunter told the Register-Herald that police had investigated a situation at City Hall prior to Taylor's resignation, but would not say what that was."It's unfortunate that [Taylor] has chosen to take this action [withdrawing his resignation] when the city has done its best to keep the underlying issues quiet," Hunter told the Beckley paper.Bruce said the allegations have nothing to do with the resignation issue."It's unfounded. It has nothing to do with this investigation and shouldn't even be brought up," he said.He said city officials' actions against Taylor are part of a "witch hunt" by people who are not happy with many of the changes Taylor made when he was elected."He had a time clock installed at the police department for officers to clock in and out. There had been no record of hours worked. That hadn't been done before and that, among other things, was very controversial," Bruce said.Bruce acknowledges that Taylor tendering his resignation in the first place was a mistake."He is young. They threatened him with a personal suit and he didn't want his family dragged through a trial," he said. "But no doubt about it that he was coerced."It's just small-town politics. I believe in small-town politics if done the right way," Bruce said. "What we have here is people don't want some young kid telling them what to do.""My hope is to get back in office and get back to work, which is what I intended to do for the citizens from the get-go," Taylor said.A hearing in Taylor's case is scheduled for Thursday in front of Greenbrier Circuit Judge Joseph Pomponio. Reach Kathryn Gregory at kathryng@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.
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