CLIFTON FORGE — Clifton Forge Town Council, in a surprise move Tuesday night, hired Iron Gate Mayor Chuck Unroe as its next town manager.
Unroe’s hiring came after it was revealed that former town manager Reba Mohler’s abrupt resignation last week came as a result of political divisiveness in Clifton Forge.
Unroe’s hiring came Tuesday night after council held a closed session to discuss personnel. Tuesday night’s meeting was held via conference call.
Following the closed session, council voted 3-2 to hire Unroe, with Mayor Jeff Irvine, Vice Mayor Pam Marshall and Councilman Bob Umstead voting in the majority. Councilman David Oeltjen and Ronald Goings voted no.
Unroe began his duties as town manager today, Irvine said. He will be the paid the same annual salary that Mohler was receiving — $85,000.
Irvine said Unroe was one of two individuals who applied for the job after Mohler’s resignation became public Nov. 5.
“He’s well known in the community and he’s very experienced in running a town, since he is mayor of Iron Gate. He put Iron Gate back in the black after it was in the red financially,” Irvine said.
Last week Irvine said Clifton Forge would likely look for an interim town manager until a permanent replacement was found.
“Chuck is full-time, but he is also interim, in my opinion. All of our town managers are interim. The contract is from month to month, not by the year. So he’s the town manager unless it comes to the point where we’re not satisfied,” Irvine said.
The mayor said Clifton Forge received a legal opinion indicating that Unroe serving in the dual role of Clifton Forge town manager and Iron Gate mayor is not a conflict of interest, unless there are direct business dealings between the two localities.
Unroe was re-elected to another term as Iron Gate mayor on Nov. 3.
However, the fallout from the Nov. 3 elections in Clifton Forge and Mohler’s subsequent resignation continues.
Mohler came to Clifton Forge in July after the former town manger, Darlene Burcham, informed council that she did not want her contract renewed due to a lack of overall support from council members. Burcham was town manager for 10 years.
Before coming to Clifton Forge, Mohler worked as city administrator in Ronceverte, W.Va.
Tuesday night, Oeltjen made public an e-mail that he and Goings received from Mohler the day after the Clifton Forge town council elections were held.
The winners were Irvine and political newcomer Shorty Wolfe. Oeltjen, who ran on a joint ticket with Wolfe, did not win election to a second term.
In the e-mail read by Oeltjen Tuesday night, Mohler said: “I appreciate that you have entrusted me with such a great responsibility and I truly intended to stay in Clifton Forge, however, the divisiveness that exists makes it difficult to live and work in this community.”
Oeltjen says he was informed by Mohler that Irvine and Umstead told her shortly after she assumed her job in Clifton Forge that her employment hinged on the outcome of the November elections.
“I was informed within three days of my employment and often since that time, that should the election go a certain way, my employment would be terminated immediately with no consideration of my qualifications, my performance, or the tremendous financial devastation which would be suffered by my family as a result of my detrimental reliance on the contractual negotiations having been in good faith,” Mohler said in her e-mail.
On Wednesday, Irvine emphatically denied that he and Umstead ever discussed Mohler’s job security with her.
“I do not know what Bob did, but as far as I am concerned, what Mr. Oeltjen said at Tuesday night’s council meeting is nothing but hearsay,” Irvine said.
However, Irvine said he did have a private conversation with Mohler several weeks ago after she asked him about her job security.
“I told her that if I was to lose the election, the word on the street was that they were going to bring Darlene Burcham back. But I also told her that if I would win, then she had nothing to worry about because she knew where she stood with me,” Irvine said.
In her e-mail to Oeltjen and Goings, Mohler said she could not risk being used as as a pawn in Clifton Forge’s ongoing political gamesmanship.
“My husband and I have a close family unit and my income is critical to assisting our sons with the expenses related to their education. I do not feel it is prudent to continue to risk their futures on political posturing of which I have no control. It was not fair to me or to my family to be used as pawns in an election. Therefore, the responsible thing for me to do was to seek stable employment that had no reliance on political whims,” she said.
Irvine said Mohler sent different versions of her e-mail to council members. He said an e-mail received by himself, Marshall and Umstead was worded differently.
In remarks Tuesday night, Goings said he is deeply concerned about the political strife in Clifton Forge and the image it is projecting.
“We have a lot of complex problems. We’re losing population for a reason,” Goings said.
The Virginian Review has been serving Covington, Clifton Forge, Alleghany County and Bath County since 1914.