By Lyra Bordelon
Amid strong disagreements with the Town Council and Recorder, Rainelle Mayor Jason Smith has announced his resignation.
“It is with a heavy heart, yet equally the biggest relief of stress, that I tender my resignation as the mayor of the town of Rainelle effective November 1, 2020. For the past 16 months, I wish I could say it has been an honor to serve the very community I was raised in. However, I feel that I can no longer subject myself and my family to the continued ridicule from those who are solely looking to benefit themselves and not the community. I have no confidence in the majority of this city council as well as the town recorder. The city can no longer deal with such differing views and divisiveness.”
Over the past few months, an ongoing conflict between the Town Council, Recorder Bill Bell, Smith, and the Rainelle Police Department has come to a head with Smith’s resignation. Since the number of officers in Rainelle has dropped from five, now down to only Chief Dean Fankell according to Smith’s letter, Town Council has not agreed to move forward with any hiring for the police force. During previous council meetings, several councilmembers have explained their positions.
“The problems we’re having with the homeless and the backpackers and the drug activity, [is a problem],” said Councilmember John Wyatt. “… I was in Ronceverte, likewise has very few officers and they don’t have this problem. White Sulphur Springs, they don’t have this problem. … Fairlea doesn’t have this problem. … Lewisburg doesn’t have this problem. The problems are here in Rainelle.”
“I’m totally against hiring more police officers until we see improvement,” said Councilmember Martha Hylton. “It’s embarrassing what’s happening here, I’m on the city council but I’m also a citizen and I couldn’t get help. You can’t even take a walk around here without something happening. There are lots of things that go on, all you have to do is go take a walk and you’ll see.”
“Do we need more officers? Absolutely we do, I agree whole heartedly we do,” said Bell on October 12. “But we absolutely have to do better with what we’ve got. … There’s no reason for us to hire more people if they’re going to be [working] under the same circumstances, the same chief, telling them what not to do. There’s no use in us spending more money on no results. If we can get results, I’m all for hiring more police officers. You can hire them any time you want to, but only if we get results.”
Smith pointed to these positions as the largest point of contention with the council.
“The strategy from the very beginning was to get rid of the police department because the town recorder had an axe to grind with the ex-chief of police [J.P. Stevens]. In the past 16 months, he has been able to achieve most of the plan by first making sure Officer Morris walked out, and then it was Officer Boggess that was let go in a roundabout way. … And now in the last few days, we have another resignation from Officer Stevens.”
To understand the issues cited by Smith, see this Mountain Messenger comprehensive look at the disagreement between Smith, Bell, and the council about the Rainelle Police Department. To read Smith’s full letter, read below: