Two women claim more than a cigarette ignited when Philippi Mayor Jerry Mouser recently stepped outside City Hall for a smoke.
Carol Payne, an employee of the local Rite-Aid, and Angela Hollen of Philippi, allege Mouser used profane language toward them when they asked him to move farther away from City Hall when lighting up. They brought their claims before City Council this week, though the women didn't disclose the obscenities they allege Mouser used.
"I do not appreciate it," Payne said about Mouser's alleged vulgarity.
Rather than listen to the women's accusations, Mouser excused himself from that portion of Tuesday's council meeting. City Clerk Tammy Stemple stepped in to chair the meeting in his absence and while the women spoke.
Mouser, while he admits to smoking, denies using profanity to address the women. In addition, he claims he was in compliance with the county health code that mandates smoking only may occur 15 or more feet away from City Hall.
"The stuff about me using vulgarity toward these people is not true," he said Wednesday, adding, "I thought I was far enough away (from City Hall) not to be in violation."
The women allege that wasn't the case. They said the situation puffed up about two weeks ago, when Mouser emerged from City Hall after a council meeting to take a smoke break in the spot where Payne and Hollen had been standing a short time before.
Payne said, after that previous council meeting, she and Hollen were smoking outside. Payne alleges they were approached by a city employee who said she and Hollen only were standing 12 feet away from the City Hall entrance instead of the 15 feet required by law. So, they moved farther away.
Payne said Mouser then exited the building and lit up a cigarette near the same location where the two women previously had been standing. Payne alleges she told Mouser he wasn't far enough away from the entrance, and his last response to her was, "I don't care." She said Mouser remained where he was, finished his cigarette and called "me profanity names out on the street."
"If we expect the public to follow the rules and obey the law, then we must set the example," Payne said. "He's not setting a very good example."
Further, Payne presented council with copies of a statement she said was signed by a witness who allegedly heard Mouser use profanity toward the women. Payne claims some of her customers at Rite-Aid questioned why the mayor spoke in such an obscene manner.
Despite the alleged use of colorful language, it's not just the smoking issue that has Payne and Hollen seeing red with regard to Mouser. Hollen also alleged Mouser was overheard at a local restaurant discussing personnel issues both before and after a previous council meeting. She claimed he was bragging about the employees he would be letting go.
"To me, that's kind of like having a hit list," Hollen said, adding morale in Philippi already was down. "It's getting hard to deal with when everything negative is being brought up."
Hollen then referred to an Aug. 24 article in The Inter-Mountain in which Mouser discussed two city employees who allegedly used city-owned equipment for personal reasons.
Mouser referred inquiries regarding that prior situation to a West Virginia state code involving "intimidation and retaliation against public officers and employees."
The code says "it is unlawful for a person to use intimidation ... or official proceeding, or to threaten or attempt to do so, with the intent to impede or obstruct a public official or employee from performing his official duties."
Payne maintains she has a right to bring up these issues. With regard to the alleged smoking incident, she asked: "Where is he (Mouser) any better than I am?"
It is unclear what will happen next, if anything, on these matters. City Council members didn't take action, nor did they comment with regard to the women's allegations.