UPDATE: Martinsburg City Council will select permanent new mayor by end of week

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MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (WDVM) — UPDATE: Following the city council’s 5 p.m. meeting on Monday, council members elected to search for a permanent replacement for the late Mayor Harriet Johnson, rather than an interim mayor. The council will accept applications for the position until noon on Friday.

The chosen person will fill the role for the next three years, the remainder of Mayor Johnson’s term. All applicants must be registered city voters, and the winner will be selected by the council.

“I don’t think they thought it was necessary [to select an interim mayor],” said Gregg Wachtel, a former city councilman who attended Monday’s meeting, about why he believed the council chose to change their plans. “They wanted to go ahead as quickly as possible and pick a permanent replacement, so the business of the city can go on as normally as possible under these bad circumstances.”

Wachtel served on the council for 24 years with his final term ending last year, and he said he will submit an application to finish Mayor Johnson’s term.

(Updated 7/12/2021, 9:33 p.m.)

After the passing of Mayor Harriet Johnson, the process of filling her shoes in city hall is underway. The decision is up to the Martinsburg City Council.

Martinsburg’s first female mayor died suddenly last week after just a little over a full year in office. Under the city charter, the only criterion for the council to choose is that their selection must be a registered city voter. The council is made up of five ward council members and two at-large members, who will be deciding who the new mayor should be.

Ward 5 councilmember Jason W. Baker wants “to do a city election and maybe even tag onto the [Berkeley] county primary in May.”

Baker says it would be the most democratic way to proceed “so that we can allow the people to select the next mayor and not just the seven of us that are sitting around up there at the table.”

Meanwhile, the legacy of Mayor Johnson is lasting. Baker says he and Johnson may have their respectful disagreements at times, but they shared a passion for success that other West Virginia cities had in delivering services and they bonded at conferences of the West Virginia Municipal League.

“I’ve always been intrigued by the other cities and what they’ve done, and so was she,” Baker said.

“Mayor Johnson was a passionate cheerleader for the city. Her passing leaves a big void in the community. The city is definitely sad that she is gone,” Baker added.

City operations will be closed for Mayor Johnson’s funeral so that city employees may pay their respects. Under the city charter, City Recorder Gena Long assumes the responsibilities of mayor pending the council’s decision on a successor.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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