Robin Williams and Andy Pendleton set to square off in Rainelle mayoral election

By Matthew Young, RealWV

RAINELLE, W.Va. – With election day now less than a week away, residents of Rainelle are preparing themselves for a mayoral-showdown for the ages. 

On one side is the challenger, Andy Pendleton. As Rainelle’s former longtime mayor, Pendleton guided the town through the derecho of 2012, and the catastrophic flooding in 2016. And after contributing to Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series in 2014, Pendleton literally wrote the book on Rainelle. 

On the other side is current mayor, Robin Williams. Having won what could be viewed as a landslide victory in 2021, Williams made re-establishing an all but defunct police department her opening salvo, while also remaining cognizant of the need to overhaul the town’s failing storm drain system.

“When we came in, we had a lot of stuff to do,” Williams told The RealWV Tuesday morning. “Getting on track with the projects that had been started years ago – our storm drain project, we’re finally starting to move forward with that.”

Williams also cited the town’s generator project, as well as the recent purchase of a building to be used as a “Community Visitors Center” that she believes “the town desperately needed” among the accomplishments of her time in office.

“Also our upgrades, we have upgraded our water department significantly,” Williams added. “ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds helped us to do that.”

Of her two years as mayor, Williams said she is proudest of the work that has been done in support of her initial priority – rebuilding Rainelle’s police department. 

In Sept. 2021, Williams rehired the town’s former police chief, J.P. Stevens. Stevens first served as chief after his initial hiring in 2005 before a conflict with then-Mayor Eugene McKenzie caused Stevens to resign. Stevens was then rehired by Pendleton in 2011 during her first term as mayor. Stevens was later terminated as Chief of Police in 2019.

There were initial hurdles with the hiring, as Stevens was no longer a certified police officer in West Virginia, and therefore forced to rely upon neighboring municipalities and the Greenbrier County Sheriff’s Department to issue citations and facilitate arrests. However, additional certified officers have since been added to the town’s police force. 

“We have a really good police department now,” Williams said. When I came to be mayor, there was one officer, and the police department wasn’t working.”

Williams inherited a broken police department after the controversial resignation of former mayor, Jason Smith, in Nov. 2020. Former chief, Dean Fankell, resigned shortly thereafter as well, leaving Rainelle without a full time police officer.

“We redid the police department, and now we have three officers,” Williams said. “We have purchased a couple new cruisers, and new equipment for the police department. That’s a big plus in the town – to have three officers.”

“We hope to get a fourth officer, and be able to have 24-hour protection,” Williams added.

With improvements to the police department having now been made, Williams is turning her attention to the town’s storm drain system, as well as looking for ways to bolster Rainelle’s economic growth. Recent years have seen several new businesses find a home on Greenbrier County’s western-end, and Williams is hopeful that this trend will continue.

“We’ve cleaned up our town a lot and made it more attractive for new businesses to come in,” Williams said. “Right now we’re looking to get something that will bring jobs to the area – not just restaurants. We’re looking to get some factories because we don’t have anything like that now. We did in the past, and that’s when we’ve seen a lot of economic growth.”

Williams noted that town officials are currently in talks with a fabrication company in the hopes that they will establish a permanent facility in Rainelle. 

Another opportunity that Williams hopes to create should she be elected to a second term would be the sourcing of grant money to be used for the demolition and removal – or possible repurposing – of vacant buildings. 

“We actually have a beautification project beginning,” Williams noted. “We’re working with Valley Works Resource Center, [and they’re] instrumental in getting the funding to help us move forward. I really want to see that (beautification project move forward) – I think that will help our town overall. If we can just repurpose some of the buildings and give them a facelift, it will make our town more appealing.”

While William’s has managed several notable accomplishments, her time in office has not been without criticism – the most notable being the administration’s failure to fully reopen Rainelle’s Town Hall building. This is something that Williams’ opponent takes great exception to. 

“That’s the main theme – Town Hall should be open for the people, it’s their building,” Andy Pendleton said, while speaking with RealWV on Monday. “What do they do behind closed doors? I’ve been going to council meetings to keep up on things, and I don’t like a lot of what’s happening. They go into executive session a lot.”

Executive session will sometimes be called for during meetings when the participants do not want the public to consume the information discussed or decisions that are made. Oftentimes, executive session is utilized when discussing sensitive or private information pertaining to employees. 

“They had a meeting today about the storm drains, and they locked the doors – they wouldn’t let anybody in,” Pendleton added. “But that wasn’t at Town Hall, it was at [a private location]. They said it was a closed meeting.”

Pendleton said that should she be elected mayor once again, the first thing she will do is fully reopen Town Hall for the residents of Rainelle.

“I’ll open the doors back up and invite the people in,” Pendleton said.

Beyond that, Pendleton said it is difficult to organize priorities due to the lack of transparency surrounding the town’s finances. 

“There are a lot of things we need to tackle,” Pendleton noted, “But we don’t know how much money the administration has spent from what’s been received. They’ve received a lot from CARES. What’s been done with it – or how much is left – we don’t have any idea.”

“So we don’t know what we’ll have to work with walking in the door,” Pendleton added.

After leaving office in 2019, Pendleton has remained an active member of the community. Recently she has devoted her time to the restoration of the Veterans Building through the Rainelle Development Corporation, explaining that she loves “to work and help people.”

Pendleton also believes that previous efforts to “clean up the town” must continue, noting that, “We have to make ourselves look good.”

“We’ve got a couple nice restaurants in town that are doing really well,” Pendleton said. “I hope that people will feel better about coming back to Rainelle. I think they will if we can turn it around.”

As far as her campaign, Pendleton said that she never expected to be mayor again after leaving the office four years ago, but now feels compelled to do so.  

“I’m actually surprised to be running, but I just can’t stand closed doors,” Pendleton said. “It was necessary to close them during COVID, but how many years has it been now? We have to get our feet on the ground, and move forward to make the people of the town feel better about themselves.”

“We have the golf course that still floods,” Pendleton noted. “We have the tennis court that needs repair, and we have things that need to be done at the big park by the baseball field – the little kids need a place to play.”

“We need to make ourselves a presence, and say, ‘We’re here,’” Pendleton added. “We need to look better, and we need to do better for our people.”

At 76-years-old, and as the result of a heart condition diagnosed some four-years ago, some have called Pendleton’s health into question. However, Pendleton said, “I feel fine.”

“I climb the mountains,” Pendleton noted. “Yes, I have a condition with my heart, but we all have problems – I keep going.”

“I expect to do a lot of good for our community,” Pendleton said, adding that if she is elected once again on Tuesday, she would then seek re-election in 2025.

While Williams and Pendleton have starkly-different visions for the Town of Rainelle, both candidates hope to see the town thrive in the coming years. It is now for the voters to decide which candidate’s vision best aligns with their own. 

According to the 2020 Census, Rainelle has 1,190 residents. And while Williams may have claimed a landslide-victory in 2021, that landslide only garnered 114 votes. By every definition, Rainelle is the epitome of “small town America.” For that reason, it is vital that residents participate in the selection of their leaders. 

Election day in Rainelle is Tuesday, June 13. Residents who have questions about voting times or locations – or those wishing to participate in early voting – should contact Rainelle Town Hall, at 304-438-7191.

RealWV will provide updates regarding Rainelle’s municipal elections as additional information becomes available. 

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