Cowey resigns as mayor of Chester

STEPPING DOWN — Chester Mayor Rex Cowey, right, presents a certificate of appreciation to Chester Volunteer Fire Chief John Hissam as the two spoke following Monday’s Chester Council meeting. Cowey honored Hissam and several others before announcing his resignation as mayor, citing health issues. -- Steve Rappach

CHESTER — Just five months into its term, Rex Cowey’s second tenure as mayor of Chester has come to an end.

At the conclusion of Monday’s Chester Council meeting, Cowey announced his resignation as the city’s mayor effective immediately. He cited health issues for his departure.

The 82-year-old mayor held back tears as he attempted to read his resignation letter, but got choked up to the point where he passed the letter off to City Clerk Marlene Fleming to read.

After Fleming was finished, he explained to council and those in attendance that he will be undergoing surgery to remove a toe and will have several doctor visits, but also thanked those who supported him throughout the past five months before receiving a standing ovation from everyone in council chambers.

“I’ve had a lot of health issues, and one of them is my feet, and anybody who don’t believe me, I can give you a picture and show you what problems I’m going in,” Cowey said. “I’ve had one toe amputated, I’m going in for another one. You know how that is, you’ve got doctors appointments, 20 of them before, 20 of them after, so I thank everybody. Thank you to the public, and that’s it.”

Cowey’s final orders of business were the presentation of various plaques and certificates of appreciation to various people who dedicated their time and services to the city.

Among those honored by the mayor were longtime volunteer Susan Hineman, chairm for the city’s Teapot Committee and organizer for several events including the city’s Teapot Day celebration and Festival of Trees; city crossing guard Don Hyatt; janitor Mike Kayegh; the Chester Art and Garden Club; local volunteer Don Murray; the Chester Volunteer Fire Department; the American Legion Color Guard; and the local posts of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.

“The only time you really see (the Color Guard) is at the parade or something, but they’re still doing all kinds of activities,” Cowey said. “Chester Fire Department, same thing. There’s no use of me standing up here telling you what they do. It’s endless. It’s for the kids, it’s for the community, it’s for the fire department, it’s for the public’s safety. I could go on and on and on.”

Previously serving as mayor from 1972 until 1974 when the city’s mayor terms were for two years, Cowey returned for his second stint as mayor this past July after running unopposed in the June election. Cowey succeeded Larry Forsythe, who did not seek re-election.

In addition to serving as mayor in the early 1970s, Cowey also served with the Chester Police Department and the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, and then served 22 years as an enforcement officer for the Motor Carrier Section of the West Virginia Public Service Commission before retiring in 2013. He also served a stint as Chester Municipal Court Judge.

Cowey is the father of current Hancock County Commissioner Paul “Rex” Cowey III.

As a result of Mayor Cowey’s resignation, per city charter, Fleming will assume duties as acting mayor along with her roles as city clerk until a new mayor is approved by council. Fleming said she can recommend a replacement who would fill the remaining 43 months of Cowey’s term — that mayor will then be up for re-election in the summer of 2022 — but that it would be ultimately up to council to make the final decision.

That decision could be made as early as the next council meeting, scheduled for 5 p.m. Jan. 7 at Chester City Hall.