Bethlehem’s Mayor, Tim Bishop, Reflecting on Progress

It would have been only two years had he not been unopposed and re-elected in June.

Now, it will be four years and only four years that Tim Bishop will serve as the mayor of the village of Bethlehem, a community that measures 3.54 square miles. It’s a deal he made with his daughters, 9-year-old Gia and 4-year-old Grace, and with his wife of 13 years, Stacy, and he plans to honor it.

“I made that promise to them that I would do it for four years if I was lucky enough to get re-elected, and then I’ll be done,” Bishop explained. “It’s not a huge time commitment, but it does take me away from my family sometimes, and my kids have missed me during those times.

“There have been those evenings when I’ve not been there to help put my daughters to bed, and I’ve missed that,” he said. “So, two more years for me, and then hopefully another resident will step forward to keep everything moving in a positive direction.”

Bethlehem Mayor Tim Bishop met his wife, Stacy, while finishing his bachelor’s degree at West Liberty University.

Bishop, though, had to run for mayor, and there were  some tough times in the very beginning. Money was missing, and investigators with the FBI and the West Virginia State Police discovered the village’s former clerk, Andrea Lee McDonald, was guilty of stealing public funds. In a case described by one Ohio Country prosecutor as “extremely complex and sophisticated,” McDonald’s guilty plea to one count of felony fraudulent schemes involved the transferring of approximately $127,000 from paying water customers to other, non-paying residents.

The records indicate that between Jan. 1, 2008, to March 31, 2015, local utility tax payments that should have flowed in the village’s general fund were instead directed to water and sewer accounts.

McDonald no longer lives in the village of Bethlehem.

“That case made the learning curve with this position very fast at the very beginning because our village was hit with a number of other issues, too, very soon after I took office,” Bishop recalled. “It took a while to resolve some of those issues, especially the McDonald case. When I took office, I immediately had to be briefed on a number of different things, and that case was right there in the middle, and it concerned a lot of the village’s money.

“At first not a lot of people knew the details of the McDonald case, and immediately I knew that we would have to see that to its fruition so the village could experience the best result possible,” the 38-year-old said. “It was a long process, but in the end the former village employee pled guilty to the embezzlement-related charges, and she repaid the village $40,000, and we also had insurance for about $60,000 of the money that was taken from the village. In the end, though, we’re still about thousands of dollars short, but changes have been made so it can never happen again.”

These young ladies orchestrate the day-to-day business of the village of Bethlehem.

These days, Bishop, the director of communications and marketing for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, possesses a system he uses when the daily routine doesn’t involve water breaks, snow plowing, accidents along Interstate 470, or road closures along the village’s ridges. The elevation of the populated areas of Bethlehem is close 550 feet above the elevation of downtown Wheeling, and that is why it snows first on the hilltop before a flurry flies in the Friendly City.

“Through the work week I am in my office here at the village office from 8-8:30 a.m., and then I go to work in Wheeling, and then I return here at around noon until 1 p.m. Then, if we have a meeting or if we have something going on, I am back here after work to do what needs to be done,” Bishop said. “Our village council meets the first and third Monday of each month, and we also have a few other committee meetings during each month.

“Our council has seven members, and they are elected at-large, but they do represent the seven different wards within the village,” he explained. “Every day brings something different to my desk and to the members of our council. Not only do we operate a great maintenance crew, but the bills need paid, our residents have concerns that need addressed, and we make a lot of important decisions on a daily basis. This job is never the same one day to the next because it’s never the same two days in a row.”

His goal when he initially assumed the role as mayor was to get the people more involved with the operation of the village. Bishop wanted to hear from as many of Bethlehem’s 2,400-plus residents as possible to establish the proper priorities when considering how to expend the village’s annual $1.5 million operations budget.

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“I know I have tried to get as many people involved as possible, and I have heard from a lot of them; I know that,” he said. “We’re on social media; that has attracted a lot of comments and ideas. I’ve always encouraged the residents to contact me with whatever issues or concerns they may have, and I have put my cell phone number out there for them to use whenever they feel the need.

Bishop is pleased with the many improvements that have been made to the facilities at the Community Park.

“And that office door never closes because I’ve always encouraged our residents to stop in and discuss with us whatever they may want to,” Bishop continued. “I’ve always thought that someone in this kind of position in a village like Bethlehem needs to be as accessible as possible, so that’s how I have gone about it.”

He’s created events at the village’s Community Park close to Halloween and Christmas, and the park itself has received a few facelifts during the past two years in an effort to increase use. The ballfield has been upgraded, improvements have been made to the John Daniel Shelter, and thanks to the Knights of Columbus, the park’s putt-putt course has been renovated and is once again very popular with children and adults alike.

The best part?

It’s all taken place at a minimal cost to the village because Bishop has recruited contributions and donated labor.

“The Community Park has been, overall, the biggest project that we adopted very soon after I took office because I felt it was in need of improvements so it could meet its potential for our residents,” he explained. “This park was created in the late 1970s, when the Division of Highways was installing Interstate 470 right through the middle of our village, and I always believed it could be a big, big asset for the village.

“I am very happy with the work that we’ve been able to do at the park because anything you can do for the kids, you do for the kids,” Bishop said. “And to see it get used the way it is now is very rewarding. The past week or two the ballfield has been used for the Bethlehem World Series, and to see a line to play the putt-putt course has made all of that hard work worth it. It’s been very crowded, and a lot of different people have noticed the improvements.”

There are the tough decisions involving water line replacement and roadway paving. For example, Orchard Lane, the longest street in the village, is in need of paving, but the projected cost is $200,000 and the coffers are short at this time of year.

The village of Bethlehem rests above the city of Wheeling and offers striking views along its ridges.

Instead, Bishop explained, half of Orchard Lane will be paved this year, and the other half has been scheduled for next year.

“It’s just like a household in my mind, and that means we have to live within our means,” he said. “Although those decisions can be difficult, serving as the mayor of Bethlehem has been amazing, it really has been,” he insisted. “I just said to Stacy the other day that there has not yet been the day when I have woken up and dreaded coming to this office. I’ve not dreaded being the mayor of Bethlehem ever. I’ve always looked forward to coming to the office to see what we can get accomplished next, and I think we’re getting a lot of good things done.

“The progress is happening a little bit faster now than before, which is great, and we’re finally finished dealing with some of those past issues, and that means we’ve been able to move forward,” he said. “The most challenging part in the very beginning was getting everyone on the same page and to buy into my vision, and here we are, and that’s why we’re all very excited for the next two years.”

Bishop was graduated from Central Catholic High School in 1996, and he then attended West Virginia Northern Community College for two years, Wheeling Jesuit University for one year, and then he finished his bachelor’s degree at West Liberty University in 2002.

And it was on West Liberty’s hilltop campus where Bishop met Stacy.

“Nothing in my life is possible without her. I really can’t say that enough. She’s the most amazing woman in the world,” he said. “I’m a very lucky man, but I’m not a fan of attention because I fail every day either at being a father, a husband, the mayor, a son, and at everything else that I attempt to do. I fail every day.

“But I learned from a great friend a couple of years ago to fail better. He taught me to wake up every day and to strive to fail better, so that’s what I try to do,” he added. “No one is perfect. We all fail. That’s why I now strive to fail better.”

(Photos by Steve Novotney)