For David Palmer, it’s a “Wheeling thing.”
He’s been a cop, a fireman, and the city’s Code Enforcement Officer, and now he wants to represent his Elm Grove neighborhood on the Wheeling Council.
Palmer, now the associate director of the United Way of the Ohio Valley, wishes to fill the seat left vacant by incumbent Gene Fahey’s decision to run for the Mayor’s Office because he believes his inside experience with the operation of the municipality will help guide him in improving the quality of life in the Friendly City. He grew up in the Elm Grove section, and he and his wife, Tammy, live close to the Patterson Athletic Complex today.
Palmer graduated from St. Vincent School in 1975 and was a member of the first graduating class to attend all three years at Wheeling Park High School. Instead of college, he opted for the West Virginia Police Academy and quickly accepted a deputy’s position in 1984. He then jumped to the Wheeling Police Department a year later, and then after two years of patrolling the streets of Wheeling, he followed in the footsteps of his father and brother by joining the Wheeling Fire Department.
That’s where he spent his next 25 years, and his peers elected him president of Firefighters Local 12. He retired from that position only a few weeks away from his 26th anniversary to accept city employment in administering the Vacant Structure Registration Program. After two years in that difficult position, his public sector career came to end when he accepted his current position with the United Way.
He knows the Friendly City, especially his native neighborhood, and he’s convinced he can pave the way to improving facilities, roadways, services, and communication. He announced his candidacy a little more than a month ago, and he plans to sit down with as many of his potential constituents as possible between now and the May 10 Election Day.
And that’s because, again, it’s a “Wheeling thing,” and Palmer is steadfast in his belief that the people wish to be heard loudly and clearly.
Novotney: Why have you made the decision to seek election as the Ward Six representative on the Wheeling Council?
Palmer: For 30 years I worked for the city of Wheeling in three different departments, and one of the reasons I want to represent the people of Ward Six is because of my life in community service, and another reason is that I love the city of Wheeling.
My family had an opportunity about a year ago to leave Wheeling, but we made the decision to stay because this is where we belong. We grew up here, and I’ve seen Wheeling through a lot of transition. I’ve witnessed the downward spiral, and now I am seeing the city start to climb back up, and I would like to be a part of it. I think I could be helpful because of my experience with city government for the past three decades.
I’d like to contribute more to the city, and this is the best position to accomplish that.
Novotney: This will not be the first time your name is on the ballot in the city of Wheeling.
Palmer: I did run for the House of Delegates to represent the Third House District, and I did that because of all my experience representing the Wheeling Fire Department as the president of Local 12. I wanted to be on the other side of that conversation because I wanted to better help the state’s firefighters.
Novotney: What about Wheeling would you like to see become a reality once again?
Palmer: I think the downtown that we grew up with is gone, and that’s not coming back. I think we have to be realistic about that.
But I do think that something can be done on the riverfront to enhance that area, and I think there are a lot of opportunities with the 1100 block, and that could include housing, commerce and some restaurants that do not have to be part of a chain. I believe, and it may sound strange when I say this, that we are a destination site with everything we have going on here now. If you can’t find something to do in Wheeling, then I’d have to say that you’re not looking.
In fact I’ve come to realize that there’s really not enough time to do everything that there is to do here, so it’s obvious to me that something very positive is taking place in our city right now, and it’s been building for several years to get to where it is today.
Novotney: Why do you feel it’s strange to describe Wheeling as a destination?
Palmer: For so many years there was such a beat down. But I really believe that the city is moving forward because we have a continuity that we haven’t had for a long time. In the 25 years I worked for the city, I worked under five different city managers, but now we have had Bob Herron for more than 10 years. I think that helps a lot with the operation of the city of Wheeling.
After the upcoming Election Day we will have new council members, and we definitely will have a new mayor, so I think this city will benefit from having Bob Herron still in place at that time because he’ll be able to basically be the school principal who lets everyone know how everything operates. I know it took me a while as a city employee to understand how everything goes, so we are benefiting from that continuity thanks to the city manager.
And that has helped tremendously with the progress that’s been made and why Wheeling has again become that destination area for more reasons than just Oglebay Park.
Novotney: What surprised you about Wheeling when you were employed as the city’s Code Enforcement Officer?
Palmer: The process. I think the process is very difficult because in that position I was just following the set codes just like the city’s building inspectors do, but we were looked down upon because we were just doing our jobs.
These are national codes, for the most part, but that doesn’t seem to matter to property owners. I think what surprised me the most is that it was always the city’s fault, and it’s not. It’s the job. I think there was that reputation that we were just a bunch of mean people who didn’t want anyone to succeed, but that certainly wasn’t the case. It was about safety, and it was about getting property owners to do something with their vacant properties.
It also surprised me that we would have more people call to complain about their neighbor’s property than we had neighbors willing to help each other. That’s not how I was raised. I’d like to see us get back to helping our neighbors.
Novotney: On a scale of one to 10, how would you rate the property owners with whom you communicated as far as their level of cooperation when it came to their vacant properties?
Palmer: A five.
Some people really stepped up and registered their buildings while others did everything they could to avoid being held accountable. I think it’s a good program, and I always told people that yes there are fees the city collects because of vacant structures, but I can honestly tell you that the city does not want to collect those fees.
Novotney: Why do you love living in Elm Grove so much?
Palmer: I think everyone loves where they grew up in Wheeling for the most part, and Elm Grove is no different. It was a great place to grow up, and it’s remained that way through the years, and that’s not been the case in other neighborhoods.
People have a lot of pride in Elm Grove, and that’s something I really appreciate. We have our issues like every other neighborhood does, but the people of Elm Grove will stand up for their neighborhood. They will fight for it.
Novotney: You are concerned about the condition of the Patterson Athletic Complex, are you not?
Palmer: I am.
The Edgar Martin “Beast of the East” Baseball classic is a great event every year, and the tournament has used the Capt. David Van Camp Ballfield as their championship field for a lot of years. It seems to be that the city is not dedicating enough time and resources to make that field and the entire complex the best that they can be.
It’s a showcase event for the city of Wheeling, but the bleachers are in dire need of repair, the field is terrible, and we have these teams that come in from all over the country, and we need to offer them a better place to play. The same goes for the Little League teams that play on the other two fields.
I think the city needs a better plan to take care of the recreational facilities like Patterson, and that’s something I would work on immediately if elected.
Novotney: What should we expect from your campaign?
Palmer: I wanted to let people know that I am running for the seat, and that’s why I announced my candidacy when I did. In the near future the campaign will kick into full gear, and I will be going door-to-door to speak with my neighbors. I am already being asked a lot of questions about what I would do about this and about that so I feel that’s a good thing at this point.
I’ve been hearing a lot about the roads, and I have heard about the high cost of our water bills now that the rate has been increased to pay for the construction of the water treatment plant in Warwood. When I hear about those concerns, I always explain that this council has made some tough decisions, and that was one of them because it was pushed by for so long by other councils.
That’s another reason why I have chosen to run for council right now. The can has been kicked down the road for so long, but that’s not been happening for the past seven years, and I want to be a part of that in the future. I am a firm believer that we can’t kick that can anymore.
(Photos by Steve Novotney)