A Charter Review?
Which ordinances should be tweaked or trashed?
The City Charter dictates how many wards there are in the Friendly City, and it determines, among other things, the meeting times, the existing committees and commissions. The City Charter dictates the pay for Wheeling’s elected officials. In the past seven years the City Charter has been tweaked but not officially reviewed by a jury of citizens. That last happened in 1991-1992.
A Charter Review is a lengthy procedure, history dictates, and in the end the citizens of Wheeling decide whether or not they approve of what changes have been proposed. The vote in 1992 reduced the number of city wards from 9 to 6, it added the at-large ballot issue for the office of mayor, and it reduced the number of council meetings from weekly to bi-monthly in favor of the addition of bi-monthly committee meetings to consider finance, development, public works, rules, health and recreation, and public relations.
A Charter Review was a goal of Mayor Andy McKenzie’s when he was initially elected to the mayor’s position in 2008, but the recession, the necessary construction of a new water treatment plant, and the welcoming development of downtown residential units, and the recruitment of the Health Plan took the top of the priority list.
More than half of Wheeling’s residents today should be able to recall the Charter Review process from the early 1990s, and that is because, according to U.S. Census data from 2010, the Friendly City’s median age was 45.2 years old, and 51 percent of the city’s residents were 45 or older. Six years later, the demographics have not changed much.
As far as the codified ordinances for the city of Wheeling are concerned, some are new, some are ancient, and many may need to be amended if not eliminated. Language usage could prove an issue with those elected because terms like “reasonable” can be interpreted much differently today than when the legislation was enacted.
Two questions were posed to the incumbents and candidates who filed for Wheeling’s municipal election on May 10. The inquiries were the following:
- If elected, would you favor the Charter Review process?
- What current codified ordinance(s) would you support amending and why?
The replies – limited to 300 words – from 18 of the 23 candidates running for seats representing Wheeling’s six wards, along with the Mayor’s Office, follow below.
John Bishop – Candidate:
As far as the Charter Review, with a new mayor come changes. Change could be good or bad. Therefore we have to wait and see who is elected. All of the mayor candidates differ in what they want to do, so I will wait to answer that question until the results are final.
One issue that I believe needs addressed would be a part of the parking ordinance. There are many streets in our city that remain untreated after snowfalls due to parking on both sides of narrow streets. I have been informed by city workers that the blade on the plow truck is too wide to fit between parked cars when both sides of the street are utilized for parking. I have had many residents voice concerns about icy street conditions and the lack of treatment or snow removal. If there was a change made to parking rules to allow parking on one side of the street during winter weather events, it would allow better treatment of streets.
As for further issues with the city charter, it is my responsibility to represent the people of my ward. If elected, I would have to meet with the residents to assess the needs and present them to the city.
Chad Thalman – Candidate:
We live in a changing city, and I believe that we should continually work to improve the City Charter and to consider adding, repealing, or modifying ordinances that no longer work for the residents or the city of Wheeling.
With that being said, making changes to the charter isn’t something that should be taken lightly. It should only be done after much thought and discussion has taken place between city council and the businesses and residents of Wheeling.
I have spent some time looking over the City Charter and the various ordinances that we have, and I believe most people would be surprised at the large number of ordinances that Wheeling has. Everything from taxis, fortunetellers, yard sales, and housekeepers have an ordinance laying out some rules that need to be followed. Many of these ordinances were put in place in 1958, and while many are still relevant today, some may need to be updated to reflect Wheeling in 2016 and beyond.
It looks like the West Virginia Legislature is in the process of allowing Uber to come to West Virginia. If elected to city council, I would want to make sure that we don’t have any ordinances that would stop or hinder Uber from flourishing in the city. I would also want to make sure that we create any new ordinances that assure that Uber drivers and riders are protected and treated fairly.
Karen Merritt – Candidate:
If elected, I would favor the Charter Review process.
The current Codified Ordinances I support amending are under the Administrative Code, and include:
- Part 1, Chapter 7-Boards and Commission, Article 171- Ohio Valley Regional Transportation Authority: For the sake of the elderly, disabled, and those who need to get to jobs which may be as far as The Highlands or the mall, the hours of bus service must be extended. I propose all buses run every half hour, until 9 p.m., weekdays and Saturdays. On weekdays all buses currently stop running around 5:30p.m. Most jobs don’t end, and some don’t begin, by that time, especially at The Highlands and the Wheeling Island Racetrack and Casino. Buses currently run once per hour on Saturdays and not at all on Sundays and holidays. Wheeling residents need full bus service on Saturdays and limited service on Sundays. So many depend on public transportation, and we can do better. Our buses are busy, more so than those who don’t use or need them are aware, and we need longer service hours that will create more jobs, giving those without vehicles the chance to apply for jobs they cannot currently get to.
- Under the Administrative Code, Part 1, Chapter 7-Boards and Commissions, Article 173-Historic Landmarks Commission: The city of Wheeling must utilize the power to declare a building, statue, or bridge span a historic landmark, therefore keeping it safe from demolition. We’ve destroyed enough of Wheeling’s history. Beautification of our city is what we need to stay focused on. Once a landmark is destroyed, it’s gone forever. Wheeling is located in such a PRIME area, nestled on the Ohio River, but we must utilize that location to its full potential to attract businesses, and get our children and grandchildren to come back.
Loma Nevels – Candidate:
Yes, I would favor the Charter Review process. Seeing that there has not been a charter review in 24 years, one most likely is needed.
I would support amending the codified ordinance that says, “council consists of six members; one member is elected from each of the six wards.” The reasoning for my support is the second ward area and locations. Redistricting needs not only to be addressed but changed. Example: North Park is not in the second ward, but streets on each side of it, Main and Chapline, are in the second ward. A more generic description is Main Street is a slice of bread; North Park is the choice of meat; Chapline Street is a slice of bread. You end up with a strange sandwich – bread on bread with no meat – yet all three streets/areas are referred to as North Wheeling.
Morgan Wood, Candidate:
First off, I recommend everyone read the City Charter as it outlines clearly how the city will operate. Secondly, the Charter is nearly 25 years old and in need of review, but it should be reviewed with care. Below are some suggestions:
- City Council Member Term Limits — City Council members should have term limits that should be decided by the citizens. There are term limits for the mayor and there should be limits for council members too.
- Annual Enforcement Review – The City Council should review the ordinances to make sure they are being enforced equally. If they are not, the city should either repeal them or demand enforcement. Selective enforcement of ordinances is detrimental to our democracy.
Tom Conner, Candidate:
Charter reviews are a lengthy and expensive process, considering the cost of a special election, the work involved by the Charter Review Board, and the approval process.
Although I will be the first to admit I have not yet thoroughly studied every codified ordinance, the ones I have reviewed do not reveal to me any significant shortfalls or need for extreme modification, nor have I heard any complaints of that nature. Furthermore, city council has the authority to “tweak” any of these provisions as the need arises.
For these reasons, I am not in favor of a Charter Review at this time, but reserve the right to change my opinion if I am elected, and given the opportunity to more closely view the operations of the various departments of Wheeling. Although I am not personally in favor of review, I respect the petition process, and will always abide by the decision of residents of the Third Ward and the rest of the city.
Brian Wilson, Candidate:
I’m very much in favor of the Charter Review process as I believe it is tremendously overdue. Our current charter was approved 20-plus years ago, and Wheeling then was dramatically different than Wheeling now. At that time we were bleeding population, losing businesses, and our tax base was evaporating. Fast-forward to 2016, and we now are seeing people intentionally choosing Wheeling as the home for their families and business and helping resuscitate the hope that has so long been absent. The single most important reason to review the charter: to ensure that antiquated and/or irrelevant ordinances do not deter or dampen the growing hope that has descended upon our city.
I don’t believe that the charter needs to be scrapped completely and re-written, but it certainly makes sense to go through its entirety, and I believe it’s necessary to see which ordinances are relevant today and which ones have outlived their usefulness or need updating. With that being said, a factor of paramount importance that needs to be taken into consideration is whether or not ordinances are being enforced diligently and efficiently. If there are ordinances on the books that aren’t being enforced or only being partially enforced, then it’s time to revisit those and see how we can make them more effective or eliminate them altogether.
Having an atmosphere of ‘selective-enforcement’ can and will easily set the city itself up for unnecessary liability and undermine trust in the citizen/city relationship. In short, changes to the charter and amendments to ordinances should be taken very seriously and should only proceed with the best interest of our entire city in mind to keep the momentum going. We need to do everything within our power to protect and enhance our quality of life while allowing room for long-deserved growth and be able to reap those benefits.
David Miller, Incumbent:
With respect to charter review, any request should originate from the citizens. City council serves as a platform to put issues on the ballot, but the origin of charter changes or an overall charter review should be initiated by the people. A full charter review is a lengthily and expensive bureaucratic process. I personally don’t believe such a total review is warranted at this time, but we need to continually respond to citizens’ needs and address specific areas if they arise.
You will recall that we responded to citizen requests to allow the voters to decide whether to maintain or amend the mandatory two-man cruiser ordinance. Although we have a representative democracy, I’m happy this issue was presented to the citizens for their vote. If elected again, I do not plan to personally push for a charter review but will act upon citizen input and requests.
Personally, I think that an area that could be looked upon is staggering the city council terms so an entire slate isn’t elected every four years. Staggering the elections would ensure some continuity of current and partial proposals. As example, this current council has initiated the important renovations at Wesbanco Arena and attracted the corporate relocation of the Health Plan to downtown. Important large projects like these need continuity of management and direction.
Additionally, as population shifts, I think it is important to re-assess the boundary and number of the wards to ensure adequate and efficient representation. Several of the current wards contain very diverse neighborhood blocks that have very different needs and challenges.
Wendy Scatterday, Candidate:
I would advocate for a City Charter review process that is fully inclusive and encourages participation of the widest range of citizen input as possible. Additionally, a Charter Review Board should be established to facilitate the review/revision process that would ultimately result in recommendations for adoption by city council.
Generally speaking our charter and form of governance for Wheeling are aligned with what are nationally accepted standards and policies. Resources describing updates to city charters identify “innovation, advocacy, conservation, and adaptation” as the items to focus on when revising any City Charter.
As a community looking towards the future and transitioning as a place by reinventing our collective identity, our downtown and our neighborhoods would be well-served to engage in better identifying our goals. The City Charter serves as the mission statement of our community, and as such it deserves an in-depth review to ensure that what is written is meaningful and provides direction and context for decision-making.
The existing text of the Preamble section is good content; however doesn’t take into account how Wheeling has changed, or is changing, since 1992. Updating the language to better reflect our goals moving forward as a reinventing Wheeling will help serve as the overriding purpose and mission statement for our city.
I would also advocate for a vigorous discussion regarding ward representation for citywide seats focusing on adding two or three ‘at-large’ positions for City Council. One of the ‘at-large’ positions could be designated as a Vice-Mayor seat. These additional positions of leadership would provide greater opportunity for city residents to convey their input and have greater representation without the limitation of ward dividing lines. I would also advocate for term limits for consecutive terms for all council members, with that duration decided by the citizens.
Lloyd Adams, Candidate:
Having served as the chairperson of the last Charter Review Committee, I feel that the review was needed due to the time period that had elapsed since the previous review. The current charter has not been reviewed for another 20 years and should be reviewed to bring it into the 21st Century.
There are several areas to review – the number of wards; term limits on council members to two terms; review for outdated ordinances; language issues; and alternate election of council (half one year and two years later the other half ).
Ordinances I would consider changing are:
- Elected council members at-large versus by ward.
- Eliminating ordinances that are vague as to proper enforcement and timely enforcement, snow removal from sidewalks;
- Strengthen other ordinances such as downspout removal from house sanitary sewer lateral when storm and sanitary are separated.
Don Atkinson, Incumbent:
A Charter Review?
As of right now I’m not sure if we need a full review. There was a Charter Review in 1992, and I believe we have a decent charter. Are there changes and upgrades that should be looked at? Absolutely. I believe if you take a good look there is a very small percentage that needs addressed, and amendments and updates can be made through city council.
We have to remember a full charter review can be costly and will take upwards of a year or better to complete with review board member elections and a final vote of a full charter by the citizens and that’s only after lots of public meetings and being approved by the State Attorney General’s Office.
I will gladly support whatever direction the citizens would like to go but in my seven-plus years on council I’ve had very little discussion with any citizens about it. So ultimately the ideas for a full Charter Review and its changes will be up to the citizens if that’s their pleasure.
One of the changes I would like to be looked at is the election process.
Frank Calabrese, Candidate:
Yes, I favor the Charter Review process. It has been 24 years since the current charter was adopted and Wheeling has gone through a great many changes in that time. After the election, all newly elected officials – the mayor and council, along with the city manager – should take the time to review the City Charter in detail.
I support the current form of government, but I do have some concerns relating to specific sections of the charter. Section 26, which pertains to Appointments, and Section 63, which addresses Audits, are two areas that I believe will require a more detailed review.
While the city has evolved in the past 24 years, the Wheeling described in the Preamble of the Charter is unchanged. Wheeling’s excellent parks, relatively low crime, quality municipal services and friendly people still make it a desirable place to live and work.
Ty Thorngate, Candidate:
Since change within any city is inevitable, no governing document is going to remain perfect in the long term. As a result, it becomes necessary to review and update any charter in order to assure that the government continues to run efficiently. I view a charter as a living and progressive document that must keep pace with the current needs of a city, as well as its citizens. Our city has experienced significant changes within the past 25 years. We’ve lost nearly 6,000 residents. We’ve seen the legalization of table gaming and video lottery machines and sadly, we’ve watched as more than our share of storefronts closed their doors or moved out of city limits. This is why I support a “common sense” charter review process.
Amending a charter is a daunting task and one that should not be taken lightly; however, as a representative of the people, it’s our job to make sure that the city government and its residents are working together toward the goal of an efficient and fiscally responsible city. I’d like to make clear that I’m not in support of frequent and untested changes to the current charter. What I’d like to see accomplished is a charter review board that convenes every four years to assess the charter and determine if it’s still meeting the need of its citizens. Additionally, I believe it’s the responsibility of a city council to appraise every city ordinance on an annual basis.
While my final decision on which ordinances or sections of the charter to amend would certainly reflect the views and opinions of my constituents, there are two that I currently support:
- Limiting City Council seats to no more than two consecutive terms.
- Cutting one council seat and making the vice mayor position an at-large seat.
David Palmer – Candidate:
If elected, I will support the current charter review process and also abide by any amendments in the codified ordinances as set forth by the citizens who will vote on said amendments.
I believe this process is the best way to make the voters aware that their voices are being heard. I further feel that it would be inappropriate to speculate on what changes I may or may not support without further feedback from constitutes in ward 6.
Alex Coogan, Candidate:
I would make a charter review a top priority for this city. How can we expect to function and grow as a city and as a community without asking why? Why do we have these laws? Do we need them? Are they helpful? If the laws are not helpful (even if they don’t seem to be hurting) they should be removed as they are not serving a purpose.
We should also focus on modernizing the language and making the law less ambiguous. A good example is the “sidewalk clearing” ordinance. What is a reasonable amount of time? I venture to guess my time span of reasonable is very different from the next 10 people you talk to. I would support amending all business-related laws to make us more business friendly advertising laws for example. I would also support amending the “vicious dog ordinance” to not be breed specific as they is zero evidence supporting the “bully breeds” being more human aggressive. In conclusion, I would fully support a full review of all city ordinances and make it a top priority under administration if elected.
Tony Domenick, Candidate:
Charter review, yes. Times, directions, implementations change. Just as our U.S. Constitution has been subject to revision, so should any document. As for changing of current codified ordinances, every resident and business in the city has an ordinance they find odorous. That said, I find that no singular ordinance at this time has been quantified as being crippling to the future growth of Wheeling.
Glenn Elliott, Candidate:
I think Wheeling is ready for Charter Review. A lot has changed since our Charter was approved in 1992. Our demographics have shifted. We now have legalized gambling throughout our city. Our downtown is no longer a vibrant retail destination but is showing signs of life for office space, residential housing, and restaurants. It’s time we took a look at the Charter to ensure it reflects today’s Wheeling and improves tomorrow’s Wheeling. Our City’s leaders have been talking about Charter Review for nearly a decade. It takes just five council votes to place a referendum before voters to create a charter review commission. With nearly every council vote in the last eight years being unanimous, I am not sure why this hasn’t happened. That said, Charter Review is not to be taken lightly. It’s serious business that would involve months of effort.
With respect to the city’s codified ordinances, council has more flexibility to review, revise, and/or delete provisions in the course of its regular governance. And it should. I commend current council for simplifying the city’s business license and registration structure, and there are opportunities to revisit some remaining licensing provisions that date from the 1950s. Council must also identify existing ordinances that aren’t being enforced and make one of three decisions for each: resume enforcement, repeal the provision, or amend the provision and enforce accordingly. And council needs to think creatively. For example, we have an ordinance for city expenditures that requires the city manager to consider five factors about a vendor before awarding a winning bid. Whether a vendor is located in Wheeling is not a factor. Why shouldn’t it be?
Gene Fahey, Vice-Mayor and Ward Six Council Representative; Candidate:
There are two ways a Charter review can take place; one is brought independently by an action of city council; the other avenue would be by petition of residents to council in which council acts upon to carry forth the review.
Personally, I would be very much in favor of a Charter Review since the last review of the City Charter was nearly 25 years ago. One aspect of the City Charter that I would be interested in seeing revised is the amount of wards that the city currently has at this time. Currently there are seven council votes – six are council men and women elected in their ward residents and one by the mayor, who is elected by a citywide vote.
I believe that a better system would be to narrow the amount of wards from six to four and have two council people elected at-large. This system would keep a total of 7 council votes, 4 elected from wards, 2 elected at-large, and the mayor.
(Photos by Steve Novotney)