That’s how Brian Wilson now feels. At first, yup, it was an intimidating little piece of Wheeling’s modern-day history, but these days, following his first year as the council representative, he’s concentrated on both the positives and negatives present in the five different sections of Ward 3.
It is a district that includes East Wheeling and a southern sliver of the downtown area, Centre Wheeling and Mozart, and South Wheeling, too, and because he works in the preservation industry here in the Upper Ohio Valley, Wilson sees potential and a need for property owners to be held accountable for what they purchased.
“It’s been a great experience although it’s been overwhelming at times,” Wilson said. “I will admit that it’s tough to be prepared for certain things because there really is something new each and every day, but it’s really been amazing during the first year. I’ve learned a lot, and I have met so many terrific people.
“Yes, it’s been more than I bargained for when I decided to run for the position, but it’s been a good way. It was tough going into the job because I didn’t have a mentor who could fill me in on the things that I should have expected,” he continued. “So, it took me some time to learn the dynamics of the jobs, the chain of command, and how I could be most efficient for the people of Ward 3. I just want to help our residents as much as I possibly can.”
In May 2016, Wilson was one of six new members selected to Wheeling Council, including Mayor Glenn Elliott, Chad Thalman (Ward 1), Wendy Scatterday (Ward 4), Ty Thorngate (Ward 5), and Dave Palmer (Ward 6), and a little more than a year ago he joined the group in becoming an elected official for the first time in his life.
“This is much more than two meetings per month; trust me on that. I’m not complaining at all, though, because I was aware there would be the emails and voicemails and the committee meetings and the time I needed to spend in all areas of Ward 3, but there is even more than what I expected,” Wilson explained. “That’s why I think my biggest challenge so far has involved time management, and I believe we all have been struggling with that.
“But now that we have been in office for a year, I think we are all prepared to have a very effective second year,” he said. “We all have made the transition that we’ve needed to make as we learned more and more about everything involved with it.”
Prior to that very first council meeting, the mayor and council members met with the city’s department directors and a number of employees, too, to develop ideas about how to improve working conditions and city services, and during the initial year council has implemented a nondiscrimination ordinance and a fresh playgrounds and parks initiative. Their efforts to engage the city’s residents proved successful, too, and they staged a number of regular meetings inside local schools.
“I know, through the first year, I can look back at every vote and sleep with a clear conscience because I feel good about every one of them,” Wilson said. “That includes the non-discrimination ordinance and goes all the way to the votes that simply pay the city’s bills.
“The condition of our playgrounds is something I know I heard about while campaigning, so I believe it was an accomplishment to hire a new director, Jesse Mestrovic, for that position, and he has developed a plan that’s already in motion in a couple of areas in the city,” he reported. “Some of the playgrounds are downright dangerous, and I am very pleased to see those properties getting upgrades for the young people in our city.”
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Wilson was in the middle of the conversation that took place with the leadership of the American Legion Post 89 on 15th Street in East Wheeling. After Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger and City Manager Bob Herron both recommended a nuisance designation for the establishment, Wilson and Elliott worked with local residents and the proprietor to establish a list of conditions that would allow for Post 89’s social quarters to remain in operation.
“That location was imploding for a while under the old management, and on the outside it was exploding in a way, too,” Wilson said. “There were a lot of issues there, the police had to visit there pretty often, and the residents were fed up. It was a problem that needed addressed, so that’s what happened, and we were able to work things out with the leadership there to get it back to a peaceful place that people enjoy frequenting.
“The folks at the Legion have turned the corner, and now I hope to see some of the improvements to the exterior of the structure,” he said. “As far as I know, there is not yet a set plan to deal with that project, but they do know what is expected. It’s a big-ticket item, but I am working with them to get a volunteer effort going to see if the people of East Wheeling would like to help them with it. I’d love to see us all work together to transform that corner.”
The purchase by the city of riverfront land on Wheeling Island, Wilson believes, will prove to be a key acquisition for the residents of that area, and he feels the same way about two Main Street structures that are located very close to the construction site of the new Health Plan headquarters.
“This is the first time in my life that I can recall that I am not the only person in the city who is excited for our downtown area,” he said. “There’s been that focus on our downtown for several years because of the importance of those areas in cities like Wheeling, and we’ve been blamed during our first year of only focusing on the downtown area, but I know that’s not true. I know I am very interested in the downtown, but my loyalty lies in my ward when it comes right down to it.
“With the coming of the Health Plan headquarters and the other investments that will follow, I think it’s been a responsibility of this council to not only look at the short-term needs, but also to consider long-term strategies,” Wilson continued. “Wheeling has been in survival mode for about 30 years now, so looking so far in the future may seem like a new concept to some people, but it’s something we feel needs to take place now.”
As his second year as the Third Ward’s representative gets under way, Wilson hopes to increase the number of conversations he holds with ward residents and to expand the city’s ability to address slumlords. He and his council colleagues also will continue working with the state officials with the Division of Highways on the upcoming downtown streetscape project.
Soon, too, Mayor Elliott and the six council members will decide how to expend the municipality’s $1 million carryover.
“Because we walked into office with the city being financially stable and with a cash carryover, we get to the do the fun stuff,” Wilson explained. “Our city manager, Bob Herron, deserves so much credit for that, and now we get to talk about ideas as far as the best use those funds.
“I’m looking forward to those conversations because I know we’ll bring up ideas that we all want to discuss,” he added. “I know I am looking at Ward 3 very closely to determine what would best benefit our residents, and I am sure the others are doing the same.”