Wheeling City Council Holds Contentious Meeting; Rejects Resolution Re-Affirming the Civil Rights of Wheeling Residents
Emotions were high as the Wheeling City Council met on Tuesday. Council rejects Civil Rights Affirmation Resolution 3-3. Unanimously approved 78-acre oil and gas license with no debate.
The Wheeling City Council met for its first meeting of March today, Tuesday March 7, 2023. What started as a typical– even boring –bureaucratic responsibility quickly turned heated during the consideration of a resolution reaffirming the City of Wheeling’s commitment to the Civil Rights of its citizens in the wake of HB 3042, known as the Religious Restoration and Freedom Act– what some consider to be a bill allowing discrimination against LGBTQ+ people by religious businesses owners –which now sits on Governor Justice’s desk after being adopted by the WV Legislature earlier this month.
Amy, a citizen of Wheeling, spoke against the resolution saying it would send a conflicting message to the Governor. She continued by claiming the resolution misrepresented the religious community and deepens the divide between people in the U.S, claiming it causes “moral and communal concerns.”
Councilor Dave Palmer spoke in opposition of the resolution saying he supports civil rights and the Wheeling Human Rights Commission non-discrimination ordinances, but believes the Council should “stay in their lane” and not buck the State Legislature on HB 3042.
Councilor Ben Seidler also spoke in opposition pointing to the “rushed” nature of the resolution, saying it had been “dropped in our laps” 24 hours ago. Councilor Seidler claimed this resolution was a concoction of the “far-left” members of the Council, calling the move a political stunt. The Wheeling City Council is a non-partisan office.
Councilor Seidler then made a remark to the “far-right” and “Republicans” in the audience who he said used the mic to “spread their hate more than the other side” during public testimony. The Councilor cited “misinformation and hatred” he has seen from some online as he excoriated them and disavowed their support, stating these people do not represent him.
Councilor Rosemary Ketchum and Vice Mayor Thalman both spoke in support of the resolution, citing economic concerns if HB 3042 is enacted. Councilor Ketchum mentioned that the City of Wheeling can be a haven for young people who, she says, tell her West Virginia isn’t a place for them. You can hear my conversation with Councilor Ketchum here, where we discuss this issue of belonging in West Virginia as an LGBTQ+ person.
The resolution failed 3-3, with Councilors Palmer, Seidler, and Sklavounakis voting in the negative. Had Mayor Glenn Elliott, who was absent, been present the resolution would likely have been adopted.
The City Council Chambers boiled over when known agitator and citizen of Wheeling, who I will be calling “C”, spoke during public comment displaying a sign with the letters “SWC,” which she said stood for “Straight White Christian.” She also held up a bible and a desk flag, presumably with the “Straight White Christian” sign on it. She stated she was going to “force everybody to see it” as she taped the large sign to the speaker’s podium.
In what I can only describe as a stream-of-consciousness-style rant full of attacks and social media drama, “C” went on for more than six minutes lambasting the recent event at Primanti Bros where members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies held a “dine-in” protest after a recent Drag Show was canceled due to safety concerns and threats made to the performers and the restaurant. You can read about those threats and the Drag Queens affected here.
She said she was “scared to death” to attend the city council meetings, alluding to threats she claimed to have received, and a protective order served against her by a resident of Morgantown. “C” then read multiple statements she claims she received after the Primanti Bros drag event was canceled, including posts about hosting a drag show in her back yard and one that said “C”, your Jesus is a drag queen.”
“C” then went on to personally attack Councilor Rosemary Ketchum, referring to her as “you people” and “little girl.” She pointed to Councilor Ketchum and said “you people want to rub our nose in it,” referring to the Councilors support of the dine-in protest. After the meeting “C” approached another member of the public and got within inches of her face, yelling “Who are you? What do mean by hate speech? Get away from me!” I was unable to hear the full conversation, but, as I stated, “C” was screaming in this person’s face– a huge contrast to the whimpering voice she offered while claiming to “fear for her life” at the Council Meetings.
The Rules Committee met before the City Council Meeting at 5:30 where a nuisance complaint in East Wheeling was brought up. A resident reached out to the City about a dog which howls for long periods of time in the neighborhood, and concerns about the dog’s health and well being voiced. The Committee discussed the legal department investigating what changes can be made, but the City Solicitor noted that West Virginia code is supreme, and the City may not exceed the state's animal abuse laws.
Mayor Glenn Elliott was absent. Vice Mayor Thalman gave the Mayor’s Report recognizing the recent Basketball Tournament held this past weekend where the Glenville State College Women’s team and West Liberty University Men’s Team won, respectively. “Inclusion on Ice” will be held at the WesBanco Arena on March 12 with a performance from the Wheeling Nailers and Lightning Birds from 12-1, and a public skate opportunity from 1-3. March 2023 was also Proclaimed in honor of Social Service workers and providers.
Three resolutions were adopted from the Council’s last meeting: 1) the creation of a no parking zone near Providence Green on 5th St, (2) the conveyance of land comprising the former Ohio Valley Medical Center to WVU Medicine, and (3) the approval of an additional $35,000 for the new Wheeling Police Department.
The OVMC project is on schedule according to City Manager Robert Herron, citing WVU Medicine’s progress in their environmental impact study. This project may be out to bid as early as May.
City Manager Herron noted that the Wheeling Police Department will be fully operational as of March 20, and a public open house is being considered for sometime in April. The City Manager also touted 46 demolition projects that have been completed throughout the city, with another eight possible.
City Manager Herron commented on the concrete pour at the 11th St Parking Garage, citing Wednesday’s warm weather (low-70s) meant the concrete did not need external heating to dry– saving the city $10,000.
The Fitzsimmons Dog Park is expected to open by the first or second week of April, unless March’s weather is dry. The dog park being worked on in Warwood was delayed due to inadequate grass seeding. New seed was placed last year and the city is waiting to see how the grass did through winter.
As I reported in my first article on the Wheeling City Council, concerns were raised by Councilor Ben Seidler about unfinished business at demolition sites. It was confirmed by the City Manager that the company in question is Aster Oil Fields, and that 10% of the contracts with them have been withheld until they complete lists of required cleanup provided by the city.
Three original resolutions were voted on and adopted this evening. First to noted was the unanimous adoption of a lease with Southwestern Energy Productions without any debate from Councilors. A public comment hearing was held but no residents signed up to speak. The lease includes 78 “net mineral acres” and allows the extraction of oil, gas, and other minerals from the site.
An original resolution was adopted unanimously to extend the exemption for the cost of a business license for businesses negatively impacted by the Streetscapes project. Many councilors spoke about the struggle some business-owners were having as work continues for a third year. Businesses impacted are those located between 9th St and 16th St on Market St and Main St, as well as those businesses on 10th St, 12th St, 14th St, and 16th St. City Manager Herron noted that this amounts to roughly $10,000 in savings in total, or anywhere from $15-$1,000 per individual business.
REMARKS FROM COUNCILORS:
Councilor Dave Palmer, 6th Ward Crime Watch meeting is scheduled for March 15,
Councilor Jerry Sklavounakis, 4th Ward meeting is scheduled for March 14,
Councilor Rosemary Ketchum, 3rd Ward ‘Office Hours” to be held at the Center Market from 11-1 on March 14 Councilor Ketchum also recognized Bridgestreet Middle School for their :Wheeling: Then and Now history celebration, and Ritchie Town Renaissance for their work in South Wheeling in preservation and restoration.
Councilor Ben Seidler honored all first responders in Wheeling for their hard work. Councilor Seidler noted that neighborhood cleanup projects are being planned for this Spring
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