Wheeling City Council Meets May 16; Approves $1.7 Million for Stone Center
Wheeling City Council met for their last regularly scheduled meeting of May where over sixty residents showed up.
The Wheeling City Council met for its second meeting of the month on May 16, with every member present—the first month without absences. This meeting was well attended by over sixty individuals due to a request by the Friendlier City Project for supporters of the LGBTQ+ to show up. In attendance was former state Senator Owens Brown and current Delegate Shawn Fluharty.
Before the City Council met, the Finance Committee approved the April financial statement which saw lower than expected tax revenue—something City Manager Robert Herron said would likely be updated and amended upwards before the council’s next meeting in June.
Mayor Glenn Elliott began the mayor’s report by noting the upcoming State of the City address for 12:00 on July 25 at the Wheeling Island Casino. Elliott said the city was considering a sign for Heritage Port, noting the lack of a current marker. Elliott made mention of the revival of the Recreation Commission, which has sat dormant for years. He encouraged citizens interested in joining the commission to submit a resume and letter of intent to City Clerk Jessica Zalenski through email.
Mayor Elliott then yielded time to Homeless Liaison Melissa Adams and Dr Bill Mercer to speak about the Life Hub—a non-profit seeking to open a low-barrier shelter that will also offer transitional housing, education for life skills, and coordinate support with Wheeling’s other charitable organizations.
Homeless Liaison Adams spoke first about her role as Homeless Liaison, saying the year she has been in office has been challenging, but that she hit the ground running. She informed the Council of a recent partnership with the WV Department of Environmental Protection to clean up camp sites across the city. This cleanup effort took two weeks with the only cost to the city being a roll-off dumpster.
Speaking about the Life Hub, Homeless Liaison Adams said it will help organizations in the city collaborate to offer the best care possible for homeless residents and others struggling with poverty. She said the services provided now are already great, but there are gaps that the Life Hub will help fill. Adams spoke about the recent winter freeze shelter where two hundred unique individuals sought refuge. The shelter, operated by Life Hub, saw three calls to police compared to daily calls in previous years. When the shelter closed the city saw an influx of camps, something Adams said wouldn’t have happened if the Life Hub had a permanent shelter location.
Ultimately, Homeless Liaison Adams was before the Council asking for over $1 million in funding—something she said would show other funders that the City of Wheeling had a stake in the organization. “I have spoken with [Sen] Manchin and [Sen] Capito,” Adams said. “They’re very supportive. They plan to use the Life Hub as a pilot program.” Adams thanked the Ohio County Commission who provided $215,000 in funding to the non-profit.
Councilor Jerry Sklavounakis, Ward 4, asked how many Life Hubs there were across the country, to which Adams said there were no exact models like it. Sklavounakis asked for an explanation of the Life Hub, to which Adams said it would provide wrap-around services without duplicating what other organizations are doing. “We will not have a conventional kitchen because there are soup kitchens,” Adams said.
Vice Mayor Chad Thalman, Ward 1, asked whether the Life Hub would be constructed without city dollars, to which Adams replied “The project will happen with or without city funding, but I believe so passionately that if we want to see a change with homelessness in the city this is the what needs to happen.” She said it would be sad and disappointing if the city rejected the funding, but it wouldn’t stop her.
Councilor Ty Thorngate, Ward 5, asked of Adams how many of the 200 who used the winter freeze shelter this past season were from Ohio County, to which she estimated only 15% came from out of county. This follows a line of concerns that the Life Hub would encourage people to come to Wheeling, something Adams said is possible noting similar organizations who have seen homeless populations increase slightly before leveling off again. Adams spoke of a woman who traveled from Colorado fleeing a domestic situation saying, upon learning there was no shelter, had began walking to Keyser, WV, with her young child. Adams said had she not been here this woman may have been stuck in Wheeling forever.
Councilor Ben Seidler, Ward 2, commended the work of Homeless Liaison Adams, saying it was worth being proud of that she had found funding for 90% of the project already. The Life Hub is expected to cost over $20 million. Seidler finished by saying the ARPA application by the Life Hub was the most life-changing project the city considered, and he was optimistic.
Mayor Elliott concluded the lengthy presentation by saying, “It’s hard for people to get their life on track if they don’t have housing.” Elliott noted that offering housing first was a proven way to reduce homelessness. He commended the City Council for choosing to do something, rather than doing nothing.
The City Council moved on to unfinished business, or items originally announced during their May 2 meeting. Seven ordinances were passed, six of them unanimously.
a $23,500 contract with Savage Construction of Wheeling to correct a road slippage on E Cardinal Rd, vote 7-0
a $38,000 demolition contract with Doty Salvage of Moundsville, WV, for the former St Gladys (sp) Church at 4414 Wood St, vote 7-0
a $60,000 demolition contract with Aster Oilfield Services of Bellaire, OH, for 310 North Huron Street, 1211 Lind Street, 4326 Water Street, 4335 Jacob Street, 64-37th Street, 3730 Jacob Street, 3842 Eoff Street, and 2625 Eoff Street, vote 7-0
a $1,759,745 contract with Ohio Valley Industrial & Business Development Corporation, of Wheeling for improvements to the Stone Center building, vote 7-0
City Manager Herron was asked about the $1,759,745 contract to repair the Stone Center Building. The funding will go to improve the first, third, and fourth floors of the building, as well as the HVAC system for the building. Herron mentioned TIFF bonds were used to retain Williams Lea as an employer in the city. Williams Lea is a global provider of skilled business-critical support services to financial, legal and professional services firms and occupies the Stone Center in downtown Wheeling and employees over 400 people. Herron also noted past ordinances to approve solar panels for the building.
a contract with Top Notch of Wheeling for grass cutting from April to September, vote 7-0
a $405,600 contract with O’Brien’s Rent All & Sales Inc. of Wheeling for 23rd St sewer system reconstruction, vote 6-1
Councilor Dave Palmer, Ward 6, was the only ‘No’ vote on the $405,600 contract to repair the sewer system on 23rd St. Palmer asked no questions during the discussion period; it is unclear why he voted no.
Remarks from Members of Council
Each meeting members of Council are given the opportunity to give remarks. Most members routinely turn down this chance to address their constituents, something that baffles the Hudson Household Editorial. It is our belief that members of Council should have prepared remarks. Some members who routinely speak did so tonight:
Councilor Dave Palmer, Ward 6, brought up a procedural issue to the City Solicitor. Palmer called in to question a vote by the Health and Recreation Committee on May 12 that approved an ordinance pertaining to splash pads despite it not appearing on the agenda. The City Solicitor confirmed any items not on the agenda could not be voted on. Palmer then requested the action be consider null and void, questioning the legality of the approval.
Councilor Ty Thorngate, Ward 5, declined to speak.
Vice Mayor Chad Thalman, Ward 1, declined to speak.
Councilor Jerry Sklavounakis, Ward 4, declined to speak, motioning to the full crowd saying he was excited to hear what they had to say.
Councilor Rosemary Ketchum, Ward 3, congratulated the Ohio County Public Library on celebrating their 50th anniversary at their 52-16th St location, and for the event Lunch With Books held to recognize the milestone. Ketchum announced the South Wheeling Crime Watch meeting for May 23 at 6:00 PM. Ketchum ended her comments by mentioned she had received multiple community inquiries about ways to manage litter, thanking City Manager Herron and Assistant City Manager Bill Lanham for agreeing to work on addressing the issue. Mayor Elliott noted that the Streetscape project affecting Main and Market Streets included the addition of more trash cans.
Councilor Ben Seidler, Ward 2, recommended that the Council stop allowing members of the public to yield their time to other people speaking, something he said had no legal basis and allowed for certain individuals to ‘grandstand.’ Mayor Elliott said he continued the tradition from previous City Councils, but that it was something they could talk about on a later date.
City Manager’s Report
City Manager Robert Herron offered his report. He updated the public on the Market Street bridge closure which he said needed a total deck replacement. The project has almost completed its engineering phase and the WV Division of Highways has said it will be open by the Main Street Christmas Parade. Herron spoke of the Wheeling Fire Department Headquarters, noting the walls are up and steel framing will be completed later in the week. Herron also spoke of the ongoing paving projects, saying the city had 58% of the project remaining from last year and that currently they were 40% finished with the remaining projects. Herron also spoke of the Streetscape saying the contractor, Triton Construction, was “hitting their stride” after a slow start with found rail cars, neglected storm drains, and other issues.
Councilor Palmer asked if the city could publish what streets were to be paved next, to which Herron agreed.
Councilor Sklavounakis asked about the Forest Hill Road slippage, to which Herron said it appeared the sewage system had collapsed and that crews were on site last week with a report expected in the next ten days.
Councilor Ketchum asked about the Tunnel Green painting project, to which Herron said it had been delayed due to a lack of buyers on for the contract. Herron said the contract would be out to bid again soon and that two contractors from Pittsburgh were contacted.
Councilor Ketchum asked about the Market St Parking Structure, to which Herron said it had been delayed due to rain. The completion date has been moved about a month past its previously expected October opening.
Mayor Elliott asked if the Wheeling Fire Department Headquarters was on schedule, to which Herron said it was still scheduled to open on December 31.
City Clerk Jessica Zalenski then read original propositions to be considered at the next City Council meeting. They include,
A $24,974 contract with Savage Construction of Wheeling, WV, for retaining wall repairs at the new 17th St Wheeling Fire Department Headquarters,
A $26,000 contract with CT Consultants of Mentor, OH, for ‘Professional Engineering Services’ for Clator, 36th St, and Elm Terrace playgrounds,
An ordinance to continue the no parking zone on the south side of 5th St as recommended by the Traffic Commission
A $79,000 contract with Cattrell Companies of Toronto, OH, for a 12th St archway for Heritage Port,
A contract of approximately $115,000 with M&G Engineers of Wheeling, WV, for services associated with the demolition of the Center Wheeling Parking Garage.
The public was given a chance to speak. The Friendlier City Project—a non-profit in Wheeling seeking to build and foster and thriving LGBTQ+ community in the city—asked supporters of the LGBTQ+ community to come out and speak. This was in response to Carlee Dittmar, chair of the Ohio County Republican Party, who takes to the mic every meeting to rail against the LGBTQ+ community, attack Councilor Rosemary Ketchum by name, and otherwise spread her bigoted messages. Dittmar is infamous in Wheeling for her conspiratorial postings online. You can read the full story about the public comment period on the Hudson Household Editorial.
Out of the six who spoke, four did so in favor of the LGBTQ+ community and the Friendlier City Project’s upcoming Pride on the Plaza event on June 10.
Johnny Haught of Ohio Valley MMA said the City of Wheeling had a chance to earn its moniker of ‘The Friendly City’ by supporting this event. He said he and his students would ensure the pride event was safe for everyone, implying he would be running security. “We are not divided,” Haught said. “The event will go on.” The audience erupted in cheers.
Cathy Brooks spoke in favor of the pride festival and offered a history of drag events spanning throughout human history. “We all grew up with drag,” Brooks said. She then noted 1 in 10 kids in West Virginia will be sexually abused, citing a study that showed most often by parents or churches. “Drag shows didn’t make the list,” Brooks said. Again, the audience erupted in cheers.
Carlee Dittmar rose to speak, first accusing Councilor Seidler of “stirring up this crap” when he spoke to The Intelligencer after leaving the May 2 meeting abruptly. Dittmar said the only one grandstanding was him. Dittmar addressed her comments to the audience calling out people who had spoke. This lead to members of the audience to ask if she was addressing the Council or the audience. Mayor Glenn Elliott asked attendees to hold their comments while others spoke. Despite that, members of the audience continued to jeer Dittmar, some booing her as she sat down.
Julia Chapman rose to speak. Chapman often yields her time to Dittmar to allow her to speak for longer. She commended Homeless Liaison Melissa Adams and says she hopes the Life Hub succeeds. Chapman then said she prayed the crime rate wouldn’t increase.
Susan Hagan spoke, asking the council, “aren’t y’all tired of hearing the same things every meeting.” She noted that no drag show was scheduled for the Pride on the Plaza, saying, “If you don’t want your children at a pride festival don’t take them.” The audience erupted in cheers.
Mikaya Green, founder of the Friendlier City Project, spoke last. Green emphasized that the Pride on the Plaza event was the first pride festival the group has held—an attempt to clarify confusion about past pride events. Green said, “Wheeling has shown that the locals are strongly in support. We love Wheeling.” She thanked the supporters who showed up to the meeting and encouraged anyone with questions to reach out to the Friendlier City Project on Facebook. The audience erupted in cheers.
City Council adjourned. The next City Council meeting is scheduled for June 6.
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