Lunch Plan Gets Commission OK

Since a shrinking budget left Executive Director Theresa Garrett as the Wheeling Human Rights Commission’s only paid employee, she said she’s been so busy she can seldom find time to take a lunch break.

That revelation prompted commissioners to legislate that she do so by voting to close the commission’s office from noon to 1 p.m. each day. The discussion came after Commissioner Chuck Hood asked Garrett how she’d been faring since the departure of longtime office assistant Beth Czerwonka at the end of June.

Although trainee Arnold Kuhl, whose wages are paid by the National Council on Aging, works at the office about 20 hours per week, Garrett said it’s the first time in her more than 20 years as executive director that she’s been without an experienced assistant, and the transition has been difficult.

“I don’t even know what lunch hour is anymore. … It’s just a madhouse,” Garrett said.

The commission’s activities are funded entirely with federal Community Development Block Grant money. Its budget was cut to $65,897 from the $79,573 it received last fiscal year as Wheeling saw its overall CDBG entitlement slashed by about $200,000 this year to $1.12 million.

“I wish we had a solution for you,” commission Chairwoman Rabbi Beth Jacowitz-Chottiner told Garrett, adding that she knows someone who recently moved back into the area and may be willing to do some volunteer office work for the commission. “Your struggles are not falling on deaf ears.”

Noting that an overly stressful work environment can be unhealthy, Hood made a motion to order the office be closed during the lunch hour, which commissioners approved unanimously.

Also addressed during the meeting were the pending reappointments of Commissioners George Blum, Shawn Fluharty and Jacowitz-Chottiner. Their terms expired several weeks ago, but City Council has not yet voted to extend those terms.

Hood said the situation isn’t an emergency because commissioners may serve until a replacement is named, even if their terms are expired. He suggested a phone call be made to City Clerk Janice Jones to try and get the reappointments on the agenda for council’s Sept. 4 meeting, which Garrett said she would do.

In other business, Garrett said the commission has been dealing with three open complaints, but requested commissioners accept the withdrawal of two of them, both of which involved investigation of possible racial discrimination, one related to housing and the other to public accommodation. That request passed unanimously.