First Meeting Held in New Chambers

Mayor Andy McKenzie believes the opening of Wheeling City Council’s new chambers inside the City-County Building represents more than new carpet, furniture and big shiny flatscreen monitors.

As he commented on council’s new surroundings during its first meeting there on Tuesday, he noted one of his goals upon taking office in 2008 was “to invest in ourselves and really make ourselves look like a progressive city, a modern city.”

The move from their old chambers on the second floor to the former sheriff’s tax office on the first floor took close to a year and cost almost $160,000, about half of which City Manager Robert Herron said came from a state grant for technology.

The sea-foam green walls, laminate-covered tables and hard plastic spectator chairs of council’s former meeting space have now been replaced with carpeting, wood-paneling, comfortable chairs and two large monitors on which visitors can follow along with council’s agenda and votes. The screens can also be used for PowerPoint presentations.

“I think this is a wise investment into the people’s building, the people’s room,” said McKenzie.

The Tuesday meeting opened with an atypical touch of fanfare as the Wheeling Police and Fire Honor Guard posted the colors.

Council’s agenda was brief for its first gathering in the new surroundings, as members approved five items by unanimous votes: replacing the two-hour parking meters on the north side of 17th Street between Market and Chapline streets with five-hour meters; authorizing Herron to apply for a U.S. Department of Justice Grant to help pay for the cost of assigning police officers to five city schools as prevention resource officers; establishing handicapped parking spaces in front of 220 Jefferson Ave. and 3 Richmond Ave.; and rescinding a no-parking zone in front of a now-vacant building at 50 Gaewood Ave.

There were a couple glitches with the computerized voting as the system failed to record some council members’ votes on two occasions, but the process worked on the second try both times.

Bill O’Leary of Elm Grove was the first resident to address council inside their new chambers – a distinction O’Leary said he’s honored to have. But he told council he wished they would have taken the opportunity to make council meetings more resident-friendly, including lifting the three-minute speaking limit and taking more time to respond to those who come to meetings with concerns.

O’Leary, a regular attendee of council meetings, also made a sarcastic observation on the typically sparse attendance at meetings, which was a bit stronger than normal Tuesday but fell far short of a full gallery.

“I think this room is beautiful and is a big improvement … but you didn’t have to do all this just for (my wife) Sharon and I,” he said.

Councilman Don Atkinson also commented on the police department’s recent transition from assigning two officers to each patrol cruiser to just one. He said the increased patrol coverage as a result has been noticeable.

“I’m very glad to see all the police cars on the street. … All the residents I’ve talked to are very pleased.”