Rights Group Vote Is Today

Months after cutting the Wheeling Human Rights Commission’s budget by nearly 80 percent, City Council will now decide whether the commission should be restructured to reflect those resources.

In doing so, it would limit – although not eliminate entirely – the commission’s authority to investigate reports of discrimination in the city. The proposed ordinance up for a vote during council’s 5:30 p.m. meeting today on the first floor of the City-County Building represents something of a compromise from initial legislation that would have sent all such cases directly to the West Virginia Human Rights Commission.

The modified proposal on council’s agenda today would leave intact the commission’s ability to investigate reports of discrimination, determine whether probable cause to proceed exists and attempt to resolve those issues through mediation.

However, the commission would no longer have the authority to take action against employers, landlords or others found to be guilty of discriminatory practices, leaving that function up to the West Virginia Human Rights Commission.

When a resident lodges a formal discrimination complaint with the commission, members would have 10 days to decide whether to accept it or forward it to the West Virginia Human Rights Commission in Charleston. Complaints involving the city of Wheeling automatically would be forwarded to the state agency for adjudication, as would any case in which attempts to mediate the dispute locally fail.

Other changes under the proposed new ordinance include the reduction of its membership from nine to seven and removal of a requirement that the board include a practicing attorney. Commission members also would no longer be prohibited from holding office in any political party.

In other business, council will vote on a resolution to provide $219,000 to the West Virginia Division of Highways to help fund replacement of the Schenk Street bridge. City Manager Robert Herron previously said the DOH agreed to cover the remainder of the estimated $600,000 to $700,000 overall cost of the work.

The bridge is one of only two access points to the Peninsula area of the city – a teardrop-shaped piece of land bounded by a sharp bend in Big Wheeling Creek – and is in dire need of replacement, city officials have said. A partial collapse of one of the span’s beams in February forced emergency repairs and led City Council to reprogram federal Community Development Block Grant funding from the 2011-12 fiscal year that will cover the city’s share of the project cost.