City Defends Cruiser Vote

WHEELING – City Manager Robert Herron said Thursday that Wheeling City Council did nothing improper in voting to allow the public to decide whether Wheeling’s law requiring two police officers ride in every patrol car should stand.

Herron also presented a timeline of council’s actions – supported by official meeting minutes – leading up to its vote on the cruiser rule election. This timeline contradicts what the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 38 outlined in a complaint filed Tuesday in Ohio County Circuit Court.

The FOP is seeking an injunction against the city, claiming council violated city code and West Virginia’s open meetings law in enacting the legislation that initiated the referendum.

“City Council properly exercised all of its legislative authority. … It was all above board – all of it,” said Herron.

Herron said the city was served with the complaint Thursday by certified mail. The city has 30 days to respond – a deadline that falls on Nov. 17, 11 days after the general election.

Herron said the ordinance to repeal the two-officer requirement will be on the Nov. 6 ballot, and residents will have the opportunity to vote on it. The results of that election could be declared null and void, however, if the FOP has its way.

Their complaint alleges City Council failed to fulfill its requirement to notify the public of its July 17 and Aug. 7 meetings, and argues any actions arising from those meetings should be declared invalid. It states council held a reading of the cruiser ordinance at its July 17 meeting, and further alleges that meeting was held at noon rather than at 7 p.m. as prescribed by the city ordinance that was in effect at that time.

However, the excerpt of meeting minutes quoted in the complaint does not appear in the July 17 minutes, but in the Aug. 7 meeting minutes. It was during that Aug. 7 meeting, Herron said, that the cruiser ordinance was introduced to council for first reading.

Herron said no discussion of the cruiser issue took place during the July 17 meeting, a statement supported by the minutes of that meeting. The Aug. 7 meeting, he said, was moved from 7 p.m. to noon so council could attend the National Night Out event that evening.

The Aug. 7 meeting time change was published in a legal notice that appeared in the July 31 editions of both The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register.

City code states, “Council shall hold one regular meeting on the first and third Tuesday of each month and, except as otherwise herein provided, such regular meeting shall be held in the Council Chambers, in the City-County Building, in the City, and shall commence at 7:00 p.m.” City code also provides that “Special meetings of Council shall be held upon the request of any two members of council. Such request shall be in writing, signed by the members of the same, and shall be filed with the clerk in such time as to permit the giving of not less than twelve hours’ notice of such special meeting to each member and each person entitled to a seat in Council and it shall thereupon become the duty of the Clerk to give such notice. The Clerk shall also give notice of such special meeting by advertisement once in a newspaper of general circulation in the city.”

Herron said the request from council to change the Aug. 7 meeting time was verbal, not written, but he said the shift in start times does not change the fact it was a regular meeting.

“It was a regular meeting on the first Tuesday of the month. … From time to time, City Council has changed the time of meetings to noon – mainly to get out in the community,” he said.

The FOP complaint also alleges that council violated Wheeling’s charter by holding two readings of the ordinance and voting on it during the Aug. 7 meeting, as council may do only in cases of “a pressing public emergency,” according to the charter. However, Herron said one reading took place on Aug. 7, and the ordinance was not approved until council’s Aug. 21 meeting.

Council’s Aug. 21 meeting minutes reflect a vote of 6-1 in favor of putting the cruiser ordinance on the Nov. 6 ballot, with Councilman Robert “Herk” Henry casting the lone “no” vote.

Howard, when contacted Thursday, referred all questions to the lodge’s attorney, Stephen Herndon, who could not be reached for comment.