Address Charter Issue Carefully

Amending Wheeling’s City Charter could have colossal ramifications for the community, either for good or ill, long into the future. Whether to even propose changes needs to be considered very carefully by city officials – and the residents and businesses who would be affected.

Mayor Andy McKenzie wants City Council to form a review committee to evaluate the current charter, then to recommend modifications. He made the proposal during his annual State of the City speech on Tuesday.

Charters are the municipal equivalent of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. They are the most basic, inflexible rules for local government. As such, charters should not be amended for temporary considerations or without contemplation about the ramifications years and even decades into the future. The last time it was done here was in 1992.

Wheeling’s charter cannot be altered without a vote of the people. If Council decides changes are needed, they could be placed on the ballot for the November 2014 election.

One aspect of the issue involves a new comprehensive plan on which city officials are just beginning work. State law requires comprehensive plans be amended every 10 years; Wheeling’s new one needs to be completed by 2014.

It probably is no coincidence a new plan, basically, a blueprint for future development, is being devised at the same time McKenzie wants a review of the charter. The mayor may believe a new charter would make it easier to implement a new comprehensive development plan.

Again, however, amending the charter is serious business – perhaps the most consequential matter on the horizon for Wheeling residents and businesses during the next year and a half. Great care should be taken in deciding even whether it is desirable to amend the current city charter.