Mayor Explains Council Process
Editor, The Intelligencer:
I write in response to (Tuesday’s) editorial suggesting Wheeling City Council has acted inappropriately in refusing to disclose the names of all eight applicants for the vacant Ward 3 position. I hope by this response to provide some added context on this issue.
From the beginning, we on City Council took the responsibility of filling the vacant 3rd Ward seat very seriously. Neither the Wheeling City Charter nor its Codified Ordinances provide procedural guidance on how to fill a vacant Council seat. I therefore asked City staff (the City Manager, who in turn asked the City Solicitor) for guidance. We were advised to follow the same process that we utilized to fill the City Clerk position upon Janice Jones’ retirement. In that process, we asked for applications and opted to interview several candidates as a Council, ultimately deciding on Brenda Delbert, who currently holds the position. We did not disclose the names of other applicants.
In the present matter, we asked for applications, received eight of them, and opted to interview all eight applicants. We scheduled four 30-minute interviews on both January 8th and 9th. One applicant withdrew prior to the interview process. We proceeded to interview the remaining seven applicants. All six members of Council participated in the process, and we tried with great care to ask each applicant the same series of questions.
The only notable exception to that was that we asked Ms. Koslik an additional set of questions regarding the potential conflict of interest from her relationship with a City employee.
Following the interview process, another applicant withdrew from consideration because of a change in the applicant’s work schedule that would have interfered with the second Council meeting each month. That left six applicants for us to consider. Of those six, we had residency concerns for three. One admitted not currently living in the Ward but agreed to move into the Ward if appointed. Two others appear to have moved to the Ward very recently. As a Council, we felt it important that whoever we selected be someone who had lived in Ward 3 for more than a nominal amount of time.
Of the three remaining applicants, we debated the pros and cons of each. And in particular we discussed at length the potential conflict of interest issues with Ms. Koslik. When it came time to tally our votes, there was unanimous support for Ms. Koslik.
The argument in your editorial is that the public is owed full disclosure of all the applicants. I certainly understand that position and have striven to ensure this City Council’s commitment to transparency. But on this particular issue I believe that reasonable minds can disagree. I felt — as did others on Council — that it would be potentially embarrassing for some applicants to have the fact that they did not get picked openly advertised by us. So we used the same process we had used for the City Clerk position. (As a side note, my understanding is that the last time there was a City Council vacancy in 1998, there were twelve applicants considered, with Barry Crow ultimately being selected to represent Ward 6. I have been unable to find any evidence that the names of the other eleven applicants were released publicly, but I cannot say with certainty that they were not.) In any event, there is nothing preventing any of the recent Ward 3 applicants from publicly declaring that they applied; though I do not believe any have done so.
If it is your intention to file a FOIA request for — and then disclose — this information, that is certainly your prerogative. But please understand that our reluctance to disclose their names stems not from any nefarious purpose but only from guidance from City staff, adherence to past practice, and a desire for decency.
We have nothing to hide about the process and in my opinion went above and beyond what we were legally required to do. And I have no doubt that Ms. Koslik’s performance as Ward 3 Councilor will make clear that the skepticism the newspaper has twice now directed towards her appointment is misplaced.
Mayor, City of Wheeling