WHEELING - When Janice Raheem asked City Manager Robert Herron about the best way to contact him, he told her all she needs to do is call or stop by his office.
"If I am there, I try to see every citizen that presents themself," Herron told the city resident during the Tuesday "Calling for a Better Wheeling Town Hall Meeting" at Wheeling Jesuit University.
For more than two hours, Raheem joined about 60 other concerned Wheeling residents and college students to question panelists Herron, Mayor Andy McKenzie, police Chief Robert Matheny, Ohio County Sheriff Pat Butler, Ohio County Schools Deputy Superintendent Dianna Vargo, Wheeling Park High School Principal Bernie Dolan, the Rev. Albert Anderson of Macedonia Baptist Church, Rabbi Daniel Lowey, community activists Sheli Bernstein-Goff and Wanda Morgan, Daniel Swann of Laughlin Chapel, and WPHS senior student Doree' Conley.
Photo by Casey Junkins
The Rev. Albert Anderson of Macedonia Baptist Church in Wheeling speaks Tuesday during the “Calling for a Better Wheeling Town Hall Meeting” at Wheeling Jesuit University.
The Wheeling Human Rights Commission, Wheeling YWCA and the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration Committee sponsored the event. Discussion topics ranged from economic development, to communication problems with police officers and community members, to matters of education and religion.
On the development front, McKenzie said city officials work constantly to improve the Wheeling business climate to not only attract new people to the area, but to retain local high school and college graduates.
"Government needs to get out of the way to promote economic development. ... Local government does not create jobs - the private sector creates jobs," he said.
Citing recent changes to the city's business licensing fee schedule, Herron added, "We have tried to make our taxes and fees user-friendly."
In terms of police communication with the community, Butler acknowledged the system could be better, but pledged to do his best to improve it.
"If you ever have a problem with a deputy, call me directly. ... Come to your neighborhood crime watch meetings," he said in reference to the monthly gatherings in Warwood, East Wheeling, South Wheeling, Wheeling Island and Elm Grove.
Matheny, who has been on the job since Oct. 26 after coming from Clarksburg, W.Va., said he has seen great cooperation between the police and residents during his short stint.
"I like the concept of having these community watch meetings. ... I like the ward system where you have a council member from each ward," he said.
"I promise I will see you if you stop in or call," Matheny assured concerned residents.
On religion, Anderson and Lowey agreed more education on the subject would help relieve some tolerance problems.
"I think there should be a way, even in a public school, where you could study comparative religion," Lowey said.
"We do need to get some religion back into the schools," Anderson said.
"We must understand that we do not have a whole lot of Muslim religion around here," he said in citing an example of why comparative religion courses could help.
Conley, for one, said, "I think having religion classes in schools would be great."
For education, Vargo said the school district achieves high marks on the standardized Westest, with the most recent average score of 21.6 compared to the state-wide average of 20.7. Although the test is standardized, Vargo stressed her teachers are not merely "teaching to the test" because those teachers have some input regarding the test's content.
Dolan acknowledged the success, but added, "High stakes testing is very stressful to students and to faculty."
Vargo also noted the schools have a system in place to address issues such as bullying or intolerance.
"We can overcome our differences in a structured and respectful manner," she said.