WHEELING - The proposed East Wheeling sports field project dominated another candidate forum Monday, when the East Wheeling Neighborhood Watch hosted candidates for mayor and Ohio County sheriff.
At a South Wheeling Preservation Alliance meeting last Tuesday, the $2.5 million project was at the front of debate between incumbent Mayor Andy McKenzie and East Wheeling resident and mayoral hopeful Jerome Poynton. During and following Poynton's allotted five minutes Monday, the discussion focused on the southeast block of 15th and Wood streets, where he may soon lose his home after a judge allowed the city to take it via eminent domain.
McKenzie started by describing his last four years in office, nodding to Wheeling City Council for taking initiative in pushing to clean up East Wheeling and clear out drugs, prostitutes and, "most importantly, dilapidated and vacant structures."
"They (owners of dilapidated structures) did not care about you, they did not care about your neighborhood," he said. "We said, 'You're not going to do that in our community anymore.'"
The mayor mentioned the city's movement to improve sidewalks in various neighborhoods and preservation efforts on Chapline Street Row, Centre Market and the Capitol Theatre as part of his record in office. He pointed out that his administration developed the Vacant Structures Code, introduced as part of the West Virginia Home Rule Pilot Program, which forces property owners to pay for demolition.
Poynton used a majority of his five minutes to present an alternative to the sports field plan, pointing out various facets of his proposal -- such as a restaurant in the block's center, preserving a number of the structures on the perimeter and a park in much of the other interior of the block. He also stressed perceived flaws of the city's sports field plan.
"This is real economic development," he said of his own idea.
Poynton discussed another issue: A need for open government. He used the situation with his home as an example. He claimed the city "never came and knocked on my door" in the years leading up to council's approval of the use of eminent domain. He proposed all council meetings be streamed live on the city website to allow residents more access.
McKenzie responded that Poynton had several years to come up with an idea and that he "is just unhappy he didn't get the price he wants on his home." The mayor said he would gladly discuss a separate location for Poynton's idea in another meeting.
Meanwhile, three of the four sheriff candidates shared their ideas, from increasing patrols to transparency with the media.
Sheriff Pat Butler said he plans to hire an officer who will double as a physical trainer to keep officers more fit. He also promised more security at the City-County Building with council meetings to be moved to the first floor -- shutting off access to upper floors after hours -- and a new X-ray machine for the front door.
Former sheriff Tom Burgoyne boasted of his "eight good years" in office from 2000-2008, citing a number of drug and prostitution arrests. He said he would consider putting more focusing within Wheeling by putting a patrol on Wheeling Island and one in East Wheeling.
John Powell said he wants more communication and transparency with the sheriff's department and with the media and community. He said, if elected, he would host monthly town hall meetings seeking community input.
Sheriff candidate George Fahey was absent from Monday's discussion.