WEIRTON - A vote on legislation that could eliminate Weirton's primary municipal election was delayed after City Council members learned they cannot vote to extend their own terms in office.
Officials pulled a proposed city charter amendment from the agenda prior to Monday's council meeting, noting they need time to clarify their options.
The provision in question would have added an extra year to current members' and Mayor George Kondik's terms so that the next municipal election would occur in 2016 rather than 2015 - enabling city races to be included on the same ballot as county, state and national contests. Such action, however, would violate West Virginia Ethics Commission standards.
Photo by Ian Hicks
Weirton Councilman David Dalrymple makes a point during Monday’s City Council meeting.
Councilman George Ash said possible alternatives include simply eliminating the city primary and keeping municipal elections on the current cycle, or extending the next administration's terms to five years to put municipal races on the regular May primary ballot beginning in 2020.
Weirton's elections are nonpartisan, but the primary pares down the field in each race to the top two vote-getters, who move on to the general election. However, the most recent primary election on April 5, 2011, only affected two races - 1st Ward and 5th Ward council - because no other contest had three or more contenders. Ash previously said eliminating the primary would save city taxpayers $20,000 to $30,000 each election year and could increase voter turnout by including city races on the same ballot as larger contests that typically attract more people to the polls.
During Monday's meeting, resident Lester McHenry said he's fine with including city races on the regular primary ballot but does not support eliminating the primary altogether.
He suggested other reforms to the election process be made first - including a study of whether ward boundaries need redrawn, pointing out Weirton has lost a significant portion of its population since ward maps were last modified.
If city officials consider a reworked charter amendment in the coming months, residents will have an opportunity to influence the process. Any amendment must pass two readings before approval, and City Clerk Nicole Davis-Scheutzner said a public hearing would precede the second reading, whenever that occurs.
If even one registered voter files a written protest at such a hearing, she said, a citywide referendum on the amendment would go on the ballot in November.
In other business, council voted 5-2 to spend $3,000 to hire Nicklas King McConahy Real Estate Appraisers and Consultants of Cranberry Township, Pa., to appraise property in the northern end of Weirton near the intersection of Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, including the former City Building and post office and a lot containing an abandoned home. Opposing the resolution were Ash and Councilman David Dalrymple.
Following the meeting, Business Development Corp. Executive Director Patrick Ford said if a deal occurs, it's not yet known whether his organization or the Weirton Redevelopment Authority ultimately would be the one to purchase the land.