By IAN HICKS
One vote stands between Wheeling residents and their chance to decide whether police officers must continue to pair up when patrolling the Friendly City.
That vote is expected to take place Tuesday when City Council meets at 7 p.m. in the second-floor courtroom at the City-County Building, located at 1500 Chapline St. Also, the city's Rules and Finance committees will meet prior to council's regular session, at 6 and 6:30 p.m., respectively, both in City Manager Robert Herron's third-floor conference room. The Rules Committee is set to discuss Mayor Andy McKenzie's proposal to change council's regular meeting time.
During a meeting in June, McKenzie said he would like to see council meet earlier in the day, possibly alternating between noon and 5:30 p.m. meeting times, rather than at 7 p.m. - a move he believes will make it convenient for more residents to attend meetings.
He also discussed moving meetings to Mondays instead of Tuesdays, although accomplishing that would be slightly more complicated than simply changing the time, as the City Charter currently mandates meetings on the first and third Tuesdays of each month.
And if council members pass legislation on Tuesday's agenda, a municipal issue to decide the fate of the 40-year-old law which requires that two officers ride in every patrol car will be placed on the Nov. 6 general election ballot, with a simple majority necessary for repeal. Because the ordinance was enacted by a vote of the people in 1972, the City Charter requires the same in order to strike it from the books.
Residents almost got to have their say three years ago when George Jones and William Hefner appeared to have enough signatures to force the issue onto the ballot by petition. However, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 38 filed suit and Circuit Judge Arthur Recht ultimately threw out the petition, saying a required affidavit swearing that each signature was made in the circulators' presence was absent.
Mayor Andy McKenzie and several members of council have said publicly they support putting the issue before voters, noting repealing the law would give Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger more flexibility in running the department.
Councilman and former Wheeling police officer Robert "Herk" Henry, however, believes repealing the law would compromise officer safety and remains a strong proponent of the policy.
According to a sample ballot, the public vote would be on an ordinance to rescind and repeal the law. That means a vote on Election Day for adoption of the ordinance is a vote against the two-man cruiser law, while a vote against adoption of the ordinance is a vote in favor of the existing policy.
In addition to the cruiser rule election, another item up for a vote Tuesday is the proposed transfer of city-owned property at 45-49 15th St. to Ohio Valley ADC Inc., a nonprofit development organization, for the purposes of allowing Kristoffy Real Estate of Wheeling to renovate the buildings and convert them into multiple housing units. The ordinance stipulates that if Kristoffy Real Estate fails to complete the project within an agreed-upon time frame, the city reserves the right to reclaim the property with no reimbursement to the company.
Council also will vote on whether to rezone of a portion of Point View Terrace, located near Wheeling Hospital, from R-1C Residential to Educational, Medical and Office use. The proposed change originated from a request by David Holeczy, a resident of that street, to rezone his property EMO so he can market his home for use as a medical office.
The zone change would not prohibit the seven affected properties from remaining as residences, but simply would expand the scope of allowable uses for those buildings.
Other items on the agenda include:
- Multiple traffic rules, including several residential handicapped parking spaces; establishing one-hour parking between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. along a portion of 16th St. near the future Department of Health and Human Services office in the old Robinson building; establishing a commercial loading zone at 11th and Main streets; and making the north side of Pierce Street a no-parking zone from 6-8 a.m.
- Spending $65,958 with RoData of Sharpsburg, Pa., for technology equipment and services for the new council chambers under renovation on the first floor of the City-County Building.
- Spending $29,477 with Stephens Auto Center of Danville, W.Va., over the next three years for the lease-purchase of a police vehicle.
- Spending $16,280 with Top Notch Landscaping of Wheeling to seed and mulch the demolished tennis courts in Mozart.
- Spending $18,332 with Staley Communication of Wheeling for radio equipment for the water treatment plant.