WHEELING - Beginning next month, Wheeling City Council will break with years of tradition by holding its meetings earlier in the day.
In a 6-1 vote with Councilman Robert "Herk" Henry as the lone opposition, council approved an ordinance calling for start times of the body's twice monthly meetings to alternate between noon and 5:30 p.m. Noon meetings will take place on the first Tuesday of each month, and the late afternoon meetings on the third.
Mayor Andy McKenzie has said he wants to make council meetings convenient for a greater number of residents to attend, some of whom may not want to drive back downtown two hours after leaving work or have children who participate in evening activities.
Photo by Ian Hicks
Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie speaks during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Tuesday's meeting was moved to noon to avoid conflicting with Elton John's evening concert at WesBanco Arena. If the attendance was an indicator of things to come, public reaction to the change was lukewarm.
Seating was at a premium in City Manager Robert Herron's conference room, but that was mostly a product of the much smaller venue, as the courtroom on the second floor of the City-County Building was unavailable due to the second day of former Wheeling police officer Matthew Kotson's sex assault trial.
Not counting the elected officials and city employees present, only four people attended the meeting.
But Mayor Andy McKenzie said the same often holds true for evening meetings and pointed to that as reason why he believes there's nothing to lose by trying something different.
"Clearly our attendance was not harmed by the noon meeting. Our regular two people are here," said McKenzie, gesturing toward Elm Grove residents Bill and Sharon O'Leary, who attend council meetings regularly.
Residents including Bill O'Leary have raised concerns about the earlier meetings, particularly the availability of parking near the City-County Building during the regular work day. Most parking meters on that section of Chapline Street have a 30-minute time limit, and meetings often last longer than that.
Regarding whether he believes the earlier times will eventually boost attendance, McKenzie said following the meeting, "Time will tell."
In other business, council also approved $451,602 in contracts with Lash Paving of Colerain for street resurfacing around the city, including $179,660 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds. Streets to be paved with general fund money include North Eighth Street, Quail Court, Armory Drive, Hunter Avenue, Lee Drive, Corliss Terrace, Maple Drive, Race Avenue, Courtland Avenue, Elm Crest Drive, Evelyn Avenue, Springdale Avenue and Ridge Avenue, while CDBG money will be used to pave Cherry Street from Lind Street to East 10th Street; a portion of Grandview Street; Eoff Street from 22nd to 24th streets; and 33rd Street from Eoff Street to Lane G.
Council also passed an ordinance tightening allowable limits for the discharge of certain wastes through the city's sewer system. Herron said the legislation is necessary for Wheeling to remain eligible for certain low interest loans through the state for water and sewer projects.
One new provision would decrease the permitted daily concentration of chloride from 1,806 mg/L to 1,650 mg/L. Another would add ammonia to the list of regulated substances, providing for a surcharge of 21 cents per pound for customers discharging wastewater with an ammonia concentration 46 mg/L or higher.