Ward 1 Council Opponent Slams Thalman’s Letter to Constituents
WHEELING — The candidate challenging Vice Mayor Chad Thalman for his 1st Ward council seat is raising questions about a letter he sent out to his constituents last month just as Wheeling’s municipal election campaign was getting into full swing.
John Bishop has brought into question a letter Thalman sent out to a number of city residents regarding the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents received the letter a month ago at the beginning of May, but recently, Bishop again has publicly voiced his concerns about the correspondence.
“The letter that was sent out by Mr. Thalman in my opinion was inappropriate at a time when we was in a campaign to see who was going to be Ward 1 city councilman,” Bishop said. “I don’t have the capability to use taxpayer money to send out a letter on city letterhead and envelopes to all of the 1st Ward residents. Mr. Thalman was the only one to send out letters — makes it look like he was acting for the city alone.”
Contained in the letter, which was addressed to fellow Ward 1 residents and signed by Thalman, was a bullet-point correspondence detailed action the city was taking to suspend ticketing for parking violations and suspend shutting off water services for late payments in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter, with letterhead from the Office of City Council, also outlined a number of projects such as paving, roadway slip repairs and dilapidated structure demolitions that were still scheduled to take place.
While some have questioned the letter as Bishop has, others have maintained that Thalman — as an elected city councilman — was simply doing his duty as a seated public servant.
Bishop said if this letter was sent in January or February, nothing would have been said about it, but he indicated that a month before the municipal election, it seems like the letter was campaign material sent at the expense of the taxpayers.
During a virtual meeting of Wheeling City Council in early May, the issue of the letter was brought up during an open public forum — not by Bishop but instead by Chris Hamm, who is another municipal race candidate who is challenging current Mayor Glenn Elliott for his seat. Thalman responded after that meeting, stating that, “I will always uphold my obligations to my constituents regardless of what somebody with an obvious political agenda, like Mr. Hamm, has to say about it. Mr. Hamm’s desire to politicize a council meeting and throw stones says more about him and his motives than anything else.”
Since then, Bishop has raised issues about the letter and has made efforts to keep the matter in the public eye, taking issue particularly with a seemingly targeted audience for the letters.
“Out of 4,000 or 5,000 residents that live in Ward 1, you send out 1,932 letters,” Bishop said.
“When you say you want to keep your constituents informed, you send a letter to all, not just pick a choose a select few. In the four years that he, Mr. Thalman, has been councilman for Ward 1, this is the first time that anyone has received a letter that has specific things that city council has done — and 30 days prior to an election. Can any council member just pick and choose to mail to some voters using city funds?”
Bishop said at this point in the election, nothing can be done about the letter.
“But this is how this administration runs on a ‘look-what-I-did’ agenda and not what is good for the people,” he said. “I really don’t think Mr. Thalman has the best interests for his constituents anymore, and it’s a ‘we-will-do-what-we-want-to’ attitude. Policy should be made and put in place that authorizes selective action and expenditures. Is there a budget authorization on how much and how often a council member can do this?”
On Monday, Thalman responded to Bishop’s recent assertions and reiterated his commitment to serving his constituents and to keeping them informed about important city issues.
“This pandemic has created obstacles for everybody, including city government,” Thalman said. “As a result of not being able to conduct our traditional monthly ward meetings and the inability of all constituents to interact on social media, I gathered as many names and addresses as I could and updated my constituents by mail. I will always uphold my obligations to my constituents, regardless of what somebody with an obvious political agenda has to say about it.”
Thalman noted that this letter in question was sent over a month ago, and Bishop — who is accusing him of inappropriate campaigning — is initiating public mud-slinging over the issue when the election is now just days away. The councilman indicated he was more interested in getting things done for the citizens of the city instead of being dragged into an underhanded political fight a week before the election.
“While Mr. Bishop is focused on a constituent letter from roughly a month ago and is clearly intent on making headlines a week before an election, I’m remaining focused on improving our roads and alleys, updating our recreation facilities, addressing road slips and taking steps to reduce basement flooding,” Thalman said on Monday.
Bishop said if city staff assisted Thalman in sending the letters, they were doing their job in accordance with the authority of the city solicitor.
“The buck stops with the city solicitor, who appears to blatantly favor status quo and not a reform candidate like myself,” Bishop said. “This is what needs to change!”
When asked about the letter, Wheeling City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth on Monday issued a statement.
“I had no say whatsoever in the letter being sent, and I was not consulted prior to its mailing,” Humway-Warmuth said. “The office of the city solicitor does not micro-manage the daily activities of the governing body.”
When asked if she would have advised against sending the letter if the councilman had sought legal advice on it, the city solicitor said, “I am not Vice Mayor Thalman’s private counsel, and as city solicitor, I cannot answer a hypothetical.”