New City Council Members Say Their Focus Will be on Wheeling’s Neighborhoods
WHEELING — New members of Wheeling City Council this week said they are eager to get to work for the citizens of the Friendly City, and much of their focus in moving the city forward starts with grassroots efforts to bring improvements to neighborhoods.
Council newcomers Ben Seidler, representing the city’s 2nd Ward; Rosemary Ketchum, representing the 3rd Ward; and Jerry Sklavounakis, representing the 4th Ward, all claimed victories in contested races during last month’s municipal election, and each of them ran on platforms that voiced strong advocacy for their wards and a clear focus on issues that pertain to the constituents in the neighborhoods they represent.
This past week, all of the members of the new city council took the oath of office during a ceremony at West Virginia Independence Hall. The first Wheeling City Council meeting for the new team of council members is scheduled to take place at noon Tuesday at the City-County Building.
Seidler noted that the swearing-in ceremony last Wednesday was exciting, but his attention has remained on a list of priority issues facing the city.
“I’m looking forward to working together with the mayor and the other members of council and to focus on the tasks at hand,” Seidler said. “One of my first priorities will be to work with the city manager and council to find out what steps we need to take to effectively follow through with code enforcement.”
Representing Ward 2, which includes Wheeling Island, Seidler has been a vocal proponent for cleaning up neglected properties in the city and promoting a sense of pride in the Wheeling’s neighborhoods.
“I really would like for us to keep focused on the city’s comprehensive plan,” Seidler said. “My goal has been and will continue to be improving our quality of life, making sure the people and the neighborhoods come first.”
Following the election, Ketchum was caught in a whirlwind of national media attention, which highlighted her victory as the first trans person to be elected to public office in the state of West Virginia. However, her primary focus has been to get to work to achieve her list of goals for the city.
“It’s incredibly humbling,” Ketchum said of the journey that culminated in Wednesday’s swearing-in ceremony. “I’ve worked in our community for years on a grassroots level trying to engage the community in a holistic and comprehensive way, and to finally get a chance to do the same work from a city perspective is exciting.”
Half of the new Wheeling City Council will be newcomers, while the other half will be veterans returning for their second term. Mayor Glenn Elliott and Councilmen Chad Thalman in the 1st Ward, Ty Thorngate in the 5th Ward and Dave Palmer in the 6th Ward were all reelected and also were sworn into office last week as well.
“It’s going to be interesting, but I think in the best way possible,” Ketchum said of council’s mix of newcomers and incumbents. “I think the learning curve that we would have experienced if we were an entirely new council has been shortened to some extent. I’m very excited to see the work that Mayor Elliott and the entire council can do in the second term for many of the members, and for me and the other two new members — our first term is going to be very exciting. I’m excited to really move forward on some of the issues that I ran on and help other council members kind of realize the issues that matter to them.”
Ketchum noted that the 3rd Ward she represents consists of East Wheeling, South Wheeling, Center Wheeling and Mozart.
“While we are an incredibly diverse ward as far as demographics and geography, we also have a through line in many of the issues that we experience,” she said. “Homelessness, addiction, vacant properties and infrastructure are all incredibly essential and vital issues to focus on in our ward specifically. So I’m very excited to provide unique and focused attention on each specific neighborhood that I represent.”
The city’s 4th Ward, which includes areas surrounding Woodsdale and Clator, has been a high-profile area of the city in terms of neighborhood issues — from flooding problems to the major mixed use development proposed on a 55-acre plot of land on a hillside across from GC&P Road. Representing Ward 4, Sklavounakis has been outspoken about the GC&P Development LLC project, as well as other matters that affect the ward’s constituents.
“I’m eager to solve all the problems related to the issues that got me elected,” Sklavounakis said, noting that the city’s long-term, multimillion-dollar plan to separate its combined sanitary and storm sewer systems throughout town is making its way to areas that need it the most. “One of the first things that is going to be addressed is the sewer separation project on Bedillion Lane, which will be going out to bid in July. This is going to be wonderful for people in Ward 4 and Ward 5.”
All of the new council members said they looked forward to tackling issues surrounding the city’s recent acquisition of the Ohio Valley Medical Center campus. City leaders hope to have a new Public Safety complex housed on the campus as a headquarters for its police and fire departments. Officials also intend to market the remaining buildings to private sector companies and brings a new life to the former hospital facility that officially closed last fall.
“The acquisition of OVMC is major,” Sklavounakis said. “A city of our size acquiring such a large piece of property is a significant undertaking, and I’m very happy with the conversations I’ve had with other members of council in the sense that we all agree that we need to get this out of our hands as soon as possible and back into the private sector’s hands. So that’s a goal that we all agree on and that we are all going to work together to achieve. I’m looking forward to dealing with not only OVMC, but all of the other pressing matters that are before the city.”
Other council members agreed that the city should make every effort to find new owners for buildings on the sprawling property.
“I’m anxious to get moving on the OVMC effort,” Seidler said. “I’m anxious to turn the property around and get it off our books.”
The mayor and the returning members of city council said it was an honor to be elected to serve a second term, and all of them noted that they looked forward to working with the new members on the OVMC effort and the many other important issues facing the city.
“I think all three new members of city council each bring something unique to the table,” Thalman said. “There are issues they are passionate about, and I’m excited to see them run with those issues, tackle those issues and help bring solutions to the table. I think we want to move forward and keep working on some of the things we’ve been working on for the past four years, whether it be property maintenance or paving roads or improving playgrounds, we need to move forward with finding solutions for our first responders, we want to get more people living in downtown, we want to find parking solutions for a growing downtown, so there are a lot of issues we still want to tackle. I’m excited to work with the old city council and the new members of city council to work on some of these issues.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, the mayor is expected to nominate a council member as vice mayor and make nominations of council members to various committees. City council will then vote to confirm those nominations.