Wheeling City Council Begins New Chapter
WHEELING — The next four years of Wheeling’s history will be guided in many ways by seven people who on Wednesday took their oath of office at West Virginia Independence Hall.
Mayor Glenn Elliott and Wheeling City Council members gathered with their family members on the third floor of the historic building during a swearing-in ceremony administered by Ohio County Circuit Judge Michael Olejasz. Taking the oath for their second terms were Elliott and Ward 1 Councilman Chad Thalman, Ward 5 Councilman Ty Thorngate and Ward 6 Councilman Dave Palmer. There were joined by newcomers, Ward 2 Councilman Ben Seidler, Ward 3 Councilwoman Rosemary Ketchum and Ward 4 Councilman Jerry Sklavounakis.
The historic setting ironically was symbolic of the historic ceremony — one in which the crowd was limited to a handful of each city official’s family members who were required to wear masks and take a health screening survey as they entered the building in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a humbling experience,” the mayor said of the somewhat subdued ceremony. “I was thinking this morning back to four years ago, it was a much bigger venue at the Capitol Music Hall. But now with COVID-19, we really couldn’t do something like that. So here at West Virginia Independence Hall, it’s sort of a somber experience. When you think of the history in this room, standing here with my family and six other people who are going to be here with me for the next four years on city council is something that I think is pretty special.”
Elliott said that while the limited group was gathered and socially distanced in the historic room, they were reminded of the prominent role that Wheeling played in the formation of the Mountain State.
“Just as no other state can claim its own Independence Hall, neither has any other city fostered a nobler birth of state government,” Elliott said as he addressed the crowd during the ceremony. “Amidst our nation’s greatest conflict, what emerged from Wheeling in this very room was a commitment to being on the right side of history, not merely following, but by leading.”
The mayor noted that this new council’s efforts will help carve out a piece of Wheeling’s future, and even decisions that may be unpopular in their own time have to “stand the test of all time.”
Elliott said he knows the three returning council members and has been getting to know the new council members over the past couple of weeks since the municipal election was held.
“We’re going to have to figure out where everybody finds their role,” he said. “We didn’t have a very long lead time here because of the delayed election. So we’re going to learn here very quickly where folks want to prioritize and where they want to take the lead on and how is it that council is going to work together. We’re not always going to agree on everything, and I think that’s probably in the citizens’ interest when we do disagree sometimes because that means that we are probably going to get to a better outcome when we hash things out. And I’m looking forward to those conversations. I think we have a very energetic group, and I think people are going to be impressed with how quickly people get up to speed and start tackling some of the bigger issues in our community.”
The new city council will hold its first regular meeting on Tuesday in council chambers.
One of the major issues council faces will be the stewardship of the former Ohio Valley Medical Center campus, which city council voted to acquire before the last city administration’s term came to an end. Officials said the acquisition was just finalized within the past few days.
“OVMC is going to occupy a lot of time for the incoming council and for city staff,” Elliott said. “We just closed on it a couple of days ago. It’s a massive undertaking for any city of our size — to look at 700,000 square feet of office space and what to do with it.”
Decisions are already in the works in terms of how to get these buildings into some private sector use and also some public sector use for the city, Elliott said.
“We have interest from the Public Safety aspect for the campus as well,” he said. “Those conversations are going to be coming soon. I told people to buckle up, because we can’t just sit on those properties indefinitely. We’re going to have to be ready to move forward and make sure they are put to good use.”
In meeting with the incoming council members, Elliott said he told them there will be days when they ask themselves “what have I signed up for?” But he said the work they do is vitally important.
“Across the country, cities are filling the void left by the growing inability of our state and federal governments to tackle the biggest problems,” Elliott noted. “If the protests and discord voiced across our nation in recent weeks are indicative of anything, it is that communities that do not work for all of their populations are falling far short of their potential. The Wheeling of yesteryear celebrated in countless black and white photographs displayed around town was built by inclusion, not exclusion.”
Elliott said during much of his life, Wheeling and the Ohio Valley has been viewed as a place where people grew up and then wanted to leave.
“So many people from my generation in high school left,” Elliott said. “I think my hope is at some point we reach a time where growing up here, folks see Wheeling as a place where they can spend the rest of their life and they’re not looking for greener pastures elsewhere. It’s not just jobs. It’s not just quality of life. It’s something that you can’t really put into terms what it is, but we have to capture that.”
In decades past, Wheeling used to be a city that grew every year, Elliott said.
“Getting back to that point where the population is growing and where our economy is growing is something that we aspire to achieve,” he said. “What it looks like and how we get there is something that remains to be determined, but I think it’s going to be something that this council is going to be very actively pursuing.
“I look forward to joining the six individuals beside me today in our quest to listen and learn, and to strive to make Wheeling a more perfect city for the next generation to come.”