City Leaders Remember Former Wheeling Councilman Vernon Seals
WHEELING — City officials tipped their hat Tuesday night to longtime former Wheeling Councilman Vernon Seals, who died Saturday after a long illness.
Council met in-person Tuesday night for the first time since a brief return to council chambers in July. Council members welcomed a capacity crowd that filled the room — all masked and socially distanced because of continued COVID-19 safety precautions.
The packed house heard city leaders pay tribute to Seals and his many years of service to the city.
Seals had served on Wheeling City Council for 23 years, representing Ward 2, and current members described him as a “pillar” in the community who did an outstanding job during his time of service on city council.
“He was one of the longest standing members of council in Wheeling history,” said Councilman Ben Seidler, who now represents Ward 2. “I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Mr. Seals personally, but in speaking with others, I know that Mr. Seals was a dedicated friend to many, a dedicated council member and a dedicated member of our community, especially Wheeling Island.”
Seidler said Seals was instrumental in funding the Wheeling Island Fire Station, as well as its fire truck, and was an advocate in the Island Community Association.
“He made sure that public service agencies received funding, and was instrumental in bringing GDBG monies to our neighborhoods,” Seidler said. “Mr. Seals was always engaged beyond regular council meetings, and I understand he truly put people in the neighborhoods first. We’re thankful for the positive impact that he had on our community over the years.”
City Manager Robert Herron echoed those sentiments, noting that he did have the pleasure of serving with Seals for many years.
“He was an excellent city council member who was absolutely a top-notch advocate for his ward,” Herron said.
The city manager said Seals accomplished a lot of projects for his ward — from the fire station and equipment to water lines, concession stand at the Bridge Street Park and the pavilion at the marina, among other things.
“Vern also loved the city as a whole,” Herron said. “He felt that council was looking out for the best interest of the city when it came to tough decisions, which included the acquisition of buildings in the 1100 block and the TIF (tax increment finance district) plan — he was part of the approval process on that.”
Herron said he met with Seals’ family this week to express his condolences.
“I know that he will be greatly missed,” Herron said. “He was an outstanding council member.”
Also during the meeting, Seidler publicly criticized the city’s response to a traffic issue on Wheeling Island. The councilman said that in the wake of a storm that struck the Ohio Valley two weeks ago, traffic lights in a major intersection of Wheeling Island malfunctioned and remained inoperable for an extended period of time.
“Our traffic signals on Wheeling Island were fried and flashing yellow for two weeks,” Seidler said. “I’m very disappointed.”
Seidler said he personally had to help with traffic control during school hours to make sure students at Madison School did not get hit by cars while the traffic lights continued to flash.
“We knew we didn’t have the crossing guard position filled because the person quit the week before,” Seidler said. “The city really didn’t do anything at all to mitigate that huge risk or act proactively. It’s just ridiculous to me. I was in the middle of the road at 9 p.m. with operations putting up stop signs under yellow flashing lights. I was in the middle of the road at Madison School at 7 a.m. making sure it was safe for kids to cross.”
According to Seidler, he did not mind helping as he said he considered it part of his job as a city councilman.
“But at the end of the day, a lot of balls dropped in the city,” Seidler said. “It was ridiculous — the amount of groveling and begging I had to do to get a police officer there.”
Seidler thanked the Wheeling Fire Department for assistance.
“The way the city treated this with such disregard without any level of urgency is unacceptable,” he said. “It wouldn’t happen on any other street in the city.”
Also Tuesday, council members praised the effort to coordinate the public hearing by the Wheeling Planning Commission Monday night. The event was a challenge to coordinate because of the pandemic, but the event unfolded in a safe and effective manner that gave everyone who wished to speak a chance to be heard. More than 100 people filed into the WesBanco Arena during the public hearing on a special area plan amendment for GC&P Development’s proposed multi-use development on the hilltop above Woodsdale.
“It was very well attended and very well put together,” said Councilman Dave Palmer, also a member of the Planning Commission. “I’d like to commend (WesBanco Arena Executive Director) Denny Magruder and the arena staff for separating the distance, taking the time to move the seats all apart, having the microphones set up. I also would like to thank all of the city staff for their efforts in putting this together.”
Palmer also thanked all of the citizens who attended — with nearly 200 people in total and nearly 40 stepping forward to speak on a controversial issue.
“This is a heavily debated topic, and to see how our citizens react in a friendly and kind manner when they disagree, it’s just overwhelming,” Palmer said. “It just makes me proud to be a citizen of the city of Wheeling.”
Councilman Jerry Sklavounakis, who represents Ward 4 neighborhoods that would be affected by the development, also attended the hearing and praised the arena and city staff for organizing such an important event despite the strategic challenges.
“They did a wonderful job,” Skalvounakis said. “I think what we saw yesterday was a wonderful exercise in civil conversations. I’m really glad they had that meeting. We really can’t wait to have a decision one way or another. I think the residence of Wheeling and Ward 4 and Ward 5 deserve that, along with the property owners. So we look forward to the Wheeling Planning Commission’s decision concerning a very important issue that’s facing our city.”