What Do You Have to Say?

For nearly 10 years during the 1990s, I was a city beat reporter. I attended scores of Wheeling City Council meetings and a series of public sessions on the city charter.

During those years of covering city council, I got to know many good people. But time marches on, people change, and focuses evolve.

I realize the current mayor and council are doing their best to lead the city in a new direction, but for the life of me I cannot tell you what most of the members are passionate about. They do not engage with the public on council floor nor directly answer questions from the public. Not everyone is on Facebook.

When city councils of yesteryears met, there were lively discussions, sometimes heated words shared between council members. That doesn’t seem to happen these days and I am curious as to why.

I can tell you that former mayor Jack Lipphart led the city’s push for the walking trails we now have.

I recall riding with then development director Paul McIntire as Lipphardt drove over the weed-choked path with great excitement.

He explained in great detail how the trails could lead to better things for the city. And he was right.

When the Manchester Bridge in East Wheeling was closed due to structural issues, then-councilman Jim Gessler hammered home the need for the state or the city to find a way to replace it. He tried until his dying days but the bridge never was replaced. I’ll bet there are more than a few people today who wished it had been.

Our first black councilman and vice mayor Clyde Thomas worked to have the Wheeling Civic Center become a reality. He also championed his neighbors in East Wheeling when the area was receiving a bad rap for violence and drugs.

Former councilman Vernon Seals was vocal about safety concerns in the city, especially involving the police department where his brother served. When he felt something wasn’t right, he made his point loud and clear on the council floor.

Longtime fire chief Cliff Sligar, who also served on council, would rise from his chair when he felt there was point to be made involving employees or the public. If he didn’t believe in something, he wasn’t afraid to flip the “nay” switch.

Former councilman Larry “Babe” Schmitt also never resisted questioning the status quo.

And who could forget the late John Carenbauer. He was a class act on council floor, adding levity and a bit of cynical rhetoric to the meetings. Carenbauer was especially critical of all the studies the city paid for, saying, “All we do is study, study, study, but we never graduate.”

Point made and taken.

All I’m saying is they had something to say — whether you liked it or not.

Ziegler can be reached via email at hziegler@theintelligencer.net.


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