Ohio County and City of Wheeling Officials Work to Resolve City-County Building Access Issue | News, Sports, Jobs
WHEELING – Ohio County and City of Wheeling officials are working to resolve an issue that has led to people being excluded from evening meetings at the City-County Building.
Meetings are advertised and are meant to be open to the public, but the doors to the City-County Building on Chapline Street in downtown Wheeling lock at 5 p.m.
Often residents and members of the local media are unable to access the building to attend evening sessions.
Those with the cell phone numbers of officials attending meetings may be successful in calling or texting them in the hopes of being allowed in. Yet members of the general public who wish to attend, and without anyone to call, are often just plain bad luck.
The problem most recently emerged on Thursday evening of last week when the Wheeling City Council health and recreation committee met at 5 p.m. The same problem has been observed in recent months at evening Wheeling Planning Commission meetings, as well as at 6 p.m. Ohio County Commissioners Meetings.
Local officials often speak out loud for transparency in government procedures, but holding public meetings that are not accessible could be fodder for arguments that open meeting laws – or Sunshine laws – are being violated.
Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron said on Friday he was unaware of the issues but vowed to work with city and county staff to remedy the situation.
“I will make sure that all our staff, including the Planning Commission, are aware of this problem to avoid this in the future”, Herron said.
Herron noted that the Ohio County Sheriff’s Department is responsible for the security of the City-County building. During the evening sessions of Wheeling City Council – which only take place once a month at 5:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of the month – security guards are present at the door, and members of the public can access the building and the boardroom on the first floor. Herron said Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger, who regularly attends council meetings, reminded them on the day of the meeting that an evening session would be held.
For committee meetings and other sessions that may meet in the evening, the committee chair usually schedules meetings with the city clerk, Herron noted, indicating that a communication issue is likely surfacing with several people planning the meetings. meetings – a problem that city officials are committed to solving.
County officials also said solutions to the problem were being considered.
“We take care of it now” Ohio County Administrator Randy Russell said Friday.
Russell explained that the new “showcase” Security Zone that was installed in the lobby of the City-County Building in late 2019 has improved the building’s security features.
“Unfortunately, before the new security system was put in place, it was not necessary to coordinate the planning of meetings” he said, noting that the building’s doors now automatically lock at 5 p.m. and that when security guards leave for the day, the building is secure whether or not there is a meeting.
The new security system was only in place a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the building. For many months over the past year, town halls have been held virtually online, so issues involving open houses for nightly meetings never had a chance to surface until recently, when the meetings were held. in person resumed and reopened to the public.
Russell noted that coordination and communication will be improved to ensure that evening public meetings will be accessible to all who wish to attend.