Wheeling City Council Settles Dust-Up Over Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority Appointments | News, Sports, Jobs | #citycouncil

photo by: Eric Ayres

Wheeling Councilman Dave Palmer attends Tuesday’s council meeting.

WHEELING — Members of Wheeling City Council on Tuesday night voted unanimously to make three reappointments and one new appointment to the Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority board after twists and turns over the past two weeks ultimately led to a consensus.

The action did not come without some ruffled feathers, finger pointing and suggestions of discriminatory practices, a lack of diversity among appointed members and personal vendettas to oust a board member.

In the wake of Tuesday night’s Wheeling City Council meeting, GWSEA board members Rich Lucas, Robert “Rocky” Fitzsimmons and Karen Shuler-Stakem were all reappointed to new terms. New nominee Cecily Spangler was also appointed to serve on the board, and the nomination was unanimously supported by all council members in attendance.

Councilman Ben Seidler was absent from Tuesday evening’s meeting.

While his name was not mentioned at all during the meeting, longtime GWSEA board member John Culler’s term on the board was not renewed with a reappointment.

During the first city council meeting this month, council voted 4-3 in opposition to a resolution to reappoint all four board members — Culler, Lucas, Fitzsimmons and Shuler-Stakem — after it was discovered that their terms all had expired and had not been renewed. Some had been expired for a number of years.

City council members who on Sept. 5 voted against the collective reappointments cited a lack of sufficient notice about the resolution and the unusual circumstance in which four reappointments were being made at the same time.

Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott – who serves as chairman of the GWSEA board — went on to publicly state that while volunteer service to city boards is appreciated, the city should not be in the practice of assuming board appointments will be automatically renewed without giving other people in the community an opportunity to provide fresh voices. Elliott went on to describe the GWSEA board as being one with a lack of diversity — having members that are almost all white males over the age of 50, with the only exceptions being one of gender and one with age.

Following the failed vote at the last council meeting, city leaders suggested that each person’s reappointment be considered individually at a future meeting, and that is what happened on Tuesday night. Elliott proposed the reappointments of Lucas, Fitzsimmons and Shuler-Stakem but not Culler. Councilman Dave Palmer, who also serves on the GWSEA board and who made the original proposal to reappoint all board members, had submitted an individual nomination for Culler’s reappointment, but subsequently withdrew the nomination. Councilman Jerry Sklavounakis submitted the new nomination for Spangler to serve on the board.

On Tuesday night, Palmer expressed his displeasure with the way the reappointments were handled, suggesting that the lack of reappointment on the basis of someone’s race, gender or age could itself be considered an act of discrimination.

“During the council meeting on Sept. 5, there were some discriminatory words directed at a certain race and age,” Palmer said Tuesday night. “These words can be perceived as a violation of city code 169.03 — Unlawful Discriminatory Practices. We as members of city council must be cautious not to violate the ordinance we so proudly passed.”

Palmer did not mention Culler’s name but indirectly applauded him for his service to the board.

“It still saddens me that we’re not reappointing a hard-working, non-compensated Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority board member,” Palmer said. “As the city charter reads: a member shall be appointed without regard to their political affiliation, but with regard to their business, professional experience or standing as residents.

“Please, let’s strive to do better and be better.”

Later in the meeting when council members voted for the GWSEA board seats, Elliott responded to Palmer’s statements.

“Looking back on whatever comments I may have said at a prior meeting on discrimination, or whatever, on diversity — the fact that they may have been perceived to be discriminatory certainly was not the intention that I had,” he said.

Elliott noted that the particular board seat in question had technically expired in 2018, and for whatever reason, a vote for a reappointment was never brought to council’s attention. At that time, Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron was serving as the chairman of the GWSEA board.

“I don’t know why,” Elliott said of why reappointments never having made it to the floor of city council. “It would have expired again in 2022, and it was never brought to council’s attention. I don’t know why.”

When officials realized that some terms had expired, some members of council had asked whether they should go in a new direction to bring some new faces to a board that “quite frankly has not had a lot of turnover.” Elliott noted that he and city council have been quick to reappoint people to city boards.

“But if you read the city charter and the city codes, those are not meant to be lifetime appointments,” he said. “There is no right to have that seat forever once you get that seat on the board.”

Elliott said the city is thankful for people who are willing to serve on city boards voluntarily and without compensation.

“But the notion that once you have that seat, you’re untouchable — is one that I do not accept,” Elliott said, reiterating that this is a very important board responsible for overseeing management of the Capitol Theatre and WesBanco Arena — the main entertainment venues in the community.

“I don’t think it’s inappropriate to look for some fresh new faces for this board,” the mayor said in a somewhat irritated tone. “I know some suggestions have been made that this is personal. The individual in question has been reappointed to another board, which he serves as president — I think it was by this council in 2020. So it’s not a personal thing.”

The mayor said it is “important that we try to bring some new faces that look a lot more like the city of Wheeling as a whole onto these boards.”

After Tuesday’s meeting, Culler expressed his well wishes for Spangler’s future service on the board.

“I’ve appreciated my time on the GWSEA board,” Culler said. “We did a lot of good things. I wish her the best of luck in helping move the theater and the arena toward even greater things in the future.”

Elliott noted that he had asked Spangler to attend Tuesday night’s meeting, but she could not do so because of a prior commitment.

“She wanted to be here,” he said. “She very much appreciates the nomination and looks forward to serving on the board.”

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