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Steve Novotney Says, "Cameras Unnecessary at Council"

I didn't like the idea the first time I heard it, and that's because of the train wrecks I witnessed earlier in my life.

WACO Cable used to broadcast the regular meetings held by Wheeling Council while I was in grade school and high school, and I used to watch them for the entertainment factor. They argued, not debated, and often one or more of the members were guilty of grandstanding.

We used to make jokes about it at school.

Although Mayor Glenn Elliott has said he doesn't believe such things will occur again, others on council aren't so sure. Plus, grandstanding occurred in mid-December when council and the mayor voted unanimously to adopt the expanded non-discrimination ordinance, and that vote took place without students from the TV station at West Liberty University recording the proceedings. The agreement with the college is an effort to involve more Wheeling residents and to increase transparency beyond what is accomplished already with newspaper and TV reporting as well as talk-radio interviews.

I get that.

But how many times will several council members feel compelled to repeat themselves, over and over, with a television audience to consider? I fear far too often, and that will render such broadcasts useless because today's citizenry is far too busy for those kinds of antics. During his first six months Elliott has attracted above-average gatherings to the regular meetings, and the council agenda has been newsworthy to say the least.

Along with the expanded equality discussions, Elliott created three ad-hoc committees to examine housing, retention, and industrial development; a new position was created to oversee improvements to playgrounds and recreational opportunities in the city; a municipal "brunch bill" provision was passed and enacted a few weeks before Ohio County voters passed the proposal; Clay School in East Wheeling soon will be demolished to make way for low-income senior housing; and a fourth building within the 1400 block of Market Street is now owned by the city of Wheeling.

Proactive, yes, but only has the non-discrimination ordinance attracted opposition thus far, but what happens when the discussions get serious about increasing fines for parking violations or the time when a local business is deemed a nuisance and is closed down? The employees working on Wheeling's downtown district have made feeding the parking meters something of a science so they can avoid walking from a lot or a parking garage, and when Bud's Club in Centre Market was shuttered, an accusatory uproar ensued.

How long will those council comments take if a "Yes" vote to grant members of the LGBT community, veterans, and everyone else of Wheeling the same rights already granted to the municipality's minorities prompts nearly 15 minutes of speeches from five or seven council members without the cameras?

When I was a kid watching those WACO-made meetings, it made me laugh, and I grew up believing the city of Wheeling was in decline because of them. I didn't care about their last names or about the economic realities beating this region down because of their squabbling, their grandstanding, and their reactive approach to everything.

It just seemed useless.

I don't want that to happen again at a time when we have done very well to engage the city's young people to include them in the conversations taking place. That is why, six times this year, Wheeling Council will take the show on the road to stage regular meetings in local schools. If any students choose to take advantage of the "WISHING TO BE HEARD" agenda item, they will be free to do so.

The first of those gatherings took place this Tuesday at The Linsly School, Mayor Elliott's alma mater, and was deemed a successful civics lesson for the student body in attendance. I didn't have that opportunity during my years at the private school, and no one ever asked me if I wanted to be heard, on any topic, because I was, well, a kid.

That's not true today and I wish for nothing to cause fiction in that friendship.

Categories: Commentary