photo by: Eric Ayres
WHEELING — A vote on a seemingly routine resolution to reappoint members to the Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority Board on Tuesday night ended in an awkward debate and a split decision by members of Wheeling City Council to scrap the proposed reappointments.
Citing, among other factors, a lack of diversity on the GWSEA board, Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott — who himself is chairman of that board — critically described the composition of its members, stating that, “Everybody is white on the board, and all but one is male. It’s not a very diverse board.”
Elliott urged members of city council to vote against the resolution, and ultimately the vote sent a fracture among the members – with Elliott, Vice Chairman Chad Thalman, Ty Thorngate and Rosemary Ketchum voting against the reappointments, and Councilmen Dave Palmer, Ben Seidler and Jerry Sklavounakis voting in favor of them.
The resolution for the reappointments failed as a result of the 4-3 split vote by city council.
Members of the GWSEA board are also almost all over 50 years of age, the mayor and chairman of the board noted.
The proposed reappointments to four-year terms expiring June 30, 2027, to the GWSEA board — which oversees operation of WesBanco Arena and the Capitol Theatre — were for members Rich Lucas, John Culler, Robert “Rocky” Fitzsimmons and Karen Shuler Stakem.
The issue of diversity may have led to the derailment of the reappointments, but it was a procedural issue that initially applied the brakes on the resolution’s momentum during Tuesday night’s Wheeling City Council meeting.
“I have a couple of concerns here,” Thorngate said after there was a motion and a second to approve the resolution for the reappointments. “The first being the most important to me — I really wasn’t consulted on this.
“We did get the email about the agenda on Friday, but that was really the first that I heard about it. If you go back in time a little bit– a couple of months ago, we put a resolution on the agenda on a Friday, and there were three people sitting up here that were extremely upset that someone would do that — giving us only a couple of days to vet those out.”
Thorngate said he thought members of council had decided as a group that the best practice moving forward would be to avoid putting items on the agenda at the last minute and fast-tracking them to the floor at council meetings.
“I’m not saying anything against the people that are on there, but I think it would be beneficial for us to kind of pump the brakes here and kind of go through them one at a time,” Thorngate said. “I can’t even think of a time when we passed four people in one ordinance before for a board or committee. It may be better to do it individually.”
Palmer, who serves as a member of the GWSEA board, explained why he added the resolution to Tuesday night’s agenda, noting that it had been discovered that terms for some of the sitting members of the board had already expired years ago. Yet all of the members of the board had continued to meet, discuss issues — including the spending of public funds, and even take part in the process of interviewing and hiring the new executive director, Kelly Tucker.
“Our chairman of the board had brought up the fact that some of the terms had been expired,” Palmer said, stressing that Wheeling City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth had assured them that actions taken after their terms expired were still valid. “We wanted to make sure we had cohesiveness — we had consultations with the city solicitor. Quite frankly, boards are reappointed all of the time — members are reappointed all of the time. Just to make a smooth transition, since I’ve served with these people — some of them for seven years, some of them for five years — I just took the initiative to just get the reappointments done so there would be no question moving forward as to whether we’re doing anything improper or illegal.”
Palmer said he did not think the reappointment of people he described as “all good board members” — who are willing to continue to serve in these positions — would be an issue.
“Every one of these people who I’ve served with have their own strengths and have brought a lot to this board,” Palmer said. “That’s why this was done the way it was done. I probably should have brought that to council’s attention ahead of time, and that’s my mistake, and I apologize for that. But I see no reason to pump the brakes on any of this, because they’re good appointments.”
Elliott noted that despite the fact that he is the head of the GWSEA board, he was also unaware that this was about to appear on the council agenda.
“As the chairman of the board in question, I was not consulted before you submitted this to the agenda on Friday,” Elliott told Palmer. “You could have easily reached out and suggested it. I do think we should look at these reappointments independently.”
Several GWSEA board members’ terms actually expired in 2018, and “for whatever reason,” they were not submitted to council for reappointment in 2018 or in 2020, Elliott explained.
“I have no issue with any of the people there, but I do think that we should look at these independently,” he said. “I think as a practical matter going forward, we should not automatically reappoint anybody. I know we do reappoint a lot of folks, but there shouldn’t be a guarantee to be reappointed.”
The mayor said this was a very important board that has new leadership in the executive director’s position and is taking strides to attract more big-name entertainment to the area.
“As you look at the board, it’s not exactly the most diverse entity,” Elliott said. “It’s mostly people over 50 — I think there may be one person who is 46 on the board. Everybody is white on the board, and all but one is male. It’s not a very diverse board that’s charged with bringing in diversity, new shows and new types of events both to the Capitol Theatre and the arena.”
Palmer suggested that council could simply add seats to the board and appoint new members that could help diversify its makeup.
“I don’t think we should punish anyone who serves well in order to bring in diversity,” Palmer said. “If you want to bring in diversity, I believe it’s council’s right to add additional seats to this board to create such diversity. I think that would be something going forward that we could do, because these are council appointments.”
Elliott stressed that there should not be an assumption that there is some type of effort afoot to get any of the members of the GWSEA off of the board.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “There is an effort to look at each new appointment individually. I would expect to see a lot of them back on the board.”
Today’s breaking news and more in your inbox