Weirton Council hears objections on three charter proposals

WEIRTON — As long as the objections remain in place, three of the 11 proposed changes to Weirton’s city charter will be going before the voters during the city’s June general election.

Weirton Council held a public hearing Wednesday to accept comment on a series of ordinances with a goal of updating the charter, which forms the backbone of all laws administered in the city.

“The purpose of this hearing is for citizens to make comments on the proposed charter changes,” Mayor Harold Miller explained.

Of the 11 proposals, the changes suggested under Ordinances 2063, 2066 and 2070 received opposition from residents.

Ordinance 2070 would amend Article VIII of the charter, focusing on the conduct of municipal elections. The proposal states “elections will commence every four years during the general national elections beginning November 2024; what whomever wins the election by majority vote will be named the winner pursuant to all other West Virginia election laws. Whoever wins the election for council and mayor in the 2019 election shall take office from July 1, 2019, through Jan. 1, 2025, and the election shall be held every four years thereafter.”

City Attorney Vince Gurrera explained the intention was the save the city money by shifting the election to coincide with national elections and the improve voter turnout.

Edwin J. Bowman, former Weirton mayor and former state senator, expressed opposition, first noting he believes there would be issues by adding a year and a half to the term of the next city administration and noting he feels there is a possibility it would violate the city’s charter which stipulates four-year terms.

Bowman recommended the city contact the state ethics commission to get an opinion on the language used.

“You’ve got to really, a lot of times, rule on caution,” Bowman said.

Bowman also expressed concern about whether the changes would result in individuals being elected with a low percentage of votes.

Resident John Barone stated, as far as he is aware, the process of the city election has been in place since the municipality’s founding.

“Now you’re changing the whole framework, as far as I’m concerned,” Barone said, noting he, too, feels there may be some ethics issues to address. “I could be wrong, but I think you have a problem on that basis.”

City Clerk DeeAnn Pulliam announced a letter also had been received from resident David Cline objecting to the proposal.

Bowman also opposed the proposal under Ordinance 2063, amending Article III, Section 2(c) relating to the removal of appointed officers.

Under current provisions, appointed officers may be removed by the mayor, with the discharged officer allowed to appeal to council, which shall hold a public hearing. Council must then approve the removal by a two-thirds majority for it to be effective. The proposal would change it to “a majority vote of the council present at the council meeting after such public hearing.”

“I think we’re slowly going to a danger zone here,” Bowman said, referring to the possibility of four members of council being able to take control of various city functions and intimidating city administration and staff. “Sometimes there are unintended consequences.”

City resident Robert Hinchee also said he opposed the move.

“It’s taking the checks and balances out of it,” Hinchee said.

The third charter change proposal to receive an objection was from Ordinance 2066, amending Article III, Section 3(F) referring to qualifications and requirements to include appointed or elected office in the state.

Under the proposal, candidates for mayor or council “shall not hold any other appointed or elected office in the city, county or the state of West Virginia except as is hereafter set forth,” in the charter. Currently, those seeking or holding such offices may not hold another elected or appointed position in the city or county levels.

Bowman said there are only two instances in the last 70 years of which he knows such an instance took place. One of those was when Bowman, still serving as mayor, began serving in the state Senate. The other was when a member of council was elected to the House of Delegates.

Bowman said he feels having city officials serve in state office can provide a louder voice for Weirton in the Legislature.

“Is that advantageous to the city. I submit to you, absolutely yes,” Bowman said. “You have a voice in Charleston.”

Of the remaining charter changes proposed:

¯ Ordinance 2060 would replace all references to city treasurer and auditor to city financial director.

¯ Ordinance 2061 would eliminate the position of city physician.

¯ Ordinance 2062 would eliminate the position of recreation director.

¯ Ordinance 2064 would eliminate a minimum five-year residency requirement to run for mayor or council.

¯ Ordinance 2065 would remove a requirement to have paid at least $500 in real or personal property taxes the year prior to an election to seek office.

¯ Ordinance 2067 would remove a member of council or mayor “if he fails to attend the regular monthly council meetings six times within the city’s fiscal year.”

¯ Ordinance 2068 will require all purchasing contracts to be reviewed by the city attorney and all purchases more than $5,000 be done on competitive bids.

¯ Ordinance 2069 will establish the city clerk’s office hours to be determined by the city manager. Currently, the charter sets the hours at 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

All of the ordinances will be presented to council for a second reading during a special meeting at 7 p.m. Monday. If the remaining eight ordinances are passed by council during the meeting, those charter changes will go into effect.

The charter changes were first publicly discussed during a Feb. 20 informational workshop, with council voting on the first reading of the ordinances during its March 11 meeting.

All of the ordinances have been sponsored by Ward 4 Councilman George Ash.