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Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott Delivers Emotional Farewell in Final Council Meeting

Tuesday Also Saw Last Hurrah for Council Members Thalman, Ketchum

photo by: Eric Ayres

Wheeling City Council bid farewell Tuesday night to fellow members who will be stepping down at the end of this month. Tuesday’s council meeting was the last regular session for Councilwoman Rosemary Ketchum, left, Mayor Glenn Elliott, center, and Vice Mayor Chad Thalman.

WHEELING — A chapter in Wheeling’s history came to a close Tuesday night as Mayor Glenn Elliott delivered an emotional farewell speech during what was the last regular council meeting for him, Vice Mayor Chad Thalman and Councilwoman Rosemary Ketchum.

The four other current members of council — Ben Seidler, Jerry Sklavounakis, Ty Thorngate and Dave Palmer — were re-elected in May to serve four more years. They will join Mayor-elect Denny Magruder and incoming council members Tony Assaro and Connie Cain on the next city council, which begins its new term July 1.

With his wife and son in the audience along with a roomful of constituents, Elliott choked back tears as he gave his final mayor’s report during Tuesday night’s council meeting.

“At the end of the day, I’m so proud of taking on the challenges that we had,” Elliott said. “While we didn’t solve everything, we gave it the best effort we could.”

First elected in 2016, Elliott and Thalman helped usher in a new chapter of the city’s history — one which is seeing an unprecedented level of public and private investments to Wheeling. The city continues to be transformed through the Downtown Streetscape Project, major demolition work and new construction all over town.

Elliott outlined many of the accomplishments of the past eight years. He said they set goals to increase transparency of council, make significant recreation investments, further historic preservation, increase walkability in the city, clean up blight, help bring new private investment to the city, help make Wheeling a destination for entertainment and champion a forward-looking vision for the city.

“We made civil rights a priority on council,” Elliott said. “When I ran, I was the only candidate who spoke in support of the LGBT ordinance that we passed — the non-discrimination ordinance. Immediately upon being sworn in, we passed that by a vote of 7-0. It’s probably the most proud I am of any vote we did.”

The mayor said he and his fellow council members prioritized some of the city’s historic assets in a way that was “critical” with ventures such as the successful Facade Improvement Program, which incentivized private investment into individual properties to effectively help improve neighborhoods one address at a time.

“No one planned on a global pandemic happening, and that happened,” he said of events that unfolded unexpectedly during his term in office. “We had to adjust on the fly for that.”

Elliott said council and the city staff had to make sure the municipal government continued to serve residents through the COVID-19 pandemic. Council also was responsible for distributing millions of dollars in federal pandemic relief funds to projects throughout the city to help stimulate an economic rebound throughout the community.

“We dealt with the closure of a major hospital in town,” Elliott noted, citing the closure of the Ohio Valley Medical Center and the city’s subsequent acquisition of the property. “That wasn’t something we had on our bingo card when we first ran for office.”

Elliott said the city worked hard to turn “lemons into lemonade” with the OVMC site, which promises to bring a multimillion-dollar regional cancer center by WVU Medicine in the near future.

One of the toughest votes cast during his tenure was for the implementation of the User Fee, or City Service Fee – a $2 per week fee on people who work in the city. Although unpopular at the time of the vote, the fee has been used to generate funds to pay for the new police and fire headquarters, as well as several important infrastructure projects.

“To me personally, it’s just been an opportunity to do a lot of things that I probably wouldn’t have done,” Elliott said of his role as mayor. “I gave a couple of commencement addresses that I never envisioned doing at West Liberty and Wheeling University. I had opportunities during both the Trump and Biden administrations to go to the White House — that’s not something that happens every day. It was a great experience each time.”

He also recalled his recent opportunity to give U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on a tour of downtown Wheeling during a viewing of the progress on the Streetscape work.

“And just meeting a lot of folks along the way — it’s been such an honor to represent the city,” he said.

Elliott noted that there have been some noble endeavors that did not end in success — from his two-way street proposal to Ward pages on Facebook and the city’s efforts to address the homeless situation. There are still plenty of challenges ahead, he noted, citing the future of the Clay School, the stagnant Wheeling-Pitt Lofts project, the proposed Gateway Center and other pending projects.

But the city is in good financial shape, noted Elliott, who gave an emotional shoutout to each council member in attendance, as well as to City Manager Robert Herron and members of the city staff.

He thanked Thalman for his service as vice mayor for the past eight years — a position that he said garnered as much criticism but rarely as much of the accolades as the role as mayor. Elliott had to gain his composure when he acknowledged Ketchum’s role as a “trailblazer” who handled her term in office with “so much grace and courage.”

Ketchum gained national and even international attention four years ago when she became the first transgender candidate to win an election for public office in the state of West Virginia.

“I didn’t run for office to make history,” Ketchum said. “I ran for office to make a difference in our community.”

Ketchum — who has represented the Ward 3 neighborhoods of East Wheeling, Center Wheeling, South Wheeling and Mozart — said serving the community has been the “honor of my life” over the past four years.

“As I look back, I’m proud of so much we’ve accomplished — incredible neighborhood investments, unprecedented economic development, important social and cultural changes that have resonated through Wheeling and through the state of West Virginia,” Ketchum said. “I feel so good about the direction that we’re headed as a city. But the growth that we see is not an accident. It’s the result of an engaged community, good government, a sound financial approach, pride in our neighborhoods and a progressive vision for our city.”

There is a lot of work left ahead, she said, but noted that the new council holds a shared vision for the future of Wheeling.

Both Ketchum and Thalman were candidates in the race to become the city’s next mayor, but both fell short during the municipal election in May. Both vowed to stay involved in the community in the future.

“I would just like to thank the voters of Ward 1 for trusting me the last eight years,” said Thalman, who represented the neighborhoods of Warwood, North Park and the upper portion of Glenwood during his two terms. “I’d like to thank the mayor and the last two councils for trusting me to be the vice mayor. I’d like to thank city council and city staff for all the progress that has been made over the last eight years. I look forward to seeing that progress continue with the next city council, and I think Ward 1 and the city are in good hands. It’s been an honor.”

At the end of Elliott’s emotional final report to council, he received a standing ovation from everyone in the crowd and everyone on council.

“I’m going to miss a lot when I think about it, but it’s the people, mostly,” he said. “It’s been the professional honor of my life to be the mayor of my hometown. I hope that when the next council takes office in 12 days, that they will inherit a city that was better than the one that we found back in 2016. I wish you all the best of luck.”

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