WHEELING - Mayor Andy McKenzie said he still plans to appoint an informal committee to determine whether Wheeling's city charter needs reviewed for the first time in more than 20 years.
Although he wouldn't set a firm deadline for appointing that group, he acknowledged work needs to begin soon to adhere to the timeline he set forth in his State of the City address almost six months ago. He said the committee would need to issue a recommendation to City Council by early February - in time to pass an ordinance putting the question on the May primary ballot before voters, who will have the ultimate say as to whether a formal charter review will take place.
"It needs to be done soon," McKenzie said.
He said he would appoint at least one council member to the informal advisory committee, which could consist of nine members, all of whom are registered voters and "care about Wheeling," according to McKenzie.
McKenzie said he met recently with City Manager Robert Herron and Vice Mayor Eugene Fahey last week to discuss the process. He declined to identify specific changes he'd like to see made to the charter, simply saying he believes Wheeling is a different place than it was 20 years ago, and it may be time to take another look at its primary governing document.
"I don't want to put my opinion" into the process, McKenzie said.
Voters approved the current charter on May 12, 1992, a document that made sweeping changes to the way Wheeling's government operates, including provisions for election of the mayor by popular vote rather than council appointment, reducing the number of council wards from nine to six and providing for representation of each ward by individual council members, doing away with "at-large" council seats.
The 1992 charter also raised council members' annual pay from $3,600 to $8,500, discontinued free medical care for council members, required a "majority plus one" vote of five council members to remove a city manager and changed council meetings from weekly to twice-monthly.
The formal city charter review process - a lengthy, involved undertaking tantamount to developing a new Constitution on the federal level - is outlined in West Virginia code. It can be initiated in one of two ways: by a vote of two-thirds of council - in Wheeling's case, five members - or by a petition bearing the signatures of 15 percent of qualified voters in the city.
If either of those two things occurs, a referendum on whether a new charter is needed would be placed before voters at the next election. At the same time they decide whether a charter review is needed, city voters would select 11 members to a Charter Review Board to guide the process.
Council may nominate up to five members to the slate of candidates, while the rest must be nominated by petitions bearing at least 200 signatures of qualified voters. It would be up to council to fill remaining seats in the event fewer than 11 members are nominated.
Charter Review Board members must be residents and qualified voters of Wheeling for at least two years prior to the election.
Voters would have the option to distribute their 11 votes any way they see fit - all for one candidate, or among the several candidates.
If the referendum on whether a new charter is needed fails, council cannot bring it up again for at least two years, unless residents submit a petition signed by 15 percent of the city's qualified voters. If it succeeds, the board would meet and propose a new charter to voters at the November 2014 general election that, if approved, would take effect July 1, 2015.
If voters reject the proposed charter, the issue would be dead for two years except in the case of a petition, the same as if voters had rejected the charter review process entirely.
If a new charter is approved, state law requires Charter Review Board members to serve for six years to monitor the effectiveness of the new charter, and propose additional changes it may deem necessary.