By ALEC BERRY
The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING, W.Va. — During its final meeting of 2016, Wheeling City Council unanimously established new protections in the city’s human rights ordinance based on sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status.
After months of discussion, Wheeling is now the 11th West Virginia city with a policy in place to protect housing and employment rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens. It is the fifth in 2016 to approve such a measure.
The ordinance includes exemptions for religious institutions, as well as employers with fewer than 12 employees. It also gives the city’s human rights commission the ability to issue cease-and-desist orders in response to complaints under the new policy if attempts at conciliation fail, and to seek enforcement of such orders through the courts if they are not obeyed.
The final vote arrived on the heels of energized comments from some council members and last-minute remarks from the public. Vice Mayor Chad Thalman and 5th Ward Councilman Ty Thorngate said the moment was something to be proud of, while James Hyest, a resident of St. Clairsville, said he believed it impossible for local government to enforce its own moral code.
“This process has been, if anything else, interesting,” Hyest said.
Fourth Ward Councilwoman Wendy Scatterday said when the discussion began, she, too, questioned its need — but said she ultimately found clarity in the knowledge that protections did not exist for the LGBT community in Wheeling. She said she was elected to serve all, and although she is a person of faith, she said she could not place such a personal commitment on others.
“If you’re dissatisfied with the outcome, know serving is not tethered to endorsement,” Scatterday said.
Mayor Glenn Elliott said he’d received plenty of correspondence from residents on this topic. He said he was pleased with how council handled the subject and proceeded with the process.
Tuesday’s vote came almost a month after a well-attended public hearing at Wheeling Park’s White Palace, during which a crowd of about 350 people listened to roughly 50 speakers present their views on whether council should move forward with the ordinance at the urging of the city’s human rights commission.
In other business, Elliott said the Wheeling Young Preservationists, a local historic preservation advocacy group, will volunteer time to clean up two city-owned properties at 1107 and 1109 Main St. He said the buildings, which the city acquired for $315,000 in March, have received some attention from potential developers, but are in need of cleaning.
Also, the city will seek a commission-based grant writer in 2017 to capture additional funds for municipal projects. Elliott said this will not be a permanent position, and the writer would only receive payment upon acquisition of grants.
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