HD Media is running submitted questionnaires from candidates in the 2020 elections.
Read more responses from candidates by clicking on the links at right.
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NAME: Jennifer Wheeler
CANDIDATE FOR: Huntington City Council District 4 (includes Harveytown and a small portion of the South Hills area above Ritter Park; also includes parts of the Southside west of 8th Street.)
HOME CITY: Huntington
HOME COUNTY: Cabell
EDUCATION: Master’s of Science, Strategic Leadership- Mountain State University; Regents Bachelor of Arts- Marshall University; Diploma- Huntington High School.
CURRENT OFFICE OR OCCUPATION: Currently represents District 4 on Huntington City Council; Director of Development at Huntington Museum of Art
OTHER WORK HISTORY: Assessor’s Office Manager- Cabell County Commission; Director of Marketing- Cabell Huntington Convention and Visitor’s Bureau; Annual Giving- Marshall University Foundation; Programming Coordinator- Huntington Museum of Art.
CIVIC ORGANIZATIONS: Southside Neighborhood Organization- Member; Generation Huntington- Member; Junior League- Member; Mayor's Arts Council- Member; Huntington Planning Commission- Vice Chair.
FAMILY: parents, Ann Finley Wheeler and the late Donald R. Wheeler.
PERSONAL STATEMENT: Even though I’ve been an elected official for nearly four years now, I don’t consider myself to be a politician. Caring deeply about my community and wanting to help advance our city led me to service and those feelings have not changed. I LOVE Huntington and will keep fighting for it. For me, it’s not political, it’s personal!
1. What are your suggestions for the long-term financing of Huntington's government?
We must continue to be fiscally prudent. Hard decisions made over the last few years helped prepare for the unpredictable pandemic and resulting loss of revenue. We were capable and fortunate, though other municipalities in the region weren't, causing furloughed employees and loss of services. Huntington was able to waive some service fees helping citizens through this struggle.
2. What are the most important problems in your district (or city for mayor and at-large council candidates)?
Helping our neighborhoods thrive has always been the biggest issue to me. We must both preserve the character of the neighborhood and create opportunities that enhance what we have. Zoning is key. I'd also like to see some dilapidated housing replaced with community lots that would allow for shared off street parking and also some additional green space.
3. Should the city bring back a curbside recycling program? If so, should it be funded with a levy vote or by expanding the county's program?
Huntington, home to a progressive University and multiple major medical centers, should have a thriving recycling program. We should seek to further explore the feasibility of partnership(s) with entities such as the Cabell County Solid Waste Authority, Marshall, and others. There should be intergovernmental cooperation, as well, with bodies like the Cabell County Commission. We must work together!
4. What more needs to be done to encourage new housing construction in the city?
Recently Council passed an ordinance supporting development through tax incentives for first-time home buyers building or renovating property. An expansion of this can encourage more new housing construction, though for it to occur, there must be adequate lots on which to build. We must continue to aggressively pursue the demolition of dilapidated buildings to make room for new.
5. How would you continue to fight the opioid epidemic? Do you support the harm reduction program?
The opioid epidemic affects multiple generations with kids being raised by grandparents and being vulnerable to addiction due to ACEs. We have to support programs for wellness including harm reduction which is a fiscal matter as much as it is a social one. We can't afford the money or resources that get depleted dealing with blood-borne illness outbreaks.
6. What more could be done to help tear down dilapidated houses?
People must be held accountable for the upkeep of their properties. Appropriately, City Council will be approving hiring three additional code enforcement officers. Fines don’t compel everyone to act, so we should continue crafting legislation like we did by creating the rental registry, updating the fire code and the aggressive demolition of 100 dilapidated houses, this past year.
7. How will you address Huntington’s dwindling population?
Given the pandemic and as people in larger metropolitan areas are becoming disenchanted with their respective cities, City Council has been drafting legislation to entice people to relocate to Huntington through the creation of ordinances that reduce taxes and waives some fees. An aggressive marketing campaign and partnership with the CVB and Chamber is an necessity, as well.
8. How will you continue to encourage the decrease in crime throughout the city?
It is important to continue to arm first responders with necessary resources for success. In addition to support from the budget, we are promoting mental and physical health through the Compass program and developing a state of the art facility for wellness with features such as an exercise space, wellness lounge, quiet studio, nutrition center, and relaxation area.
9. Do you think staffing levels for the city’s police and fire departments are adequate, too low or too high? If you think changes are needed, how would you accomplish those?
I’m proud that during my time on Council, we approved the highest budgets HPD and HFD have ever had. Despite allocating funds for more hiring, a nationwide shortage of people willing to serve has been challenging. We have aggressive recruiting campaigns and offer many incentives because we need to fill these roles. Public safety is a top priority.
10. The state of WV government recently put all finances and purchases online for the public’s review. Do you support a similar thing happening in Huntington?
I support transparency in government. Currently the city publishes the fiscal audit, budgets, monthly finance reports, TIF, and other miscellaneous reports on the City’s website. Additionally audited financial statements, debt authorizations and budget revisions are brought before Finance Committee and then full Council. Both of those meetings are televised and online for the public to view, as well.
NEW QUESTIONS FOR THE GENERAL ELECTION
11. How would you address the problem of loose trash and litter in your district?
Neighborhood associations and auxiliary organizations are excellent and underutilized tools that can help to support the city’s efforts. Community is about working together and it is incumbent upon us to volunteer to be partners in the betterment of our neighborhoods. While the City bears a responsibility, we must also be active participants in the health of our surroundings.
12. Do you support rehabilitation housing in your district? Why or why not?
I believe safe competent rehabilitation housing should be only within areas zoned specifically for medical commercial activity. Current federal law conflicts with that so we have passed legislation to address this issue. Our new ordinances limit the number of occupants, allowing us to inspect these establishments to ensure they meet code and are safe for residents and neighbors.
13. What more could be done to encourage businesses to open in the city?
I’m passionate about zoning! There are areas where we could rezone to encourage business development- such as the area near campus. If we were to rezone that from residential to neighborhood-commercial, it could encourage people to tear down dilapidated structures and build mixed use buildings with shopping below and living on top. These innovative steps could be transformative!
14. What more could be done to promote an inclusive environment as part of the city’s “Open to All” campaign?
I think “Open to All” has been incredibly successful and its efforts are further supported by the Mayor’s Diversity Committee and the recently resurrected Huntington Human Relations Commission. I would like to see this initiative incorporated into a larger nationwide marketing campaign to bolster the efforts we are making to recruit new residents in light of pandemic relocation.