Wheeler's years as Delaware council linchpin nearing end
Longtime city leader off ballot this year, but he won't stray far
When Delaware City Council members voted among themselves in 2011 to elect a mayor and vice mayor, they elicited a confession from Windell Wheeler.
"When (Mayor) Gary (Milner) and I were voted back in, I told everyone at that time, 'You have two years to think about running for City Council at-large,' so they knew at that time that I was leaving," Wheeler said.
Those two years are up Nov. 18, which is why for the first time in more than two decades, voters won't find Wheeler's name on the November ballot.
Wheeler currently is serving his fourth term on council. He's been vice mayor since 2009 and previously served as mayor from 2002-09.
Having worked in Delaware since 1959, the now-retired Wheeler, who worked at Grady Memorial Hospital until 2008, said he was eager to get involved when he moved from Licking County to the city in 1985.
"When I moved into the city of Delaware, I started attending many, many council meetings before I really got involved, and I was able to get appointed to the planning commission, which gives you a lot of experience on what's happening in the city, how we plan for growth," he said.
Wheeler served on the planning commission for six years prior to being elected to council. In that time, he ran for council twice but was defeated by incumbents. He said it was a vacancy and the endorsement of the veteran councilwoman who'd left that allowed him to break into the political spectrum.
Now he's looking forward to passing off his position to someone new in a similar fashion.
In particular, Wheeler has endorsed two new candidates who he would like to see fill the seats he and Milner will leave behind. He said he will vote for planning commission President George Hellinger and Kent Shafer, along with Councilwoman Carolyn Kay Riggle, who is vying to keep her seat.
"I believe they have the good basic knowledge and they have the personalities to fit what we need to accomplish in Delaware," he said.
Teri Owens, Terrie Price, Jeff Rike and Robert Hoffman are also running to fill the three open at-large council spots.
Wheeler said he never planned to keep his council seat for four terms, but he enjoyed it so much that he couldn't bring himself to leave it behind until now.
"I just happened to be on council at a really good time to get involved, because the city was really exploding in housing and commercial development, and I'd like to think that I've been able to guide some of that, because I've worked really hard to recruit businesses to the community, bring jobs and retain businesses," he said.
"I really like it, but there comes a time when you decide that you need to take more time for family things."
Once the new council members are sworn in at their first meeting in November, Wheeler said he and his wife, Donna, will dedicate their extra free time to visiting their daughter, two sons and 10 grandchildren, who live in towns across Ohio, Colorado and Florida.
He said a return trip to Delaware's sister city of Baumholder, Germany, may be in his future as well, because meeting the local government representatives and becoming immersed in the culture last year was one of the highlights of his time on council.
But his travels won't ever lead him so far away from Delaware that he can't have a hand in the city's future.
"I do intend to still stay involved with the community in different ways," said Wheeler, who is a board member for the Delaware Speech and Hearing Center and the Common Ground Free Store. He said he also would like to continue serving on the city's shade tree commission.
Returning to his roots and asking to be appointed to a position on the planning commission also is a possibility, he said.
"I think that's a very good committee in Delaware because that's where all your development comes from," he said. "I just want to be able to serve the people of Delaware."