ONE ON ONE | Thomas R. Tulip Economy League director looks beyond boundaries
Q. Your job keeps you busy with a lot of meetings. Do you have time to get involved in community activities?
A. I wish I had the time. I belong to the Farrell FOP and things like that. While I lived in Sharpsville, I was part of the Service Club. The big thing is night meetings and that night was always booked with meetings so that didn't work out so well.
Q. Can you give me a layman's definition of the Pennsylvania Economy League?
A. The Economy League has been around for a long time. We're in our 56th year of existence, actually created by a group of business people who felt that the world of local government needed some help in doing a lot of things and making all the difficult policy decisions. The Economy League was created as a private, nonprofit, non-partisan governmental research and consulting organization.
Q. What does it do?
A. Its primary mission is to work with local governments to improve both their efficiencies and economies and how they operate in a wide range of things from finances, personnel to what we're doing with looking at local government issues on merger, consolidation and strategic planning.
Q. How did you get involved?
A. Actually, out of college through one of the introductory work programs. I was hired for about a year and a half to work as a research statistician. After that time, I was hired by the Mercer County Area Agency on Aging and worked in planning and then became their lead accountant.
Q. When did you move back to the Economy League?
A. I've been in this position since August 1983.
Q. So, unlike a lot of young people who graduate from college, you decided to stay here rather than move elsewhere?
A. Well, I did go elsewhere. Right out of college, I, with some friends and through some connections in California, actually moved to California with plans to stay there. The lifestyle was not what I wanted. If I could have just hung out at the beach and things like that, it might have been different. It was a little more hectic than I anticipated out there and I was kind of glad to come back to the quality of life we have here. I found work and have no intentions of leaving again.
Q. How long were you there?
A. About six months, not a long time but long enough for me. I was doing some odd jobs, working for a small trucking company delivering stuff on those freeways. It was an interesting experience.
Q. What about the local lifestyle brought you back?
A. Number one, the traffic is not as bad as it was out there. The climate's great but, being born here, I enjoy, to some extent, the four seasons. Then, of course, family. Family was the big thing. I missed my family. You don't realize how much you've gotten accustomed to having your family nearby.
Q. You've monitored the economies of the local governments for years. Are they solvent?
A. For the most part. Having been more involved with the city of Farrell and its financial problems, I really, personally and through my professional affiliation with them as the state's Distressed Community coordinator, feel they are on a successful path to recovery.
Q. You're involved in the current study looking at Farrell, Sharon, Hermitage, Sharpsville and Wheatland that could lead to a recommendation for consolidation. Are the communities ready for that?
A. I'd say a lot of people are but then you've got your long-time rivalries, long-time turf issues and individuals who have supported their individual communities. No matter what, you have to create win-win situations for those communities that might be thriving and growing such as a Hermitage as opposed to these other land-locked communities. The borough of Wheatland, even though it's only about 700 in population with about a $300,000 general fund budget, they're very well off. They have no financial problems, so, you've got to sell it to them as well. And Sharpsville's somewhat the same.
Q. How does this area compare with other joint municipal efforts across the state?
A. Mercer County and the Shenango Valley in particular are far ahead of most other areas in the state with intergovernmental cooperation. We moan about things we don't do, but we have done so much more than other regions. The Mercer County Regional Council of Governments and the Mercer County Regional Planning Commission are largely responsible for that.
Q. What do you do to relax?
A. I'm an avid football fan and Penn State is my love. The one passion I have in life is Penn State football. Just ask my wife. That's the one thing we really have in common and she is a graduate of Penn State. The nice thing I have with my father is we have a nice getaway camp in Forest County and I enjoy getting away up there and fishing a little bit and relaxing. My brother has a place up at Kinzua, so we get up there.
Q. Are you a hunter too?
A. I'm like a one-day hunter. Tradition has led me to go on the first day of buck season with my dad to our camp. I take a loaded rifle for a walk through the woods. That's about all I do but I enjoy getting away. A couple of my dad's friends go up and it's the old hunting camp type thing.
Q. Any hobbies?
A. I golf a little bit, far from being good at it. I used to be a softball and baseball player in the Valley. Being 47, I'm well past the decade of that being over. We really enjoy basketball. I graduated with the last class at Farrell to have won a state championship in basketball in 1972.
Q. Do you read a lot?
A. Public administration stuff. I pick up my pre-season college football magazines as part of my preparation for the season.
Q. Are you a religious man?
A. I'm a Methodist but my wife is a devout Russian Orthodox and I've been attending a lot of their services.
Q. Your occupation would seem to make you a serious fellow. Are you?
A. In a lot of ways I am. One thing I pride myself in terms of the job is I don't think even someone who has known me for years knows what political party I'm affiliated with. I do practice what I preach in terms of the Economy League trying to be a non-partisan, fact-based organization in everything we do. Sometimes it's hard not to voice your opinion from a political standpoint because you're dealing with it on a regular daily basis. I have a good-natured side but I'm not a practical joker.
Q. You recently moved to Hermitage. Where did you live before?
A. I've lived in Wheatland and Sharpsville and my office is in Sharon. I really do consider myself not a resident of any one of these communities. I've become what I call a real regional person in a lot of respects. I realize the responsibility of an individual municipal official is to their community first and foremost but we need the type of official who can look beyond their own boundaries. I'm there to work with them toward achieving those goals. I know it doesn't always work but you have to keep trying.
XTHE WRITER/ Harold Gwin, who covers Mercer County for The Vindicator, conducted the interview.