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Government petition needs more signers



Published: Sun, July 29, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



A total of 1,275 signatures must be gathered by Aug. 7.

By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU

NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- At least 725 people in Lawrence County think it's a good idea to look into ways to organize county government.

An additional 550 are still needed to sign a petition to make it an official referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot, say organizers of the petition drive.

Thomas Shumaker, a New Castle attorney spearheading the drive with the county League of Women Voters, said at least 56 percent, or 725, of the needed 1,275 signatures were obtained as of Friday.

Deadline nears: The rest of the signatures need to be gathered by Aug. 7 to give voters the chance to decide if they want to form a nine-member nonpartisan study commission that would look at ways to organize county government.

"We're optimistic that we will be able to obtain the necessary signatures. If we do not obtain the necessary signatures, it won't be from lack of support, but merely lack of manpower in obtaining signatures," Shumaker said.

Shumaker said there are about 20 people circulating petitions for the referendum, but some of those efforts have been hampered by summer vacations and other problems, he said.

Most people who are asked to sign the petitions think the study commission is a good idea, but at the same time are saying they don't have much faith in government in general, Shumaker said.

"They see very little progress, and people just don't have faith in government as an institution to help make the community better," he said.

Hoping for change: Looking into other forms of county government might change some of those attitudes, he said.

Lawrence County now has three elected full-time commissioners and various elected and appointed people who run the county offices.

Shumaker has said the movement to form a study commission is not meant to be critical of anyone serving in county government now, but is an effort to see if there is a more economical and efficient form of government available.

Six other Pennsylvania counties -- Allegheny, Delaware, Erie, Lackawanna, Lehigh and Northampton -- have convened study commissions and chosen alternative forms of government.

People wanting serve on that nine-member nonpartisan study commission would also be elected this fall, Shumaker said.

Anyone interested in being part of the study commission must collect 200 signatures from registered county voters and file nominating petitions with county election officials by Aug. 28, Shumaker said.

Those petitions can be picked up only after Aug. 7 if the first petition drive to get 1,275 signatures is successful.

The 1,275 signatures represent 5 percent of the people in Lawrence County who voted in the last gubernatorial election, a percentage set by the state election code to get referendum questions on ballots.

Next step: Anyone elected to the study commission will then have about nine months to look at several alternative forms of government, including home rule.

Recommended changes would go back to voters for approval in the next general election.

cioffi@vindy.com




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