About 98 million people in 4,000 communities live under council/manager governments.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- When Chuck and Theresa Abramski moved back to Lawrence County about three years ago, they were surprised to see how much it had declined.
They think the county needs a new form of government to help revive it.
"I definitely want change. I think Lawrence County needs a shot in the arm to come back. We need to get the economy back," Mr. Abramski said.
They were part of a handful of people who attended a public meeting set up by members of the Lawrence County League of Women Voters and members of the government study commission to talk about the proposed manager/council form of government.
A nine-member, nonpartisan board is recommending to voters this fall that they eliminate the three county commissioners and most of the other elected county officials in favor of a seven-member, part-time council and an appointed professional manager.
William H. Hansell Jr., executive director of the International City/County Management Association and Thomas Fountaine II, borough manager for Hollidaysburg, Pa., and vice president of Pennsylvania's city/county manager association, were on hand to explain how a council/manager government operates and answer questions.
Hansell explained that the council/manager form of government only came about in the last 50 to 70 years. There are now about 4,000 cities and counties and 98 million people living under this form of government.
"An average of 30 communities [across the country] adopt the council manager form of government each year. There isn't a place in this country that is adopting a commissioner form of government. It hasn't been found to be a viable form of government," he said.
Giving up vote
But some feel they don't want to give up their ability to vote for county office holders that would become appointed positions under the proposed form of government.
The proposal calls for the elimination of all other elected officials, except the district attorney and the controller.
"I really don't like to give away my power to vote," said Patricia Toscano of New Castle.
Her husband, Anthony Toscano, who is New Castle's city controller, added that he's not in favor of a part-time county council.
"They will spend less time working [on county business] and still have to help administer a $70 million budget," he said.
Fontaine pointed out that the daily administrative duties are the duty of the professional manager and council is there to set policy.
Hansell added that the manager is an employee of council who can be fired at any time, unlike elected officials who are only accountable when their terms are up.
Fontaine explained that professional county managers who belong to the state and national professional manager organizations are required to be nonpartisan, neutral and follow a code of ethics set up by the groups. The organizations can censure members who do not follow those codes, he said.
Charles Collins of Slippery Rock Township said he liked what he heard at Tuesday's meeting with Hansell and Fontaine.
"It looks to me like it makes sense. The existing form of government needs changed. You have a lot of nepotism and good-old-boys networks. When a citizen tries to get things changed they [now] run into a lot of artificial road blocks," Collins said.