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Sharon begins change



Published: Sun, January 20, 2008 @ 12:00 a.m.

Most of the immediate changes were procedural.

By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR PENNSYLVANIA BUREAU

SHARON, Pa. — After a contentious election, Sharon’s change of government Jan. 7 was a fairly quiet event.

It was on that day that the city went from a third-class city with an optional charter governed by state law to a home-rule form of government.

In Pennsylvania, communities are able to set their own laws, limits and boundaries under what the state calls a home-rule charter. These charters can be adopted only if the majority of voters approve — as Sharon voters did by a two-to-one margin last November. Otherwise they must follow guidelines set by the state Legislature that are categorized by city or community size.

William McConnell Jr., one of the authors of Sharon’s new home-rule charter, said the average citizen will see few changes since home rule became effective earlier this month.

“There are many aspects of the charter that went into effect on Jan. 7, but most of them are procedural. Most of the visible changes won’t go into effect until 2010,” he said.

That’s the year that city’s elected mayor and controller end their terms in office. The city treasurer just started serving a four-year term. After those people leave office, those elected positions are eliminated from city government, under the new home-rule charter.

A city manager appointed by city council and a hired fiscal manager will oversee the city’s daily operations.

Until then, the elected officials are trying to figure out how to operate under the new rules.

“There will be a learning curve here, but we’ve got to make it work,” said Sharon’s Mayor Bob Lucas.

Though there will be procedural changes, Lucas said the ultimate goals of city government won’t change.

“I don’t think the focus of city government will change and that is development downtown and stopping the decline in the population,” the mayor said.

The city has struggled with both issues in the last few decades, and recently started downtown revitalization work with state money to refurbish streets and buildings in an effort to attract more businesses and residents.

As for the government transition, Lucas said he intends to assist in any way he can.

McConnell, as well as a few other study commission and elected city officials, sit on the nine-member board which will officially go to work at its first public meeting at 6 p.m. Jan. 28 in Sharon council chambers. They expect to organize at that time, McConnell said.

The group is designed to ensure that all aspects of the new city charter are followed.

Vic Heutsche, city council president and a member of the transition committee, said he expects the first year of work by that committee to mostly be a review of the administrative code.

Among the changes is how city council can adopted ordinances or laws. Heutsche said the council previously held public hearings and could take an immediate vote on the matter. The new code requires a waiting period after a public hearing.

McConnell said the new city charter also aims at making government more transparent by requiring proposed laws and city council agenda items to be posted on a city Web site.

All involved agree that the biggest transition will be the change from an elected mayor to an appointed city manager. The nine-member transition committee will be part of the search and interview process, but the ultimate hiring decision will be up to city council.

Heutsche said he doesn’t even expect that process to begin until 2009 because the mayor’s term won’t end until January 2010.

“I anticipate everything will go smoothly,” Heutsche said of the transition.

cioffi@vindy.com


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