To the editor: The question of Home Rule is going to be on the forefront very shortly. Local leaders see this as the only option. I believe there is potential, but it must be done right. The only way I can support Home Rule is if we overhaul everything about this city government. These are the issues that must be addressed and actions that I feel must be taken if we want to drastically change the way we do business. After the Home Rule study question is on the ballot, and provided that it is approved for study, I will gladly serve on the appointed government study Ccommission in order to help protect the taxpayers and citizens of Shamokin. These are my initial goals and requirements:
Composition of City Council
I propose the enactment of a nine-member council, one member from each ward and the mayor. The mayor serves at-large and has no vote except as a tie-breaker. Council members will no longer be in charge of a department. The first election under this provision will require four members to be elected for a term of four years, and four members to be elected for a term of two years. All subsequent elections will be for four-year terms.
Hierarchies, bureaucracy and redundancy
Each department already has a paid employee who runs it (or appointed position such as police and fire chiefs); they don’t need an overseer. These individuals are competent and have been entrusted with the lives of the public; they don’t need a boss to read their monthly report. An alternative could be that the current “departments” can have their duties split among the council members in the form of committees (recreation, public safety, etc). Committee meetings shall be considered public meetings in accordance with the Sunshine Act.
In the event that a department employee/appointee is not performing his or her duties effectively, they will be removed/demoted/reassigned/terminated in accordance with and subject to any collective bargaining agreements.
Eliminate redundancy in positions. An overpaid city administrator is unnecessary when the work can be done by our current assistant. From the $60,000 savings from eliminating the city administrator position, the salary of the current assistant can be raised by $5,000 for the increase in responsibility. Another $25,000 can be used to create a part/full-time position in the tax office where the help is badly needed. Give the current treasurer a $5,000 raise (the salary has been ignored for years). The remaining $25,000 can go back into the general fund to pay bills or for another part- or full-time code officer. The code office has a backlog of warrants and the tax office has a backlog of landlord-tenant registrations that must be corrected. Without help, this can not be accomplished. We are missing out on this revenue.
Taxes and spending
Home Rule opens us up for the potential to be taxed into non-existence. We cannot allow a council, no matter how good their intentions, to run wild with tax increases. You cannot tax your way to prosperity.
Keep the 2 percent EIT for 4 years, codified into the charter. After foiur years of the date of enactment, this provision will expire. Extension must be done by ballot referendum.
All other tax increases must be done by ballot referendum. The ballot question would include the justification for the proposed increase. The people should decide these issues, not the council, and not a judge. This includes the millage increases that the city magically gets approved every year. The council shall have the power to lower tax rates without voter approval.
Labor contract negotiations will be done by the council and competent legal solicitor. This should be taken into account when selecting a new solicitor who is well-versed in municipal and contract law. No outside firm should be hired while a competent attorney is on retainer. Contract negotiations should be considered public meetings.
Public information, transparency and antiquated laws
All public meetings will be advertised via newspaper and (not or) social media, along with being prominently displayed on the city’s website, www.shamokincity.org, at least seven days in advance unless just cause can be shown that exigent circumstances exist.
The City Hall secretary or other city official shall be made responsible for keeping the online website and official social media accounts up-to-date. All ordinances, all proposed ordinances, city events, etc., shall be posted in a timely manner. All local laws and ordinances should be easily accessible via the internet.
All new ordinances shall include a “sunset” provision and shall be compiled in an electronic database (and hardcopy “logbook”) to be efficiently tracked, so they can be brought back up for vote to extend or allowed to expire after the appropriate date. For example, “Ordinance 18-01 is enacted this date (5/30/2018) and will expire on (5/30/2023) without a reauthorization vote.” All current ordinances shall be reviewed and reauthorized within one year of enactment of a Home Rule charter, or they will be considered null and void.
Procedures for initiatives, referendum and recall (by voters) shall be included in the proposed charter. Earlier I mentioned tax issues should be decided by referendum. Voters should have the power, in a non-prohibitive manner, to propose ordinances and to remove elected officials under certain circumstances.