Latest Issue

Preparing for the Polls — Part 5: Considering the Home Rule Option

Quickly reviewing the issue on the November ballot for Williamsport voters, two questions will be posed relating to the future of the city’s government. One is termed the “Optional Third-Class City Charter Question,” which for this series has been termed the “Council-Manager” option, and the other is termed the “Home Rule Question.” In the last edition of this series, it was noted that the Council-Manager option has some similarity to the Home Rule option. That being said, the differences are miles apart.
“You stated that there is no mayor in these two options, but the Home Rule Charter proposes a mayor. Is that not true?”

In my previous article, I was referring to the office of mayor in its present state. The ‘mayor’ in both forms is elected among the council members, although in the Home Rule Charter, the ‘mayor’ has a few more responsibilities like presiding over council meetings and “actively promoting economic development.” In essence, the ‘mayor’ in both forms does not have any real authority beyond the other council members.
“So, what is the biggest difference between the two proposals?”

For one thing, their submitted reports were quite different. The submission from the Council-Manager city government plan runs about 1000 words, not much longer than a Webb Weekly feature. The Home Rule Charter report is fifteen times longer. The reason is that the Home Rule plan is quite comprehensive, essentially a new constitution for city government. The Council-Manager proposal appears to be attempting to keeping the status quo as much as possible, with the exception of eliminating the current office of mayor and putting all those areas of responsibility under the supervision of city council.
“What are the advantages of the Home Rule Charter form of government over the present system?”

The final report cites eleven advantages, however, these do appear somewhat subjective. For example, the report states that this form is more flexible for the changing needs of the city as well as flexibility in changes to the existing tax structure. The study commission felt Home Rule was the best option for Williamsport as it would allow for more transparency and accountability, and would reduce the appearance of conflicts of interest.
“What are some disadvantages of the Home Rule Charter form of government over the present system?”

Obviously, the report did not cite any disadvantages, but as noted above, it is possible to question whether some of the advantages cited are truly advantages. For example, the commission noted that there would be operational cost savings, but this is rather suspect given that there is an additional position proposed, that of city manager, which for a third-class city will be a major (and undoubtedly expensive) position to fill. The other proposed bonuses such as the claim for greater transparency is somewhat cloudy given that there are less checks and balances in this system than in the present system.
“This is all so confusing – please help me! What does all this come down to?”

There is a preliminary question that must be asked by the voters of Williamsport. Do I want to eliminate the office of mayor? By so doing, do I want to consolidate all government responsibilities of the city into one council? If the answer to those two question is “no,” then a voter should vote “no” on both ballot questions. If it seems that the office of mayor should be eliminated, then either of the two options will accomplish that.

Next week, this column will summarize the issues facing the voters in Williamsport on the ballot issue of government restructuring and its possible consequences.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *