The Ceiling Can’t Hold Us
- June 7, 2023
In this series on preparing for the November election, four columns have been devoted to the complicated issue of changing the city charter of Williamsport. Two very different proposals for change are on the ballot, and if both receive a majority by the voters, there will probably be a long and tenuous journey through a
In this series on preparing for the November election, four columns have been devoted to the complicated issue of changing the city charter of Williamsport. Two very different proposals for change are on the ballot, and if both receive a majority by the voters, there will probably be a long and tenuous journey through a legal and judicial quagmire before a decision on the future of Williamsport’s city government is finally determined.
A legitimate question could be asked — why was all this started in the first place? Was there a groundswell of unrest in the city demanding a change in city government? Was Williamsport in gridlock, unable to function? Was the city in financial distress requiring a bailout from the state? Of course, things were not perfect (they never are), but from a bird’s eye view, it is hard to see that a total overhaul of city government was called for. It is almost like taking your car into the shop for an oil change, and the mechanic tells you that you need a whole new engine. It is legitimate to ask — why?
When the referendums for the studies were passed last November, and the two commissions began to hold public hearings, there was virtually no one in attendance. When they sent out surveys to the public, there was less than a two percent response. If this was such a “hot button” issue — why were the people not packing the galleries and demanding their voice be heard? Instead, the only thing that was heard was crickets.
There have been long articles in the local newspaper describing the two ballot options, and they do their best to make a case for each, but both are rather lean on the ‘why’ issue. It seems that more than anything else, the concern was for greater transparency. Translation: we want to resolve the ongoing contention between Mayor Campana and the Williamsport City Council.
Contention in politics is nothing new, but there are two ways it can go down. If the process results in the goals getting accomplished, it just adds up to theatrics, whereas if it stops the process, it is gridlock. Most people would be very surprised to learn that over 95 percent of Mayor Campana’s proposals and resolutions during his three terms of office have passed. Starting with his first term in 2008, there has been incredible development in the city — new businesses downtown, increase in the quality of life with the new YMCA, the Cinema Center, Liberty Arena, improvements to the BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field, growth of city events revealing around the Little League World Series, all produced with financial solvency recognized by a A+ Bond Rating from Standards and Poor’s. And this progress will continue into the future with the new East Third Street Gateway Project being done in connection with Lycoming College that is expected to bring an additional $17 million of new investments to that part of the city.
Yes, there are still problems in the city, which will continually need to be addressed, but a good argument could be made that Williamsport is growing and even thriving, despite the spats that seem to regularly pop up in the daily newspaper concerning the city mayor and city council. Both commissions swore that they were impartial in their analysis, but many of their members were the same group of people who have been major opponents of Mayor Campana during his administration. This does not negate their objectivity — but it is fair to call it into question.
When the history books are written about Williamsport from the Post-World War II years up to to the early part of the 21st Century, it will be hard to ignore that after decades and decades of stagnation, the past decade undoubtedly stands out as a Williamsport Renaissance. Best of all, much of the progress in these past few years has been directed at the millennial generation, which gives great hope for the future of the city. This combination could well launch Williamsport into becoming one of the leading small cities in the Northeast.
So what exactly needs to be fixed? At a recent public hearing on the Williamsport government ballot issue, one woman came away very confused and muttered to no one in particular, “Well, I think we need to do something.” In the last article in this series — we will offer what that something could be.
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