Altoona mayor sees home rule, manager as no power struggle

The manager of Blair County’s largest city says the mix of home rule and working with council has helped her pay attention to daily duties as officials there work together to run efficient government and climb out of financial distress.

“My council allows me the freedom to manage the city,” said Marla P. Marcinko, manager of Altoona.

The city, she said, recently instituted a manager-council form of government and then climbed out of its fiscal distress.

Altoona voters decided a few years ago that they wanted a manager-council, with home rule added into the governance.

It’s not a power struggle, or tipping authority one way or the other in Marcinko’s city, but rather a “pursuit of the best use of city taxpayer dollars,” she said.

Marcinko said her duties include day-to-day operation of the city, oversight of departments and development of the annual budget implementation of that spending plan.

“All that goes with that,” she said.

Marcinko, a municipal manager with 28 years of experience, said Altoona is the fifth community she has served.

Prior to arriving in Blair County, Marcinko worked in four western Pennsylvania communities. She was sought-after by the city for its manager position.

Transparency in all ways is important, Marcinko said.

“I keep them fully informed,” she said of her relationship with council and the public.

“I have the mayor (Matt Pacifico) here in my building working on various policy and other issues,” she said. “He is a full-time mayor and a member of council, so he doesn’t have additional authority beyond that.”

As city manager, Marcinko said her role is directing the city workforce, and she has certain power similar to a strong mayor, such as the ability to hire, suspend and fire employees.

“That is under my authority, not council’s,” she said.

Williamsport differs, but this fall the electorate could influence a new direction.

“Your strong mayor is a distinctly different form and gives the city mayor significantly more roles and responsibilities than our mayor,” Marcinko said.

From a financial perspective, Altoona is seeing a stronger foundation, she said.

“We will be the first municipality in the state to accomplish the rebound (from fiscal distress) within the state-allotted time frame, or five years,” Marcinko said.