Home rule group prioritizes research

KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Williamsport Citizens for Home Rule members Jon Mackey, left, Margaret Tupper, center, and Alice Hirsch, right, meet Wednesday morning at the Pajama Factory in Williamsport.

The local research committee of the Government Study Commission met Wednesday to go over strategies including looking at what is working — and not working — in the city.

“We want to start by asking city officials what problems there are and what are the right solutions,” said Alison Duncan Hirsch, a commission member.

Margaret Tupper, a commission member, said she would write a draft of questions for public servants such as the mayor, police chief, fire chief, controller and city finance director.

The local research committee will look into the current operations of Williamsport’s city government to see what residents and city employees think works well and what could be improved.

The external research committee will explore the governments of other third-class municipalities to see what works in cities comparable to Williamsport.

A communications committee will produce advertisements for newspapers and on Facebook, and the finance committee will ensure fiscal transparency.

As it researches externally, the group wants to explore government operations in 22 of 71 third-class cities and in the borough of Carlisle.

“We want to first address questions of taxes and budget,” Hirsch said, observing how this year’s proposed city budget draws down more than $2 million of reserve to prevent a tax hike.

The home rule law allows for flexibility and more citizen involvement in government decisions, Hirsch said. Also attending the meeting were Jon Mackey and Matilda Noviello.

The group, which met at Way Cool Beans, a coffeehouse in the Pajama Factory on Memorial Avenue, is one of two study commissions commissioned with reviewing what would be the best form of government for Williamsport.

An initial meeting of the group took place last Saturday to discuss a work plan and budget. The meeting was advertised in the Sun-Gazette, Hirsch said.

Officers chosen are Jennifer Ayers, chairwoman; Hirsch, vice chairwoman; Tupper, secretary; and Ardis Mason, treasurer. Other members of the group are Noviello, Ralph Mark Stephens and Mackey, who was elected as a write-in candidate.

It has a budget of $11,000 it will submit to City Council to be authorized, Hirsch said.

The meetings are open to the public and will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Dec. 18 and the first Saturday of each month and the third Monday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. Saturday meetings will be at Susquehanna Law offices, 1 W. Third St., Suite 200.

A complete list of dates is being advertised in this paper, is posted on the Facebook page Williamsport Government Study Commission, and will be on the city’s online calendar.

Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel at the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, noted that Home Rule Study Commissions are agencies subject to the Sunshine Act, and under it, any of its committees that are authorized to render advice or take official action on matters of agency business are likewise subject to the law.

If there is a quorum of the committee deliberating agency business, the Sunshine Act applies and requires a public meeting, unless a valid exception can be asserted by the committee, Melewsky said.