Squabbles underscore significance of city government referendum

The latest squabble between Williamsport City Council and Mayor Gabriel J. Campana involves insurance broker shopping.

Council says the mayor is trying to stop the shopping for an insurance broker who is supposed to work with council and the administration to find the best insurance agencies for liability and workers’ compensation insurance coverage for 2019, an important line item in the city’s budget.

The mayor says he’s merely trying to find the lowest cost for insurance instead of council choosing by a subjective measure through its request for proposal procedure.

The disagreement came to light at a council meeting, which followed by a few days a gag order that the city’s financial consultant for grants and other funding says the mayor placed on him to prevent him from speaking to the Sun-Gazette.

The mayor rescinded the gag order – apparently not the first, according to personnel in City Hall – a few hours later.

These public embarrassments come as two commissions are wrapping up work on a November ballot question asking city voters what form of government they prefer for the future.

They underscore just how important the decision facing city voters is.

Do they want to continue with the strong mayor form of government that has been the city’s mode of operation for more than four decades?

Do they want to move to a City Council-manager form of government that the city charter commission has recommended, a move that would call for a mayor appointed amongst council and serving as its president?

Or do they want to turn to a home rule government, as recommended by the Home Rule Commission, which calls for more citizen input in ongoing city decisions and a mayor elected by citizens?

Those are simplifications, but the power points of emphasis are clearly different with each of the three governmental alternatives.

And they will be in place long after the present administrators and council members are in office.

Residents have to decide whether they want to maintain the status quo, which gives the mayor heavy powers, move to a professional manager who answers to council or move to a Home Rule system that relies much more on building consensus on each issue and matter.

What we see each day with council-mayor relations puts into focus the significance of the voters’ decision.