Swamp growing with city, borough leadership moves

Things just got swampy in the heart of Lycoming County.

Certain power moves in recent months reveal a curious set of individuals pulling the strings: Mayor Gabriel J. Campana; Steven W. Cappelli, a former city mayor (1996-2000) and state representative (2001-2009); and Michael D. Miller, an aide to Cappelli while Cappelli was a state representative.

Earlier this summer, Miller, who had been South Williamsport borough manager, was hired as executive director of the Williamsport Municipal Water and Sanitary authorities, nearly doubling his salary.

Cappelli sits on the board of the two authorities and is chairman of the water authority and voted in favor of hiring Miller.

Weeks later, Cappelli was hired to fill the borough manager position that Miller just vacated.

It is interesting that both Miller and Cappelli, at the time of their respective hirings as borough manager, were related to a borough official. When he became borough manager, Miller’s father, the late William R. Miller Jr., was borough mayor. And Cappelli’s brother-in-law, David Geise, is a member of borough council.

Geise abstained from the vote to hire Cappelli, and the South Williamsport mayor does not have voting power on council but is primarily a figurehead.

Even so, both officials have or had relationships with council members and the potential for influence existed.

Let’s move away from those relationships for a moment and look at certain maneuvers that have been playing themselves out in Williamsport, where a movement is afoot to change the form of government from a “strong mayor” to a council-manager that would weaken and limit the mayor’s powers.

Council has been largely concerned with how Mayor Campana has been managing city business.

The most recent in a string of grievances came when Councilwoman Liz Miele accused Campana of colluding with the city’s current liability insurance provider, Henry Dunn. Cappelli has an executive-level position with that insurance provider, a job he says he intends to keep while he works as the full-time borough manager in South Williamsport.

Then there’s the plan for the city to get a lease-buy back agreement with the sanitary authority which the mayor dropped in June after council rejected the idea.

There’s another plan for the water authority to take over the levee, which would remove the financial responsibility from the city.

Were these the result of Cappelli and Campana putting their heads together?

Who is calling the shots that will deeply affect Williamsport’s future?

And what role does Miller play, other than to do the bidding of those for whom he works?

We are not saying that every idea coming from Mayor Campana is not worthwhile.

We are not saying Cappelli’s intentions are less than honorable when it comes to serving the community and solving some of the biggest issues of the day.

And we are not saying that there is anything less than honorable about Miller taking advantage of the opportunity to land a much higher-paying job.

What we are saying is that we are very concerned by the appearance that all of this, collectively, leaves.

Besides the appearance of collusion, other words that come to mind include cronyism, nepotism and old boy network.

This tight circle of very few people working together behind the scenes just seems way too cozy for comfort.

Is anyone else having a hard time keeping their heads above the muddy swamp water rising on both sides of the Susquehanna?