(EDITOR'S NOTE: Today the Williamsport Sun-Gazette begins a weekly question-and-answer series with candidates seeking nomination for City Council in the May 21 primary election. The series will run on Sundays today and again in the next two weeks.)
City voters will elect three people to City Council this year. The May 21 primary election will see four people vying for the three Republican nominations, while three Democrats are nearly certain to secure those nominations and move forward to the fall contest.
Seeking the Republican nominations are incumbents Randall J. Allison, of 1308 Elmira St.; and N. Clifford "Skip" Smith Jr., of 835 First Ave.; plus challengers Scott Miller, of 822 Tucker St.; and Joel E. Henderson, of 1010 Elmira St.
Seeking the Democratic nominations are incumbent Liz Miele, of 525 W. Fourth St.; Kelly Anderson, of 533 Seventh Ave.; and Alison D. Hirsch of 423 Rural Ave.
Allison, a lifelong city resident, has been married for 39 years and has four children and four grandchildren. He is a 35-year employee of UGI Penn Natural Gas.
"I've always been involved in city activities," Allison said, volunteering as a Little League baseball and softball coach, and serving 12 years on the Williamsport Area School Board, from 1985 to 1997. He was on the city Recreation Commission during those years.
Allison was on the board of the Pregnancy Care Center for seven years and served as an elder in his church for more than 20 years.
In his first term on council, Allison has served on the finance and public safety committees and chairs the economic revitalization committee.
He also sat on the public works and housing needs committees for his first two years and was a council representative to the STEP Inc. board, where he is board treasurer.
"I ran for office four years ago because I believed that the city was on the cusp of growth and development and I wanted to be a part of helping to bring that to pass through city government," he said.
While Allison believes significant progress has been made, he says there are several projects, either in their early stages or in the conceptual phase, that he wants to work with others on council and the administration to see them come to fruition.
As "an independent voice" on council, Allison said one needs only to think about the development and transformation that has taken place in the central business district, the ongoing work to eliminate blighted housing and upcoming projects, such as residential redevelopment at the former Brodart warehouse site on Memorial Avenue, to see that things are heading in a positive direction.
Smith, who has been a councilman since 2007, said he decided to run for the position again because he has "much work to complete."
As chairman of the public safety and public works committees, Smith has a role in many infrastructure projects. He is on the blighted property committee and chaired the surveillance camera project, which gets started with seven cameras in two parks this summer after several years of delay and planning.
When asked recently whether he is agreeable to Mayor Gabriel J. Campana's policies, Smith said he looks at each one on a case-by-case basis and often disagrees with the administration.
"I'm an independent-minded councilman who will speak my mind and ask questions that I believe are in the public's best interest," he said. "We work for them."
Miller said he's running because he believes he can accomplish a lot for the good of the city.
"I think I can save the city money and be a full-time councilman and active liaison to council committees," he said.
To Miller, who was a sheet metal mechanic and is married and has an 11-year-old daughter, many working residents can't attend afternoon and morning committee meetings.
"I would be there for them," he said. "I will be an independent thinker," he said.
Henderson has been pastor at Trinity Gospel Church, corner of Brandon Avenue and Elmira Street, for a little more than 10 years.
"I started a neighborhood watch group two years ago because of the crime and drug activities and also because I have five young children and a desire for a safe place for my children to grow up. That was a main motivation for running for council this year," he said.
"I am obviously my own person," he said when asked whether he would "rubber stamp" proposals from the administration. "I like to tell people that the party does not own me and neither party would. I want to stand up for transparency and openness in our city government, so I think a part of that is being careful not to have secret meetings and working things all together. I have no desire to work with any one specific person in that regard."
Long before she became involved in city government, Miele undertook several community projects.
The city native has had a life filled with travel and adventure, but said she has never lost touch with her family roots. After graduating from Williamsport Area School District, Miele attended Brown University in Providence, R.I., where she obtained a bachelor of arts degree in Italian Studies.
"I chose to return to Williamsport after college to help run my family's small business, the Peter Herdic House restaurant," she said.
In 2009, she won election to a first term on council.
"I'm seeking re-election in 2013 because I love my city and I feel that my work on council is not - and may never be - done," she said.
As she campaigns for another term, Miele said she wants to pursue several projects.
Always seeking what's best for the residents as a whole, Miele said she is an independent thinker who values all of her colleagues on council and the input from Mayor Gabriel J. Campana and the administration.
Hirsch, of 423 Rural Ave., was born in New York City, but said she believes Williamsport is a place where she can make a difference.
Seeking to represent "the voices who don't feel they have one in city government," Hirsch, a retired history professor, Williamsport Guardian editor and general manager of Williamsport Community Radio, said she believes council, Campana and the administration represent the interests of businesses quite well, but lack some perspective in their representation of segments of society.
She included those as the "many renters, those who are in need of improved housing because of soaring rents and the fairly large number of senior citizens and the disabled who need a voice in government."
Anderson, who holds an accounting degree and is assistant treasurer of South Williamsport Borough, has worked for the past 23 years with numerous community and private organizations. Among them are the Loyalsock Community Center, STEP and Families United Network.
While Anderson said she respects the efforts of the mayor and administration to build the community, she would be her own person whenever policies and proposals came before her on council.
"I want to be a councilwoman who is a worker and listener for all of the people," she said. "By working with the organizations, I've learned and developed skills in policy development, problem-solving, listening and working with others to get results that benefit the community," she said.
Q: What would be your top
priorities as a council member?
Allison: "Financial stability for the city. We need to continue to lobby at the state level for changes in the formula for funding pensions that are in Act 205. The two-year snapshot method is not an accurate way to assess a municipality's minimum pension obligation. A longer period of time better evaluates investments," he said. "Projects in the city that have increased the tax base are the types of things we need to continue to encourage and promote while also working at ways to increase the housing stock."
Allison views public safety and infrastructure as other priorities. "I'd like to add the points that a new records management system purchased by the city for police use can be adapted to the fire department and codes department, helping them to be more effective as well," he said. "We need to find ways to affect and revitalize high-crime areas so that no neighborhood in the city is left out of the progress being made in so many other areas."
"I want to see us concentrate on repairing and repaving our streets, maybe dedicating a large portion of our gas well impact fee money toward that goal."
Smith: "Pensions. How to keep them intact and solvent. This is a very serious issue that has been left unaddressed for too long and now has to be faced head-on.
"Taxes. Residents must be provided with essential services and council has to balance the providing of these services without undue burden to the taxpayers," he said. "This is going to be a tough balancing act that is going to require much thought and diligence.
"Infrastructure. Our streets in some areas are in deplorable condition and need to either be repaved or rebuilt and this is going to be a costly project that is also going to require thought on how the projects will be funded."
Miller: "I want to save money," he said. "I want to see savings by making sure the work done is done right the first time. I think the pensions are killing us. I think we need to get a handle on them because it's bringing us down in the near future.
"I want to see more attention paid to our street signs and crosswalks," he said. "Let's bring them up to reasonable standards.
"I think contracts, when they are up, need people on council who vote for the best interest of the people."
Henderson: "I want to have a high priority on the safety, protecting neighborhoods," he said. "Secondly, I also would like to see our city be an attractive place for businesses, so I would like to initiate something that would be a go-between for businesses and all of the codes and regulations that need to be taken care of. We need regulations, but I would like to perhaps start something to make it easier, such as a liaison to help businesses that are inquiring.
"I have interest in finding more recreational activities for our families, for the people of the city, that would be attractive for families to come and stay right here in the city, rather than being afraid and running off," he said.
Miele: "The most important of these is to continue the conversation on sustainable, long-term business growth and innovation in Williamsport," she said. "While the city is currently experiencing a boom, we need to be using this boom-time to attract other investment and business to the city that will be here for generations.
"With so much economic activity in Williamsport, we also need to work to preserve and restore the city's historic assets," she said. "A city with character not only attracts clean tourism dollars, but it attracts outside business interest and, coupled with good jobs, helps us to retain our student population.
"Lastly, with ever-rising city government expenses, I know that we need to work hard to maximize city taxpayer dollars. I look forward to working with the administration to make certain that our spending choices are good ones, and that we're getting good value. I also know that we need to be trying hard to find new sources of revenue - but walking the line to be certain we're not deterring investment or creating nuisance fees for city residents."
Hirsch: "Housing needs is something I believe must be addressed as a top priority," Hirsch said. "I have seen a woman who can't be reunited with her daughter until she finds an affordable place to live. I know people who I have tried to help find places to live who are at the mercy of high rents. The fact that student housing takes up such a high volume of housing stock is another problem," she said.
"Our sidewalks are becoming handicapped accessible, but more work must be done to continue to provide accessibility. In conjunction with sidewalks, I have been riding in Newberry and their roads are a disaster on vehicle shocks and alignments. I imagine there are places where one can't navigate in a wheelchair or walker," she said.
"I believe the city must work with the county on incarceration issues, particularly with respect to juvenile justice and unnecessary imprisonments," she said. "I would be an advocate for those who don't have to sit in prison," she said.
Anderson: "I am running on a platform of fiscal responsibility, so spending on what's best for the city is important to me because running a city is like running a business," she said. "What comes in must go out and in the end show a balanced budget.
"The safety of the city is another top priority," Anderson said. "I want to go outside at night and be on my porch swing without fear. That's very important to me and to many others I've spoken to.
"Assuring integrity of our city in terms of its policies and the way we work together," she said. "I understand the way to work together from working on community organizations and we need to operate like that in the city."