Council/mayor woes scream for change in form of government

We can talk around it or we can illuminate the evidence.

And the evidence of the past six months shows a deepening divide between Williamsport City Council and Mayor Gabriel J. Campana.

The most tangible proof is a questioning of the validity of Mayor Campana’s expense receipts in 2015. It may sound petty on the surface, but the fact is the matter has been referred to the state Attorney General’s office.

Beyond this issue, council members have questioned the mayor’s withholding of police activities information and a decision to keep the “retired” police chief on the city payroll as a consultant for 2016.

And if these are the public differences, it’s hard to believe there aren’t other questions going on beneath the public surface.

But council can question or disagree with the mayor all it wants. Those questions lack punch because with the strong mayor form of government the city operates under, council has no authority to put pressure on the mayor’s job status.

While council has a say over the city’s pursestrings, it has little authority to act when those pursestrings are abused or twisted into uses not desired.

The result is expensive police administration moves or an improperly signed contract with a banner company that council is powerless to do anything about. Or a mayor with the unfettered power to apply for a school superintendent’s position with no intent of giving up his mayoral post should he get the job.

The ultimate solution is simple but arduous. The City of Williamsport is long overdue to move to a different form of government. There needs to be a better balance of power behind the city’s manner of operation.

There are municipalities in our region that operate quite well with a borough or township manager hired and answerable to an elected board of supervisors or borough council.

In our view, that is the more appropriate form of government for Williamsport’s future. It takes a long notification process and ultimately a referendum approval from voters.

But taxpayers and residents deserve equal branches operating in a partnership, not awkward and embarrassing division with no path to improvement. Steps should be taken now to change to a council/city manager government format that would assure future equal accountability in city government.

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