Referendum question added to Ligonier Township ballot
By Nicole Chynoweth
Published: Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Ligonier Township voters will be asked this referendum question when they vote on Nov. 5: “Should two additional supervisors be elected to serve in this township?”
A group of residents — who formed the Brighter Future Political Action Committee — successfully lined up enough signatures on petitions to get the question placed on the ballot by the Westmoreland County Election Bureau, director James Montini confirmed.
Pennsylvania's Second Class Township Code says a board of supervisors may consist of three members — or five, if approved by electors.
In Ligonier, there are three township supervisors, but the new PAC is seeking to change that.
“There are other issues in the township, but at this point, this group is not dealing with those issues,” said Phil Fleming, 66, a Brighter Future PAC member.
PAC members believe that two additional supervisors would provide better oversight of operations and improve governance, he said.
Fleming said expanding the board has been a topic of discussion for several years among residents. The group took action in June, following Keith Whipkey's sudden resignation as supervisor and secretary-treasurer in early May.
In July, an audit by Deltron Management Consultants allegedly determined that Whipkey had been viewing “Internet sites that were inappropriate on company time” and that zoning officer Cynthia Angelo, who had been appointed interim secretary-treasurer, had been operating an “Internet flea market” on her office computer, according to Supervisor Tim Komar.
“We don't even know what the audit is going to reveal in total, but enough has come out to indicate there are problems,” Fleming said.
In June, about 17 people started circulating petitions, asking people if they agreed a five-member board would benefit the township, said PAC member Bruce Robinson, 62.
They gathered more than 400 signatures, almost double the required 229 signatures, for the referendum to make the ballot, he said. The PAC officially organized July 19.
“What is it that we represent? ... a brighter future for Ligonier Township,” Fleming said. “We think that increasing the number of members on the board of supervisors would be an important, creative step toward that.”
The PAC, with about 20 members, meets about every two to three weeks at various locations. Robinson said.
A “position paper” compiled by Fleming outlines its views and facts about Pennsylvania townships and the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors. It says that many supervisors in Ligonier Township have been appointed roadmasters or secretary-treasurers.
“As a result, Ligonier Township Supervisors are now also compensated for their work in these roles as employees of the township at rates determined by the township's board of auditors (also elected officials),” the paper states. “In such instances, the supervisors become employees of the very same organization they are sworn to oversee. In many cases, this relationship has worked without significant problems, but the potential for conflicts of interest and other problems is obvious.”
Brighter Future member Robert McDowell, 60, said that when supervisors become roadmasters, that blurs the specifics of a supervisor's duties toward voters.
“I think what has gotten lost in this is people think they are electing someone to take care of the roads,” he said. “In a way, they are, but what has happened over the years — I don't think there's been one person elected to Ligonier Township here in the past years that did not become a township employee, be it either a road supervisor or secretary-treasurer. They became employees of the township ... they become their own boss.”
Fleming believes that when someone is doing both jobs, it is difficult to devote equal time to each.
“It's a shortcoming of this relationship of being a supervisor and also a roadmaster,” he said. “We're not proposing that the current members not be a roadmaster. We're simply asserting the point that we think an enlarged board would have room for people who are not going to appoint themselves as employees of the township and who view their role as strictly of governance, oversight.
“It seems to me that oversight, or lack thereof, has been a major contributing factor to the situation that the township is now in,” he said.
Fleiming said the financial impact of two more supervisors would be minimal; each would make $2,500 a year.
“There's at least an opportunity with additional people working on the governance issues to be creative in terms of grant writing and oversight of expenditures,” he said. “The township has not been aggressive in seeking outside grant support for projects within the township.”
Supervisor Komar, a roadmaster, said a five-member board would be more expensive, add another level of bureaucracy and would minimize the ability to work one-on-one with the public.
“The flexibility to make on-the-spot decisions is going to be rethought because you have to deal with a board of five instead of three,” he said. “You have to have at least two other people agree with you.”
Komar said he does not agree that the dual role of supervisor and roadmaster creates conflicts of interest because the responsibilities are “very intertwined.”
Supervisor Grover Binkey said he does not support the addition of two supervisors. “What we need to do is get a secretary or manager so that you don't have to keep looking over your shoulder to make sure everything that needs to be done is done,” he said.
Binkey said it is easier to get five members on the board than it is to go back down to three.
Supervisor Albert “Mike” Shadron said, “I'm a firm believer that you need to have three supervisors and three roadmasters.”
Scott Matson, 46, the candidate for a six-year term as supervisor in the upcoming election, said he supports the referendum and the addition of board members.
“I think maybe a couple more voices on the board might help with decision making in general,” said Paul Knupp, the candidate for a two-year seat on the board.
If the majority of voters favor the referendum, Robinson said, candidates for additional supervisors, one with a three-year term and another for a five-year term, would be chosen during the May 2014 primary and seated after the November 2014 election.
Robinson said if the referendum is defeated, it cannot be proposed again for three years.
Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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