Retiring Penn Twp. manager reflects on tenure, thankful for 'benign atmosphere'
In 19 years as Penn Township's manager, Bruce Light never memorized the five ward boundaries. And, he says, he's proud of that.
Despite working in a public role that can become politicized in some communities — over two years, Monroeville Council controversially cycled through two other administrators between stints for its current manager — Light said he never felt political pressure from the township commissioners. Not even when it came to one of the most common political flash points in a community: Street paving, he said.
Some years, Light said, township leaders even skipped roads in a commissioner's ward to reserve money for worse-off streets elsewhere.
Stepping down as manager on Friday, Light, said he's been blessed to have this job and constant support from the elected officials.
“I'm here to serve the entire township, not individual wards,” said Light, 63, who will be replaced by former Latrobe manager Alex Graziani. “This has been a very politically benign atmosphere as far as pressure from commissioners, and I really thank the commissioners for that.”
A township native whose childhood home was near the Level Green Lions Community Building, Light became the township's first manager in 1995. Commissioners voted 4-1 to bring him in to professionalize the township's government.
Previously, in what former commissioner Jim Lindsay characterized as chaos, each board member was assigned a department.
Before Light, some of the caucus meetings would run past midnight, said Ken Darragh, who was a commissioner for 24 years.
“You could make up words that are wonderful about Bruce, and I would agree with them,” said Darragh, whose tenure ended in 2011. “I couldn't place him higher.”
Even the commissioner who voted against the hiring — Bob Geiger — said he thinks Light did a good job.
Geiger, whose 28 years as a commissioner ended in 1997, said he didn't think the township needed a manager if the five board members “did their jobs.”
“If I have a problem, I call Bruce right away, and he's always been fair with me,” he said.
Light was at the helm during a housing boom that pushed the township's population from 15,945 in 1990 to 19,591 in 2000. In the 2010 Census, the number of township residents crept over 20,000.
One of the biggest municipal projects during his tenure involved the remodeling of the municipal building, which once housed the public-works and police departments, as well as municipal offices and the Penn Area Library.
When the project ended in 2001, there were new buildings for police and public works off the Municipal Court campus, and the library's space nearly quadrupled.
For residents, the changes made visiting commissioners meetings a little more comfortable. Before, a person leaving the meeting room to visit a restroom had to pass through an area where a suspect might be handcuffed to a wooden bench, Light said.
“You could hear them in the meeting if they were rowdy,” he said.
Until this month, Light was the only secretary-treasurer of the Penn-Trafford Area Recreation Commission since the multimunicipal group got off the ground in 2001. He wrote the original application for the state grant that supplied the seed money for PTARC.
Over the years, it wasn't unusual for Light, a former carpenter who lives in Penn Township, to volunteer to do weekend maintenance work at the PTARC/Shelley Proskin Recreation Center, the former Level Green school where he went to kindergarten.
“PTARC wouldn't be here without Bruce's vision and hard work,” PTARC recreation director Cheryl Kemerer said.
But Light points to some of the township's infrastructure improvements among the biggest achievements during his tenure. The township used loans to alleviate flooding problems on Berlin Road and in the Cortina Marie housing plan, he said.
Officials also agreed to extend about a dozen sewer or water lines.
“Those pipes go into the ground and then people forget about it, but those are the ones I think about and say, ‘Boy, I really helped people,'” Light said.
Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or firstname.lastname@example.org.