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McKeesport revisits home rule charter

| Tuesday, March 13, 2012

McKeesport is forming a committee to take on a yearlong study of its home rule charter.

Councilman A.J. Tedesco formally introduced the idea during Wednesday's council meeting, and the plan has picked up steam in following days.

"There have been many instances where we've gotten into debates " heated and otherwise " on what the home rule charter stipulates," Tedesco said.

Tedesco credited council vice president Dale McCall for bringing up the matter in 2011.

"We need to revisit some of these passages in the home rule charter to get some clarity and resolution to all of these conflicts regarding the home rule charter and the third class city code," Tedesco said.

Council president Darryl Segina agreed with Tedesco's assessment.

"I think the home rule charter is in need of an overhaul. There's no doubt about that," Segina said. "The administrative code, the personnel policy " they all should be overhauled. I don't want to bite off more than we can chew, so I'd like to have the home rule charter done. I think it's an urgent matter that we do it, because some of the language is so ambiguous."

With the home rule charter operating under the same language as presented in the early 1970s, Segina noted, any changes to the charter must go before city voters as a referendum.

McKeesport's 28-page charter describes the power of McKeesport's mayor, council, other officials and authorities. It sets the operating rules of government in terms of responsibility and regulation.

Segina appointed Tedesco, McCall, Richard J. Dellapenna and V. Fawn Walker-Montgomery to serve on a charter review committee with three residents who will be appointed in April. The committee will be advised by solicitor J. Jason Elash.

"You then will have your agenda, start your meetings and report back to us in one year," Segina said.

"This is a tedious task to say the least, and I ask you to bear with us while we do that."

While McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko says the charter is not as unclear as some city officials perceive it to be, he agrees that a charter committee could help to better define its language for everyone to understand.

"All too often, the home rule charter is misunderstood or misinterpreted," Cherepko said. "It could be beneficial to sit down, analyze it and clarify many of its points."

The mayor said only good can come of McKeesport officials having a better understanding of their government.

"There would be fewer quarrels among public officials," he said. "In my experience, it's amazing to see how many issues arise because of someone's interpretation of the charter. I don't think the charter is quite as ambiguous as some may perceive, but I don't think it's a bad thing to sit down and clarify some points."

Cherepko suggested the committee thoroughly read and understand the charter as a whole before deciding which entries to alter.

Once committee members compile a list of potential areas to change, the mayor said, they should follow McCall's suggestion of tackling one item per ballot rather than giving voters a large passage to consider at the polls.

"When we sit down and do this, we've got to go step by step," McCall said. "The easiest way to do this is take one or two items first, get them in order and then present them to the public. You don't come out with a whole new charter for them to encompass in the booth."

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