About 30 people attended a meeting Monday night to learn more about the home rule process and, in some cases, sign petitions of those seeking a seat on the home rule study commission.
The East Side Neighbors Association and the Downtown Neighborhood Connection sponsored the meeting, which began with Marita Kelley of the state Department of Community and Economic Development offering an overview of the home rule process.
There are currently 74 municipalities that have adopted home rule, Kelley said.
“Home rule is basically, if you don’t like the borough code, you want to change the borough code, that’s what you would do — come up with a charter,” Kelley said.
Kelley said it’s hard to generalize about issues that prompted municipalities to turn to home rule, but pointed to tax issues and discontent with the borough code as two primary reasons.
“There’s a lot of minutiae, some selective reasons why you might not like what’s in the borough code,” Kelley said.
The home rule study commission, if elected, would have to determine what they don’t like about the borough code, she said.
Kelley said the process is a legally-driven, laborious process. Malvern, for example, struggled and five of their seven commission members were attorneys.
The average cost to do the home rule study commission was around $7,000, Kelley said. Kelley suggested that, if approved by the voters on the May ballot, the study commission could look to the work done 20 years ago during home rule deliberations.
“You don’t always have to recreate the wheel,” she said.
20 years ago
Jim Flower, a member of the home rule study commission that met in 1991 and 1992, said it was “a very interesting process.” The commission held 35 meetings over the course of that time with each meeting lasting about two hours.
That commission, he said, was careful not to rewrite the borough code, but did make some changes, including the elimination of the office of tax collector with the function of collecting taxes being transferred to the borough and a change in the office of mayor. The proposed 1992 home rule charter made the president of the council the mayor and placed the police department under the borough council and the borough manager’s control.
The 1992 commission was careful not to make any changes in taxes, Flower said. The proposed charter also included referendum provisions to give borough residents tools for greater participation in local government.
Flower also said the 1992 study commission was not prompted by any crisis, which is unusual.
“There was nothing horrible in Carlisle’s administration that we responded to,” he said.
The charter was voted down by the Carlisle electorate by only 22 votes, Flower said.
Flower declined to speculate as to why the vote failed. “That’s complicated,” he said.
“It’s hard for me to generalize and be fair to everyone,” he said. “In general, it was just a feeling that there was not an enormous satisfaction with what we had on one hand. On the other hand, yes, we have a good government, but it can be improved. People weighed that.”
The cost involved in changing from the current borough structure to a home rule charter government would probably depend on the changes made in the charter. The broader and more sweeping the changes, the higher the cost, Flower said.
Roger Spitz rounded out the trio of speakers. Spitz was on borough council during the home rule debate 20 years ago and was opposed to it then.
“To be honest, I was very naive,” he said. “I was not well informed of what home rule can and would do for the borough of Carlisle, so I was against it.”
Since then, he said he has studied the issue and sees home rule as a means to “get the government out of our lives.”
That idea met with a challenge from Councilwoman Linda Cecconello. “So, it was all right when the government came in for Pitt Street Pride and for the blue houses over here and our police officers come and attend meetings and do safety checks around the community, but you don’t consider that part of the government business?”
The exchange led to some question about whether becoming a home rule municipality would affect Carlisle’s ability to receive state money. Kelley, who manages five funding programs for the state, said the form of government is not a qualification for receiving government money.
“What we’re doing here is talking about change, which is always a controversial issue,” said Denny Minnich, the president of the East Side Neighbors Association. “If we are considering change, we’ve got three opportunities to either make that change or reject it.”
The first opportunity is at the primary when the electorate can choose not to embark on the process. The second comes as a result of the commission’s study during which they might determine what changes, if any, should be made. Finally, the public can accept or reject the change when a charter comes before voters on the ballot following the study commission’s work.
After the meeting, nine of the 10 candidates for the home study commission were available for residents to sign their nominating petitions.