In northwest Pennsylvania, a township manager is an anomaly. If you look at the surrounding counties from Erie in any direction, you will find only two townships with professional managers. Now, if you move your focus to the counties at the extreme opposite southeastern end of the state, you will find a much different dynamic. Today's discussion isn't about why more municipalities have managers but more about why many of the larger and well-financed townships choose to be led by elected supervisors in full-time paid positions for the municipality.
I asked the opinion of two elected supervisors who represent each of these factions. The first served on a home rule optional plan township with a council of five elected officials. They chose to change to this type of government back in the early 1970s and relied upon their manager to not only oversee the day-to-day operation but tend to all the administrative needs. Council’s job is to guide the municipality and not micromanage. It was a very successful way of operating for this particular township as it has had only four managers in nearly fifty years.
The following is his take on the need for a skilled township manager.
“There is one word that describes the management of a township that is able to meet the many challenges that it faces and is able to solve the problems that come before it. That word is competent.
A township without competent management is like a cork bobbing in the ocean, drifting aimlessly about while at the mercy of the current. A township without competent management is likely to be reactive rather than proactive. Instead of operating smoothly for the benefit of its residents, it becomes a source for creating the problems and challenges that it faces.
Unless a township is blessed with a group of elected supervisors who are well versed in state law, regulations, and all facets of township operations, it's likely that the township will be more like the ‘cork’ than competent.
Competent township managers enable townships to meet the challenges and solve the problems they will face. As a former township councilman, I recognized the importance of relying on the knowledge and experience of the township manager in order to make good decisions for the residents of the township.
A competent manager can be all the difference in creating the means for a township to successfully handle challenges and solve problems for the benefit of its residents. A competent manager is a catalyst to make it happen.”
Now Erie County, in particular, has several large second-class townships that operate with elected township supervisors who are also paid township employees. The subsequent commentary comes from one of these elected officials who oversees a very progressive and growing township. Dean Pepicello of Harborcreek Township provided insight into why he feels that having paid supervisors works better for them. Here are his thoughts.
“I absolutely see the value and the positives in a manager form of township government, and I preface my remarks with the fact that I’ve served exclusively in the working supervisor form of government for nearly eighteen years, so I have a current inherent bias, but there are two major factors as to why I prefer that system:
1. Working Supervisors are in the action, working full time in various municipal operations 24/7. There is no substitute for experience. There is no substitute for the learning that goes on the ground every day in township government. We all know that no two days are alike in local municipal government. I've learned something new every single day by being physically here to experience it. To grasp the full nature of what the job of Supervisor (the decision-maker) is you are far better served by working full time as Superintendent/Supervisor (the worker). I would not be the informed decision-maker I hope I have been for almost two decades by not being physically present every day working with our road crew, zoning, code enforcement, public works, and office staff. I may trust a manager’s opinion and recommendation implicitly and have total faith in that person, but ultimately, I'm responsible for decisions I have to make and believe I am best suited to make those decisions based on first-hand knowledge and experience.
2. I firmly believe that three working supervisors are BY FAR the best form of government ever created in this incredible Democracy for one reason and one reason only: things get done. It's that simple. You can change the world with two votes. No endless grandstanding debates, no having a legislative body overwhelmingly pass something only to have an executive veto, etc. There is nothing wrong with those forms of government mind you; they have and continue to serve this country admirably. But for local government, when dealing with all the issues of the day that have to do with transportation, public safety, water, sewer, etc., the expediency and urgency of the three Supervisor system is superior. Brilliant really. That's not to say the process lacks transparency or ethics, far from it. We are the government closest to the people; we answer to them in grocery stores, churches, and public meetings every single day.
Again, for my money, both systems of governance work ideally; we just prefer working supervisors for the reasons listed above. And the best part: residents of each municipality always have a direct say in the style of government that represents them. The Founding Fathers would be thrilled."
As you can see, two very different opinions. That's why seeking out the skills and experience of professionals like those at Keystone Municipal Solutions, (KMS) can assist and advise you.
So "Fire this thing up" and see "how you are managed."
About the Author
David L. Anthony is a member of the Keystone Municipal Solutions team of experts. He is a veteran of municipal government, having served more than 32 years in various positions of public service. Contact him at email@example.com. To learn more about David and the Keystone Municipal Solutions team, click here.