When Forks Supervisors voted to reduce public sessions by half, doing official business only once a month, the Patch announced: “You’re now going to get half the Forks Township government you elected.”
Do residents care how often their Board meets or when Supervisors decide to ration their work hours? Community First cares and today begins a two-part Report Card on what’s at stake. We look forward to reader comments about expectations you had when you voted for Supervisor.
Supervisors are just what the name implies and more. They “supervise” and monitor Township administration. They establish policies for all government operations from Finance to Recreation to Public Safety. Supervisors give final approval for all Planning Commission matters and developer applications. They oversee labor negotiations, authorize budgets for Township expenses and equipment, and have oversight of personnel. When you see Forks' newest state-of-the-art fire truck, aren’t you impressed? Supervisors must plan and budget years in advance for costly purchases like new fire-fighting equipment.
Supervisors also monitor and plan ahead for sewer and road maintenance, approve applications for variances in land use, respond to community emergencies, address vandalism and draft ordinances to improve local government performance. By issuing Proclamations to honor Scouting achievements, historical, arts and fraternal organizations, Supervisors publicly recognize our community spirit.
Accomplishing these and other legal responsibilities properly takes time and openness to public input. Under a reduced business meeting schedule voters may question whether getting “half the government you voted for” is truly a benefit? While neither the Planning Commission nor Zoning Hearing Board reduced their meeting schedules, Forks residents should question cutbacks in their access to elected officials. With a concern to address, a service complaint, a civic improvement idea or perhaps a petition to bring important facts to Supervisors’ attention, will you wait weeks? On whose desk is the sign: “The buck stops here?”
This September residents’ ability to meet with Supervisors has been effectively boiled down to five minutes a month during the “public comment” period of the business meeting. Since January 2012 under Chairman Chuss, prior one-on-one opportunities to meet with Supervisors at municipal complex committee meetings were abandoned in favor of hour-long, twice monthly “workshops.” These workshops, while open to the public, allow no input. Actually these are staff meeting without official minutes. Pennsylvania Sunshine/Open Meetings laws require agendas be published for public meetings. Providing transparency before votes take place, diminishes potential behind-closed-doors deals.
Supervisor O’Neal called reduced work time “a good concept.” Supervisor Martyak stated, “Work sessions should have a cap of no more than three hours.” Chairman Chuss said the “Board can switch the work session to a special meeting if there’s an item that needs immediate decision or vote.” He did not explain how a sudden change from “workshop/staff meeting” to official business meeting will comply with Open Meetings laws that mandate advance public notice.
In Part II of this Report Card, the legislative record of the present Board and past Boards will come under scrutiny. Forks taxpayers deserve a local government in full compliance with transparency laws and one whose full time job is putting Community First.
Lilly Gioia and C David Howell
Community First Editors