Newtown Borough Council Explores the Need for a Borough Director and If He Can Afford It | Newtown neighborhood
BOROUGH OF NEWTOWN >> Does the Borough of Newtown need and can afford a manager?
These are some of the questions currently being explored by a borough council working group, which has been tasked with studying the idea and reporting back to council.
During her September working session, Vice-Chair of the Board and Committee member Julia Woldorf presented a draft of potential tasks – the first step in a multi-step process potentially leading to the hiring of a manager.
“So why would a borough consider a manager? I think (consultant) David Woglum said it best in his report on the administrative structure of the borough: “When a manager functions effectively, the result is that the elected council focuses its energies on governance and politics while that the manager focuses on efficiency and productivity. ‘”
In this assessment, delivered to council last fall, Woglum says the borough should consider some form of manager-council government.
The Borough of Newtown is currently run by a committee, with tasks divided between elected members of council and the full-time secretary and treasurer of the borough.
“We’re all doing our part, but at the end of the day, no one really has the full picture or the responsibility to coordinate all the pieces,” Woldorf said.
Of Pennsylvania’s 945 boroughs, 365 have managers, according to Woldorf. And of the 365 boroughs that have managers, 109 have a population of less than 2,500.
“That’s about what the population of the borough is, so we would be in good company if we decided to have a manager. It is also interesting to note that 29 districts with less than 1,000 inhabitants have a person with the designation of manager.
“So the question is not whether you are tall enough, but would the borough benefit from having a manager? Said Woldorf.
The first three steps of the six-step process include developing a job description, investigating the budgetary implications of adding a manager to staff, and changing the borough code to include a form management board government.
The next three steps would involve the hiring process, including retention. a consultant to lead the research, interviews with potential candidates and the possible hiring of a borough director.
“The first three lay the foundations for having a manager. The last three are in the job, ”Woldorf said. “After each step, the Council will decide whether to move on to the next. And we’re only at the first step – developing a job description, ”said Woldorf.
“So what are the questions we are asking now? What is a good job description for a borough manager? Should the borough director be full-time or part-time? And should the manager also serve as a zoning or code enforcement officer, which managers often do in small municipalities? “
According to Woldorf, the committee conducted extensive research and shared information with Council, including a review of the borough’s administrative structure and job descriptions of other municipalities. Based on this information, the committee developed a draft job description for consideration by the board.
“The job descriptions we received were all very similar and agreed on the main tasks,” said Woldorf.
Typical tasks, she said, include: managing borough staff and contractors, supervising borough employees, developing policies and procedures, investigating complaints and making recommendations to the board for the hiring of experts and consultants.
A manager would also communicate with the board, staff, contractors and the public, prepare meeting agendas, attend board meetings and oversee public relations.
“Even more important,” said Woldorf, the tasks include ensuring operational excellence, troubleshooting operational problems and finding solutions, preparing long- and short-term goals, plans and programs to present to the board, the search for grant opportunities, the function of purchasing manager and the preparation and negotiation of contracts.
Managers also oversee the budget and finances, work with the treasurer to develop a budget, review financial transactions, submit annual reports, are responsible for the inventory and maintenance of all properties in the borough, and develop the capital improvement plan.
“If the board decides to go ahead, we will have to approve a job description. The next step after that would be to assess the budgetary implications, ”Woldorf said. “This is where we are at. We need to refine the job description and start looking at the budget.
“This is really the start of the process,” said Board Chair Tara Grunde-McLaughlin. “The committee is not recommending that this is what it should be,” she said of the job description. “We are reviewing the process.”
Mayor Charles Swartz recommended including residents on the committee as the process progresses.
“I think it would be worth
uuse some of the residents of our community to get things done and offer some of their expertise, ”said Swartz, noting that“ we have residents here who have served on borough council before. We have many residents who are experts in business recruiting. We also have executives in large companies who would be able to offer expertise.
“It is up to you, as a council, to be able to use certain public comments. I know this is the board’s ultimate decision, but when you’re planning something of this magnitude to add to our community, I think it should involve residents in pushing that decision forward, ”Swartz said.
Woldorf, however, dissuaded Council from adding to the committee. “Expanding the committee outside of the board, I’m not sure that’s helpful. Bringing people in to talk and offer their expertise is one thing, but increasing the size of the committee can get overwhelming, ”said Woldorf.
The council took no immediate action at the mayor’s request, but decided to go ahead with refining the job description.
“I’ve been talking for 10 years about how we need a manager,” Woldorf said. “Every day this year something has happened where I said you know what, we need a manager. make sure all the cogs and wheels are in place. We don’t have that right now and the burden on our administrative staff has gotten to a point where everyone realizes we need this layer .
“We were elected to the council to take political decisions, to ensure the proper functioning of the district, but we are a governing body. We are not the administrative body, ”said Woldorf. “We need to move forward and make sure we have a good job description that will appeal to everyone. And if we get to this point, we absolutely have to see if we can afford it. “
At the September 14 meeting, several former councilors, including Chuck Mershon and former council chairman Mark Craig, spoke out on the borough manager issue.
During his remarks, Craig addressed several points raised in the Woglum report, which was based on interviews with current council members, the secretary and the treasurer of the borough.
“While the interviews reflect the current perspective, the issues discussed in the interviews do not appear to be much different from those encountered by previous councils,” said Craig.
In the report, Craig said council members cited ineffective and unproductive oversight of borough functions as one of their complaints.
“I don’t recall any similar complaints from previous boards,” Craig said. “Oversight of the functions of the borough has always been the role of elected officials in the borough of Newtown and should have been understood by the current members. “
The report also states that council members, when elected, were expected to assume responsibilities and understand government operations without prior training or knowledge of local government.
“It’s common in Pennsylvania,” Craig said. “This is why the Pennsylvania State Boroughs Association is offering extensive new member training for newly elected officials. “
Craig continued, “Comments have been made about long meetings and delayed actions. I remember that the previous two councils did not face long meeting dilemmas. Granted, there are always issues that require increased attention, but the length of the meeting can reflect style versus a manager’s need.
Most of the complaints, Craig said, were about board members in their oversight role.
“These have been incurred by all previous tips without complaint. It seems to be a personality or skill set issue, ”Craig said.
Craig continued, “The study indicates that a part-time manager is a bad decision. Therefore, the full-time manager, who would cost the borough more than $ 200,000, is the only choice. All board members work, do not work or are retired. This implies that full time employees cannot handle the load.
“I worked full time during my 12 years on the board, as have many of my fellow counselors,” Craig said. “You don’t have to be out of work or retire. You must know how to manage your time and you must be committed to serving.
“Based on my review, unlike the author of the report, I don’t view the decision as a slam dunk,” Craig said. “His report looks like a hammer looking for a nail, which of course is all.”
Mershon, who also read the report, called it premature and, at worst, a bad decision.
“There is no problem of continuity here. It’s a coordination problem, ”Mershon said after reading the organizational assessment and administrative analysis of government operations performed by Woglum.
“There has to be structure among the board members,” Mershon said.
“Why don’t we look at the best practices of the boroughs that do not have managers? In Pennsylvania, 265 of the 945 boroughs have directors. I suggest two-thirds don’t. Why don’t we study what they are doing? It is a community of volunteers. We must remain a community of volunteers.
The report rightly points out that hiring a district manager would represent a significant financial investment, Mershon said. “It’s going to be a big investment that I don’t think is necessary.”
Mershon said hiring a manager would represent a monumental change for the borough, which he said deserves to be presented to voters in the form of a referendum.