Selling home rule to Concord voters

Members of the Concord Township Government Study Commission finished their official task when they voted on a final report in February. That report included a final draft of a proposed home rule charter that all registered voters in Concord will be able to vote on — for or against — in the April 26 primary.

But the official task has been followed up by the unofficial task of explaining the concept to voters, or “selling” the idea to voters as Commission member Josh Twersky told some residents during an informal information meeting at the Rachel Kohl Library on April 14.

That meeting was the third of four such meetings at the library. The fourth is scheduled for 7 p.m., Monday, April 18. Other informational sessions were held at Maris Grove and Riviera.

GSC member Bob Tribit, seated, center, answers questions about the proposal for residents.

GSC member Bob Tribit, seated, center, answers questions about the proposal for residents.

Twersky gave a basic overview of the process and the final product. He and fellow Commissioner Bob Tribit then answered questions asked by a few of the nine people who attended.

Pennsylvania’s Second Class Charter currently controls how Concord and other townships of the second class operate. But a home rule charter would override that, basically becoming a constitution for the township, Twersky said. He called the code a “boiler plate” method of governance, while the charter would be specific for Concord.

He said that’s an advantage. The charter, if approved, can be amended by voters, if need be. Not so with the state code. That would have to happen at the state level through the Pennsylvania General Assembly and affect all townships of the second class.

Another advantage of the proposal, Twersky said, is that terms of office for township council members are shortened. Currently, Concord has a five-member Board of Supervisors whose members serve for six-year terms. Under the charter, that body would become seven members, their title changed from supervisors to council members, and they would serve for four years, not six.

(The only deviation from that would come in November of 2017 when two people would run for two-year terms and two for four-year terms. After that, all terms would be for four years.)

Twersky said the advantage is that every other election cycle, voters would be voting on a majority number — four —of council members. Two years later they would vote for three, then vote for four in another two years.

As with the current five-member board, the seven members of the township council would be elected and serve at-large. There would be no ward representation.

Twersky said the Government Study Commission debated ward representation for weeks and came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t work well. He added that at-large representation gives every voter a chance to vote for every council member, and not just the one from their ward.

Other changes under the proposed charter include limiting the amount of a township property tax hike. A township of the second class may raise township property taxes up to 14 mills without court approval. Under the charter, should it pass, council would be prevented raising taxes more than 5 percent, unless a supermajority, five members, voted to do so. (Concord’s current millage rate is 0.944 mills.)

Voters will give a yea or nay on the home run charter proposal during the April 26 election. While a primary, all registered voters in Concord may vote on the issue, even if not affiliated with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

Voters will give a yea or nay on the home run charter proposal during the April 26 election. While a primary, all registered voters in Concord may vote on the issue, even if not affiliated with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

Additionally, a new ordinance could not be proposed and passed during the same meeting. Under the code, supervisors may do just that.

Another restriction of the charter prohibits council members from being township employees and they must wait at least one year after leaving office before a vendor that does business with the township can employ them.

If voters approve the charter, it will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2017, and there could be no petition or ballot question to change the form of government for five years, Twersky said.

He told the audience that he hopes voters approve the charter.

“We think it’s good for Concord Township,” he said.

If it fails, however, Concord would remain a township of the second class, but there could be a push to change the township into some other form of government.

The Government Study Commission came into existence as a reaction to the citizen group Concord First gathering signatures for a 2014 petition to change Concord to a township of the first class.

While Concord First gathered more signatures than needed, those signatures were challenged and the petition denied. Concord First appealed the decision up through the state Supreme Court. That court remanded the case to Common Pleas, but it was denied there a second time.

In reaction to the Concord First’s petition drive, supervisors voted to have their own question placed on the November 2014 ballot, whether or not to have a commission that would explore possible changes to the township’s government.

That measure passed and the commissioners spent 14 months exploring options and then developing the proposed charter.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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