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Council takes heat over manager post

October 02, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer, Waynesboro

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Members of the Mercersburg Borough Council took some heat Wednesday night from citizens, former council members, a former borough manager and appointed borough officials over their plan to eliminate the borough manager's job.

Former Councilman James W. Smith, who served for 20 years, said Borough Manager Judith Chambers was "harassed out of her job" by the council.

Smith also accused the council's finance committee of deciding Chambers' fate "behind closed doors and in secret. If you haven't broken the sunshine law, you've broken its spirit," he said.

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Councilwoman Judy Gossett refuted Smith's charges. She said Chambers told her that she had gone as far as she could in her position. "It was obvious to me that she was going to leave," Gossett said.

Chambers resigned from the $36,000-a-year job Sept. 9. Her last day will be Oct. 10. She starts a new job with the Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority on Oct. 14.

Chambers, interviewed earlier this week, said she was not being forced out of her job. She said the council wants to have more hands-on control over borough matters.

Chambers was not present at Wednesday's meeting.

The council in September voted to consider two ordinances, one of which would change the borough government from council-manager to council-administrator. The administrator would be responsible for office staff and functions only.

The ordinance also would create the position of supervisor of all outside maintenance functions, including streets.

Council members said the posts would eliminate duplication.

Under the current system, the borough manager has sole authority over the six full-time and two part-time employees. The mayor supervises the police department.

The council has no say in the hiring and firing of employees. The new ordinance would change that.

Opponents argued that the borough can't hire an administrator with Chambers' expertise and experience for $30,000. Chambers has been on the job for eight years.

Councilwoman Jeanne Rader said the salary range is recommended by the Pennsylvania Association of Borough Managers.

Fred Bean, who preceded Chambers as borough manager, now runs a larger Pennsylvania community.

A borough manager is "a buck-stops-here-individual," Bean said.

Thomas S. Kurtz, manager of Patton Township in Centre County, Pa., said without a borough manager the council's job will become frustrating and dysfunctional. "You will end up with management by committee," he said.

The council's next scheduled meeting is Oct. 14.

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