Council members hope transition brings harmony

January 07, 2002

Council members hope transition brings harmony


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Tonight's reorganization meeting will likely set the tone for the next two years for the Chambersburg Borough Council, and the actions of council members may determine if they plan to heal old wounds or deepen the divide.

Voters demanded a change in leadership in the borough council when they voted out four-term mayor Robert Morris and council President Bernie Washabaugh, who was seeking his eighth term in November.

Mayor Tom Newcomer was sworn into office Friday night and will lead the council tonight as it votes on a replacement for his now-vacant council seat and selects a new president and vice president to lead council for the next two years.

The reorganization is required by law to be held the first Monday of even-numbered years. It includes the swearing-in of new council members, the election of council leadership and appointments to various boards.


New council members Ken Gill, who defeated Washabaugh in the recent election, and Allen Frantz, who won the seat vacated by retiring councilman Harold "Jiggs" Kennedy, will be sworn in along with Allen Coffman, Carl Helman and John Redding, Jr., who all won re-election.

They will join the five other council members who are not up for re-election until 2003 in selecting a replacement for Newcomer's Second Ward seat.

Replacement debate

Newcomer, who will only vote if there is a tie, says he will recommend Margaret "Peg" Hollar to replace him.

In the last 30 years, 11 other council members have resigned mid-term and in most cases the council appointed the outgoing member's recommendation, according to information compiled by Borough Secretary Tanya Mickey.

Once a councilman did not make a recommendation, and another time council went against the recommendation in favor of seating the candidate who won the Republican and Democratic primaries.

Newcomer said whether the council goes along with his recommendation or chooses another resident to fill the seat will be a good indicator of what to expect in the coming year.

"We've been talking about healing the wounds of council. If they don't go along or support (Hollar), that wouldn't be healing wounds," Newcomer said.

He said he selected Hollar because he believes she will represent the interests of the Second Ward similar to the way he did.

"I am comfortable she will look at different issues objectively and with good reasoning," he said.

Councilman Carl Helman said he plans to support Newcomer's choice.

"Nobody is more capable and suited to make a recommendation than the outgoing councilman," he said. "In my mind, this is a Second Ward issue."

Some council members said Sunday they had not made a decision on who they would support for the open seat.

"I have no idea how many people are interested in it, and I will hold off my decision until I know who all is involved," Councilman Bill McLaughlin said.

New officers

Once someone is selected, the full 10-member council will move on to choosing a new president and vice president.

Helman and McLaughlin have expressed interest in assuming the top leadership position with the intent of setting the council on a new course.

In recent years, council meetings included personal attacks between members and an overall "loss of civility."

But both men say improving communication and internal relationships is a priority.

"Our council needs a president that will serve without any particular agenda," Helman said. "As a councilman, I can be a pretty passionate guy as an advocate for issues I care deeply about. As president of council, I would serve without passion or prejudice."

He said whether council relationships improve this year will come down to leadership.

"I believe with the right people in the right places, that can happen," he said.

McLaughlin said he will recommend a council retreat with a facilitator to help sort through some of the issues that have divided council and created animosity.

He said he would like to "bring back dignity and civility to the debate that goes on in council. The element of civility has been lacking for quite some time."

McLaughlin said he would create an environment of reconciliation by being open, honest, accessible and treating everyone with respect.

"There is a level of personal animosity that has grown and festered that is not good for the organization," he said. "The attacks have grown more and more vicious. It's time to put an end to it."

A more harmonious atmosphere would benefit the council as it tackles several major issues, including what to do with the aging Birch Run Dam, adding electrical generation capacity and the proposed rental property inspection code.

Some council members said Sunday they have not decided who to support for president. However, Newcomer, who will only vote if there is a tie, said he supports Helman.

"The theme of my campaign was 'Leadership for a Change.' Carl is always the individual I spoke of with hope for a new council president," he said.

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