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Quarry foes push for home rule in Pa. township

August 20, 2006|by DON AINES

ST. THOMAS, PA. - A group of St. Thomas Township residents, some of whom were involved in opposition to a quarry project over the past three years, have banded together to put a referendum before voters this fall that could lead to home rule.

"The petitions to get on the ballot have already been submitted" to the Franklin County Election Board, said Cheryl Stearn, a member of St. Thomas Alliance for a New Direction (STAND). The ballot question is expected to be on the Nov. 7 ballot, she said.

Stearn, the wife of St. Thomas Supervisor Frank Stearn, said STAND also is endorsing seven people to serve on a government study commission. Four of them - Fred Walls, Mike Urban, Audrey Tozer and Cheryl Stearn - are members of Friends and Residents of St. Thomas (FROST), which challenged St. Thomas Development Inc. in its plan to develop a quarry west of the village of St. Thomas.

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The other pro-home rule candidates are John Tiedemann, chairman of the township's Municipal Authority; Randy Quinn, who once served an interim appointment as a supervisor; and Robert Pismeny, Cheryl Stearn said.

St. Thomas is a Second Class Township governed by a three-member board of supervisors including Timothy Sollenberger and James Faith, in addition to Frank Stearn.

"I think going through the whole process, both before and after Frank was elected, the township supervisors said, 'There's really not much we can do,'" to stop or regulate the quarry, Cheryl Stearn said. "With the Second Class Township Code, that's pretty much true."

A study commission could draw up a home rule charter, with input from citizens, to change the form of government. The charter would be put before the voters in the form of a referendum, probably in the November 2007 general election, she said.

Options allowed under home rule could include raising the number of supervisors to five or seven, or even a town hall form of government, under which residents can attend meetings and vote on issues, Frank Stearn said.

"Anything that even makes people think about their local government ... is a benefit," Frank Stearn said. Even if home rule is enacted, all supervisors would be allowed to fill out their terms in office, he said.

The township's other supervisors, Timothy Sollenberger and James Faith, did not return messages Friday.

To put the home rule issue to referendum, the supporters had to collect on petitions signatures of registered voters at least equal to 5 percent of the votes cast in the township in the previous gubernatorial election, Franklin County Deputy Chief Clerk Jean Byers said. Stand needed 69 signatures, and filed petitions with 110 signatures by the Aug. 8 deadline.

The slate of candidates must submit petitions with at least 28 signatures each by an Aug. 29 deadline, Byers said.

While all seven of the STAND members support home rule, Cheryl Stearn said other supporters or opponents of home rule could file petitions to be on the ballot and be elected to the government study commission.

The candidates endorsed by STAND "have committed to include in the charter an initiative and referendum process, which would give people living in St. Thomas Township a voice in all major decisions ... instead of leaving those decisions up to a few supervisors," according to a press release from the group. Residents could propose ordinances by submitting petitions to have them listed on ballots, according to the release.

The release stated that Pennsylvania's Municipal Planning Code does not allow zoning to be implemented through a home rule charter "and the endorsed candidates have pledged not to consider the question of zoning."

In the 1990s, the Board of Township Supervisors enacted zoning, which later was repealed.

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