AlliedNews.com - Grove City, Pennsylvania

November 5, 2013

Council, mayor candidates take stage

By Monica Pryts/Staff Writer
Allied News

SLIPPERY ROCK — One person is running for mayor of Slippery Rock in Tuesday's general election while five candidates are vying for three council seats, and the group recently shared their goals and concerns for the borough during a public forum.

Ronald Fodor, who ran a write-in campaign during the spring election for mayor, when no one was on the ballot for the position, has crossfiled for the four-year term.

Democrats Bob Bowser, Regina Greenwald and Kenneth Harris are on the ballot for the four-year council seats, and Mike DeVault and Bryan Whitby are running write-in campaigns.

The public forum was held Oct. 22 in council chambers at the borough building and organized by borough resident Dr. Itzi Meztli, a current council member who also acted as moderator.

Whitby was out-of-town and unable to attend, Meztli said.

The forum followed a question-and-answer format, with members of the small audience asking the questions, and each candidate answered every question.

During introductions, Bowser, who's seeking his third term on council, said he wants to continue to be a part of the community. He's a real estate agent with Northwood Realty, Grove City.

DeVault grew up in Avella, Pa., has a fine arts degree from Edinboro University and has lived in Slippery Rock for about three years.

He also ran a jewelry repair business from his home for about seven years and said he wants to help the borough by serving on council.

Fodor served on council about 25 years ago and is a Navy veteran who was stationed in Vietnam. His memberships include the Slippery Rock Rotary Club and the park board, and he vows to do his homework and be prepared for council meetings.

Greenwald, a New Castle native who's active with Slippery Rock in Bloom and past president of the Rotary Club, serves on the borough's Solid Waste/Recycling Committee and also enjoys working with Slippery Rock University.

She has a lot of experience dealing with budgets from her work with the Delaware State Department of Education as an administrator, and she also feels council needs another woman in addition to Christy Tichy.

Harris, who has been Slippery Rock's mayor for the last 12 years and was born in London, England, was a theater teacher at SRU and decided to run for council because the mayor's post comes with certain limitations - he can vote only to break a tie.

He's also involved with the Rotary, Center Presbyterian Church and numerous clubs and organizations.

Resident Jan Forrest, who is also president of the Friends of the Slippery Rock Community Library, asked the candidates what they would like to see accomplished in the borough, other than resolving the spring bulk trash pickup issue.

Harris said he'd like to see the annual budget process reformed - he has concerns about how it's done mostly behind closed doors by just a few people, who then present it to council in early November.

"I wish we had a look at it in public. We used to," he said.

Council often seems to be at odds with itself and the public, and borough officials need to develop better ways to communicate with the citizens, Greenwald said.

Fodor agreed, saying the borough's public relations need improved. He gave the example of how many residents didn't know the spring bulk trash pickup date changed this year from May to March until after council voted because few residents knew that change was on the table.

"We really need to communicate more with the public," he said, adding the borough's website is a great resource but needs updated.

DeVault said he'd be interested in lowering the solicitor's fees and putting that savings back into the borough to repair roads and sidewalks, and he'd also like to see better communication with the public. "No one really knows what the (meeting) agenda is until that same day," he said.

Bowser wants more residents to attend council meetings on a regular basis and hopes the borough can hire another street worker to pave Kiester Road and finish Kelly Boulevard.

Resident Chuck Brochetti noted the borough's 2013 expenses for the police department are $224,000, and he questioned the possibility of forming a regional police department with neighboring municipalities to save money.

"I could not agree more," Bowser said.

DeVault said he'd like to see the borough and Slippery Rock Township work together, something that's been an issue in the past.

"I would actually research that as much as possible," he said.

Slippery Rock has an excellent police force and people feel safe, but there's always room for improvement, Fodor said.

A regional police department could improve the borough's relationship with the township, Greenwald said, with Harris adding that state laws support regional departments and provide more funding opportunities.

Those who object to the idea say they wouldn't want to lose local control, but that's not the case because a regional department is run by an independent board with a variety of representatives, Harris said.

Resident Gene Allison had several concerns he wanted the candidates to address: council has alienated people, which is why many residents won't attend meetings; some council members aren't prepared for meetings; and whether the borough administrator's position held by Lucinda Lipko should be eliminated.

DeVault said everyone can be prepared if the meeting agendas are posted online, and he agreed that council has alienated people. He would look into Lipko's position to see if it is needed or whether her duties could be divided up among other borough officials.

Regarding the alienation issue, Bowser said there have been groups of people attending meetings in recent months with "personal axes to grind" who have attacked, threatened and insulted council members and borough officials.

"How are we supposed to react?" he asked, adding sometimes petty, personal grievances are the issues.

Bowser admitted he can work better on being prepared, but said there is no better way to staff the borough office than with Lipko, who is the only administrative employee, and she does a good job.

Fodor said serving on council requires a lot of patience and it's not easy to listen to everyone's problems, but you can't resent the fact that someone is upset.

Also, he suggested networking with other boroughs to see how they handle various issues, and while he's not familiar with Lipko's job description, he said all employees should be evaluated and reviewed.

Greenwald said maybe new blood will help move the borough in the right direction and away from the feeling of alienation.

"I think they feel tired of being abused," she said of the current council.

And she's spent time with Lipko, who has many responsibilities, but maybe council should also consider hiring a borough manager, decreasing the number of people on council and lowering the solicitor's fees, Greenwald said.

The borough manager idea has been kicked around in the past, but the cost is considerable, maybe at least $80,000 plus benefits, Harris said.

"And I think Lucinda is doing her best," he said, adding council could also consider sharing a borough manager with another borough.

Harris went on to address the alienation issue, saying new council members could undergo a training session that would cover topics like body language and how to deal with the public.

"We could learn a lot and improve that factor," he said.

For more information about Tuesday's election and a preview of the Butler County ballots, visit www.co.butler.pa.us and click on "Voter Information" in the box on the right side of the homepage.