The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the country’s leaders when it comes to the number of local government units. This includes counties, cities, boroughs, townships, incorporated towns and school districts. Many of these governmental units rely on what are essentially volunteers to serve as elected officials who oversee the operation of the government.
Although County Commissioners and certain councilors for large cities such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh do receive compensation for their roles in running government, Borough Councilors, Township Commissioners, and Township Supervisors receive typically nominal compensation for their efforts. The amount of their compensation is rooted in State Law and is based upon the population of the municipality. Each municipality, however, by ordinance, sets the amount of the compensation. These local officials probably receive, on average, about $100.00 per month for their services. On the other hand, School District Board of Directors receive no compensation for their hard work and effort they perform in administering multi-million-dollar operations.
So, what is required to undertake this important role? For someone who wishes to serve in one of these elected capacities, he or she is required in the late winter to circulate a petition among their community members, and is required to obtain at least ten signatures of registered electors in his or her own political party to have the privilege of being listed on the Election Ballot. The first listing is the Primary Election which occurs in the spring, and, if successful, ultimately, their names will appear on the General Election Ballet in the fall. If they are successful in their election bids, they would assume their roles as elected officials of their municipality (councilor, commissioner, supervisor) on the first Monday, the following January after the General Election.
It is interesting to note that other than being a registered elector of the community for one year and residing in that community, there is no other qualification to perform this civic function. Many organizations, however, do provide training sessions so that newly elected officials have the ability to learn what is expected in their role as a community volunteer in operating their local government.
Under the Borough Code, Pennsylvania Boroughs are run by Borough Council Members who can be elected either at large, or by geographic region known as wards or precincts. The Mayor, who is not a Council Member, typically does note vote with the Borough Council, but is designated as overseer of the local police department. Most Boroughs have seven elected councilors, but the Borough Code allows Boroughs to have more than seven.
The Townships of the First-Class are governed by commissioners. The First-Class Township Code requires that there be at least five elected commissioners. Likewise, the Second-Class Township Code requires that their municipalities by governed by supervisors who serve as the same function as commissioners. However, in Second-Class Townships, there can be as few as three supervisors to govern the municipality.
As the legislative body of the municipality, the job of elected officials is to annually adopt a budget, oversee expenditures, pass and enact laws and regulations, enforce those laws, and oversee and approve new developments within the municipality.
Depending upon the size of the municipality, it is not unusual for the governing body to appoint a manager who oversees daily operations, and to hire a police force to enforce state and local laws and ordinances where it is determined that the State Police alone are not providing adequate coverage.
Although municipal meetings are required at least once a month, many municipalities meet more than once a month. In addition, most elected officials know that with committee meetings and other obligations, it is not unusual to have these positions consume up to 20 or 30 hours per month in order to properly perform the job they were elected to do.
Obviously, there are no set hours of the duties since residents and constituents can call or email at any time, including days, evenings, and weekends. The job of these officials is to serve their constituents and make decisions which they believe is in the best interest of the municipality.
Like referees in sporting events, typically our elected officials only get noticed when things go wrong and bad choices are made. When government functions appropriately, and there are no problems, most residents probably don’t even realize the work of the elected officials. While it is truly a thankless job, Pennsylvania is fortunate to have people who wish to volunteer to be public servants in these roles, as otherwise, our government, as we know it, would not function capably.
Charles D. Garner, Jr., Esquire, is an attorney at the law firm of Wolf, Baldwin & Associates, P.C., which maintains offices in Pottstown, Reading and West Chester. He has significant experience in municipal representation, zoning and land use matters. He and the firm have other diverse experience including small business representation, municipal employment negotiation and litigation, contracts and civil litigation, and estate planning and administration. In addition, Mr. Garner is currently the Chairman of the New Hanover Township Board of Supervisors and has served as an elected supervisor since 2016. Mr. Garner can be reached at 610.323.7436 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.