The Petersburg Borough Assembly could change its charter in a way that will give Borough employees more flexibility to serve on different boards. In order for the ordinance to pass, the Assembly has to vote on it three times. After that, Petersburg voters get to decide whether or not to adopt it in October.
The ordinance to change the Borough’s Home Rule Charter was approved by a vote of 6-to-1 in its first and second readings.
The ordinance would allow anybody who works for the Borough — which includes employees of Petersburg’s Medical Center and School District — to serve on certain boards and commissions.
But it wouldn’t allow these employees to serve in any role that would directly oversee their own employment. For example: a Borough employee could serve on the School Board, but would not be allowed to run for Assembly.
Assembly Member Scott Newman said, up until a few years ago, people were doing this anyways. They weren’t aware that it wasn’t allowed by the charter.
“So, in the past 30 years or so, there’s been like two or three different people who worked at either the hospital or the school, and then they served on different boards,” said Newman. “And, evidently, that was not supposed to happen. It was just an oversight.”
Newman says the change is necessary because of the unique challenges of living in a town with a small population. That dynamic can mean that some Petersburg professionals wear a lot of different hats.
“It’s such a small town,” said Newman. “And the way it’s written — there’s no conflict of interest. And I think it’s a good idea, because it brings some good people that maybe bring good stuff to the table.”
Five members of the Assembly voted in favor of it both times. But Assembly member Donna Marsh has withheld her support. After the second reading, she said the change would be unnecessary, and that the charter already has good safeguards against conflicts of interest.
“I’ve reconsidered and I am still not content with this,” said Marsh. “With the emphasis on potential conflicts of interest already being in the charter that would protect such conflicts of interest.”
Marsh says she’s not comfortable with how she believes the ordinance could put an employee in a situation where they can’t make fair decisions — or can’t make a decision at all. She used upcoming legislation involving the Petersburg School District as an example.
“I’m going to toss a theoretical out there,” said Marsh. “If you had three employees of the school district sitting on the Borough Assembly — when it comes time for making appropriations to the school board, I see a huge conflict of interest. It would be a shame that Assembly members would be denied the privilege to vote.”
Petersburg’s school board is currently in the process of requesting more funds from the Borough. Local funding has remained flat for over twenty years, and the school district reported that they’re behind at least $800,000.
The legislation to change the charter will go into effect if it passes the third and final reading, and if Petersburg voters approve it on October 3rd.
The next Assembly Meeting is scheduled for 12 p.m. on April 2nd, and will take place in the Assembly Chambers.