Last night marked an historic event for the Penn State student community and State College residents, as the University Park Undergraduate Association General Assembly elected At-Large Representative Ben Pugh the first non-voting student representative on the State College Borough Council by a vote of 26 to 13. He beat out Vice President Colleen Smith for the position.
Pugh has a unique perspective on town-and-gown relations as he is both a Penn State student and a lifelong State College resident. Being a member of both groups, Pugh said he knows the “clash between students and ‘townies.'” In explaining to the Assembly why he would be an ideal choice for the seat, Pugh cited his experiences working for State College businesses, including local landlords (tenant-landlord relations being an issue he particularly stressed).
“We don’t own this town; we share it,” said Pugh, underscoring his intent to bridge a gap that has noticeably widened even over the past year between University students and the Borough of State College. “What we don’t want,” he warned, “is a list of demands nailed to a door.”
Colleen Smith brought to the table her experience last year as Chair of the Governmental Affairs Committee, which helped to quell the head of steam that nearly passed the Nuisance Gathering Ordinance and nearly turned off the Garner Street lights downtown, building concrete connections with Borough officials in the progress. However, the Assembly chose Pugh’s nuanced knowledge of the “complex beast” (his words) that is State College.
Pugh will serve as the interim Council member rather than the full one-year term. He will begin officially sitting on the Council at meetings beginning December 1. Especially for such a position that was initially controversial, someone with as much experience on both sides of the issues as Pugh has makes him a valuable asset to have blaze the trail with the Borough. While they’re transitioning into having formal student input in their proceedings, it’s good that they have someone with whom they can truly identify as well. It took a lot of work to pass, let’s hope all goes smoothly.