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Borough Council’s Three-Week Mayoral Guideline Debate Stalls With Vote To Table Decision

The State College Borough Council voted to table the vote on a set of guidelines for potential interim mayoral candidates proposed by Council Member Catherine Dauler last month. It also extended the deadline for submitting a letter of interest to become interim mayor until next Monday, November 11, at midnight.

The proposed guidelines are:

  • Actual work experience in local government
  • Willingness to commit to Robert’s Rules of Order
  • Demonstrable experience conducting public meetings
  • Understanding the position is for two (2) years only and nonrenewable
  • Candidate cannot be an active Penn State employee
  • Commitment to active involvement in the National League of Cities and the Pennsylvania Municipal league
  • Cannot be a developer
  • Supports the Coalition of Neighborhood Associations
  • Commitment to Penn State student engagement

Council never actively agreed upon the role of these guidelines, which it has debated on grounds ranging from racial and employment-based discrimination to procedural necessity since October 25. Even if they are codified by a vote, the guidelines cannot legally prevent the candidates they exclude from the selection process, according to an opinion Borough Solicitor Terry Williams submitted to Council. They can only raise points of considerations for individual Council members, and cannot change the Borough Home Rule Charter’s ruling that any adult State College resident can serve as mayor.

Williams’ opinion also ruled that sitting Council members cannot vote for themselves or negatively vote for another member if they become a mayoral candidate. However, they can participate in discussions and vote on motions regarding the mayoral selection process.

Council will evaluate candidates one-by-one at public hearings, and will chose the interim mayor by majority vote.

Current State College Mayor Don Hahn officially resigned Tuesday morning in a letter to Council after winning a magisterial district judge seat in yesterday’s election. He also addressed a letter to Dauler, in which he supported six of her guidelines while opposing several, including the list’s exclusion of developers and active Penn State employees. He suggested that Council also add two more to the list: a commitment to environmental protection and diversity and inclusion.

Dauler Agreed with Hahn’s additions, and said in a reply that she was “inclined to agree with your concern about the Penn State-related guideline, especially as it has come to dominate the discussion, and I see the sense of eliminating it from the list.”

“I wanted these guidelines to be suggestions for us to use as we wished,” Dauler said. Council Member Janet Engeman later echoed Dauler’s informal idea of the list later in the discussion, and said she didn’t expect Council to vote to codify them.

David Brown offered the afternoon’s first lengthy statement, saying that he would not support the Penn State and developer guidelines but that the list was still worthy of Council’s consideration and discussion. He said that the possibility of a conflicted mayor vetoing a Borough Council decision could be problematic.

He then commented on the guideline debate as a whole, saying that the important issues raised in the discussion had been “hijacked” by “grandstanding opportunists rearing up with righteous, fierce, self-righteous indignation and, by the way, rallying a cadre of clapping and snapping collaborators.”

He condemned the “debasing and inflammatory” labels, including “racist,” “biased in favor of all-white governance,” “discriminatory against people of color,” and “violators of the 14th amendment” that had been “hurled” at those who expressed support of the guidelines.

After further comments from Council Members Jesse Barlow, Dan Murphy, and Council President Evan Myers, Student Representative Genivievre Miller noted that Hahn’s letter had been sent early Tuesday morning, and wondered why Council hadn’t publicized the letter’s contents earlier, allowing the public to read it without interference. Dauler only read specific parts of Hahn’s letter at Wednesday’s meeting.

Council Member-elect Deanna Behring, who was in attendance, said she was “saddened by [Brown’s] aggressive comments,” which arrived just as the conversation was assuming a civil and compromising tone. She also questioned the disorganized presentation of the guidelines.

Council Member Theresa Lafer then spoke.

“We are looking for ways to help define what we as a community need from the most ceremonial, the most out-there member of our government,” she said.

Lafer said she understood concerns about the guidelines being limiting for applicants, and cited University President Eric Barron’s letter to Council that condemned the Penn State guideline. She then said that she had received letters from two Penn State administrators that condemned the guideline shortly after Barron’s letter was received.

“Our leader said this is bad, and we jump,” Lafer said, characterizing the two administrator letters and expressing her concern that similar situations would occur if a university administrator was chosen as mayor. “Somebody said jump, and they seemed to have asked ‘how high?'”

Lafer said that she wanted the guidelines only to serve as a guard against electing an untenable mayor. She, like Brown, then condemned the tone of the debate as “anti-political” and “anti-equality,” saying that Dauler had made a “list of responses” to the mayor.

“People stood up last week and attacked people on this Council ad hominem, personalities,” she said. “I don’t care how you sit in the audience, I do care if you play ‘snap snap,’ this isn’t a goddamn comedy club, this is serious business. You wanna go snap snap? I’m certain Elaine has some nice comedians down there for you to enjoy, this isn’t the place for it, I work in disability services, some behaviors are unacceptable, inappropriate.”

Lafer then noted that although there “were some limits put there,” they did not express and were not meant to express bias.

“The people who jump up and down screaming, ‘oh you’ve turned me into a victim!’ should be ashamed of themselves,” she said.

“You don’t want to be a victim, don’t stand up and say ‘you made me a victim!’ We can all pull that card. I’m old, so everybody is mad at me because I’m old and therefore I don’t know anything about what you’re going through ’cause I must be demented and can’t remember my college years.”

She then reiterated the importance of the interim mayor only serving for two years as to prevent incumbency advantage in the next election. Williams made it clear, however, that an interim candidate cannot legally be held to a single term.

Barlow then motioned that Council tabled the discussion of the guidelines, which takes it off the agenda and prevents a vote until Council votes to put it back on. The motion carried with a 5-2 vote.

Council opened the floor for public comment, with several community members expressing disappointment in its conduct while others agreed that no malice was meant by the introduction of the guidelines.

Peter Buckland, a Penn State employee, cited the Fourteenth Amendment in denouncing the guidelines.

“I believe that fundamentally, what was at work here, was an act of disenfranchisement of a large number of people,” he said.

Cindy Simmons, who stood and turned her back to Council during Brown’s comments, said that the Borough needed continuity in government, and emphasized the racial and class-based issues of State College.

“I think that we can trust the voters, so choose somebody you would want to run again, choose somebody who would be great for a second term,” she said.

“Some of you owe an apology to some members of this community who were rightly offended, who talked about why they were offended, and have been castigated as if they were children,” she added.

On the recommendation of several community members, Council closed Monday’s meeting by extending the deadline for submitting a letter of interest for mayoral consideration to midnight on Monday, November 11.

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About the Author

Jim Davidson

Jim is a junior English and history major and the features editor for Onward State. He, like most of the Penn State undergraduate population, is from 'just outside Philadelphia,' and grew up in Spring City, Pennsylvania. He covers a variety of Penn State topics, but spends nine months of every year waiting for the start of soccer season. You can reach him via email at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @messijim.

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