Sunday, September 23, 2007

Part two of Local Government In PA

Political Subdivisions:

School Districts:

Under the current system, providing for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education is a commonwealth responsibility as stated in the Commonwealth Constitution. To carry out this responsibility, the General Assembly created school districts and school boards. It conferred broad legal powers to the local boards, making them autonomous in many of their operations. Rules and regulations of the State Board, guidelines of the Department of Education, opinions and interpretations of the state attorney general and court decrees all influence local board operation. State and federal mandates also pose significant restrictions on the authority of school boards.

School boards have three main functions: planning, setting policy and evaluating results. School boards can elect superintendents, hire employees, levy taxes, provide for school buildings and grounds, adopt rules and regulations for school activities, and provide for special education in addition to other functions. This can be an excellent opportunity for a candidate to be involved in the local community, provided the candidate is prepared to address the numerous functions and restrictions school board members must face.



Counties serve as agents of the commonwealth for law enforcement, judicial administration, and the conduct of elections. They are also responsible for property assessment and planning. They maintain hospitals, provide homes for the aged and perform welfare functions. They may be involved in solid waste disposal and public health, and may support public libraries and community colleges.

Generally, the governing body of counties is a three-member board of commissioners, with a number of other offices generally independent of the commissioners. These include sheriff, district attorney, prothonotary, clerk of courts, register of wills, recorder of deeds, and two jury commissioners. There is also either a controller or three auditors and the treasurer who serve as the financial officers. The governing body has the power to appoint certain officers and levy certain taxes.

This is the basic layout of county government. Six counties, Allegheny, Delaware, Erie, Lackawanna, Lehigh, and Northampton have adopted home rule charters, which may modify how the county government is constructed. This may include a county executive or alternative in place of three commissioners, and may alter the number and structure of row offices. In these counties it is beneficial to determine what elected offices are available. There are many elected positions that may be suitable for candidates with an interest in a specific area at the county level.

Municipal Corporations:

Cities, town(s), boroughs and townships also have governing bodies that have authority to make policy decisions, levy taxes, borrow money, and direct the administration of government through appointees. These entities have broad powers to secure the health and welfare of residents, maintain local roads, and provide for fire and police protection, parking and traffic control, local planning and zoning, parks and recreation, garbage collection, health services, libraries, licensing of businesses, and code enforcement. These functions may vary slightly depending on the stated powers within the specific codes, however they all perform the same basic functions.


Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Scranton all have home rule charters. All have strong mayors with broad appointive powers and with veto power that may be overridden with a two-thirds vote of the city council. Candidates for these offices should be aware of the mayoral authority and the limitation of council positions before seeking office.

Third Class Cities:

These cities operate under a commission form of government. The mayor and four other council members are elected at-large, constituting the commission. A controller and treasurer are also elected. Some cities have adopted a council-mayor form of government with five, seven or nine members of council, where the mayor is elected separately. Others have adopted a council-manager form whereby a manager is appointed by the council. Still, 16 others have adopted a home rule plan. Please check with the particular city to determine what offices are up for election.


Most boroughs operate under a weak-mayor form of government. The mayor is one of seven council members elected at-large. In boroughs divided into wards, at least one and no more than two council members are elected from each ward. A tax collector and auditors are also elected. There are 20 boroughs with home rule charters, and this may modify offices up for election.


First class townships are governed by 5 commissioners elected at-large or up to 15 elected by wards. A treasurer, tax collector and three auditors or a controller are also elected.

Far and away, most municipal corporations (over 1,400) in Pennsylvania are second class townships. These are governed by a three-member board of supervisors, or by referendum, a five-member board. A tax collector and three auditors are also elected.

There are also a small number of townships that have adopted home rule charters, so it may be worthwhile to inquire about elected offices in your municipality before seeking elected office.


These are not general government entities and do not have elected positions. They are established by municipalities, however often function independently. They may only operate within the authority granted to them by the establishing bodies.

The Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania would like to encourage citizens to participate in their local government by becoming elected officials. It is an opportunity to be involved in the community and have an impact on decisions affecting the lives of you and your neighbors.

The information in this article was provided in large part by The Pennsylvania Manual, which is published through the Bureau of Publications and Paperwork Management, Department of General Services of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Candidate Article, Clarion County Commissioner

Michael J. Robertson

Libertarian Party Candidate for

Clarion County Commissioner

Michael J. “Mik” Robertson is pleased to announce his nomination as the Libertarian Party candidate for Clarion County Commissioner. Mr. Robertson was born in Pittsburgh in 1964 and was raised in southern Allegheny County. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in 1982 then attended Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he graduated with a degree in geology.

In 1991 he joined the Business/Environment program of the United States Peace Corps, working for two years in Wigry National Park in northeastern Poland. In that time, he performed evaluations of surface water bodies in the park and sought funding sources to conduct baseline environmental studies to determine cleanup standards for industrially polluted areas of Poland. It was during this time that Mr. Robertson was able to observe firsthand the devastating effects an authoritarian form of government can have environmentally, economically and socially.

Mr. Robertson and his wife Margaret moved to their current residence in Licking Township in January 1999. The couple currently operates a farm specializing in certified naturally grown produce with their daughter Claire, age two. Mr. Robertson also works as a geologist with an environmental consulting firm. For the past seven years Mr. Robertson has served as chairman of the Licking Township Board of Supervisors, and also serves on the executive boards of the Clarion County Association of Township Officials and Clarion County Sewage Association.

Mr. Robertson believes that his candidacy for county commissioner will offer a clear choice for Clarion County voters, and looks forward to discussing issues with Clarion County residents. As a Libertarian, he believes in the importance of individual liberty, personal responsibility, and small government, with an emphasis on local control. Local control is important because that is the way individual voters can have the most impact on the government. This is something that neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party seems to want.

From a Libertarian perspective, Mr. Robertson believes the primary function of government is to secure the rights of the individual. There must be a fair set of laws that do not favor certain interests to the detriment of others. There must be a justice system that can prosecute those who use force or fraud to violate individual rights or unduly place others in harm’s way. It is not the role of government to forcibly take money or property from individuals to give to other private entities or promote special business interests.

What is needed in Clarion County is local government that operates efficiently, effectively, and coordinates efforts of the county, boroughs and townships. County government must be open to residents and businesses, with a clear open records policy. The county needs efficient methods to record property changes and share information with municipalities. The county must have broad and general subdivision and land development regulations that respect the rights of property owners and can be readily modified by municipalities to meet specific local needs.

The county government must utilize the resources available to remove impediments to local business development and allow local communities to determine their own futures. This cannot be done through additional regulation, but by working with other agencies and institutions in the area to create opportunities that foster free enterprise and promote a sense of community. In this way, the quality of life in Clarion County can improve for generations to come.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Chair Message

The Importance of Voter Registration

Michael J. “Mik” Robertson

Chair, Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania

Municipal elections are around the corner and a presidential election is looming before us. Now is the time to focus on the importance of voter registration to the Libertarian Party. When legislators, political analysts, members of the press, and many in the general public evaluate the strength and support of a political party, voter registration numbers are viewed as a key measure.

Using this standard, the Libertarian Party remains the third largest political party in the commonwealth, with many more registered voters than the Green Party and Constitution Party (fourth and fifth largest, respectively) combined. Even so, there remains a substantial gap between the second largest political party and us. To bring a consistent challenge the political culture in Pennsylvania, it would help to close that gap.

While over 35,000 voters in Pennsylvania have expressed their discontent with the current system and registered to vote as a Libertarian, I have spoken to many people who agree with the ideas of the Libertarian Party and would like to see a different direction in government, but are reluctant to change their voter registration.

One reason for this is the two major parties perpetuate the myth that the United States has a two-party system and any change must be brought about within this framework. The myth is enhanced by publicly funded nominations and conventions for two political parties, gerrymandered election districts, unequal ballot access laws, and campaign finance laws that deter any real opposition.

This leaves us two political parties claiming at every general election that a vote for the other major party candidate will result in the end of western civilization. Any vote not for them is a vote for the other major party. This appalling scare tactic is used more often in presidential elections. Rest assured, it is not true and you can safely vote for the candidate of your choice.

A more subtle tactic used to perpetuate the current system is to suggest that support for a particular candidate in one of the major parties in the primary election can help change that party and therefore bring about change in government. This is another myth. The leaders of both major parties have become addicted to money and principles have gone out the window.

Although it may seem like a good idea to vote for a major party maverick candidate in the primary election to foster change, the net effect is negative. Party leaders see the participation as a sign of support for their party, and once the candidate is done, it’s back to square one. On the unusual occasions when such a candidate is successful, major party leadership will step in to mute any significant change in the status quo.

Just as the effort to clean sweep legislators in the general assembly, replacing them with candidates of the same two parties, resulted in no significant change in our Commonwealth, so is it likely that support for any national candidates in the major parties result in no significant change in national politics. The two major parties have essentially become two sides of the same coin, with larger, more intrusive government for all.

Most major changes in American politics and government have been when a challenger political party arises to bring about or follow through with change. Political parties may be hard to define in our country’s early stages, at least until federal nominations were no longer made by congress. However, it is clear that the entrenched two-party system we currently have is a relatively recent development, not an American tradition. When substantial changes in American government occurred, it was often spurred by the rise of challenger political parties.

Examples include what became known as the Democratic-Republicans in 1800, the Whigs in the 1830’s, the Republicans in the 1850’s, the Socialist and Progressive Parties in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and more recently Ross Perot’s Reform Party. Even though not all of these parties enjoyed significant electoral success, many did have broad popular support and substantial impact, albeit in some cases briefly. Sadly, in many of these cases the impact was to increase the scope and authority of government or was short-lived.

In order to reverse the trend of expanding government, we must learn some lessons from the past. We will be most effective if we consolidate our efforts to build a credible political party for the long term. While there certainly are major party candidates meriting our support, the best support we can give them is to develop a party where their views are not downplayed, where they will not be hushed by party leadership, and where they can do their job as elected officials to secure the rights of the individual.

This is why it is important that we show the strength of our party whenever and wherever we can. Maintaining a Libertarian voter registration is one unequivocal way to show the two major parties there are still those who believe in individual liberty, personal responsibility, and limited government. It cannot be construed as support for another party or a system that suppresses opposition views.

If you are not currently registered Libertarian, go to the post office or county election office and change! To bring about a lasting reversal of the trend toward more government, we should all be proudly registered Libertarian voters!