West Chester, PA Is the Borough Without an Elected Mayor

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Op-Ed by Stephen Wahrhaftig, Chair of the Libertarian Party of Chester County

In theory, the Borough of West Chester chooses its mayor by allowing voters to consider a slate of candidates and then choose the one the voters feel will do the best job. The mayor, after all, is an employee of the voters and serves with their approval. The Borough Council, also employees of the voters, help to manage the borough.

Yet this system has stopped working. The current mayor, Dianne Herrin, was elected to the Pennsylvania House last November. The voters chose her to do this job at their behest, and now, in January, she has begun to serve in that important role.

But Representative Herrin is also Mayor Herrin in both Harrisburg and West Chester at the same time. How can this be? Perhaps this is because the borough bylaws, while outlawing an elected official from holding two borough positions at once, neglects to prevent someone from also working in a government located eighty miles away.

On the face of this, the situation makes no sense – how can you do your job as a state representative while being a mayor at the same time? How will the voters quickly choose their new mayor who will represent their interests full, not part-time? The answer? They won’t.

A loophole in the borough bylaws states that if Herrin can hold on to both jobs at the same time until Mid-February, the West Chester Borough Council will get to appoint a new mayor who can serve in that role for the entire year. That seems odd, doesn’t it? Why would an elected position not involve the voters to choose someone when that position is vacated?

The answer is simple. By circumventing the West Chester Borough voters, the Democratic machine that is running local politics gets to keep the factory process running. First become our mayor, then become our state representative, then become our state senator, and after that, we will let you know what to do. This well-oiled system unburdens the voter from needing to make their own choices.

Appointing a mayor by going around the voter stacks the deck in favor of the appointed. This helps ensure that the public will not hear from Independent candidates or third parties like Libertarian or the Green Party. A Republican half-hearted attempt may not even happen. Pretending that you have a mayor when you really have none is wrong. A borough resident contacted the borough manager to be considered for the position as mayor. The manager reportedly replied that the position is “not currently open”. A voter has already called for the resignation of the mayor in a recent council meeting, no doubt the first of many.

The Libertarian Party of Chester County calls for Dianne Herrin to resign her role as mayor effective immediately. We further call on West Chester Borough to schedule a Special Election so that the voters of West Chester may hear ideas from a wide slate of candidates before choosing their next employee – their new mayor. Let Dianne Herrin do her job as state rep, and let the voters have their say with no political subterfuge.

Why has this absurd situation been met with a deafening silence from both major parties and the borough council? Where are the complaints from the voters, who will get a new mayor that they never voted into office? Can it be that the machine is now so powerful that the concerns of the voter no longer matter? If so, that is wrong, and the LPCC wants to make it known that we cry foul. We call upon the West Chester Borough Council to amend their bylaws so that no elected or appointed official will hold two Borough, State, or Federal positions at the same time. (We note that the Pennsylvania state constitution prohibits simultaneous service in to elected offices). This will ensure that the citizens of West Chester will be able to hire the leadership of their choice with the transparency that they deserve.

In most of America, we give the voters the ability to choose their elected officials through the system of Democracy. It is time for the Borough of West Chester to adopt this same democratic system.

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One Comment on “West Chester, PA Is the Borough Without an Elected Mayor”

  1. FYI the Borough’s Home-rule Charter does not envisage a full-time mayor or commensurate pay. It is basically a part-time volunteer position. If Borough voters want to amend the Charter to make mayor full-time, it will cost them about $70,000 a year. The same for Borough Council: they are not “employees” but volunteer public servants.

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