The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

May 14, 2013

Asparagus on wheels

By Gary Grossman
The Daily Item

— During the embryonic years for Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, the Tunkhannock Township supervisors met at Mrs. Isaac Henning’s kitchen table and the newspaper reporters sat, within hearing range, stacked on the stairs to the second floor.

The back door was unlocked. The press was there, munching cookies on an angle. Open public meeting? Check.

Whenever the three-member board wanted to discuss a secret or slip into executive session, they would lapse into Pennsylvania Dutch.

Fred Walter, a nice guy from the Easton newspaper, whose name back in Bavaria had been Manfred Walter, seemed to understand snatches of what was being said, but not reliably so.

Eventually, the supervisors concluded deliberations and announced what they planned for the surprising stream of revenue from an entertainment tax associated with the raceway. Street lighting seemed to be a priority for the town’s road.

At the grassroots level (or, in Tunkhannock’s case, asparagus roots, since that was what occupied the speedway before Donnie Allison, Richard Petty and A.J. Foyt), governing was neighborly and practical.

Candidates rose to public office on their ability to operate and repair town trucks, the backhoe and mower or because they had kept accounts for the Rotary Club.

Tunkhannock’s road master and board chair Willis Dyson would ask any reporters new to the kitchen if they were from the township. The right answer (handed down from reporter to reporter) was, “No, sir, but I sure wish I was.”

Honest people on the lowest rung of elected community service and responsibility rarely reap honors, attention or rewards. This is an entry point for amateurs, where duty calls and good intentions can sometimes compensate for an obvious absence of experience.

We officially entered a new season of grass roots democracy last week with the appearance of candidates for public offices that pay up to $1,875 a year and with the appearance of a Voters Guide produced by the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of the Lewisburg Area.

A bow to LWVLA’s Editor Susan Travis, Designer Mary Candland, Liz Clement, Margaret Moyer, Ann Grundstrom and President Janice Bigelow, who collaborated with the Union County Election and Voter Registration office to produce this guide.

Thanks to these folks, lucky Union Countians have an excellent source of information about who will appear on the municipal primary ballots May 21, with some photos and bio information about candidates and background information about responsibilities, pay rates and offices.

The biggies this year are an unopposed sheriff ($54,215), unopposed prothonotary/ clerk of courts ($60,587), a contested coroner ($33,501) and a mixed round of contested and uncontested mayors, supervisors, council members, tax collectors, and auditors who receive anywhere from $10 an hour to $183 a month.

Pay for many municipal offices has not changed greatly since Willis Dyson’s day, even though the work is probably a good deal more difficult.

Some of our neighborhoods are experiencing actual population decline. We simply do not require as much public service because there isn’t as much public to be served. Along with disappearing people go disappearing resources.

Our towns must achieve more efficiency and cost effectiveness by adopting technology and combining efforts for economies of scale. Sometimes this works; sometimes, not.

After its first year of operation, the Buffalo Valley Regional Police Department earned generous praise from state and local officials for consolidating 15 full-time and five part-time officers into a force for 12,500 residents in East Buffalo Township and Lewisburg.

Elsewhere, it has taken nearly as long for Point Township and Northumberland borough to merge municipal services through an on-again/off-again tussle that seems to have hit another snag.

Problems do not always track to a deficit of skill or aptitude. Sometimes it is the closeness itself — a fierce appreciation for and loyalty to team or town that requires every detail to be even-steven.

These are hard bonds to break. In the absence of entertainment taxes from an asparagus patch, one qualification for local office these days should be the ability to surrender to a greater good.

Gary Grossman is publisher of The Daily Item and The Danville News.