The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 14, 2013

Municipal candidates needed in Snyder County

By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item

— MIDDLEBURG — Interest in public office appears to be waning as several Snyder County municipalities failed to attract candidates to fill vacancies.

The deadline for filing petitions to appear on the primary ballot in May was Tuesday, and Middleburg, Shamokin Dam and Freeburg didn’t get enough candidates for all four 4-year borough seats.

In fact, no one is seeking the available 4-year seats in Middleburg, potentially leaving the Borough Council with three members in January.

“It’s a huge concern,” Middleburg Administrator Virginia Zeiber said of the prospect of not having a quorum.

The borough put out notices encouraging its 1,300 residents to consider running for local office, but apparently the appeal didn’t work.

“It’s too much work and hassle for no pay,” Zeiber said.

Middleburg council President Roger Snook said he decided not to seek re-election to another 4-year term, instead opting to seek the unexpired 2-year term of Richard Sanders, who stepped down last year after moving away.

“I’m getting older and have too much going on to commit to another 4 years,” said Snook, who serves as director of the county’s Veterans Affairs office.

The lack of candidates is a signal that residents are satisfied with local government, said Ed Hovenstine, manager of Shamokin Dam, where only two of the four seats up for election this fall are being sought.

He said the vacant slots could easily be filled by write-in candidates, but he is concerned the problem will grow as fewer people opt to get involved in their communities.

Ed Knittel, senior director of education at the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs, said the lack of candidates becomes a problem when it recurs year after year, but he isn’t too concerned about this year’s dearth of candidates.

“We’re in an off-year when there’s no presidential election and it’s off the radar for some,” he said, adding that write-in candidates will likely fill many of the vacancies.

Joe Kantz, chairman of the Snyder County Republican Committee, said there will be a push to get write-in candidates to step up.

“It is disconcerting, but in some ways you understand why people aren’t running for unpaid positions. People are busy and budgets are tight,” he said.

In the event there aren’t enough write-in candidates, the new council will have 30 days to appoint a member.

“That means we could have three people in January who would have 30 days to fill through appointment four positions no one wants,” Zeiber said.

Zeiber and Hovenstine said they’ve discussed the issue with their respective councils and have mulled the possibility of petitioning the Court of Common Pleas to reduce the number of council seats from seven to five.

That’s unlikely to happen, Knittel said.

Reducing the number of elected seats in a municipality is allowed in communities with 3,000 or fewer residents and requires at least 5 percent of registered voters to petition the court.

It may be considered for municipalities that struggle to attract candidates year after year, Knittel said, but that’s not the case in Snyder County.