Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Government Study Commission Defends $50,000 for information campaign

A delegation from the Government Study Commission appeared before the County Commissioners, this morning, to discuss the anticipated expenditure of $50,000 to educate the public regarding the Home Rule Charter ballot question.

The anticipated expenditure has been controversial with those who fear that a line is being crossed between education and advocacy.

Government Study Commission Chair Carol Phillips explained that the majority of the money would go toward covering the cost of a postcard mailer to every household in the County.

Commissioner Scott Martin, who is a Republican, questioned whether a special exception is being made for the Home Rule Charter given that questions often appear on the ballot without this level of effort for "public education."

Martin called it "a can of worms that has been opened" and questioned whether such informational campaigns are within "the proper role of government."

Commissioner Craig Lehman, a Democrat, disagreed, calling the $50,000 "not a lot of money, in perspective."

"[T]he way I look at it is, whether you're for Home Rule or Whether you're against Home Rule, having some kind of educational campaign is a matter of basic fairness."

Government Study Commission member Sam Mecum said, "A majority of Lancaster County citizens elected the 11-members of the study commission, so you can say that the voters have already spoken to that extent, and now we're not going to tell them what's coming in November?"

Phillips read the conclusion of a Chester County court case in which expenditures to educate the public about a Home Rule initiative were deemed appropriate and not necessarily advocacy.

The Commissioners have the authority to decide that $50,000 for public education is an inappropriate expenditure of taxpayer dollars.

Phillips expects that the Commissioners would consult with the Study Commission in the event that they decide as such.