Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Battle of Rotary: Service Org Hosts Hot Home Rule Debate

In a veritable redux of their Tuesday night debate at F&M, members of the Government Study Commission went at it again in front of the Rotary Club of Lancaster on Wednesday afternoon.

Government Study Commission (GSC) member Gregory Sahd spoke against the proposed Home Rule Charter. He is one of 3 GSC members who voted no in the November 2006 8-3 vote to recommend a charter.

"Our view is that Home Rule is a solution in search of a problem," he said. "We have no systemic problems with our current, historic structure of County government. It works, it works well, and it has worked for nearly 300 years."

GSC member Jim Miller, who voted yes to the charter, argued in its favor. "We who are in favor do not feel we have a failed government. We feel we have an underperforming government," he said, going on to argue that "structure matters."

Miller argued that by transferring most of the responsibility for day-to-day administrative duties to the County Administrator, as the Charter proposes, the Commissioners will be free to spend more time on planning and direction.

"How do we hold our elected officials accountable if we don't have any plans?" he asked. "We don't know where we're going."

Sahd pointed out that the unelected administrator "will handle 90% of the [current] function of government" under the Charter.

Miller replied that the proposed structure is very similar to the one currently in place and insisted that the administrator is accountable to the commissioners.

Sahd noted that Lancaster County has the lowest per capita tax rate of any Class 3 County in the state. 'Clearly we are doing something very right here in Lancaster County," he said.

He also repeated his point that the charter will probably have the effect of decreasing the representation of Democrats within county government.

"I thought that was very bizarre since he argued against maintaining minority party representation during the writing of the charter," Miller fired back.

He went on to argue that the Charter alleviates concerns about the Sunsine Act, saying "With three Commissioners, there is no way to not have Sunshine violations every day."

"That's just wrong folks," Sahd retorted. "As long as they're not discussing something that will lead to a decision, there's no violation."

He added, "This is a direct reaction to the issues of the prior board."

Miller denied that the Home Rule Charter is solely the result of public disapproval of the previous Board of Commissioners. He asserted that it was Dave Dumeyer, Chair of the Lancaster County Republican Party, who went to the Chamber of Commerce and asked them to investigate the feasibility of a Home Rule form of government.

Another of Sahd's main points was that the Home Rule Charter as currently written will add to the complexity and therefore the cost of county government.

Miller repied that the layers of bureaucracy Mr. Sahd is claiming are added by the Charter are in the County Code today.

"Home Rule represents the greatest threat to our county government since it was formed from Chester County nearly 300 years ago," Sahd argued.

Miller took some jabs at the local GOP, saying "Why doesn't our Republican leadership want local control?... Why don't they trust our voting citizens, the majority of whom are registered Republicans to use initiative and referendum when needed to exercise their own voices wisely regarding county decisions?"

"Are you willing to gamble on [continued] Harrisburg control?" Miller concluded.

Both Gregory Sahd and Jim Miller Jr. are registered Republicans. The Home Rule Charter, which can be reviewed at, will appear before the voters for approval or disapproval in the Nov. 4 general election.