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Borough mayors, council members discuss vacancies, issues at Saturday meeting

Rob Vigue, left, and Tom Oliverio introduce themselves to other borough council members and mayors at the Butler County Borough Association meeting Saturday, May 20, in Harrisville. Molly Miller /Butler Eagle.

HARRISVILLE — Vacant council seats and the borough code were among the topics discussed at the Butler County Boroughs Association meeting Saturday, May 18.

The group, comprised of new and old members, shared their struggles over breakfast at the Family Tradition restaurant and heard about possible solutions from a guest speaker from the Pennsylvania State Borough’s Association.

Tom Oliverio, mayor of Zelienople and president of the county association, said his goal is for the newer council members is to learn the ropes of their office.

“It’s important everyone knows the borough code,” he said. “We’re trying to educate them.”

“It’s a good networking opportunity, to talk about what’s going on, what we can learn from each other,” said Randy Riddle, mayor of Grove City in Mercer County and second vice president of the state association.

Riddle and Mayor Gary Hughes, of Harrisville, said they both struggle with staffing.

“We both tend to share (the issue of) keeping and retaining police officers,” Riddle said. “We used to get five applicants for an open position, now we get two.”

“I’m having trouble keeping and maintaining council,” Hughes said. “We’re down one seat right now.”

Vacancies are an issue in Petrolia as well, according to Robin McGinnis, council president. They have a vacant seat on the council and are lacking a mayor.

Wendy Nickerson, outreach training consultant for the state borough association, said those empty seats are exactly what she wanted to address at the meeting.

“A lot of it is because folks are not prepared in life for public service,” she said. “They either dig in and learn or they throw their hands up.”

During her talk, she went over the qualifications a person must meet to be on council. A candidate must be 18 years old by election day, a resident of the borough and a registered voter.

Nickerson said the borough code has helpful practices for finding eligible people to fill vacancies. If a borough loses a council member due to a move or death, she said the council should elect a vacancy board chair, which is a member of the community who can aid in the search.

“It’s a good fall back to have,” she said.

Rob Vigue, borough president of Valencia’s council and second vice president of the county association, said he came into the organization looking for help when Petrolia lacked a mayor several years ago.

As the organization moves forward, he said he’s interested in collaboration.

“One problem we run into is the county is so large. We want to get the rural communities more involved,” he said. “A lot of people don’t understand about the growth going on in the south, they don’t know how it’s going to effect them.”

County Commissioner Kevin Boozel said that is why he is so involved with the BCBA: to inform them of resources at their disposal and help them in times of need.

“They think they have different problems, but 90% of their problems are the same. It’s the 10% they have to deal with,” he said.

Newer members of the group, such as Slippery Rock borough council members John Hicks and Jennifer Ravert, were interested in being mentored by others.

“I still feel like after two years I don’t know enough,” Hicks said.

“Collaboration and talking to people is very valuable to me,” Ravert said. “A lot of times they give you solutions to things you’re having problems with.”

That sort of collaboration extended during the meeting through a question and answer session with Nickerson. Some questions surrounded the mayor’s role as a tie breaker during council votes, and whether or not a mayor should be present in executive session.

Nickerson said it was her opinion that mayors should be present in executive sessions because of the tiebreaker rule.

“He should be able to make an informed decision,” she said in response to a question.

McGinnis said she enjoyed the help the group provided.

“I thought there was a lot of good insight,” she said.

Following the talk, Hughes said his first impressions of the group were positive.

“I thought it was very educational,” he said. “There were questions brought up I would have never thought of.”

He said he liked that members of the group were from all over the county and thought that could be helpful in the future.

“It’s a good variety. It’s not everybody from one little corner,” he said.

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