The Election of a New Harrisburg City Councilor
On Tuesday December 11th at 5:30pm, Harrisburg City Council will vote in the next City Councilor, probably. “Probably” because the probability is that it will happen, but if City Council hasn’t figured out an approach that narrows down the field once more, the election could end up confusing. It could end up a deadlock.
With six candidates on the table, the six City Councilors will now decide which one should be nominated for the vote. If you are aware of how City Council chooses its President every two years, it’s like that—The six candidates will presumedly be in City Council Chambers for the Special Legislative Session. The City Clerk will ask for nominations, and a City Councilor will start by announcing someone. In order for the nomination to hold, it must be seconded. If it is not, then it’s over for that candidate. The Clerk will ask for nominations and seconds until there are no more. At that point, however many nominations there are, that’s how many people will be up for vote whether it is one, two, three, or more.
That means, City Council will first decide how many will be on the ballot. Once nominations are set, the votes will be called. The first candidate to receive four votes will be the next City Councilor.
This process will go fairly and efficiently as long as a reasonable maximum number of candidates are brought forward from the six. A simple running of the numbers demonstrates that adequately decreasing the number of candidates from six will be significant in establishing consensus while still maintaining choice. Otherwise, too many candidates could be brought forward without enough votes to carry the election. Majority rules and the public will be counting on a majority of City Council to make a logical decision on the public’s behalf since filling this vacancy is not a vote of the people.
Fortunately, mutual choice is inherently part of the process since any nominee will require a second. If one Councilor puts a nominee up, a colleague will need to second it for the candidate to proceed in the election. City Council members are certainly wise enough to realize how messy it would be if every one of the six applicants were nominated, seconded, and brought forth for vote. The numbers wouldn’t work, and a deadlock would ensue. It goes without saying, that’s the most extreme complication that could happen and unlikely to be.
What this can and should be is an concise filtering step before the vote. The fact of the matter is that each City Councilor should already have made critical and similar opinions about each candidate from the individual interviews. Objective observation dictates that some candidates were indeed stronger than others. Hence the whole purpose of interviews in the first place. Like with any competitive process, there are participants who make it farther than others because of specific criteria, be it speed, wits, connections, background, or knowledge. It would seem City Council should be able to eliminate some candidates from the interviews where questions were asked and answers were given.
Another consideration City Council can’t help but make is noting who attended the 2013 Budget Review on Wednesday, December 5th. It’s a valid benchmark. Of the six candidates, three attended. Of course, perhaps the others couldn’t attend due to obligations and preoccupations, but when making an application to such an influential body, any candidate should be prepared to do whatever it takes to authenticate herself or himself. It’s not just a matter of a good impression to the City Council; it’s a matter of a good impression to the public. The new City Councilor will be sworn-in in the middle of the Budget process—one of City Council’s heftiest legislative duties. Anyone who didn’t attend the 2013 Budget Review is already behind. In some ways, it could be said they missed their first City Council meeting should they be elected. It wasn’t accidental that one of the City Council interview questions was, “What do you know about the City’s current financial situation and how do you propose it should be handled?” Not even the strongest candidates had a good answer for that one. Attending the 2013 Budget Review two days later is just a smart move and indicates a lot.
Three candidates attended—Julie Bancroft, Bruce Weber, and Joe Solomon. Solomon arrived later in the proceedings and left a bit early, but all three should be distinguished for being there.
At the start of this election process, thirty-three applicants came forward. That’s thirty-three residents heeding the call to help govern the City. Within that group, there was a promising concentration of skilled and diverse candidates with remarkable backgrounds and abilities—some were underprepared; some were inexperienced; some lacked necessary knowledge for this particular position. That all being true, what that group of people primarily represented is a profound effort within the City to be a part of the governance of Harrisburg. It’s a serious job to be on City Council seat, and with the 2013 election season around the corner, divisiveness rampant in and around the City, and a citizenry lacking confidence in its elected officials, officeholders have something important to prove to the people not just of the City of Harrisburg, but also of the region. No matter how much criteria is present, City Councilors ultimately have each her and his own judgement, and the citizens are dependent on them exercising it astutely. The most qualified, willing, and committed in this City must be encouraged and validated to continue being involved. Tomorrow night, City Council will set that tone with the appointment of the next Councilor.
Per the City Charter, the vacancy has be filled within thirty days from its openness, which was November 28th. It is highly unlikely City Council wants to deal with this thing-to-do any longer than tomorrow night. For multiple reasons, too much confusion or delay would be a burden to City Council as it attempts to close out the year with a lot on its plate like the 2013 Budget and a decision on parking issues such as more meters and increased fees. Therefore, it’s likely that tomorrow the City of Harrisburg’s next elected official will be sworn into office.
The meeting is Tuesday, December 11th at 5:30pm in City Council Chambers, City Hall (10 N2nd Street). The public is welcome. At 6:00pm, Harrisburg City Council will hold it’s regularly scheduled Legislative Session—if all goes well—with its newest member.
For a brief report of the December 3rd interviews of the six candidates, see: Harrisburg City Council Selects Six Nominees For Vote