NEW BETHLEHEM & RIMERSBURG – Whether it’s the current headlines of big city mayors running for president, or fictionalized movies and television programs in which the mayors of major metropolitan areas are tasked with saving the day, most people have an idea of what a big city mayor should be.
But what about the mayors of small towns, where borough councils call the shots and mayors have been traditionally relegated to the shadows?
That tradition appears ready to change in New Bethlehem and Rimersburg boroughs, where newly appointed mayors have come forward, ready to be more involved and active in their communities.
“I will be an active mayor,” Rimersburg’s Tim Yeany said last week during an interview with he and newly appointed New Bethlehem Mayor Gordon Barrows. “I’ll be involved in every council discussion.”
In fact, Yeany said, his first short-term priority is to be an “active participant in borough council affairs,” offering his opinions and ideas.
Likewise, Barrows, who is already involved with many community groups in the Redbank Valley, said he plans to bring that same level of involvement to the office of mayor.
“I am looking forward to the many projects, events and activities that our community organizations host throughout the year,” Barrows said.
What Is A Mayor?
What exactly is a small town mayor in Pennsylvania tasked to do?
“The potential is great for a borough mayor — it depends on just how involved a mayor wants to get,” said Jim Nowalk, president of the Pennsylvania State Mayors’ Association and longtime mayor of Whitehall Borough, a suburban Pittsburgh community.
Nowalk said that there are mayors who choose not to be involved at all, some that do the very basic tasks such as breaking tie votes for the council, some that only want to be a figurehead for the community, some that seek the office so they can marry couples, and some who choose to dig in and get involved in various community efforts.
According to the Pennsylvania Borough Mayors Manual, “the borough mayor is the only executive in borough government elected by people. The mayor is the chief law enforcement officer of the borough and the elected official who takes charge during the time of an emergency. Although the mayor does not generally vote on legislative matters, he/she can vote in the event of a tie, veto an ordinance passed by council, attend and participate in all meetings of council and from time to time report to council on the state of the borough. In many boroughs the mayor is the only borough-wide elected person who participates in the work of the borough on a regular basis.”
Nowalk said there are mayors in the state who serve on borough council committees, and many enact proclamations for a wide-range of reasons.
“The office of mayor is independent of the council,” Nowalk explained, noting that the council is the borough’s legislative body, while the mayor serves as the executive body.
“Every municipality is unique,” he said when it comes to the mayor’s role. “If the borough code would include all the roles, [it would be] more voluminous than it is now.”
Nowalk said he encourages mayors to get involved in projects that solve a community need. In his borough, Nowalk said there was a problem with deer overpopulation, and the borough council decided to not get involved. As mayor, he said he worked with other community members in an attempt to address the problem. Eventually, he said, the group morphed into an environmental issues committee that looks at more than just deer issues.
“It was a community need that was easily met by a borough mayor,” he said.
Newbie’s New Mayor
After serving on borough council for several years, New Bethlehem Mayor Gordon Barrows said he wanted to take on the new challenges of mayor when that office came open.
In the short term, he said he hopes to address in the next six months such topics as campaigning to create a K9 unit for the local police department, working with the police and council to address the borough’s rising expenses, and finding a solution to the cleanup efforts that began when the community was flooded last July.
Looking at the long-term picture, Barrows said he wants to work with the council to develop a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis as part of the borough’s strategic plan. He said he also wants to help promote economic vitality in the area, promote local events, and to seek state and county help in dealing with blight.
On the safety side, Barrows said he would like to see improved code enforcement, as well as improved building and grounds maintenance throughout the community in an effort to bolster the borough’s image.
With regards to the police department, the new mayor said he plans to work with the police chief and the borough’s police committee to enforce ordinances and regulations, generate a monthly report for the council, establish annual goals and budget plans, support officer recruitment and retention efforts, and to improve the operations and long-term sustainability of the department.
Rimersburg Mayor Tim Yeany also served on the borough council before being appointed to the vacant mayoral post last month.
In addition to being actively involved at council meetings, Yeany said his short-term goals include building relationships with other municipalities in the area in order to learn how other communities operate. He said he also wants to familiarize himself with the police department and how it works under the current contractual situation.
Yeany said he plans to attend the “Boot Camp” through the Pennsylvania State Association of Borough, and to join the state association of mayors.
Long-term, Yeany said his main goal is to promote Rimersburg happenings. He said he wants to bring more businesses and commerce to the downtown area, and work with local organizations to promote their events.
Other ideas Yeany plans to pursue include establishing a Facebook page and other social media for the mayor, and to work with other mayors in the area to better promote the region and its events.
Yeany said he also wants to see the borough continue to make improvements to the historic Rimersburg Community Building.
Looking at the police department, Yeany said he would work with the multi-municipal group that oversees the police deparrtment.
“However, I hope to focus police efforts on community improvement and safety,” he said.