New Castle city residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of forming a government study commission, better known as Home Rule, but what lies ahead is a long road.
"I don't think any of us are quite sure exactly how this is supposed to work," said Susan Linville, one of seven elected commissioners. "I think the state's going to help us."
Since the city must be out of Act 47 by 2022, the city's Act 47 coordinators recommended exploring a Home Rule charter, which is a local Constitution, as the only way the city can exit the financially-distressed status successfully.
According to Vieen Leung, one of New Castle's Act 47 coordinators, within 10 days after the election becomes certified, the seven elected members, "must take an oath to support the Constitution of the U.S. and Pennsylvania and perform the duties for their office with fidelity."
The commission must also meet no later than 15 days after the certification.
During the first meetings, the commission will elect a chairman as well as a vice-chairman, adopt rules of conduct and set the time and place of their meetings.
The meeting must also be advertised.
"I first thought we didn't start until the first of the year, but we only have 18 months to do this study and come up with a charter, so I think we're supposed to get going quickly," said Linville.
According to Leung, the law doesn't outline how often the commission needs to meet, but they must have a quorum for a recommendation to have a "legal effect."
"We're going to have public meetings probably every other week," said Linville about the possible meeting schedule the commission may have.
Over the next several months, the commission will research the city's current form of government and compare it with other options laid out in the Pennsylvania Home Rule and Optional Plans Law.
Linville, a member of the Make A Difference New Castle Slate, said the group has been researching forms of government as well as the positives and negatives of adopting each.
The possible options include a strong mayor, which is what the city currently follows, a weak mayor and a city manager-city council arrangement.
By Aug. 5, 2020, the commission will report their findings and recommend whether New Castle should prepare and adopt the charter.
For help during the process, Linville said, she would like to hire Larry Keller, a professor of emeritus of public administration at Cleveland State who spoke at an event the slate held two weeks go, to help guide the commission as he has done with other cities pursuing Home Rule.
Farrell, a municipality in Mercer County, has been through the process before, and Linville said the commission will look to them to see what worked and what didn't work.
One of the slate's main goals in restructuring would be to have better representation form the city's eight wards on city council.
One of the possible options, Linville said, would be to elect one person from each ward to sit on council, while another option states the same, but with two additional members voted in by the city in general.
By May 5, 2021, the commission must have drafted the charter and release it.
The formation of the study group comes after some residents were worried the commission wouldn't pass due to misinformation.
“I’m so worried,” Councilman Tim Fulkerson said during a council meeting earlier last month. “There’s so much confusion and especially with the elderly.”
Fulkerson had been hearing from elderly residents they were confused about the earned income tax affecting their social security, pensions and annuities.
The unofficial vote count was 3,167 in favor and 978 against forming the commission.
The other elected members of the commission, according to unofficial totals are, Mary Burris, Richard E. Conti Jr., Eric Ritter, Marco A. Bulisco, Shannon Crisci-Brock and Michael Dely.