Transcript of Mayor Carolyn Comitta’s remarks at the Jan. 6, 2013, Borough Council reorganization meeting, prior to the swearing-in ceremony for herself as reelected mayor and for the four new members of Borough Council (Bill Scott, Brian Abbott, Don Braceland, Ellen Koopman):
Good evening, Friends, and welcome to West Chester Borough Hall! We have a very exciting agenda this evening (if you need a copy, they are on the table)!
We will swear in a Mayor and four Borough Council members- that’s a majority of our Council members!
We will start with the oath of office for the Mayor, as she begins her second term, followed by an address given by the Mayor.
Then as Mayor, I will preside over the only meeting a Mayor conducts, the Borough Council Reorganization meeting. First the Mayor will swear in the four new Borough Council members, followed by Borough Council electing their new President and Vice President. The new Council President will take over the meeting at that time.
West Chester’s Reorganization meeting is conducted just every two years, so it is very special meeting. We are delighted that you are here tonight to be part of it!
It is now my honor and pleasure to introduce my friend and our County Commissioner, Kathi Cozzone, who will introduce Judge Knapp.
SWEARING IN CEREMONY
Commissioner Cozzone says a few words of welcome and introduces Judge Knapp, who will administer the oath of office.
Judge Knapp administers the oath of office
Thank you Commissioner Cozzone and Judge Knapp! I am so fortunate to be able to call the Commissioner and the Judge my friends.
Commissioner we thank you and Commissioners Costello and Farrell for your leadership in improving the quality of life for all citizens of Chester County.
Judge Knapp, we are delighted that your court will move to the historic courthouse in 2014 – in the heart of the downtown! And we thank President Judge MacElree for listening to the people of West Chester and keeping your jurisdiction within the Borough limits.
We are grateful to each of you for your invaluable service to the people of West Chester.
Welcome friends and neighbors! It is truly an honor and a joy to be Mayor of the great Borough of West Chester! Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve “four more years” to work together as we shape West Chester’s future.
I am honored to introduce the dignitaries who are with us tonight. Please hold your applause until all have been introduced.
We are honored to have you with us.
I am so happy to have my husband, Tom and my mother-in-law, Rose with me tonight. Our Children, Tom and Anne are out of town – they are living and working in San Francisco and Manhattan. I am blessed to have the support and encouragement of my family in all my work. Thank you, Tom, Mom, Tom and Anne!
I am also grateful to my friend Dr. Claudia Strauss, here from Millburn, NJ and my friend Karen Jones and her two children who recently moved into the Borough. Diamond is a recent Melton Center scholarship recipient! Congratulations, Diamond. Thank you for being here, friends.
West Chester has it all! Talented, engaged residents and business owners, a distinguished historic fabric; a vibrant downtown a short walk from neighborhoods and parks, the County Seat; home to nationally acclaimed West Chester University, and recognized widely as a cultural, entertainment and dining destination as well as a walkable, diverse and sustainable community.
I would like to take a few minutes before we swear in the new Council members and hold the Reorganization meeting to talk a little about Borough Council’s job, the Mayor’s job and YOUR job!
Then we will take a look at how we did over the last four years, and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
West Chester is a Borough with 8 elected officials: A Mayor and 7 Council members. Borough Council is our legislative body, passing laws, setting policy and drafting and overseeing the budget. Please join me in thanking the Borough Council members who just completed their term – they did an excellent job!
I will outline the Mayor’s job in a moment. First, let’s talk about YOUR job!
I often ask student groups, “Who is at the top of local, state and national government?” It’s sort of a trick question. Do you know?! The PEOPLE! At the top of our government is YOU! Your job is the most important of all – being engaged voting, and working together with elected officials to make well-informed decisions that benefit our community! You are the key partners in local governance!
Back to the Mayor’s job – When I was a new Mayor, a friend of Tom’s asked him, “So what does she do? Give out turkeys at Thanksgiving?”! Tom said, “I don’t think she plans to give out turkeys – but if she did, they would be free range, organic from the Grower’s Market!” ☺
(Duties of the Mayor)
The duties of Mayor of West Chester are outlined in the Borough’s Home Rule Charter.
The Mayor’s primary responsibility is the civilian oversight of the administration of the police department.
In addition the Mayor may attend meetings of the Borough Council with equal right to participate in its deliberations and may at his or her option break a tie vote of Council or may veto a vote in certain circumstances.
Also, the Mayor is recognized as head of the Borough government for all ceremonial purposes. The Mayor can perform Marriages – a very special opportunity. To date, I have performed 14!
In addition to those official duties, each Mayor brings his or her own vision, special skills and leadership style to the office.
I consider my number one job as Mayor is to do everything possible to keep the people and the community of West Chester safe and healthy today and for the future. The WCPD strategic plan is my guide.
The WCPD is the only Borough department to have created a Strategic Plan. It was completed in 2008 under Mayor Yoder with the participation of community members – some of you served on that task force. It includes goals which address adequate staffing, facilities, equipment, and training and articulates a clear mission.
“The Mission of the West Chester Police Department, a law enforcement agency dedicated to the highest standards of professionalism and integrity, is to protect and serve our diverse communities by forging collaborative relationships.”
In yesterday’s New York Times, Thomas Friedman wrote about collaboration. He wrote, “Today, ‘collaboration’ is being taught and rewarded as the best way to do anything big, important and complex…in the Silicon Valley, a “collaborator” means someone with whom you’re building something great…” “Building something great” is the goal in West Chester!
The mayor has a tremendous opportunity to support the mission of the police department by bring people together to forge those collaborative relationships that will improve public safety and quality of life in our community. The Mayor also has a responsibility to further the WCPD strategic plan ensuring our police have adequate staffing, facilities, equipment, and training to best serve our people.
Today, public/private partnerships abound in the Borough of West Chester. They keep costs down and capacity up!
Let’s take a look at how we’re doing with forging those “collaborative relationships” that strengthen public safety and quality of life.
1. 100% RAMP Certification Project: first in the state! “Responsible Alcohol Management Program” of the PLCB. Partners include the Borough, the PLCB, liquor license owners, and WC Communities That Care. Our own BC member, Stephen Shinn is now RAMP Certified! Congratulations, Stephen!
2. WCPD Wellness Initiative: working with WCU’s Health Sciences department to help our officers achieve excellent health – a benefit to each officer and to our community.
3. West Nile Virus Initiative: This is a partnership of the Borough government, citizens, the County Health Department, and WCU. The goal is to eliminate breeding grounds in the borough and reduce the need for spraying.
4. Mayors Against Illegal Guns: The Mayor and Borough Council have been actively engaged with communities across the country in supporting common sense gun safety laws while protecting Second Amendment rights.
5. PEG TV: Public/Education/ and Government TV – Channel 33! This is a partnership begun by the Borough and WCU and has grown to include WCASD, with County and township interest. Check it out – Channel 33!
6. Borough Social Media and IT Upgrades: Thanks to Borough CIO, Bill Mann, you can “Like” the Borough on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (you can also “friend” the mayor on facebook and follow me on twitter!) and we have PowerPoint in Council Chambers!
7. Parking Perception Survey – a partnership between the Borough’s Parking Department and WCU’s Jeff Osgood seeking to better understand needs and to improve services.
8. Community Conversations: our diverse communities come together periodically to celebrate what’s great about West Chester and how to make it even better! Some great ideas have come out of our conversations like a community calendar, now prepared by Malcolm Johnstone of the BID. an App for the same, which is being explored at WCU and a digital “Welcome Wagon” which would be organized by our real estate professionals. Please stand if you have attended one!
9. The BID and Public Works are partnering on a Big Belly Solar Trash can project: 63 units of solar powered trash compactors with recycling coming to the town center this spring made possible through a generous County grant, saving the borough over $20,000.00/year and freeing up 20 hours a week of public works staff.
10. BID and BLUER are partners on an EPA grant for a pilot composting food waste in restaurants!
11. The Uptown Entertainment Alliance: This is a vibrant community partnership that with Senator Dinniman’s help bought the historic Armory and is working to bring a theater to our downtown!
12. Barclay Grounds Preservation: Our most recent successful community partnership including residents, Borough Council, Senator Dinniman, local conservancies, the developer and county and state open space experts.
(Some other collaborative projects)
13. University/Community Joint Sustainability Task Group: a partnership of the Borough and WCU created by the President and the Mayor in 2010, on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, celebrating a shared borough/university priority to reduce our carbon footprint.
14. Annual Rental Property Association Luncheon at WCU – partnership of WCU WC Apt Housing Association, Borough Codes Enforcement office and the WCPD working together for safe housing and safe neighborhoods.
15. Intern to the Mayor: a partnership with WCU and the WCASD, including 12 students to date.
16. WCU Courses on “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction” for community leaders: offered pro bono through WCU for WC community leaders – teaching techniques that have been shown to help increase intellectual capacity, attentiveness, and listening skills along with reducing stress. Some important skills for our community leaders!
17. West End Community Garden: a Partnership of the Borough and residents, with assistance from our fire department.
18. Citizens Ad Hoc Financial Committee – a partnership of citizens and Borough government.
19. Redistricting Success: You may remember a couple of years ago, the state reapportionment commission had planned to split the Borough between two state House Districts! We all knew this would hurt the borough and its citizens and mobilized to fight this plan. WC, East Bradford, students and residents came together with the help of attorney and resident, Sam Stretton, to fight this ill-conceived plan and the Supreme Court ruled in our favor!
(Some ongoing collaborations)
20. SWAT and MIRT Teams: an ongoing collaboration of the WCPD, regional Law enforcement agencies and WCU.
21. Of course our Borough University Officials Group (BUOG) and Community Campus Coalition (CCC) are going strong, meeting regularly to address challenges and opportunities shared by the university and the community. Continuous Open Communication is the key to success!
West Chester is rich with “collaborators”! Let’s give ourselves a round of applause!! Amazingly, most of these projects have been forged over the last few years! That’s quite a list and there are many more!
Like all communities we have many challenges and we must keep finding new ways to improve our community. That’s how we stay strong!
Let me tell you about two exciting projects for 2014!
The First: The Comprehensive Plan Update will begin. The Comprehensive Plan is our Borough roadmap for the next 10 years. We need your help! Task Force applications are being accepted now!
About the Second: At an International Town and Gown Association conference, four years ago, the keynote speaker said, “When you have a university in your community, and a problem comes up, the first question should be ‘I wonder how our university can help us?’”
Well, over the last few years, Borough Council and the Mayor have taken those words to heart and have asked our university for help in addressing many issues. WCU is a key partner in many of the projects I listed. Our university has dedicated and donated faculty, staff and equipment to help our community on many projects that could never have happened without them. The Borough often just doesn’t have the resources.
One of President Weisenstein’s top five goals is to strengthen the university/community relationship in support of our mutual success. This is what a good university does.
Since WCU strives to be a great university, the President plans to take it a step further and work with our community to create a “Center for Community Solutions”, overseen by the university with multi-stakeholder community participation. The Center will be a clearing house, a think-tank, an incubator of ideas and actions. It will serve to bring people and resources together to collaborate and improve our community! Watch for more about this in 2014! It is a great answer to the question, “I wonder how our university can help us?”!
So it looks like we are rocking out on forging those collaborative relationships!
Let’s see how we are doing on part two of keeping West Chester people and neighborhoods safe and healthy: ensuring our police have adequate staffing, equipment, training and facilities to serve and protect our people.
There’s some good news and some bad news here!
First the good news:
The WCPD is recognized as a leader in law enforcement in the region, if not the state. Our officers lead the regional SWAT and MIRT teams and are a model for excellence in police work. Our officers are highly professional and highly competent- they care and they are here for us 24/7.
More good news, our police department is doing a good job keeping up with accepted standards for equipment and training.
Now the bad news:
Our staffing and our facility are not adequate to meet the needs of our police force and the people they serve in West Chester today.
First, staffing: Studies have shown that West Chester’s demographic requires a force of #49 Officers. Right now we have 42. Each new officer will further enhance the quality of life of this highly attractive Borough.
The Chief and I urge the new BC to take the first step toward adequate staffing by hiring one officer in 2014.
Regarding the police station; it was built as part of this Borough Hall almost 24 years ago – that was 1990. You may recall that West Chester didn’t look like it does today! People say there were tumble weeds blowing down Gay Street in those days!
I never saw that, but we moved back into the Borough in 1991, and I can tell you that there were one or two good restaurants, several pizza and hoagie shops a few bars, a few small retail shops and lots of empty store fronts. My mother was very upset that we were raising our kids in the Borough – “it’s a high crime area!!” At the time, she was sort of right.
There were motorcycle gangs that frequented town, and there was a widespread perception that West Chester was dangerous. Most families chose the safer suburbs and many businesses either closed or chose the malls and corporate parks.
When this police station was built, WCU was a suitcase college and very few people, young or old, were in town after 5 or on the weekends.
So here we are in a new millennium, and the tumble weeds are now blowing through the malls! In 2014 we have over 60 restaurants, 39 liquor licenses, a hotel, a top-rated university, many fantastic, locally owned boutiques and we have over 300 new residential units coming to the town center with culture and night life abounding for young and old! People love to live, work, and visit West Chester because we have it all – AND we feel safe and comfortable here. Where else do you see people of all ages happily walking at night?
How did we get from ghost town to flourishing town? It didn’t happen accidentally. Our police officers cleaned up the town, and our citizens, elected officials and business entrepreneurs put their heads together to figure out what else we needed to bring life back to West Chester.
Our police department made it possible for people to feel safe again and set the stage for success. The citizens of WC took it from there. A safe town can become a vibrant town – and a vibrant town promotes public safety.
Where the bad news comes in is this. Since this new Borough Hall opened in 1990, WCPD had 32 officers and outgrew parts of the facility right away. Demand for service has increased significantly since then, and the current police operation has grown well beyond the capacity of the existing facility. It is the oldest police station in the county, and the busiest.
Our officers do what needs to be done to serve and protect us, while managing the many challenges of an outdated police station.
And WE need to do what needs to be done to give them the workplace that meets the needs of 21st century West Chester!
So how do we do that? Well, we’re already on our way! In 2008 Borough Council voted to expand and upgrade the police station and sent the project out for bid! The needs were outlined, plans drawn, and the project was ready to go!
Then, in 2009, the Great Recession hit us hard, and Council stopped all projects. We put the police station and the public works projects on hold.
Well, the good news is, we survived, and WC continues to thrive!
More good news is that in 2014 our community has the opportunity to resume and fund the police station expansion and could do so without increasing borough spending! Through good debt management, our debt is disappearing on the municipal building around the time when the need for renewal projects might be expected – which is NOW!
The timing for this project was good in 2008, and remains good today, because financing rates are still low and construction costs remain competitive.
The people of WC can get the police station we need to serve our needs in the 21st Century, without increasing spending! That’s very good news!!!
As a Formula One racer said regarding a type of helmet he recommends, “You always choose the best when it comes to safety.” The best is what we want for West Chester: the best officers, the best equipment, the best training and the best facility.
Police Chief, Scott Bohn, and I look forward to working together with Borough Council and our citizens in 2014 to achieve the “best” for the people of West Chester.
So we took a look at some of our highly successful collaborative relationships; we learned about a future “Center for Community Solutions” at WCU. Finally as we look ahead we see we have an opportunity to significantly strengthen public safety operations by moving forward to expand and modernize our police station.
The future is in our hands! We need you! Four of our neighbors will be sworn in shortly as new Borough Council members. How will you choose to participate and strengthen your community in 2014?
I sincerely thank each of you, Council members and neighbors. I am honored to work alongside you as we forge West Chester’s bright future.
Remember… the best is yet to be!!
Happy New Year!