Rules of the Road

The purpose of this blog is to share with you my thoughts on issues pertaining to Oil City and Venango County and to foster discussion.

However, that requires some basic rules. Personal attacks, inappropriate language and venom-filled postings will not be tolerated. Comments will be screened, and if necessary edited, before posting.

Disagreement and a variety of opinions are encouraged, but I ask that it always be in a respectful, positive manner. So fire away, but do so cleanly

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Open Containers and Me

Mayor Barb Crudo and other members of council made it clear last week in response to organizers of the Oil Heritage softball tournament that council would take a look at the open container ordinance. 

Tournament organizers and their backers claim the open container ordinance and its enforcement is threatening the future of the tournament, at least the future of it within the city and the money that brings to the community.  

Certainly Council should weigh the plus and minuses of the ordinance, but make no mistake about it, the very real problems with and related to alcohol consumption at the tournament in recent years is what led to the strict enforcement of the ordinance. I would argue that it was not city council or administrators that demanded its enforcement, but the actions of some of the players and fans over the past couple of years and the failure of those in charge to rein it in. 

It was similar problems at numerous city events and venues that led to adoption of the open container ordinance in 1981.  It generated some controversy at the time, but overwhelmingly residents supported it.  Frankly, people were tired of going to an event and having to deal with people making a public display of drinking, sliding into inebriation and being jerks.  

The open container ordinance was a tool, and it worked well.  It was able to nip potential problems in the bud and it has made events in the city much more family friendly, problem free and civil. 

Opponents argued in 1981 and argue now that there are adequate laws on the books, such as public intoxication, disorderly conduct, etc.  to deal with issues that arise. They claim it would be a better approach because it addresses the person causing the problems rather than a prohibition that affects the innocent.  

However, there is a fundamental weakness to that argument: by the time someone crosses the line others – the innocent -- have already been impacted by the boorish behavior. To me, this is a huge issue. Who wants their children exposed to such behaviour? 

There is also the cost of enforcement. If the open container law is repealed outright and control is to be maintained at events and public places it will require a significant law enforcement presence. We only have so many cops to spread around the city and the clock.

Having said all that, I do think we need to explore modifying or rewriting the ordinance to allow consumption as specific events/venues by permit. The requirements for a permit would have to be carefully crafted.

My desired requirements would at the minimum include specific and confined locations and hours, a law enforcement presence paid for by the sponsoring organization(s), insurance held by the organizer(s) that covers alcohol consumption,  a way to control who is drinking and how much, and a clean- up agreement. 

I’m not sure how any BYOB event would fit into my criteria. 

And, of course, whatever we might want to do has to be allowed under state law and Liquor Control Board regulations. 

I will admit to a certain frustration over the entire issue, especially as it relates to the softball tournament. It is supposed to be a sporting event, not a drinking event.  The fact teams or fans threaten to stay away because they can’t drink on-site does not sit well with me. 

What frustrates me even more is so many people can get worked up about the open container ordinance and make it a priority when there are far more serious and important issues we should be talking about.  On the Venango Voice Facebook page there were 397 comments on the open container ordinance in one post and 75 people signed a Facebook page petition to rescind the ordinance. 

Compare that to the fact there was virtually no comments on the call by Franklin School Board President Brian Spaid for the area school districts to at least talk about exploring consolidation. That is a subject of real consequence. 

Or if you want to stick solely to city issues, the lack of comment or interest in the emerging rewrite of the zoning ordinance, the Main Street program, and I could go on and on. What are our priorities?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

That Sinking Feeling

That sinking feeling is what I had Thursday morning when City Manager Ryan Eggleston informed me that he had accepted a position as manager in South Fayette Township, Allegheny County.

I wasn’t beyond feeling it again when he publicly announced it at Thursday night’s city council meeting. And I’m not beyond feeling it now as I write this.
I think a great deal of Ryan personally and professionally.  He has served the city exceptionally well, and by both personality and skills perhaps the absolute best person that could possibly been found to succeed long-time manager Tom Rockovich when he left the city.
Ryan and his family were presented a fantastic opportunity. And I’m glad for him, despite my sadness at seeing him go and my concerns for Oil City and the difficulties we will face in the transition and selection of a new manager.  
Being a city manager is not a job I would want, especially in one of Pennsylvania’s core communities. The deck is stacked against you. I’ve had many long conversations about the job, its pressures and frustrations with a friend who is a city manager elsewhere in the region, and I’m left wondering why anyone would do it. We should be forever grateful there are talented  people like Ryan and my friend who desire to do it.
Council moved to contact Peter Marshall of Municipal Resources Inc. to see if he would meet with us and outline our options and ideas for a manager search and selection and possibly functioning in the interim. Peter Marshall assisted council in its previous manager search that resulted in the hiring of Ryan. I think everyone on council at the time was more than pleased with his work and the approach we took for selection of a new manager under his tutelage.
It is going to be a difficult search, and it can’t help but also present some operational difficulties for the city. Certainly some of the things those of us on council individually or collectively would have liked to see made a short-term priority will have to be put off.
I suspect this transition is going to be harder than the last, in part because we no longer have an assistant city manager to step in on a temporary basis.
I have to close this column by noting that I’m amazed, frustrated and bemused at some of the rumors circulating in the community that have reached my ears, and I suspect I only hear a fraction.  I know of no conspiracy, no “done deal” for a replacement or any of the other many things that are being said, or alluded.  I don't think anyone else on council does either.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


I’ve come to realize that one of the greatest hurdles
council and its members as individual face are the expectations.
And I think this is particularly true during the first few
months of a new council.
Backers of candidates who won election hope for something
different, even if they are not entirely sure what that should be, but that
does not decrease the expectation.
Supporters of losing candidates tend to say to the winners,”
OK, you won, now what are you going to do about this, this or this”, and expect,
perhaps demand, that the new council prove it can do better than the last.
And members of council face their own expectations. Every person who runs for council has a desire
to see things improve financially and socially, and wants to see that happen
quickly. If elected they soon learn the stark reality that there is no quick
when it comes to changing a community’s fortunes for the better, or often even
accomplishing one significant task, such as demolition of the Brody block or
tearing down blighted housing.
Oil City whether as a community or as Oil City government is
greatly constrained, as is every city in the Commonwealth. It is a matter of money, a matter of state
mandates and limitations on the options available to cities; the community’s
demographics, geography and even how government is designed to work.
So many expectations, or at least quick gratification, will
not be met. Progress is a process.
Add to this that whenever there is a new council (by that I
mean new members) there is a bit of a dance that occurs. The group dynamics
have changed and every member of council must come to understand how the others
think and how all will work together. And the one expectation everyone should
have and that should be met is that council always works cooperatively. That
does not mean always agreeing, or even avoiding spirited dissent or discussion,
but an understanding that we are all there for the same reason.
Fortunately, that has largely been the case for as long as I
have been on council.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The after election

Sometimes the after-election period is harder on a
community than the pre-election campaign frenzy.
After all, once the votes are counted there are going to
be some people that will fee, well, like
losers. And I don’t necessarily mean the candidates.
People support a candidate because they believe in the
candidate and at some level that means they invest themselves personally in the
candidate and all they think the candidate has done, will do and stands for. By extension, that means at best that the
other guy is not up to the standards of your guy and that the electorate
There has been some of that thinking exhibited in a
couple of recent letters to the editor in the local paper, a handful of
Facebook posts that I’ve come across and more than a few comments on the
Losing is hard, but I can’t help but think the best way
to honor a losing candidate is to remain involved in the affairs of the city,
its numerous community groups and activities. An initiative identified with one
candidate or another is not dependent on the candidate, but with the people who
support it and want to see it succeed. An election might mean a change in
direction or a new way of achieving that success, but it does not have to mean
failure for one group or another.
I am speaking here very specifically of politics at the
local level.
The winners of the election and their backers need to be magnanimous
in victory. And just as vital to the community is for supporters of the
election losers to be magnanimous in defeat. Human nature being what it is,
that might be the much harder of the two.
However, Oil City needs it.
Our problems are huge and we must work together. That doesn’t
mean we won’t disagree and even argue, but it does mean we should wish all well
and each of us do what we can to save our community. It means you work for what
you believe in for the community, and not just to bring someone else down.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

More on the Ramp

As nearly everyone knows, city council voted last week to not spend another $260,000 on repairs, stopping the work on the parking ramp and instead shuttering it until it can be demolished.

It was not a good choice, for there were no “good” choices. For me, and I suspect for other members of council as well, it was simply the best of the bad.

Without the ramp, I worry about trying to attract more northside businesses and downtown residents with greatly reduced parking options. I have much the same parking concern when it comes to our growing downtown events, such as the Indie music and film festivals, and of course Oil Heritage Week.

The fact we will have a building anchoring a downtown corner that will continue to deteriorate and look it until we can find the money to tear it down is both unappealing and frustrating.

But to some extent, having thought of those things we can at least search for solutions.

It is what we have not thought about that is most troubling, To be sure, there will be unintended consequences. There always are.

One of my greatest fears as a councilman has been that some decision council makes no matter how well meaning becomes what I call a cascade event, setting in motion a series of negative events that end up having major costs to the city, whether economic or social. You always hope it goes the other way, but you never know and it might well be the next generation that finds out.

So, you tread gingerly and try to make the best of bad options.

And I suspect there are going to be more and more situations where there are no good choices, just lesser of bad. Oil City and really all of Pennsylvania’s core communities are facing perhaps the greatest challenges since the Great Depression, maybe even more so.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Between the rock and the hard place

Thursday council will have to make a decision on whether to continue with the current repairs on the parking ramp, or close it and save the remaining money – about $300,000 -- borrowed through a bond offering to repair the ramp.

There is no good decision, just what will be the best for the community of a number of bad options. And no matter what decision is reached Thursday, that is not the end of it.

If repairs continue and the ramp reopened, the city must decide whether to undertake more extensive repairs and major maintenance in the future to extend its life and the huge financial commitment that requires, or if it is just going to buy some time. If closed, attention must turn to its demolition, estimated to cost at least $1.3 million.

Right now – Monday evening, Oct. 10 – I’m leaning towards completing the current repairs, to buy the time to sort out the many issues related to the ramp, our downtown and parking and to develop a long-term plan for whatever the eventual outcome, including the financing.

Unfortunately, I can not attend Thursday’s council meeting due to having to be away on business. It’s quite possible that my current view would be changed by those discussions, and of course whatever recommendations City Manager Ryan Eggleston makes.

Today in a brief discussion with me the City Manager did a good job of outlining the pros and cons of both continuing and stopping work and closing the ramp for me. There are still a number of questions outstanding that would impact the pros and cons.

Whatever decision is made Thursday, I personally believe this council must come up with a definitive resolution over the next few months. It would be unfair and irresponsible to “kick the can down the road” and leave the question and costs of either demolition or renovation to some future council.

There is no easy answer to the problems presented by the ramp. Every answer is costly and potentially financially devastating to the city and every answer carries with it its own set of problems for our downtown and community.

The city (council) is truly between the rock and the hard place on this one, or perhaps the phrase should be between the concrete and asphalt.

Friday, September 9, 2011

On Capital Needs and Reality

A few weeks ago City Council received a Capital Improvements Plan that outlines capital expenditure needs through 2016.

The plan was developed by the Community Development Office and reviewed and modified by the Planning Commission.

I’ve been a bit surprised there has not been more discussion about this, not by council, but by the local news media and community in general.

The problem is that despite being identified as “needs” – and many truly are – it is largely a wish list. There simply is not the money or the popular will to raise the money necessary to undertake even a tiny fraction of what is outlined in the plan.

Take street paving as one glaring example. The plan states the city should undertake $500,000 in paving in each of the next five years, for a total of $2.5 million. Looking at current funding levels using general fund, state liquid fuels and CDBG monies, the paving is under funded by $300,000 a year, for a total of $1.5 million by the end of 2016.

To raise an additional $300,000 a year would require approximately a 1.6 mill increase in real estate taxes.

And even spending $500,000 a year I have doubts if we would truly reach a state of paving equilibrium. The industry standard calls for repaving every 10 years.

When residents complain about why their street is not repaved the answer is simple: there is not the money. That has been the problem faced by every council for a generation.

Other infrastructure needs are equally as pressing and often even more costly. (As I write this, I received a call that the parking ramp might need a lot more in repairs than we planned) And the city’s facility and equipment needs are staggering.

And as any homeowner knows, putting off repairs and not replacing faulty equipment only leads to greater costs in the future.

Of course there is always borrowing, but that’s only spreading the costs out, often longer than whatever was paid for by borrowing.

Oil City is not alone in this predicament. Nearly every core community in the Commonwealth is in the same situation.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that all of us must take a realistic look at what is possible, what we expect and what we are willing to give or give up.

I also know that the state needs to provide some long-term solutions for core communities, including addressing the issue of the high-percentage of tax exempt properties, distributing the costs for regional assets and leveling the playing field for all classes of municipalities.

(I need to also mention that a number of comments to previous blog posts were inadvertently and permanently deleted. I apologize.)