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, November 18, 2008

Budget Discussions

Council’s budget discussions and ultimately our decisions will have an impact on the city and all of its residents.

Already it has generated a great deal of discussion and more than a few comments to posts on this blog. I thought it would be appropriate to put up a post dedicated to that discussion. I would like to hear from all of you.

These are troubling times for the nation’s and world’s economy, perhaps the most precarious since the Great Depression according to some commentators. Many people are fearful, nearly everyone unsettled.

It is not easy trying to balance a budget and meet the city’s needs in any year, let alone in a year like this. Yet we must.

There has been some criticism of council’s request to get an idea of the cost to taxpayers of putting some money aside for paving, emergency demolition and marketing/economic development beyond the current spending level. I think all of us are looking to the future in asking that, but I don’t know of any yet committed to taking that step. We are still sorting through things. We don’t even know yet what it will take to balance a status quo budget.

I don’t know of anything left to cut in city operations, but I’m willing to look. However, I also think we need to very carefully consider the future in what we do and not just today. I also think in today’s economic climate and given the needs of the city we need to be very careful we don’t make any rash decisions. Of course, rash, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

And finally, I will tell you I think there are worse things than a tax increase, and that would be allowing the city to decline to the point where resurrection is all but impossible.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New Comments on Trick or Treat

Many of you might be interested in the new comments recently posted on the Trick or Treat column from a few weeks back.
An AP story carried nationwide about Oil City's returning to nighttime trick or treating prompted several people to write.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

So much going, so little has been said.

It doesn’t seem possible, but it has been nearly five weeks since I last posted.

I know that is no way to attract and keep readers. When I started this blog I thought there would be more comment and feedback, leading to my having more to say and the introduction of new topics.

I encourage everyone to participate. My intent was to foster discussion.

So, where do we go from here; well a lot has gone on.

There is an effort to create an Oil City Main Street program. Perhaps of greatest interest is that the Main Street steering committee explored and is trying to work out some details of taking an innovative approach for a Main Street program by partnering with the Oil Region Alliance. This could get the program off and running a year or two earlier than if the traditional approach was taken, meaning we could have a Main Street program up and running in 2009.

Outdoor furnaces are under discussion and there’s likely to be a proposed ordinance in the near future that will establish a number of restrictions on them. There’s also some work on updating our dog/animal control ordinances.

A consultant has been chosen to undertake a new joint comprehensive plan with Cornplanter and Rouseville, which will include a look at Oil City’s zoning regulations.

A consultant will soon be selected to undertake the Comprehensive Waterways Plan.

And of course the 2009 budget is on everyone’s mind. It is going to be a tough year. In my mind, there is absolutely nothing left to cut in city operations, although there might be a few efficiencies in operations yet to be found that would give us more bang for the buck. I also strongly believe, as I believe other members of council do, that we need to invest in the future..

What are your thoughts on these and the many other programs and issues facing the city?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Municipal Consolidation?

At Monday’s Oil City Council meeting I brought up the idea of exploring a municipal consolidation or merger with Cornplanter Township and Rouseville Borough.

More than a few people told me I was crazy.

I learned early in life that not every idea I have is a good idea. A few times that lesson was painful.

Over time I also discovered that ideas others have had that I dismissed out of hand as being about the dumbest thing I ever heard were in fact brilliant. Sometimes that proved painful as well.

It’s taken me a while, but now I try to fully investigate an idea or proposal and learn as much as I can before passing judgment one way or another. That’s my take on the question of municipal consolidation.

On the surface municipal consolidation sounds to me like it would be a good idea. But I could not cast a vote for municipal consolidation at this point because I don’t know enough.

Still, I think it is something well worth taking a look at. Finding new and better ways to do business in this changing and troubling world is something we owe our children and grandchildren.

The first step would be to learn all we can about the process for municipal consolidation; what is involved, how it is done, etc. City council agreed in principle to invite representatives from the state Department of Community and Economic Development and PA Futures, a consulting firm specializing in municipal government cooperation and management, to a public meeting to discuss those issues.

The next step after that would be to fully evaluate the potential benefits and pitfalls and take a hard look at the impacts, gathering as much information as possible. There is a possibility the state would fund an independent study to help provide the needed information. Only then would we be in a position to weigh the question of whether to move towards a ballot referendum.

Taking a serious, studied look at municipal consolidation has no downside. There is nothing to lose, but perhaps a lot to gain. The reality is municipal consolidation will only happen if it carries benefits that outweigh any negatives for each municipality.

Let’s at least see where things would shake out.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Trick or Treat -- Should darkness reign?

On the agenda for Monday’s City Council meeting is discussion of returning trick-or-treat hours to the evening.

What brought the question back before council was a petition presented by an 11-year-old, whose name escapes me this evening. If you ever doubt one person can make a difference, give her a call.

I have no idea which way my fellow council members are leaning. I won’t be at Monday’s meeting, which in the interest of domestic tranquility is probably a good thing.

I favor returning trick-or-treat hours to the evening. My wife Kathy does not.

To me, it is just the way it should be. And while I’m on that kick, I also personally thing trick-or-treat should be on Halloween proper.

Oil City moved trick or treat to daylight hours in the wake of the Shauna Howe kidnapping and murder. At the time it made perfect sense. Pedophilic killers were somewhere among us.

It was a tragedy where evil triumphed, but it was a tragedy that could have happened anywhere for evil is found everywhere. Unfortunately, Shauna’s tragedy seemed to define Oil City for many years.

It’s time to move on.

In my mind, trick or treat is just meant to be done by the light of the moon, with a little help from street lamps, porch lights and the flashlights of hovering parents. It might not technically be the witching hour, but for the kids it sure seems like it. I can’t imagine daylight trick or treating leaving nearly the same memories I gained 50 years ago schlepping a pillow case along darkened streets in the neighborhood where I was brought up.

I know there are advantages to daylight hours. I’m sure they will be enumerated Monday. Certainly, it is easier for motorists and from that sense safer for kids. It probably discourages some of teens who are or should be too old for door-to-door looting. And it probably results in less vandalism.

Still, I don’t remember huge problems when trick or treat was carried out in darkness.

So, do you favor the forces of light or the shadows of night?

(My ability to add your comments might be limited for the next week, but I will try to get them up as best I can)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Of identity, marketing and economic development

A recent comment on this blog challenged me and other members of council to find a way to focus on economic development. The challenge has not escaped us.

Right now there is no entity that’s sole focus is on the marketing, promotion and economic development of Oil City.

All of us on council have commented on this in numerous conversations over the past eight months I’ve been on council. It is something Lee Mehlburger noted a week ago in his call for developing a marketing strategy.

True, city government has a role to play, but certainly that is not its sole function or purpose. Traditionally, marketing, promotion and related economic development have been undertaken by partners in the private sector (often nonprofits established for that purpose) and allied quasi public agencies, such as industrial development authorities.

Oil City’s Community Development Corporation merged into the Oil Region Alliance with the formation of that agency. The CDC served as the primary economic development agency working to bring businesses and jobs to the downtown, renovate buildings for new uses and attract developers.

I’ve been told by the former leadership of the CDC that there were several reasons they agreed to merge into the ORA. Foremost was the idea that the ORA would provide the strength of many and enable it to be more successful. (The original vision was that all the economic development groups in the county would join the ORA. That did not happen.)

Some former leaders of the CDC also frankly said there were concerns about the CDC’s long-term financial viability and whether it would have sufficient funding to do what would be necessary to continue its mission.

The Oil City Chamber of Commerce, whose focus, promotion and marketing was geared primarily to Oil City, became the Venango Area Chamber of Commerce, with a wider view and interest. I believe that was the right move for the chamber and the region. The chamber continues to promote the city – continued management of the Oil Heritage Festival is just one example – and works diligently in hopes the community prospers. Chamber Executive Director Susan Williams and her staff deserve nothing but praise and thanks for all they do.

Still, the Venango Area Chamber cannot like its predecessor put nearly all its emphasis on Oil City alone, nor should it. Its role has changed.

As supportive as I am of the regional approach to economic development and promotion, I also firmly believe we need some entity that’s only concern is Oil City. An organization that can promote what we have in the city; our events, our arts program, our festivals, our businesses and downtown. An organization that’s sole purpose is to grow and attract businesses and residents to Oil City.

The Franklin Industrial and Commercial Development Authority declined to merge into the ORA. The Franklin Chamber of Commerce declined to merge into the Venango Area Chamber of Commerce. I believe Franklin has benefited by having organizations that’s purpose remains solely the one community. One example is the very nice tourism brochure for Franklin put out by its chamber.

Oil City has some very active and involved groups – Take Pride in Oil City, the neighborhood associations and the north side and south side business associations. Perhaps someday they can become the primary promoters of the city.

We need to do something. As it is, Oil City is lost in the whole. We have no identity.

I’m not sure where city government fits in this. I do know we don’t have the money to do much, or the staff.

So share your ideas of how we go about growing or creating entities that partner with city government to market and promote Oil City and take the lead in the non-government side of economic development.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I'm mad...

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

The line is from the 1976 movie Network and relates to the state of our society.

What is making me mad as hell and not want to take this anymore is our state – Pennsylvania.

Residents of Oil City and every other Third Class City and anyone concerned about fairness, equity and our core communities should be mad as hell as well. The reason is this: the state of Pennsylvania and our legislators currently and for several decades now have failed our cities.

State money has flowed to outlying townships in many ways, effectively providing operating subsidies to those municipalities. We have not seen the same subsidies.

Police services are a quick example. Residents of Third Class cities have to foot the bill for local police services, which are mandated. Outlying areas get state police services paid for by everyone in the state.

Oil City’s population represents about 19 percent of the Venango County’s total. For argument’s sake, let’s say Oil City residents provide 15 percent of the state taxes originating in Venango County. Do you think they get 15 percent of state police services? There is no state money flowing into the basic operations of the Oil City Police Department.

Volunteer fire companies get state loan and grant assistance not available to those communities like Oil City with paid departments and where the taxpayers have recognized their obligations to provide for fire service collectively. Legislation has been introduced that would provide a similar grant and loan program for municipalities with paid departments, but it has not passed.

There are many, many other examples.

Adding to the problem is the state has failed to provide options to its cities to spread the tax burden around and raise additional money.

Monday evening Oil City Councilman Neil McElwee raised the possibility of Oil City adopting a Home Rule Charter in the hopes it would allow new or additional revenue streams.

That’s an option Oil City should not have to use. The state should simply provide funding options to all its cities. It should also equitably fund its cities. You would not think that would be a hard thing for our legislators to do, but I guess that is not what excites voters.

In the Oil City Derrick and in numerous other papers across the state Monday morning there was a story about proposed legislation that would provide state funding for financial incentives for volunteer firefighters. I’m all for incentives to attract volunteers and reward the men and women who are willing to give their time and risk their lives, but shouldn’t local taxpayers in those communities pony up. We are expected to pay the full freight in Oil City. I’ve never heard mention of legislation to directly financially support our firefighters.

“I want you to get up right now. Get up. Go to your windows, open your windows, and stick your head out, and yell, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" Things have got to change my friends. You've got to get mad. You've got to say, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" Then we'll figure out what to do … But first get up out of your chairs, open your window, stick your head out and yell, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

Let every state representative and state senator hear you.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Perfect night

It was about as wonderful a night as could be had.

The John Burgh All Stars played in Justus Park Friday, courtesy of the Oil City Arts Council.

The view from Justus Park was beautiful. Before inflation it would have been a million dollar view. I would say today it has to be a billion dollar view.

Friend Lynn and her nephew were playing in the river in Lynn’s new kayak while enjoying the music in the background.

The John Burgh band was hotter than the early evening, and that’s hot, playing music that spanned generations and styles. Their arrangement of “Walking After Midnight” knocked me out.

As daylight slipped away to the west a cooling breeze wafted up the river. Fireflies put on a show. The band played on. The people responded.

I have to repeat myself: it was about as perfect a night, as wonderful a time as can be had. If anything was missing, it was more people. The crowd was small. It should have been large.

Our friend Carla noted the lack of young parents with children. It is a question worth pondering.

Folks, this community is pretty fantastic. Enjoy it, appreciate it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Where do we go?

Not yet half way through the current year, city council is already beginning to take a look at the 2009 budget.

The view is not pretty.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the city’s expenses are rising rapidly, largely a result of the historic run-up in fuel prices.

The administration has taken steps to reduce those costs, but there is only so much that can be done in the short term. More might be possible in the long-term, but unfortunately much of what could be done would require an investment of some type whether it is in new equipment or technologies or just improving the energy efficiency of our buildings and fleet. Investments are tough to make when you are strapped for cash.

Our first discussions about where we go in 2009 have focused on revenues. Basically, that means taxes.

So far it appears as if our revenues – again meaning largely taxes – are coming in as anticipated with the exception of the $52 a year local services tax. That’s probably going to fall below projections for 2008.

Like all municipalities, Oil City’s largest revenue source is real estate taxes. Our real estate tax base is stagnant.

Mayor Hawkins was correct when she said the best way to increase the city’s revenues and fiscal health is to grow its tax base. But again, that often takes investment.

So where do we go from here?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Inside is outside

Inside Oil City has been spending time outside.

It’s summertime and the living is easy.

And there is so much to do right here in our hometown.

For starters, if you have not yet visited the new pool, do so. The hundreds who have visited it since its grand opening on Saturday love it. It is nothing short of fantastic. We are so fortunate to have it and owe a great deal of thanks to all those who donated to it and especially to chief fundraisers Paul Stamm and Mike Klapec.

The city is still sorting through operational issues, including trying to get a good handle on costs, As a result, the pool manager and administration are asking for some time before tinkering with operating hours and the like. That sounds reasonable to me.

On Wednesdays throughout the summer we have the noon Pipeline Alley concerts sponsored by the Oil City Arts Council. Pipeline Alley is located between the National Transit Building and its Annex. The concerts are free, but the Arts Council will gladly accept donations.

Later this summer the Arts Council sponsors a series of Arts in the Park concerts on a number of Friday’s in Justus Park. The schedule can be found at the Arts Council Web site

Of course, there are a number of big events coming up, including Jolly July 3 and Oil Heritage Week.

On Saturdays hit the streets of Oil City’s North Side business district for “Summer Saturdays on Seneca Street,” a fun-filled promotion sponsored by the North Side Business Association. And there are three more Friday night concerts at the Latonia (

Then of course right here in our backyard we have our bike trails and waterways to enjoy.

The living might be easy, but we sure can be busy.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Terrible T Word

At City Council’s last meeting I mentioned the T word – taxes.

It drew a quick response in the form of a couple of phone calls and a comment to another Inside Oil City post, where it really didn’t fit. I will put up the comment as a response to this post.

At the meeting council reiterated its support for the work of the Arts Council and the Arts Revitalization project. Council also heard about the Main Street and Elm Street programs that are funded largely by the state, but require local matches.

The Arts Revitalization is already proving successful in helping fill downtown spaces, bringing new people to the community and improving our economic and social vitality.

The Main Street and Elm Street programs hold out the promise of doing even more.

The city financially backs the arts effort with a municipal match for a state grant to the Arts Council as well as some direct funding for the Arts Revitalization.

Although not a technical requirement, the reality is that local municipalities need to come up with 30 percent of the necessary match for state Main Street and Elm Street programs if there is any real expectation of state approval for a local project.

There are other similar programs and efforts that the city occasionally invests in with the hope of creating a better tomorrow for our community.

My comment at the meeting was that as we look to do these things it might be necessary to look at a modest tax increase to fund them. We do not have the money to continue to fund them from our present operating budget and I don’t see anything left in city operations to cut, nor are there any more significant efficiencies to be wrung out of our city work force or operations.

In my mind we need to make these investments in our future. If not, our hope for a better tomorrow is nothing but so much wishful and wistful thinking.

Like all investments, some will prove better than others. There is some risk. But there is a huge risk in doing nothing.

Ideally, I would like to see the city develop a pool of money dedicated to funding such endeavors and available for use when opportunities arise.

Yet I know no one wants to see there taxes increased.

So what do we do?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Success Happens

Although I would like to first point out I have not been terribly successful in posting as regularly as first promised. I'll try to get back on track.

Along those lines, there is a comment to a recent post I have not put up. I will put it up in a post of its own and address it in the near future.

Now back to real successes. So many great things are happening in Oil City, it’s hard to get them all down in one blog.

Yet, many fail to see that. I’ve always puzzled a bit at the tendency of some to overlook the positives and accentuate the negatives in Oil City and Venango County as a whole.

Anyone who has doubts about community successes in Oil City should look to the arts revitalization program. It had a lot of doubters, and a lot of critics, and still does. But it has brought new residents to Oil City, it has filled downtown buildings and brought a new vitality to the community. All of this much faster than anyone expected.

That’s success

Think about creation of the Northside Business Association followed by the Southside Business association. These business people got together on their own to promote and improve the respective business districts. The groups have held a number of events, developed streetscape plans, and a whole lot more in just a few months.

That’s success.

A few years ago a handful of individuals decided to combat problems in their neighborhood and formed the North Side Association. We now also have a South Side and Siverly neighborhood associations. These associations are not just holding meetings and talking, they are doing things to improve their neighborhoods and the community as a whole, including putting on last weekends second annual anti-drug rally.

That’s success.

Take Pride in Oil City – another volunteer, community-based group – brought us a trolley bus and is doing so much to promote the community and create new opportunities.

That’s success.

There are many, many other examples. Let's not forget what the the new owners of the Latonia and their renovation of the building and their hosting of events, nor the efforts of all those that resulted in the Polish Heritage Park.

Good things are happening, so for heavens sake let’s recognize it.

That’s not to say we should live in a Pollyanna-ish world and bury our head in the sand ignoring the very difficult times our community faces – we shouldn’t and we can’t. But we also need to recognize and support those efforts that are making for a better community and a brighter future.

Monday, May 12, 2008


That’s the question I have after learning that a resident apparently found it impossible to call the city staff or come to council and ask about questions and concerns he/she had regarding the city’s HOME grant.

Rather than do that, the individual wrote a letter to the regional federal Housing and Urban Development office alleging that the city might be intending to place restrictions or requirements on the program beyond those permitted under federal regulations.

Apparently he/she misunderstood something that was said during last week’s work session as we – council members – asked the staff about the program and how it could be used and its requirements.

Of course the individual’s letter immediately raised questions with federal officials about our pending grant application, which were passed on to the state officials who administer the program who called the city for clarification. The call could easily have been made by the individual.

There is no doubt that the city’s application, which council approved tonight (May 12) will now be under the microscope and receive an exceptionally severe review for any possible flaws. And it is unnecessary.

If a person has a concern about how council or the city intends to do something, why not ask about it, especially if they believe there might be some violation of federal or state program guidelines. If they still believed that after seeking explanation, they still have the option of taking their concerns to state and federal officials.

I would be saddened and deeply bothered if an individual felt they could not come to council or the staff with their concerns and receive a fair and honest appraisal and/or explanation. I’m bothered, but angered, if the reason they did not seek explanation was out of some desire to play “gotcha.”

The HOME program has the potential to greatly help eligible homeowners bring their properties up to code in one of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods, which will help everyone who lives there and anywhere within the city. We’ve used the program with great success in the past.

We need to all work together in a cooperative fashion to address our housing issues and the needs of our residents. Jumping to conclusions and failing to seek clarification before raising allegations of program violations doesn’t strike me as being very helpful.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Good State Legislation!!!

Every once in a while a reasonable and solid piece of legislation surfaces in the state legislature that would actually improve the financial condition of Oil City and other similar communities.

The legislation is House Bill 2018, the Tax Exempt Property Municipal Assistance Act.

You’ve probably never heard of it. It certainly hasn’t made headlines anywhere, but it should.

The legislation would provide state funding through dedicating the 18 percent tax on wine and liquor sales – Believe it or not, this tax is the Johnstown Flood Tax – to provide assistance to communities where tax exempt properties account for more than 15 percent of market value of assessed property.

In Oil city, the percentage is a bit above 37 percent.

The Johnstown Flood Tax now goes into the state general fund, so it would have to be replaced either through cuts or other revenue sources. But the state has such opportunities, its cash-strapped cities and other municipalities with high percentages of tax exempt property do not.

The tax exempts are important to communities; they provide needed services and jobs. However, the also require municipal services even when almost always they are regional in scope.

If the tax exempts were taxable, Oil City would face no financial difficulties. We would have the money to sustain municipal services at current levels, and perhaps even improve them. We would have the money to address our deferred infrastructure needs, such as street paving.

And we can have the money for all of that through House Bill 2018.

What are your thoughts? Are you going to call your legislator and demand action?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Of dogs and citizenry

It entailed just a brief discussion at a council meeting, but it spoke volumes about what it means to be a neighbor and citizen.

Being both a neighbor and a citizen carry responsibilities.

The brief discussion at the council meeting was about people who walk their dogs, but fail to clean up after them.

I received a call about a week ago from a resident of East Eighth Street telling me that a woman in the neighborhood had spent the better part of the day cleaning all the dog doo out of the East Eighth Street Island, or circle as it is called by residents of the area.

Now there is a woman who embodies the very best in a neighbor and citizen. You can only imagine how much dog would accumulate over the winter.

I wish I knew the woman’s name. I would like to thank her.

I would also like to tell all those people who don’t clean up after their pets that I consider them rude and inconsiderate. Fundamentally they fail their responsibilities as both a neighbor and citizen.

That might sound harsh, but it’s the truth.

When I brought the subject up, City Manager Tom Rockovich noted that earlier in the day he and Public Works Director Butch Truitt had a talk about that same issue.

Signs will be installed on the island reminding people to clean up after their pets. Of course, individuals can also be cited and fined for failing to do so.

Some of you might think this a trivial rant, but if we want to improve Oil City we need to take responsibility for the little things as well as the big things, and we need to be good neighbors, which makes us good citizens.

And good neighbors and good citizens don’t leave behind a mess for others, and we should remind people of that who do leave messes behind.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Welcom Chad

We have a new member of Oil City Council – Charles T. Rosen, known as Chad to most everyone.

Chad is a welcomed addition, but so too would have any of the other three candidates– William “Bill” Moon, Jr., Joseph “Joe” Womer Jr., and Katharine “Kate” Newman -- who sought appointment to the vacancy created by the resignation of Merrill Whitling.

Lee Mehlburger commented choosing among the candidates would be the toughest decision he would make as a councilman. I share that sentiment.

All of the candidates were eminently qualified and each would bring unique and valuable talents to council. Each is likeable and committed to the community and by my assessment free of any particular agenda other than wanting to move the city forward.

To make it more difficult, I know three of the four people who applied personally and I know their parents. I like to think they are more than acquaintances and are among my larger circle of friends. They are certainly people for whom I have a great deal of admiration and respect.

None of us on council went into the meeting with any idea of what the others would do.

From my perspective, the one commitment I made was that I would not do anything to create or add to any split among the candidates or the current members of council that could lead to a factionalized council. We’ve had that in the past. It didn’t help the city.

So, did we make the right choice based on Neil McElwee’s motion that resulted in the unanimous selection of Chad Rosen? I don’t think we could have made a wrong selection tonight.

I look forward to working with Chad, and with Bill, Joe and Kate as they continue to serve the city in other roles.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

TheOCOutsider's on blight

I thought this comment by the OilCityOutsider was fodder for a post and comment section all its own.

The Oil City Outsider said:
Howdy John. Off the subject. I’m sure City Council is well aware that the majority of Oil City’s citizens aren’t wealthy people. The headlines of The Derrick today (April 7, 2008 “OC Among Poorest School Districts”) really brought that point home. So if I might make just one little suggestion. When you are considering “blight,” please take into account that perhaps not everyone is just lax or negligent in maintaining their home. Maybe, just maybe, they might not have the funds that they need to keep up with their property. All these low interest loan programs that everyone seems to be talking about now look great on paper. However, please remember a loan is still a loan and a loan needs paid back regardless if it’s at 1% interest or 29.99% interest. For some people to add another payment to their already overstretched budget will all but make them homeless. Just some food for thought.

I don’t think for a moment anyone on council has forgotten that some members of our community face tough times.

Unfortunately, there is a real limitation as to what government can do to help out other than to make programs available, such as the HOMES program now in the works. And it is true that loan programs are more common than outright grants.

There is a tremendous opportunity and need in our community for our private nonprofits, civic clubs, churches and even just neighbors to step up and try to find a solution. In some cases, it would be as easy as putting a crew together to paint, nail down a few boards or other simple repairs and routine maintenance.

I believe there is a group in Franklin doing something like that.

Oh so long ago our daughter went with a church youth group on a mission trip to West Virginia where they did simple repairs and maintenance to the homes of a number of impoverished families and elderly residents. We admired her for her willingness to give of her time and labor and appreciated the efforts of the church leaders and others to put the program together. Still, I thought then and think now that the needs here are so great, why travel so far.

On the broader issue of blighted housing, it is my strong belief that the real problem properties – the one’s that degrade neighborhoods and often have the greatest negative impact on those with limited incomes – are more a problem of a poverty of values than economic poverty. Aggressively dealing with blight is a proven way to protect neighborhoods and individual homeowners. Who is at greater risk from the degradation of their neighborhood than those on fixed incomes and/or financially struggling, but doing what they can to keep their places up and maintain the value of their property?

Let’s aggressively fight blight, and that includes neighbors and the community pitching in and helping those in need maintain and repair their properties.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Selecting a new council member

Several people have asked me how council will select a new member to fill the unexpired term of Merrill Whitling.

As a body, we have not finalized details of the selection process. We have asked that letters of interest be submitted by Wednesday, April 9. Individually we will be reviewing those letters over the weekend.

But I suspect what people are really asking me about is not so much the selection process as how I will evaluate the candidates that submit a letter of interest.

Basically, what I seek in a co-council member is what I would seek in a council member as a voter going to the polls.

Someone with integrity, an open mind, who is a visionary but still pragmatic and is optimistic. Someone who has the ability to see different points of view, has the ability to work with others and is capable of putting personalities and personal and political differences aside for the benefit of the community.
Someone who is respectful, can argue a point with civility and shies away from bombast, but is fully capable of taking a stand for a position they believe in. Someone who will do what they think is right, even when it is not the popular thing to do.
Someone who looks to the future, not the past, but recognizes the value of our past.
Someone with the time and commitment to do their homework.

I would like to think those are my aspirations as a councilman, but like most everyone, my abilities and aspirations don’t always match up. Sometimes the best you can do is strive to do better.

I will tell anyone who is considering submitting a letter of interest that it will be tougher and more time consuming than they think. My three months in office have already taught me that, and I came in with a background that I thought prepared me well for the realities facing local government, and Oil City in particular.

So, if you care deeply about this community and would like to make it a better community, submit a letter of interest.

Monday, March 24, 2008

18 years, three months -- an era ends.

Merrill Whitling, the dean of Oil City Council, tendered his resignation effective March 31 at Monday night’s council meeting.

I was shocked. I think we all were. I know we all felt a great loss.

Merrill has served on council for 18 years and three months. I don’t recall anyone with a council tenure as long in the years Kathy and I have made Oil City our home.

And throughout all those years on council, Merrill was always the consummate gentleman – fair, reasoned and respectful. It is in his nature.

Merrill’s years of service brought to council a valuable perspective. He was there when decisions were made a decade or more ago that affect how the city operates today. He knows why those decisions were made and that is important to know for somebody like me with not quite three months of experience.

You can call it institutional memory, and Merrill is an institution.

When you talk of the Greatest Generation it is the Merrills of this world you are talking about.

I'm going to miss Merrill on council. Our community is going to miss the counsel he provided in that role.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Regional Assets/Regional Support

Two items in Friday’s Derrick had me again thinking about our many regional assets and how we support them.

The first was a letter to the editor from Ray Hagstrom under the heading “Astronomical Society deserves our Support.

The second was an article by Matt Carroll on Page 5 under the headline “Cranberry Township Scratches up $2,000 for Humane Society.”

In his letter to the editor, Mr. Hagstrom expressed the need to support the Oil Region’s Astronomical Society observatory located at Two Mile Run County Park. In essence, Mr. Hagstrom made the claim that the observatory is a tremendous resource for Venango County and that it deserved the support of our elected officials.

He’s right of course.

Mr. Hagstrom was not talking financial support in his letter, but providing the Astronomical Society a lease that truly meets there needs and desires and the future of the observatory.

Financial support for a regional asset was the issue in the article by Matt Carroll on page 5.

Cranberry Township Supervisor Fred Bucholz was quoted in the article as saying it is unfair that some municipalities and not others contribute to the operations of the Venango County Humane Society.

He’s right of course.

(Point of disclosure: my wife is a long-time board member of the Venango County Humane Society)

Oil City has always contributed to the Humane Society, as has Franklin. They and other municipalities like Cranberry recognize the importance of supporting the society’s many functions, some of which would have to be performed by government if the society did not exist.

There’s a basic fairness issue here. Every municipality derives benefit, whether it contributes or not.

That was an argument I made when the backers of the regional nonprofit grant center came to Oil City Council and asked for financial support. I favored providing some limited support, but also felt the backers had the obligation to seek funding from every municipality, and all the county’s municipalities had an obligation to contribute.

There are many other regional assets that we ought to think about providing for on a regional basis as well, notably our recreational facilities.

Currently there is a county-wide recreational study under way. It is an opportunity to take a hard look at what we have and how we fairly support it. Today, most of the recreational facilities in the county are owned and largely solely supported by individual municipalities, but benefit and serve residents from a much wider area.

Regional assets deserve our support, our uniform and universal support. Fairness demands it, our future ability to maintain what we have throughout the county depends on it.

So what do you think?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Let the discussions begin!

Welcome to our first post on Inside Oil City, a place on the Web where I will share my thoughts as a long-time resident and member of Oil City Council and where I hope to hear from you.

Oftentimes we will be serious, sometimes not. Life is too short to be serious all the time.

We will try to have a new post at least twice weekly, often on a subject ripped from the local headlines.

My intent is to let you know about issues that come before city council and why I take the position I do and my thoughts on broader subjects. My hope is to foster discussion about all things Oil City and Venango County in a positive and informative manner. We don’t have to agree on everything, and we won’t, but we do need to keep our discourse civil.

Unfortunately, in Venango County it seems we have lost the ability to disagree agreeably. Worse, we seem to think in terms of us versus them – whoever the us and the them are at the moment– on nearly every subject. Our politics is too often personal and too often divisive.

I guess that will serve as my opening comment to start off the discussions.

What do you think?