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.