Ten seeking spot on Act 47 commission

Ten people have picked up petition packets from the county elections office to run for the government study commission that city leaders hope could be the precursor to home rule for Altoona.

They include a former city mayor, three city employees, a member of the Altoona Redevelopment Authority and a labor leader who served 23 years ago on the commission that recommended the city’s current form of government.

Labor leader Bob Kutz was one of a minority on that earlier study commission who that thought home rule was the way to go.

“The majority wanted to try the optional plan,” Kutz said Tuesday. “So we all worked together.”

If he gets elected to a new study commission, he’s hopeful that his prior experience would mean “some expertise from the past.”

“Back then, it was confusing,” he said. “There was a lot of information on a lot of different options.”

Nevertheless, home rule still sounds interesting to him, he said.

City Council recently passed an ordinance calling for a study commission referendum on the primary ballot, as suggested in the city’s recently approved Act 47 recovery plan.

Adoption of home rule could be the “exit plan” that city leaders were talking about even before they entered Act 47 distressed status, because among other prerogatives, it would allow for elimination of tax caps that have contributed to the city’s inability to make ends meet without special help, according to the recovery plan authors.

Former Mayor Wayne Hippo once helped City Council struggle to make ends meet within those tax cap restrictions and even once said he was glad for the fiscal discipline the caps imposed.

But he’s ready to get beyond that, as he considers whether to run for the commission.

“The current system always seems to be that a city can only win in Pennsylvania if it becomes good at dying slowly,” Hippo said Tuesday. “It’s a lousy system [that rewards] whoever can suffer through the longest – the last city standing.”

There must be a better way, he said.

The study commission is “one of the few opportunities” to find a better way, he said.

Not that home rule – which gives municipalities more freedom, but still requires them to operate within rules set by the state – is a panacea, he said.

Just “potentially a better tool than what [we] have now,” he said.

Ten potential candidates so far, with almost two weeks remaining for others to pick up packets and return them with 200 signatures, might set to rest city leaders’ anxiety that there wouldn’t be enough interest to get the commission going.

Not only must a majority of city voters say yes to a commission, but the electorate must also approve a slate of seven members in the primary.

City engineering technician Scott Campanaro – who picked up a packet along with fellow city employees Victor Curfman and Steve Michelone – got a nominating petition partly to help ensure there would be enough candidates for the commission.

He’s the president of the city’s non-uniformed workers union. He’s active in the Boy Scouts, the Red Cross and the Blair County Tea Party and doesn’t really need any more responsibilities, he said.

“But I’m not willing to let it [the commission idea] die on the vine,” he said.

He was glad to hear of the good response so far.

Still, getting 200 signatures will be no small feat, said Kutz, who has accumulated 158 so far.

Two hundred is twice as many as required to run for City Council, Campanaro said.

Fortunately, there’s no need to distinguish between Republican or Democratic signers, as party affiliation is irrelevant for commission members, Kutz said.

And people seem willing to sign.

Kutz has encountered no refusals in asking at union meetings, at church, in bowling alleys and when going door-to-door, he said.

Of the 10 who picked up packets, however, one probably won’t qualify.

Rhonda Holland is in the process of buying another house, which is in Logan Township, and she may be living there by the primary election.

“I’m trying to get an [eligibility] determination,” she said.

She wants to be on the commission because she thinks home rule would benefit the city by increasing the localization of authority.

“The closer you are to a problem, the easier it is to fix,” she said. “[State] codes written a long time ago may not serve the best interests of Altoona.”

She is a former Army electronic warfare signals intelligence analyst who now applies her brainpower as a consultant helping businesses with Internet marketing.

“My uniquest quality is, I’m a trained analyst,” she said. “I look at every side of an issue.”

Dave Duncan, CEO of Blair Medical Associates, also cited his interest in analysis.

“I see this as an analytic effort to come up with a better way to run local government,” he said. “There’s always a better way to do anything.”

He has no preconceived ideas about what might be better, and if the current way turns out to be best, “so be it,” he said.

But things tend to change, and periodic reassessment makes sense, he said.

Nancy Rose Vincent, who follows city government issues closely, sees the commission as an opportunity for a rebirth of Altoona.

“There’s a good chance of a renaissance, if we don’t screw it up,” she said.

Also picking up packets were Julie Patosky, a Redevelopment Authority member, and Lori Crilley. Efforts to contact them were not successful.