Supervisor has passion for community development

Although Ed Silvetti retired in February as the executive director of the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission, that doesn’t mean he isn’t still working.

Silvetti has found a new mission in life as a supervisor in Blair Township, first being appointed to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Patricia Steward, and now having been elected in November to complete the final two years of Steward’s term.

He portrays himself as a brusque, straight-forward person who says what’s on his mind – a person who over the years has become a fiscal conservative and an administrator who says that, if a proposed expenditure isn’t in the budget, he doesn’t want to hear about it.

But Silvetti is a good storyteller who has a quick laugh and a sense of humor that fits his personality.

He explained that he was unopposed when he ran for election last November and that he received 78 percent of the vote. He laughed and said the 22 percent who didn’t vote for him are probably the people who knew him.

To Silvetti, retirement means he gets up at 6 a.m. instead of 4 a.m., and he drinks his morning coffee at a much slower pace.

Otherwise, he remains involved in community issues and community development, a love he has possessed since he was a youngster.

A native of Berwick in eastern Pennsylvania, Silvetti said he was weaned on public affairs.

He can’t explain why he acquired such an interest except that he remembers his dad, Edward, reading the paper cover-to-cover every day and watching the news on television.

“I believe you inherit traits. I was always interested in what was going on in public areas,” he said.

If he inherited an inquisitive mind that flourishes in a tough political environment, he also acquired a work ethic from his parents, Ed and Bessie.

His dad, he said, was employed by a company that made railroad cars. The company had busy and not-so-busy times and eventually closed.

His dad went back to school to learn sheet metal work.

Silvetti’s point was that, not only did his dad work hard to make ends meet, but the finances weren’t available for a college education. Silvetti had to work to pay his way in the early years, acquiring a college degree from Bloomsburg State University, and then after a four-year stint in the Air Force, including a year in Vietnam and Thailand, he pursued a master’s degree in public administration at Penn State.

He said he is proud of his time in the military when he served as a bomb damage assessment specialist.

As his parents grew older, he said his mother made a comment one day that served to put life in perspective.

She said, “We had a great life.”

The family that included four girls and two boys, moneywise had nothing, he said, yet his parents thought they had everything.

Then he realized for his parents: “It was never about money. It’s all about just doing the best job you can.”

Finding a job

Silvetti’s replacement as director of the Southern Alleghenies, an agency headquartered in Altoona that promotes community and economic development for a six-county area, is Steve Howsare.

The Southern Alleghenies board includes two commissioners from each of the member counties: Blair, Cambria, Bedford, Somerset, Huntingdon and Fulton.

Howsare was a Bedford County commissioner, who served three years as the president of the Southern Alleghenies board.

He gave Silvetti a thumbs-up on the 20-plus years that he served as the executive director.

“Ed did a good job,” he said, and Howsare said he became interested in the

job because Southern Alleghenies was so well-run.

He said he accepted the opportunity to lead the organization because he knew he wouldn’t be stepping into a mess.

Silvetti said he sat down with Howsare before he left and reviewed some issues that will be coming up.

Howsare said he received more encouragement than advice from Silvetti.

The agency, he said, is one of seven local development districts in the state, and what stands out with Southern Alleghenies is the good relationships Silvetti fostered with organizations and local governments. This is not always the case, Howsare said.

Silvetti’s story with Southern Alleghenies begins after he completed his post-graduate training at Penn State.

He said he studied under Robert Mouitz, a professor at Penn State who had developed a system of planning, programming and budgeting that was used by the Navy.

This is where he was engrained with the idea: “If it is not in the budget, don’t ask me.”

Part of his studies included an examination of the Appalachian Regional Commission, created in the 1960s to provide a transportation and economic stimulus for the 13-state Appalachian region that includes Pennsylvania.

He saw that the ARC had a local development district in the Altoona area – the Southern Alleghenies – so, as part of his search for a job, he simply walked into the Southern Alleghenies and said he was looking for work.

The director, the late Stephen C. Mandes, gave him the task of writing a jobs plan under the Comprehensive Employ

ment and Training Act.

He performed the task and was hired so he could present the plan to the Department of Labor in Philadelphia.

By 1984, Silvetti decided he needed executive experience, so he went to work in Bedford County where he pulled the budgets and programs of several agencies together to create the Bedford Human Services Agency. He called that part of his life “a great experience.”

In 1993, the Southern Alleghenies job opened up. Silvetti got the job and stayed for the next 20-plus years.

Many thoughts

Silvetti said that economic development does not stop at a county’s borders.

He strongly believes in cross-border projects like transportation and other infrastructure improvements.

He constantly talks about how an agency like Southern Alleghenies must be “relevant” (when public money is spent it must bring results), and he said that often means working with the private sector.

He talked about projects in Cambria County and other locations where development was undertaken in cooperation with local governments and the private sector.

Government has a role, said Silvetti, pointing out his agency was very active in developing an industrial park in Fulton County.

He supports job training through tax credits to private business, allowing the private sector to train employees.

Silvetti also is not hesitant to criticize programs he believes don’t work.

He said financial support for the Southern Alleghenies tourism program was lacking, and he believes tourism promotion should best be left to the convention and visitors

organizations in the counties.

As a former executive director of a multi-million development agency, Silvetti said he is comfortable in his new role overseeing the administrative arm of Blair Township government. He said he spends about 20 hours a week at his new “job.”

The township has a four-member police department and a small highway and public works department.

“They work hard,” he said of the township’s employees.

The township is run by a three-member board that also includes Richard J. Lasek, in charge of the police, and Palmer

Brown, who oversees the road crew.

Silvetti’s philosophy remains steady in his new role.

“You’ve got to put money where you do the most good,” he said late last week.

In summing it all up, he said, “I love what I do at the township. It’s a great transition.”

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.