Home rule in need of provisions

Home rule could be the godsend Altoona is seeking to enable the city to emerge from the state’s Act 47 fiscally distressed status, or it might not be.

It’s too early to tell, and it’s not even known whether the city’s voters will accept recommendations that the home rule Government Study Commission eventually hands down.

At this juncture, too much optimism regarding home rule might be just as counterproductive as advocating retention of the status quo.

To be successful, the right provisions have to be installed under home rule for it to succeed.

Regardless of all that, basic city functions and responsibilities must continue while the question of the city’s governmental future is debated. However, there’s reason to question whether some lapses are occurring.

A front-page article in the Aug. 21 Mirror dealing with a home rule public hearing the day before should have caused some residents to ponder whether the city has begun using the municipality’s money problems as justification for unacceptable conditions that could be avoided without much extra effort.

Patrick Miller, president of the Greater Altoona Economic Development Corporation and executive director of the city parking authority, told the study commission that home rule could help to ensure a cleaner environment for businesses as well as the people who live here, work here or use the services available here.

He was referring to an instance where an out-of-town visitor, while running errands, noticed much more than a small amount of litter on and around a downtown plaza.

Troubled by the sight of what he encountered, the person emptied two trash bags of clothing he planned to donate at a thrift store and filled the bags with the trash that was at the site.

Perhaps Miller was premature in suggesting home rule as a solution to such a problem. The fact is that even without home rule, the city has the resources to expend a few minutes to clean up an unsightly mess.

Nearby businesses or residents should consider it a civic duty to help in the effort where possible, just like they should clear their sidewalks during winter’s inclement weather. Meanwhile, city police also should note such conditions in their daily reports and ensure that such information reaches the right city officials or department leaders.

Altoona doesn’t have to be an unsightly city. Even under home rule, the city could be tarnished by litter and other unwanted conditions if corrective actions aren’t taken.

A clean city that encourages people to come there is a basis for attracting new enterprises and visitors. A city that demonstrates a lack of pride is an obvious turn-off for people and businesses desiring better.

As the home rule debate continues, something so basic as a clean city must remain a priority for everyone who wants Altoona to be the best city that it can be.