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In Newry, less may be more

Newry Borough was correct in seeking — and receiving — approval from Blair County Court to shrink the size of its governing council to three members from five.

Now, hopefully, the right scenario exists for the town’s government to operate without borough council vacancies going forward, and with more assurance that a quorum will be present to conduct official business.

For nearly a year before Blair County Judge Wade Kagarise approved the reduction last week, the borough’s governing body had been operating without a full complement of council members — most recently, two members short.

Meanwhile, for this year’s spring primary election, no one officially sought a party nomination for election to the council by filing petitions to have his or her name appear on borough ballots.

With the council’s size reduction and the opportunity to cast write-in votes on Nov. 5, it now will be easier to have all council seats filled at the beginning of the coming year than it would have been if the council continued to be a five-member governing body.

Then again, there’s the issue of a quorum that allows business to be transacted officially.

With a five-member council, three members constitute a quorum; with a three-member council, two members need to be present to make official decisions and otherwise conduct business.

Now, even if one council member is absent, the other two still can vote to pay bills and rule on other issues.

For a municipality of Newry’s size — 3 square miles and the smallest in Blair County — the change portends not to be detrimental to the community, whose population in 2017 was listed as 266 — 129 of the residents are registered voters.

It must be acknowledged that difficulty in filling vacancies between elections and getting people to file petitions for party nominations is not unique to Newry. There are numerous municipalities across Pennsylvania where that problem exists.

In counties where one political party has a sizable registered-voter edge — in Blair County it is the Republican Party — the party that is far behind in registrations often has difficulty recruiting municipal candidates.

Last spring’s primary election ballots contained numerous instances in which no Democrats sought a party nomination for certain offices in Blair municipalities.

That’s not a situation that should exist, but it’s an unfortunate reality.

However, in many instances in certain communities, “outgoing” incumbents continue to serve by virtue of write-in votes, without having had to circulate election petitions and pay any required petition-filing fees.

In Newry, Councilman Richard Giarth has two more years remaining on his council term while council members Mike Seno and Ann Seno will be leaving the council unless they win re-election by write-in ballots and, of course, agree to continue serving.

Newry isn’t a hotbed of breaking news. Most of the business conducted by the council is routine, except for rare instances such as one in the early 1970s when a dangerous curve on Route 220 — the scene of numerous serious traffic accidents — needed to be addressed.

Newry residents who believe smaller government works best will have the opportunity now to judge whether that thinking really is true.

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