Chasing our tail no more
A few weeks ago in the workout room at the Hollidaysburg Area YMCA, I noticed that the person next to me on the treadmill was wearing a t-shirt bearing the following message:
“Try being informed instead of just opinionated.”
I recognize good advice when I see it, even at 5:30 in the morning, despite the fact that my penchant for being opinionated far exceeds my desire to be informed. And I know quite a few people just like me. Perhaps I’ve been hanging with the wrong crowd.
One of the crowds I hang with as part of my job is the Chamber’s Public Policy Committee. That committee is the advocacy arm of the organization and has been effective in helping to support legislation at the federal and state levels, mostly initiated by the U.S. Chamber and the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry. We appreciate that those two heavyweights provide guidance and resources. It allows us, as the t-shirt at the “Y” recommends, to expand our listening skills.
Advocacy would truly be a walk-in-the-park if it wasn’t for the governmental entities closest to home. I would exclude county government from that group since I’m convinced that their challenges are so overwhelming that it’s unfair to ask them to participate in anything that has a financial component to it.
The County Commissioners dutifully answer questions each January at our Breakfast Club and they try to put a positive spin on whatever they can. Creativity, unfortunately, only goes so far. In a perfect world – or at least somewhere other than Pennsylvania –county government would rule the roost. While states like Maryland, New Jersey and Connecticut are finding new and innovative ways to put county government at the forefront of economic development efforts, Pennsylvania continues to flounder under a system that hasn’t worked in a long, long time.
No, our Public Policy puzzle is, was, and likely will continue to be the twenty-four municipal governments that make up our county. Long before I came to the Chamber – and I’ve been here twenty-one years – a committee known as Government Affairs was attempting to get its arms around municipal issues. That group of well-meaning business leaders later gave way to the Legislative Action Committee. New name, same messy dilemmas.
The Public Policy Committee is looking to take its turn in the barrel. They’ve placed municipal cooperation at the top of the Priorities List and have scheduled a Legislative Summit in April with government affairs representatives from seven countywide chambers in the region.
It sounds like a workable plan. But there are skeptics. One of those is a municipal official who, at one point, was a member of the Legislative Action Committee. Blair Township Supervisor Ed Silvetti has observed the situation from several vantage points. As former director of Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission, Silvetti endured the consequences of a fragmented government and upon retirement, set out to change whatever he could.
He spoke to our Public Policy Committee in February along with Williamsburg Mayor Ted Hyle. If all municipal officials were like Silvetti and Hyle, a lot of significant things would already have been accomplished. Silvetti, in particular, didn’t mince words when asked how the committee should go about creating an atmosphere for cooperation.
“I don’t want to paint a negative picture,” he admitted, “but too many efforts aimed at cooperation are nothing more than committees like this one chasing its tail.”
Can it really be that bad? With elections coming up, the political terrain will change dramatically, at least in Washington and Harrisburg. At the borough and township levels, much is expected to remain the same. The Public Policy Committee, on behalf of the business community, will be looking for ways to get closer to the action.
Business provides the dollars that keep municipalities viable. It’s time that message resonated to those who need to be reminded of it. And that’s more than just an opinion.
Joe Hurd is President/CEO of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce.