READING, Pa. - At Monday night's Reading City Council meeting, resident John Slifko announced that he and a small group of other citizens have formed a group called "A Better Way for Reading."
The group's aim is to amend the form of city government currently in place.
Nearly 25 years ago, a similar group of residents, "The Citizens for Effective Government," enabled the 1993 adoption of the Home Rule Charter, which set forth the form of government the city operates under today.
Now, Slifko is proposing another change. He said of the current format, "With the rampant conflicts and dysfunctions between mayor and council and the costly lawsuits, it is anything but effective."
In the wake of the Reading Area Water Authority issues, Slifko believes the government is failing, "more acutely now," but has been failing, "to a greater or lesser degree since its inception."
Slifko called the current structure a "strong mayor" form of government. He pointed out that in Reading, this has led to a politically-run government, rather than an administratively-run one.
He indicated that, among many other issues, the city suffers because the mayor and the city manager have overlapping duties, and because the mayor and city council are not one uniform body, but are consistently in opposition.
He further argued that this form of government is declining throughout the United States. He cited that 64 percent of cities with a population of more than 25,000 residents currently have a "council-manager" form of government instead, and that is what he proposes for Reading.
"There is a better way for Reading, and tonight a group of citizens with that very name is announcing an initiative to fundamentally change our form of government," Slifko said.
His amendment includes two substantial changes:
- It removes all day to day administration from the mayor and places it in the hands of a trained, professional city manager who is hired by council, and
- It creates one body of government -- City Council -- that is headed by the Mayor in a "team leader" capacity, but who has only one vote.
Slifko and "A Better Way for Reading" will be going door to door to gather signatures in support of this amendment in the upcoming weeks with the goal to have it put on the November ballot to go to a public vote.
"I think this is 18 years overdue," Councilwoman Donna Reed responded.
She hoped that people would support the petition, and indicated that she would happily sign.
"We can't consider 18 more years of what has plagued this city," Reed said.
"I am looking forward to this discussion about the change of city government," said Mayor Vaughn Spencer, who indicated that he is unsure whether the organization is to blame for the city's current administrative problems.
"It isn't always the form of government, sometimes it's the people that are in positions," the mayor said.
This issue will likely be discussed more in depth as "A Better Way for Reading" begins petitioning and attending future public meetings to support their position.
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