Change ‘Burns’ with departure

By on June 29, 2017

Cocalico Corner Donna ReedWhen it comes to elected officials in the Cocalico area, change is not commonplace.

Many of those sitting on the borough councils of Adamstown and Denver and the supervisor boards of East Cocalico and West Cocalico townships have been there for years, and sometimes decades.

But 2017 marks significant changes in the two townships’ board makeups.

In East Cocalico, Noelle Fortna, a 12-year supervisor, lost her primary bid in a landslide election to newcomer Romao Carrasco last month.

And in West Cocalico, Supervisor Ray Burns, who won a six-year term in 2015 succeeding 18-year veteran Supervisor Chair Jacque Smith, dropped a bombshell when he announced his June 23 resignation.

“My intent was to be a long-term board member,” Burns said during a Tuesday phone interview, “but my life circumstances changed that and we decided to move.”

Burns and his wife will remain in Pennsylvania, but in a county to the northwest of Lancaster.

While he looks forward to a new chapter in life, Burns said he is appreciative of the opportnity to serve a township he has called home for 26 years. Not only did he live in West Cocalico, but as an officer for the East Cocalico Police Department, which for years provided coverage for the township, he came to know the municipality and its people intimately.

“I was happy that the people entrusted me to serve as a supervisor,” he said. A key reason Burns wanted to serve: to give back to the community he said had provided so many blessings to him and his family.

“I had a good career and benefited both personally and family wise that people in the Cocalico community afforded us,” said Burns in January 2016 when he took the oath of office. “I felt the responsibility in some small way to pay it back.”

Indeed those words of 18 months ago echoed in his words Tuesday.

“With retirement, I had the time, energy, ability, and, I think, the knowledge, in some small way, to repay the community for what I received from them over 30-plus years,” he said.

While Burns was familiar to many in West Cocalico, he became a fixture of sorts at township meetings in the year or so prior to the 2015 primary.

Ray Burns and his wife after taking his January 2016 oath of office.

Ray Burns and his wife after taking his January 2016 oath of office.

During the lengthy and contentious months of meetings and discussions centering on the creation of a Cocalico regional police force, Burns had served as his township’s representative at large and found himself in the middle of the verbal skirmishes.

In the end, West Cocalico, along with Adamstown, opted out of the discussions, ending their long-term coverage contracts with the East Cocalico force and turning to the Ephrata Police. That was not what Burns had advocated.

So, when he ran for election, he was concerned that voters, as well as his future supervisor colleagues (Burns, endorsed by the local Republican committee, ran unopposed in both the primary and general elections.) would see him as a man “with an agenda.”

Those fears went pretty much by the wayside. Burns would fit in comfortably with both Supervisor Chair James J. Stoner and long-time Supervisor Terry Scheetz. Scheetz, who would resign and move to Berks County in 2016, was replaced by farmer and long-time resident Leon Z. Eby. The new trio also worked well together.

“I was very happy with the cooperation of all the board members,” he said.

Just as Burns was a fixture among those attending the meetings, the next supervisor may also be a familiar face to the board. Stoner, at the early June meeting in which Burns announced his impending resignation, urged those in attendance to consider applying to fill the vacancy.

At the June 22 meeting, two candidates stepped forward; another made his intentions to throw his hat in the ring known in writing.

Carolyn Hildebrand, township manager, said the board expects to name Burns’ replacement at its July 18 meeting. By law, the replacement must be named within 30 days of the resignation. She said anyone interested needs to submit a letter of interest in the next weeks.

Indeed, the supervisors and Hildebrand must send a written notice of their own to Randall O. Wenger, chief clerk of Lancaster County Elections Services, notifying them a vacancy has occurred. The appointment the supervisors make will only be valid till the end of the year. As 2017 is a municipal election year, the office must be put up for vote in the November election.

Wenger, once in receipt of the official West Cocalico notification, will, in turn, send notices to the county Democratic and Republican committees that they may forward a name for their respective ballot slots. In addition, as the Green and Libertarian parties are formally considered minor political parties in Pennsylvania, they may also nominate candidates. And, independent or non-affiliated individuals may circulate nominating papers for the position. The deadline for circulating petitions for signatures is Aug. 1. (Any questions should be directed to election services by calling 717-299-8293.) The parties must submit the paperwork for their nominees to Wenger by Sept. 18 for the names to appear on the November ballot.

Interestingly, all three West Cocalico supervisor positions will appear on the general election ballot. Stoner is running unopposed for a new full six-year term, while the also unopposed Eby is up for a four-year slot to complete the remainder of Scheetz’s term. The yet-to-be-named candidate(s) will be vying for the four years remaining on Burns’ term.

This quirk of political fate for the West Cocalico voters may be just that. Stoner has been in office for multiple terms; Eby is likely to mirror that; and the newcomer may well do the same. The reason is two-fold: the length (six years) of the terms for these second-class township supervisors and the fact that, like Eby and Stoner, the nominee backed by the local Republican committee in this overwhelmingly Republican constituency is likely to win and serve for decades barring some well publicized controversy. Case in point: the one in East Cocalico centering on Sunshine Act questions that dashed Fortna’s re-election hopes. (In that case, the Republican committee had thrown its endorsement to newcomer Carrasco.)

Burns, despite relocating, will continue to be a familiar face in West Cocalico. His daughter still resides here and he will be returning for the sporting and community events in which his family members are involved.

As for Hildebrand, she is hoping the next supervisor will be as hands-on and involved as Burns.

“He was always willing to volunteer to do what was needed,” she said. “He took his job very seriously. He was very available to the office and he was certainly doing his part in going to various meetings where we needed that presence.

“We need that going forward.”

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