Cocalico Corner — Of vacancies and appointments: The late Terry Bergman learned they don’t always pair up

By on August 26, 2015


A vacancy on a board, authority, or commission is something I deal with regularly as a member of Reading City Council.

With a number of such panels, there is always a turnover of folks serving and an outreach to encourage citizens to get involved in their local government.

The process is simple, well, sort of. We have a nominations committee that oversees the applications and then interviews potential appointees. A vetting occurs to make sure there are no outstanding bills for taxes or water or that there are no liens against real property.

Lately, as those who follow regional news know, we’ve had to appoint a new council president and are preparing to interview candidates for a district council seat. Both these appointments, per the city Home Rule Charter, must occur within 30 days of the vacation of the seat.

And, there may be one more even bigger appointment we’ll need to make — but let’s see how the news plays out there.

The reality is that all these appointments carry through until the next municipal election, which occurs this year on Nov. 10. If candidates are not on the ballot for the open position, the county parties must nominate.

Although the local Cocalico municipalities differ considerably from the cities of Reading and Lancaster, there is one shared reality: when an elected official vacates his or her seat via death, resignation, or relocation, those seats, by law, must be filled within 30 days by the governing body. If that doesn’t happen, the appointment process moves to another step.

In third-class cities, the appointment duty for the unfilled seat proceeds to the county Court of Common Pleas.

But, in second-class townships like West Cocalico, there is an intermediate step known as the vacancy board.

At the Aug. 18 meeting of the West Cocalico supervisors, the seat itself of the vacancy board chairman had to be filled as the result of the death of longtime township resident Terry Bergman, the former sheriff of Lancaster County. Bergman, who died suddenly while attending a state sheriffs association conference in Pittsburgh, served as vacancy board chair for more than two decades.

Bergman, by all accounts a popular fellow who took his duties seriously, occasionally found himself frustrated by the lack of action on the vacancy board.

Indeed, according to Carolyn Hildebrand, township manager, during Bergman’s tenure there was never once a need for him to act. That, she said, was unsettling to him. And the limitations of what positions to which the vacancy board could appoint were also frustrating.

“I remember when I was named township manager,” she said. “He was upset because he couldn’t pick the manager. He told me it was nothing personal, but he felt he should have been consulted.”

The township manager is chosen by the board of supervisors. When a supervisor’s seat is vacated, the other supervisors appoint. If 30 days go by and they do not appoint, the job goes to the vacancy board which has 15 days to make the appointment. If that doesn’t occur, the appointment then goes to the Lancaster Court of Common Pleas, Hildebrand noted.

In his two decades on the vacancy board, Bergman saw two men rise to supervisor level without his input. When Supervisor Rich Sensenig passed away, Sonny Wealand took his place. And Terry Scheetz, a former state representative, assumed the seat of Supervisor Terry Kauffman when he moved out of the township.

Bergman’s frustration, Hildebrand said, also was part and parcel of his familiarity with residents of the close-knit township of 7,300. He had a pretty good idea of who would fit best on what boards.

“He knew everyone,” said Hildebrand. “He was quite the storyteller. He could look at someone and tell stories of that person when he or she was a child, a high school student, or a young adult with kids. He seemed to know all about their different stages of life.”

But, dutiful as he was, he had next to nothing to do on that vacancy board. He did throw himself into his role as a member of the recreation board on which he served for 20 years as well as on the local Republican committee.

In fact, Bergman took that recreation board role very seriously. Active also with the Boy Scouts, he incorporated both roles and would advise young men on projects for West Cocalico recreation that could help them gain Eagle Scout status.

When he couldn’t attend a regularly scheduled meeting, Bergman would call in shortly after its 7 p.m. start to check in.

He did just that on July 22, but that night he called in a bit early and in great spirits.

“He called ahead of time,” Hildebrand recalled. “He said he was on a river boat dinner cruise and he had to be going. He was having fun, but he wanted to make sure we knew he was thinking of us.”

The call the next morning was all the more startling in its wake: Bergman had died suddenly of an apparent heart attack at the conference.

At their Aug. 18 meeting, the West Cocalico supervisors appointed Henry Freed to take over Bergman’s vacated post.

Like his predecessor, Freed is a longtime resident and has considerable knowledge of the community.

Only time will tell if Freed will be required to take any action in his new position.

But one thing is likely clear: filling a vacancy does not replace the individual whose imprint remains on the position’s history.

That holds true no matter what the municipality or the reason for making an appointment.


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