After heated debate, Democrat DiIllio will fill council vacancy George DiIllio – Council also rejects compensation for its future members

By on March 18, 2011

Once the dust settled and a few fireworks died down, it was George DiIllio who outpaced four other candidates to fill a vacancy on Ephrata Borough Council created by the resignation of Wendy Perillo possibly becoming the first Democrat to be seated in the body s history. Those vying for the open seat included two independents, Robert Wasnewski and Jeff Shirk, and three Democrats, Tim Barr, Ginny DiIllio and George DiIllio. The process quickly turned testy when Mayor Ralph Mowen asked that council members carefully consider who would be the best person to fill the vacancy, and not whether one of the independent candidates may consider seeking the Republican endorsement in the fall election. I would hope that council looks at the qualifications and not that Mr. Shirk was the only one willing to change parties to Republican, said Mowen following the initial motion to name Shirk. This quickly set off fireworks between the Mayor and councilman Robert Good. I ve got a problem now, said a clearly irritated Good. The comment by the Mayor has tainted this whole process. I had hopes that the people of this council would look at qualification and not on the fact that one candidate said probably he would seek the Republican endorsement. If Shirk were to be elected, there would be comments that the only reason he was elected was that he made a comment that he might change from no party affiliation to Republican. How can you make a non-biased vote after such a comment?

Mowen tried to smooth things over with Good saying that it was just one of the comments made. But an angry Good fired back at Mowen. I really don’t care what you say, Good said to Mowen. Council member Tom Reinhold shared concerns about perception. It s how it s going to look. It s going to be perception, said Reinhold. It will look like he got elected because he may go Republican.

"Democracy is a messy thing, said council president A. Anthony Kilkuskie in the face of the heated exchanges. Reinhold was also concerned about the manner in which the nominating process had unfolded. As a newer member of council, his concern was that the process was not explained, making it imperative that supporters of one candidate be quicker on the draw to bring a motion to elect their preferred candidate. Otherwise, other candidates may never even have their names come up for a vote. I would like to see Mr. DiIllio in this position, said Reinhold. I was impressed with his background in the community and his professional experience. I also like his stand on code and compliance experience.

Councilman Russell Shirker stated that he would second a motion to select DiIllio if such a motion could be raised

On the first ballot, council considered an up or down vote on naming Jeff Shirk. Three members voted for Shirk and three against, with Robert Good abstaining in protest. The vote indicated just how divided council remained for the entirety of the evening. A second ballot was put forward to consider George DiIllio for the position. It, too, came down to a completely spit council with three votes for and three votes against DiIllio and Good once again abstaining in protest. As council considered a third ballot, which would have possibly meant sending the matter back to the council s vacancy board, things heated up when it was pointed out that the chairman of the vacancy board, Chad Weaver, is also the Republican committee chairperson. Some felt it might look as though the person named was selected based on political party more than qualifications. The motion was ultimately withdrawn when one member questioned why the Mowen had not been given the chance to vote on the matter. Borough solicitor James McManus referred to the borough codes book to clarify that indeed in such matters, the Mayor could cast a tie-breaking vote. The motion to return the matter to the vacancy board was rescinded and votes on the first ballot were taken again. This time, however the outcome was not different as Mowen voted no on the question of placing Shirk in the vacant seat. On the re-vote for the second ballot, Mowen voted yes, officially placing DiIllio in the position. Interestingly, Mowen and DiIllio faced off against each other in the last race for the mayors’ office. For a time, it appeared DiIllio s swearing in might have to be delayed until another time, as no one had made sure a copy of the oath of office had been prepared. The oath was quickly printed out and brought to chambers so that the process could reach its logical conclusion. Once the matter was settled, Good did his best to mend fences with Mowen. I respect our Mayor as our Mayor and and I also respect him personally, said Good. I meant nothing derogatory against him.

It wasn’t just with regard to the council vacancy, however that things got a bit heated among members. The question of whether or not to compensate council members for their service drew comments from residents in attendance. And the final vote reflected a council divided, although not quite as sharply divided on the matter. As chair (of the budget and finance committee), I felt it important to bring to the full council to have opportunity for an up or down vote, said Russell Shirker. Councilman Dale Hertzog then launched into a 20-minute talk, which was part policy statement, part history lesson and part declaration of his intent to support the motion. The motion would compensate council members $100 a month beginning Jan. 1, 2014. This recommendation, only taking effect in 2014, does everything it can to avoid the appearance of impropriety while providing an equitable implementation timeline, explained Hertzog, reading from his five-page prepared statement. This is about being forward-thinking and providing a small token of appreciation for those folks who volunteer their time, and answer the call to service by serving on borough council. It is about making our system more equitable for those coming after us.

Other members were far more succinct in stating their positions both for and against the measure. Good, who s father was burgess of Ephrata in the 1940s, said he would never take a dime for his work for the community following in his father s footsteps. If it was good enough for my father, then it s good enough for me" said Good. Commenting on Hertzog s listing of other municipalities who had voted in favor of compensation, Good said that clearly each of those municipalities had to take a vote in order to enact such provisions. He said he was sure there had to have been some fall out as a result of those votes, but that people eventually get over such a move. But in the end, Good made it clear that he was not there for the money, but to serve his community. On my own particular thought, when I ran for council I only did it like we all did with only one objective in mind to do the best for this community as I was capable to do, said Good. It takes a lot of time. We’ve all suffered through the agony we go through sometimes when we make an important but not necessary black and white decision. But when I made the decision to run I purely made it on the basis of serving my community the best I could.

Vic Richard is one of three members of the committee that clearly stood in opposition to the matter from the start. I was on the committee and was against the measure, stated Richard. Just to reaffirm what was stated earlier we are a volunteer organization. We serve the community since we were mostly born and raised here. I feel the no compensation just makes it clear as glass that we want to be here for no other reason. I would like to think the town’s people and our forefathers didn’t take compensation for the same reason. It is working the way it is. If future councils want to change it they can, but not on my watch.

Comments by those in attendance echoed sentiments of those in opposition to the measure. David Sturtevant drew a parallel between those who volunteer to serve on borough council and those who commit, in many cases decades, to serving the community through the fire company, social services and various other service organizations. We have people who fight fires for 35 years, said Sturtevant who himself served six years on the Ephrata Area School Board. We have people who serve the social services, the VFW, the Amvets. Nobody on the school board gets any money. I think it is a mistake to remunerate people who serve. I just think it sets a bad tone for the youth of the community.

Democratic candidate for council Ginny DiIllio also weighed in. I understand you put out a lot of work but there are a lot of people who do a lot of work around the borough but don’t get paid, commented Mrs. DiIllio. I just don’t know how we afford the extra $10,000 to fund it. I think you can find a different way of recognizing your wonderful efforts, other than paying your members.

A roll call vote was taken and the motion was defeated. Hertzog, Susan Rowe and Reinhold voted yes. Good, Kilkuskie, Shirker and Richard all voted no.

In a similar measure, council passed a motion to acknowledge 25 borough volunteers each with a $50 gift certificate to one of six local businesses. The measure passed with a vote of four to three. The measure would give each of the volunteers their choice of gift in recognition of their service to the community through various committees and commissions. Some of those against the measure felt that it was inconsistent for council to approve this measure but vote down the measure allowing future council members to receive remuneration. Shirker did not agree. I think we are looking at two different animals, noted Shirker. I made a decision years ago to go for this spot, knowing what it entailed. We knew it was not for compensation. We got our petitions signed and got the votes to be elected. Those volunteers on this list got there because someone called from the borough asking them to fill these positions. I don’t think they came forward seeking to be on these committees, therefore we are simply acknowledging once and done to say thank you.

Hertzog opposed the measure because he felt it was inconsistent with the position taken by council on the earlier measure. The fact of the matter is that this has not been once and done, said Hertzog. This has been done almost every year since 2006. I appreciate the volunteers but it is still volunteer. I cannot wrap my head around the inconsistency of our policy.

Kilkuskie felt the measure was almost a dual function of awarding volunteers but with gift certificates to local businesses. It s a nice side effect to benefit our local businesses and I find that appealing, said Kilkuskie. More COUNCIL, page A18

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