Time to cut the cord

By on January 21, 2016
Current West Cocalico Township Manager Caro - lyn  Hildebrand  and  her  visiting  “grand-dog”  Shelby

Current West Cocalico Township Manager Carolyn Hildebrand and her visiting “grand-dog” Shelby

Imagine you’ve started a new job. Now, imagine you’ve been in that job for a few years.

Your superiors acknowledge the quality of your work. You’ve even broadened the duties and responsibilities in the time since you’ve been appointed to the post.

For the most part, you get along quite well with your colleagues. Your work atmosphere is collegial.

Now, imagine that twice a month and in front of your superiors, your work style and methodology is questioned — and seemingly criticized — by the person who once held your job.

Now, imagine all that happening in a public setting.

It’s actually something I’ve observed since I first began covering West Cocalico Township in the spring of 2014.

I don’t believe it’s happening because the person offering the commentary is nasty or mean spirited. From my perspective, it’s a matter of not letting go.

It’s also a matter of relaxed — or non-existent — meeting procedure in which the board of supervisors, specifically the chair, allows any member of the public to chime in at any time.

In the decades I’ve both covered and participated in municipal meetings, I’ve certainly seen public comment protocol breached. Usually it’s the result of a passionate issue that brings people to the brink. I’d say that at least 90-plus percent of the time, folks attending municipal meetings — and those conducting the meetings — adhere to the rules. That is, when there are rules.

In West Cocalico, a small, rural township of approximately 7,000 people, most folks know each other, a tribute to the stability and livability of the area.

That certainly adds to the comfort level when a small group of citizens and officials gather in the township meeting room for the semi-monthly sessions.

At the Jan. 4 meeting, filled with the annual housekeeping tasks of reorganization, at least 30 minutes (by my account) was consumed by questions posed throughout the session by the retired township manager.

These questions centered on the published agenda, a request to change meeting times and possible related personnel costs, appointment of a vacancy board chair included in the reorganization listing, a dog kennel zoning issue, and the need for official recognition of the resignation of a township secretary.

And, while the amount of time consumed at this meeting was a bit extreme, the reality is that this same scenario plays out at most of the meetings I’ve attended.

Certainly, there is merit to asking questions. The continued concern of a retired employee for her municipality’s welfare is commendable.

But, surely, matters can be handled differently. For one thing, agendas are made available to the public in advance on the township Web site and, I believe, via hard copy in the township office. That enables questions to be directed to the township manager or supervisors either in advance or concisely at the start of the meeting where public comment is listed on the agenda.

And, in the spirit of professional courtesy, the predecessor should refrain from publicly calling out the township’s top administrator on so many issues at virtually every meeting. The township supervisors have the ability to control this, too — also as a professional courtesy to their administrator.

Sometimes retirement can come as surprise to individuals. Rather than falling under the “Yabba-dabba-do!” category, it can become the “be careful what you wish for” reality.

The institutional knowledge displayed by the retired township manager has often proven helpful to West Cocalico and I suspect that will continue.

I just hope she — and the supervisors — find a way to funnel that knowledge for everyone’s benefit.

And, I hope they realize that the fine, responsible township manager they have in place should be treated with the professional respect she deserves both privately and publicly.

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