Take the Right Action
Citizens often come to borough council meetings with a variety of complaints, such as potholes, the condition of their neighbor’s yard, barking dogs, or speeding traffic. Frankly, it doesn’t matter what the issues are, citizens have the right to address council and to have their voices heard. But what happens after that is another story.
The most commonly heard complaint from citizens is that “council won’t do anything” to solve their problems. Of course, there are legitimate reasons why council does not remedy every complaint, solve every issue, or quiet every crisis. Civic issues can be very complicated, fraught with legal, economic, environmental, social, and political challenges. Budget restraints and personnel shortages are frequent reasons for government inaction. Lack of authority is another reason.
Nevertheless, citizens should not be deterred from calling upon their government to do its duty and manage the people’s business effectively and fairly.
But how is this done at the grassroots level of local government?
Let’s get this straight. Backfence complaining and closed-door grumbling are not going to solve any problem, so the first step is to formally bring an issue before council.
The following is an informative and helpful guide for West Mayfield residents or other citizens who want to engage our local government:
- Council meetings are open to the public, meaning that anyone can attend.
- The president of council–not the mayor–runs the legally required monthly meetings, which are held on the 2nd Thursday of each month and promptly start at 6:30pm.
- The president opens the floor to citizens early in the proceeding, so it is important that citizens be on time. When called upon by the president, citizens may address council on a first come basis. Currently, citizens may address council at the direction of the president, that is, there is no official time limit or other rules in place regulating the citizens’ forum. Citizens are free to come and go as they please.
- The borough secretary (currently Pat Lansberry) is legally bound to record and maintain official meeting minutes. Although written minutes are available upon request, citizens have the right to record the public meeting via audio or video device.
- Citizens addressing council are expected to state their name and address for the record. Citizens are expected to follow typical norms of public speaking, including refraining from using profanity or obscene language, and making libelous and defamatory remarks about others.
- Citizens have the right to address council about any issue; however, council’s authority to address or act upon an issue is limited by borough ordinances, the Pennsylvania Borough Code, and state statues. Council cannot mediate issues between private parties, nor can it control or regulate private property except as permitted by ordinance or law. However, council does have the authority to create ordinances, as well as amend, repeal or revise existing ordinances as prescribed by law.
- Council members cannot act as police officers. When laws are broken, including infractions upon ordinances, the Beaver Falls Police Department should be notified.
- As in any representative democracy, it is incumbent upon citizens to convince the majority of their representatives (see below) to support their cause. In West Mayfield Borough, it takes four or more members of council to prevail on the side of any issue—that’s the process.
- Citizens who can effectively demonstrate popular support for their issue by way of phone calls, letters, petitions, and mass attendance at meetings are more likely to prevail.
A realistic understanding of how local government works can go a long way in preventing despair and frustration among citizens. To learn more about how our local government functions, we encourage every resident to read the borough website and to regularly attend council meetings.