A Citizen’s Guide to Addressing West Mayfield Council

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?

Here’s How

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.

Get Out and Vote in the 2013 Primary!

votersguide1Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.                         ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

West Mayfield residents will have a chance to participate in democracy on Tuesday, May 21st, during the 2013 Pennsylvania Primary Election.

Polls across the state and in the Borough will be open from 7am to 8pm.  To learn more about who’s running in West Mayfield and where to cast your ballot, visit our Voters Guide.

The Right to Know, or the Right to No?

“Every government record is presumed to be open.”  

–Terry Mutchler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records

The following article is by Leah Samuel | PublicSource | April 21, 2013

After getting a parking ticket at Pittsburgh International Airport, a driver requested a copy of the Allegheny Police Department’s report of the incident. The department didn’t respond.

A parent asked the Ligonier Valley School District for documents detailing planned teacher layoffs. The school district said it had no such documents.

A reporter asked Middle Smithfield Township for maps of local sewer lines. The township refused to turn them over, saying that could jeopardize the security of the sewage system.

Eventually, each of these individuals appealed to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, which tries to resolve disputes between citizens asking for information and agencies that don’t want to give it.

But they should not have had to appeal, said Terry Mutchler, executive director of the office.

“Every government record is presumed to be open,” she said, “and the agency has to prove why it shouldn’t be.”

To read more of this article, please visit the Public Source website:

http://publicsource.org/investigations/right-know-or-right-no