Workshop meetings replace committees as Greencastle Borough Council begins new year

Shawn Hardy
Echo Pilot

A new year brought new members and a new approach to leading the Borough of Greencastle.

The Jan. 3 reorganization included the decision to switch from a committee system to a monthly workshop meeting.

The change was suggested by Albert Miller, one of three new council members elected in November. Miller was sworn in along with Jan Shafer and Allen Mairose and veteran Councilman Wade Burkholder.

Albert Miller was elected president of Greencastle Borough Council at the Jan. 3 reorganization meeting.

Miller was elected council president, and Shafer was named vice president.

Workshops vs. committees

When it came time for committee assignments, Miller suggested adding a second, non-voting workshop meeting each month and eliminating the five committees — administration and finance; personnel; public safety; community development; and public facilities.

"I think we should at least give it a try," Burkholder said.

"Seven heads are better than three," Councilman Joel Amsley said, referring to the seven-member council and the three-member committees.

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Council's regular voting meeting is held the first Monday of each month at 7 p.m. The workshop will be held the fourth Monday of each month, also at 7 p.m.

Each council member will take the lead in one division of borough government, work with Emilee Little, borough manager, and report at the workshop. Council members are providing Miller with their top three choices and he will assign them to one area — administration; budget and finance; community and economic development; long-range planning; personnel; public facilities and services; and public safety.

"I had been looking at existing committees of Greencastle and found there were only five committees. I felt some of those existing committees were carrying more of a load than others," Miller said via email. "Therefore, I initially thought of splitting some committees to create more equal distribution of the work. Also, to have six committees so each councilperson (excluding the president) would be chairman of a committee. I then began researching other boroughs around the state to see how their committees were setup. In this research I found several boroughs that had switched to the workshop model. After this revelation I did an analysis to determine what advantages there could be to change from the committee system to the workshop model."

He outlined the advantages:

  • Under the committee system, if every committee was fully engaged and needed to meet each month then each councilperson would be attending five to six committee meetings every month in addition to the full council meeting. The workshop model would reduce this workload to two meetings per month for the councilperson.
  • Under the committee system, the borough manager would also have been required to attend five to six committee meetings per month. The workshop model would also reduce the manager's workload and free the manager’s time.
  • Under the committee system, committee meetings were held at random times — some in the afternoon, some at 6 p.m., others at 7 p.m. This made it confusing and difficult for citizens to attend. In the workshop model, both the workshop and regular voting council meetings would be held at 7 p.m. for continuity and, it is hoped, would increase citizen attendance.
  • Under the committee system, there was a perceived lack of communications between committees. A committee of three council members could bring a subject to the regular council meeting for a vote without communicating with the remaining four council members beforehand. Under the workshop model, all seven council members would be attending the workshop where there would be open discussion about all things in the borough. The workshop would eliminate a councilperson feeling he or she had been left in the dark as they will have the opportunity to make immediate input during the workshop.
  • Workshop meetings would be where presentations from outside organizations would be made. This would relieve time pressures on the regular council meeting.
  • Items could be discussed in the workshop, but no votes could be taken. Items determined to need council action would be forwarded to the regular council meeting agenda for voting. The items would have been fully discussed in the workshop, thus eliminating the need for more discussion during the regular voting meeting. This would help to expedite and shorten the time required for regular council meetings.

Shawn Hardy is a reporter with Gannett's Franklin County newspapers in south-central Pennsylvania — the Echo Pilot in Greencastle, The Record Herald in Waynesboro and the Public Opinion in Chambersburg. She has more than 35 years of journalism experience. Reach her at shardy@gannett.com