While the concept of Home Rule for Carlisle Borough may have merit, the proposed Home Rule Charter is full of hazards that make it the wrong choice for Borough residents.
The charter does away with the executive branch of government in Carlisle, relegating the "Mayor" to a role almost identical to that held by the Council President now. The veto power held by the Mayor's Office today, disappears under the proposed charter. This ignores the principles of "separation of powers" and "checks and balances" enshrined in our US Constitution and the lessons of two millennia of governance. Even the ancient Romans new the hazards of having a single branch of government. Under the Home Rule charter, the Council will be the sole elected power in the Borough, unchecked by a Mayor as it is now. No President or Congress should rule unopposed, nor should a Mayor or a Council.
Two flyers have been mailed to Borough residents with the claim: "With regard to taxation, the charter leaves the council subject to exactly the same limits under which it now operates." This assertion is flatly false. As noted above, the Mayor's veto disappears. The Borough Council will have completely unfettered and unchecked authority on taxes. On May 14th, I raised this issue before the Council. (See "Residents fire at mailings" on the front page of the May 15th Sentinel.) I asked that the Council take action to correct this misleading statement--to ensure that voters in Carlisle understood this important issue correctly. As noted in The Sentinel's reporting, the Council President refused.
Other changes in the charter also conspire to reduce voters' control over Borough governance. The Police Department will no longer be under the Mayor's control. That means you can no longer address police matters with the Mayor and Council and can no longer fire (refuse to reelect) a Mayor over police department conduct. The department will be under the control of the Borough Manager, supervised by the unopposed Council. The elected Tax Collector--another position you may hire and fire at the ballot box--will be replaced by some tax collection system to be determined later by the Council. What will you get in return for giving up your control of the Tax Collector? No one knows. Term limits will kick out your favorite effective elected official after two terms. Want to keep an experienced, honest, hard-working Mayor or Council member in office? You will not have that option under the proposed charter.
Finally, the charter adds a process for voter initiatives and referenda. This can be a good thing if done correctly. However, there is no sure check to block bad or harmful initiatives, and any mistake made through this process is locked into place for two years. Imagine living in a community that could not correct its mistakes before they did severe harm to its citizens. This is a process ripe for mischief and the threat posed by the "tyranny of the majority."
Again, home rule is not a bad idea. However, this charter is a threat to the way of life we enjoy in Carlisle and a threat to voters' control of their government. I urge you to vote "No" on May 19th and to invite your family, friends, and neighbors to do the same.
- Alan Howe