Who wants to be on City Council?

With no challenger for the general election, it is inevitable that Harrisburg City Councilor Patty Kim will be elected to the 103rd seat of the PA House of Representatives.

So, that leaves a seat open on Harrisburg City Council.

Ms. Kim will officially be on the State’s payroll December 1st, leaving a vacancy in Council Chambers on November 28th. The question is, who will fill it?

Per the Third Class City Code and Optional Third Class City Charter law, any vacancy will be filled by a person put there by the majority vote of the remaining City Councilors within 30 days of the vacancy. Thus, by the start of the year, the City of Harrisburg will have a new official.

That is, residents of the City of Harrisburg can apply and City Councilors Wanda Williams; Susan Brown Wilson; Brad Koplinski; Eugenia Smith; Kelly Summerford; and Sandra Reid will review the applicants, hold interviews, and vote on the best person to fill the role of being their colleague. The qualifications for applying are this:

    • an applicant must be at least 21 years of age
    • an applicant must live in the City for the term of being a Councilor
    • an applicant cannot be an officer of the Harrisburg School District, the County, the State, or the United States (exception are a notary or a member of the military)
    • an applicant cannot be an employee of the City nor a member or employee of any City municipal authority

In City Council’s own terms, the remaining Councilors are looking for “civic-minded” people to apply for the vacant seat.

Civic-minded….what does that mean?

This is the important question of this process. It’s a question that anyone applying for City Council should carefully consider. And it’s the very question each and every City Councilor must earnestly ponder before casting her or his vote for the next City Councilor if for nothing else but in order to demonstrate their own civic-mindedness, their own concern for the Harrisburg community and the City’s civic affairs.

Unlike a typical campaign for City Council, the public will not be inundated with signs, slogans, promises, and endorsements. Also, unlike a typical campaign, the public will not have its vote until the next election when the appointed seat will be open again. This creates an interesting situation. Applicants won’t have to campaign; they will have to interview. Applicants won’t have to walk and knock door to door; they will have to answer and respond question to question. Anyone wanting the seat will merely have to indicate their worthiness to City Council who will act as proxy for the public in choosing a new leader.

In Greek, there is a word areté, which in its most basic sense means to be the best one can be. It means striving for excellence and endeavoring to reach great human potential. The concept of areté recognizes that life, especially societal life, is challenging and wrought with tensions and conflict. Possessing areté means to find ways to overcome the difficulties of working with others, of working with disagreement, and of working with projects in order to reach common good—what is a good for as many people as is possible in a community.

Areté is a characteristic admired in leaders most of all, and it is often associated with civic virtue. Being informed, participating in various social endeavors, listening well and finding compromise, and governing fairly within the laws of the land, these are all traits of the civically virtuous leader.

Unfortunately, in the City of Harrisburg there is a bad habit of elected leaders who have tended to be too focused on popularity and power, people pontificating honor and duty rather than exhibiting the knowledge, skill, and courage of one who deserves the office of a leader. To too many of our elected officials, the title has mattered more than the responsibility of the position they hold. Handshakes, speeches, and chats out and about only go so far. Critical thinking, competence, and commitment and are other things indeed.

Now there is a chance for a true citizen to step forward and be put in place. This is the opportunity for anyone in this City who has felt the urge to participate in the governance of making Harrisburg better to come forth and stand before Council to profess why they are the person for this temporary job (after all, the appointment is only for one year). Undoubtedly, we will see more than one person apply for the vacant seat who has run for office before, and while this is expected, let’s hope capable people step up who have perhaps shied away from the game of campaigns or maybe have been pushed out of the micro-political system found around here. Let’s hope that this special circumstance of gaining a new Harrisburg City Councilor is less about politics and more about civic-mindedness. Let’s hope City Council realizes this, too.

Fill this out>>> Application for City Council

Applications should be submitted to the City Clerk’s office in the lower level of the City Government Center, Lower Level, Suite 1, 10 N2nd Street, Harrisburg 17101 no later than Friday, November 16th. Call the Clerk’s office with any questions: 717.255.3060.


photo by Jonathan Smith