- Local Guide
Punxsutawney's governmental outline took on a new look last January with the inauguration of its first new mayor in 12 years.
Richard Alexander came abroad, as he says, to make a difference in Punxsutawney as well as the local police department. In Pennsylvania, a mayor is the highest-ranking municipal officer, who serves as a borough's chief executive.
Although Borough Council does the hiring and firing, it is the mayor who also has the task of overseeing the day-to-day operations of the law enforcement segment of the borough.
In taking an early retirement, Alexander comes to the mayoral position with 21 years experience as a Jefferson County corrections officer. He was the first training officer at the county prison, and even though some rules have changed in recent years, Alexander noted several of his training efforts still are used at the county facility.
Section 1121 of the Pennsylvania State Borough Code clearly states that "the mayor shall have full control and supervision over the Chief of Police and the Police Department and shall direct the time during which and the manner in which the police department operates."
In striving not to be a micromanager of the local police department, Alexander does feel, however, certain aspects of the unit need to have more structure. He says the department has not been lax in its duty but that perhaps certain things may have been overlooked and would need to be brought into compliance in a more timely, and thus, more effective manner.
Alexander has stressed certain conduct measures he wants to be in place with all members of the police department, including a sense of truthfulness and a respect for the chain of command. He feels officers always have to be responsible for their own actions and that respect for the public is paramount. Presently, the borough employs eight full-time officers, five part-time ones ones and four dispatchers, including a matron.
The legality of the mayor's office is presented in the state's borough code, which is a guideline for all elected borough officials in the Commonwealth. That code gives the mayor a right to attend all regular and special council meetings and be permitted to take part in discussions subject to the same procedure applicable to council.
The mayor can veto an ordinance. To override such action, a borough council must do so with a two-thirds majority vote.
As for the future of Punxsutawney, Alexander says he would like to see more industry and manufacturing brought to the area. He feels that would be a more attractive incentive for young people to remain at home.
"We need to grow and not lose any of our age groups," said the mayor.
"That includes the young, as well as our older population."
To achieve that end, he says, he has a good working relationship with the current borough manager, Ben White. Alexander also feels that the two borough entities should work in concert with the local Chamber of Commerce to get something positive going for the community.
It is the responsibility of the mayor to periodically report to council on the state of the borough and also to offer recommendations on matters of borough concern.
There is some fun stuff for the mayor to do that comes in the form of issuing proclamations, such as the one he did recently for the Cub Scouts. Weddings also have been on the horizon for Alexander. Since taking office, he has performed nine, including one on the golf course.
At the mayor's urging, four local young men striving to achieve Eagle Scout status soon will begin to refurbish the canons in Barclay Square.
Alexander is formulating plans to establish a committee of five-to-seven community members that would be an advisory group to help solve non-sensitive issues with the police department, and it would meet on an as-needed basis, or at least quarterly.
Another one of the mayor's goals is to see the police department equipped with more technological devices, such as on-board video cameras. Here, he says, the advisory group could be involved with numerous grant-seeking efforts to achieve this end.
As a public service for the community, Alexander has established regular office hours in the Civic Center Complex.
He can be visited Monday and Friday, from 9 a.m. to noon; Tuesday, from 1 to 4 p.m.; and Wednesday, from 4 to 7 p.m. During these hours, the mayor can be reached by telephone at 814-938-2710.
As for a more personal side of Alexander, he was born in nearby Rochester in Allegheny County, and his family moved to Punxsutawney in 1958. He is married to the former Diane Foster, and the couple have four children and six grandchildren, with a another grandchild coming along in November.
The mayor is an avid collector of antique toys, as can be evidenced in his office. Alexander says he would do a car restoration again, since he already has restored one, namely a 1929 Model A Ford.
Now, on to the teaser stuff. The event is over since it occurs on the last Friday of April, but that fact should answer last month's teaser about the identity of Sterling Morton.
He lobbied for the establishment of Arbor Day, a day that celebrates tree planting and care. Now for this month: What do Thomas McKee, Noah Trehearne and John Shermer have in common?
Did you know any of this? Well, now you do.
Roberta Dinsmore can be reached at email@example.com.