As a resident of a borough for over 10 years, I’ve attended council meetings, been to dozens of events in borough buildings, and voted for mayors and council members.
If I’m honest, I’ve never really grasped how it all works.
Over the next several weeks I’m taking a deep dive into our North Boroughs and what you and I can do to make a difference and get involved. Oh, and don’t worry, I won’t forget about you, Ross and Kilbuck, I’ll include information about Townships as well.
Let me be completely honest with you: local government isn’t sexy.
It isn’t even mildly exciting. That’s probably why most residents stay completely in the dark about how things work. Sure, every now and then residents assemble and angrily stomp down to a council meeting and have their few minutes to talk and get something changed that has become a thorn in the side of the community. However, most borough meetings come and go with rare glimpses of “real” conversation happening during the meetings, hidden by declarations being read, summarizing discussions with resolutions already made in the weeks before.
I may not know exactly how my local government works, but I will tell you this:
Change is not made from a sternly worded Facebook post or a Nextdoor take-down.
Change is made in the council’s smaller committee and budget meetings. Change is made when you make your voice heard. In the current age of voter skepticism, local government is a place where your one vote really, truly, counts and can make a difference. To make real change we have to have a seat at the table, and to do that we have to have a basic understanding of how this all works. It takes a little effort and time, but I hope you’ll join me on this journey as I learn about our North Boroughs and Townships. Feel free to ask questions, make corrections, and share stories along the way. I want to feel more empowered in my community, and I hope you do too.
First, let’s get the vocabulary out of the way. Boroughs and Townships are types of Municipalities. Municipalities are simply a single division of an area that have the ability to self govern as allowed by national or regional laws. So, no matter if we are talking about city, town, village, township, or borough, these are all examples of municipalities that have the ability to govern themselves, but are also subordinate to national and regional laws.
A borough is a type of municipality unique to seven of the United States: Alaska, Connecticut, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Boroughs may be defined slightly different from state to state, for example, in Alaska a borough is just another word for county, but in Pennsylvania boroughs are more comparable with towns. Pennsylvania has 958 boroughs and they are all similar in that they are municipalities that have councils that create and uphold borough code. Boroughs have mayors, who serve to oversee law enforcement and break ties when they occur in the council.
A township differs from a borough, often with a larger population. Also, instead of a council, townships have supervisors, also called commissioners, who make up a board that is responsible for making ordinances and managing finances.
Both boroughs and townships can have managers, who are appointed (not elected) to carry out the resolutions of the council or board and takes care of all administrative duties. They may work closely with directors, assistants, and fire and police representatives.
One last important definition to know is Ward. Wards are the bane of my existence because I can never remember which one I’m in and I don’t understand why my neighbors and I aren’t in the same one. Wards are wonky in that way. A ward is a division of a municipality that elects and is represented by an official (a council member or commissioner, in the NoBos).
It’s important to know what ward you are in because it decides who represents you on council and where you vote.
Also, if you would ever want to run for a position, your ward would decide who you would run against and what position you could hold. This might be the most important part of this whole series…. Drum roll please….
FIND OUT WHAT WARD YOU ARE IN!
Now, I’m going to get more specific about the North Boroughs of Pittsburgh, but if you are like me and just Can. Not. Go. On. without more information about municipalities in PA please visit the Keystone Crossroads article that expertly explains all of this in more detail!
North boroughs of Pittsburgh include Bellevue, Avalon, Emsworth, Ben Avon, and Ben Avon Heights. Townships north of Pittsburgh include Ross and Kilbuck. First, let’s go through what the government looks like in each area. I’ve included each municipality’s website and whether or not their council’s meeting minutes are up to date.
Where do you live? Find your local government info below.
Avalon Borough Website - Minutes available and up to date Government: Nine council members and a Mayor. Bellevue Website - Minutes available but not up to date Government: Nine council members and a Mayor. Ben Avon Heights Website - Minutes available and up to date Government: Seven Council members and a Mayor. Ben Avon Website - Minutes available and up to date Government: Seven Council members and a Mayor. Emsworth Website - Minutes available and up to date Government - Seven Council members and a Mayor. Kilbuck Township Website - Minutes available but not up to date Government: Three Supervisors Ross Township Website - Minutes available and up to date Government: Nine Commissioners
In the upcoming weeks I’ll be bringing you all things borough government. How do you run for a council position? What does being a councilperson entail and why would anyone want to do it? If you don’t want to be on council, how else can you get involved? If there’s anything specific you’re curious about just send me an email and I’ll include it in an upcoming Borough Basics installment. Until then, let me know what you want to know about how your borough works!