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Lancaster plans four meetings to publicize home rule question, help commission candidates complete petitions

Darlene Byrd speaks to City Council during a special meeting on home rule at City Hall on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. Directly behind Byrd is former Mayor Art Morris; behind Morris is former Mayor Rick Gray. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

City Hall is hoping plenty of candidates toss their hat in the ring to be named to a Lancaster home rule study commission.

Along with the referendum question that City Council authorized Monday, asking voters whether such a commission should be created, at least nine prospective commission members need to be on the Tuesday, May 16, primary ballot — and ideally more, so voters have a choice.

Andrew Sheaf

If there aren’t at least nine, the commission can’t move forward, Andrew Sheaf, local government policy manager with the Governor’s Center for Local Government Services, told One United Lancaster.

He expressed confidence there will be no shortage. Mayor Danene Sorace says she has “planted seeds” with a dozen or so people, either to run or to see who in their circle might be interested. At least one has confirmed plans to run, reports LNP: Former Mayor Rick Gray.

Prospective candidates must be city residents and registered voters and must secure at least 200 petition signatures to appear on the ballot.

They can start collecting signatures as of Tuesday Feb. 14. The deadline to submit their completed petitions is four weeks later, on Tuesday, March 7, deadline. The petitions must be notarized.

To help candidates collect signatures and to help city residents familiarize themselves with the home rule issue, the city will hold four community meetings, one in each quadrant, Sorace said. The dates and locations are still being finalized.

The meetings will cover the basics of home rule, the question on the ballot and the role of the commission. There will then be a half-hour period during which anyone who wants to will have the opportunity to collect signatures.

The city also plans to make notary services available, Sorace said.

“This is a very public, community-oriented process,” Sorace said, and it’s important for the community to get involved and understand clearly what’s at stake.

The commission is nonpartisan, so candidates’ names will appear on the ballot without party identification or other information. Sorace said the city would publish a candidate list, along with short bios and statements of intent, on its website, and encouraged local media to do its part as well.

Home rule commissions must hold at least one public hearing. Usually they hold at least three, and they can have more, Sheaf said. In response to questions from Darlene Byrd, leader of South Ann Concerned Neighbors, however, he admitted there is no minimum level of public participation. Nor does the home rule law impose any attendance mandates on the commissioners themselves.

That’s why it will be important to evaluate them carefully and choose well, Council President Amanda Bakay said.