Is the State College Borough Council trying to undermine democracy? Some of them are.

Thank you council members and members of the public. My name is Peter Buckland. I live in College Township. In the interest of full disclosure regarding my remarks, I work at Penn State University and have served in local government in elected and appointed positions.

I speak to you during this special session as an advocate of democracy plain and simple.

It is auspicious that today’s discussion is happening the day after our local elections. The Borough council is considering limiting some citizens’ ability to put their names into the ring of public service because they either work at Penn State University or have not served in local government. These “guidelines” are patronizing, condescending, obstructive, and passive-aggressive preferences that are unconstitutional in spirit.

The preferences are based in paranoia and ignorance. They assume that an individual isn’t able to form good judgments on their own because of where they work or because they don’t have a blanket set of so-called qualifications. The idea that all Penn State employees are automatons, unable to think independently of their employer is insulting and ridiculous. Those who put forward these preferences seem to believe that an Assistant Professor of Biobehavioral Health, a Continuous Commissioning Engineer, or a Dining Services employee would have their strings pulled by some master of puppets in Old Main. In my term on the Ferguson Township Board, I can say with certainty that my arm was never once twisted or even nudged by an administrator. Quite the contrary, I used my position in local government to approach University administrators with positions that were not the most welcome. Surely other Penn State employees have, can, and would do the same. So it is quite something to see members of this Council assume that Mr. Barlow, Ms. Behring, Mr. Murphy, or others would be unfit for service as Mayor because of our place of employment.

These preferences assume the Borough government is powerless. Do you have ethics rules? Can’t mayors and council members recuse themselves from conflicts of interest? Can council or the solicitor enforce those rules? During my time on Ferguson Township’s Board I recused myself from votes for the mere appearance of a conflict of interest. Surely your future mayor can do the same.

And why Penn State and developers? Why not make your judgements from the Community and Environmental Bill of Rights and Fracking Ban that is attached to your Home Rule Charter. Set up a “guideline” that would say people who work for the natural gas industry aren’t welcome. At least it would be consistent with the spirit of a policy voted into being by a significant majority of your citizens. But the idea is laughable and preposterous. Why?

Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment reads, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The Council, as a body incorporated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and subject to the US Constitution, surely doesn’t intend to enforce a law—however ephemeral, weak, petty, and “guiding”—that runs contrary to the founding document of our nation and the myriad voting rights acts that have followed since. The chilling effect that it would have would constitute a form of voter suppression that no one here should tolerate.

State College Borough has been a place where democracy has been healthy. Seeing citizens here, it’s clear that it still is. Council should do the right thing—the Constitutional thing—and throw these preferences into the garbage and move onto selecting a Mayor you believe would be of the people and would work for the people.

Thank you.

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