Letter: A look at proposed change to charter,
September 30th, 2009
To the editor:
It’s been four months since the campaign to amend the Home Rule Charter with a citizens’ bill of rights began. Since then, it has become a topic of discussion in Cheltenham Township. What exactly is this amendment to our Home Rule Charter? How does it work? What is Home Rule?
What became of the petition that was signed by 3,023 registered voters in July? What happens on Nov. 3? Will Cheltenham citizens get the opportunity to vote for a bill of rights? Why are the taxpaying citizens finally working to become a vital part in the decision-making process? How will we benefit from a bill of rights?
These are some of the questions being asked. The answers are varied and the rumors are many. It’s time for a real conversation to get the facts and make an informed choice in November.
This approach to attain community rights is new and is being tried in a number of towns and cities across the country. In many municipalities throughout Pennsylvania, citizens are democratically seeking a change in their local governments to allow community majorities to decide their quality of life issues. Other Pennsylvania community rights groups are having success and taking a more active part in what their town will look like for their future and for generations to come.
Who is not tired of the long maze of zoning meetings, month after month, when a huge development project shows up in our neighborhood? Waiting for continuances, listening to discussions on variances from expert engineers and corporate lawyers does not give us a deciding voice. We patiently wait our turn to speak, but inevitably, we have to hire our own expensive lawyer to be heard and to protect us from corporate board members, who don’t live here.
Amending our Home Rule Charter with a citizens’ bill of rights will mean that public benefit corporations, like SEPTA, will be required to seek our approval by voter referendum before zoning meetings begin, like their proposed five-story, mega-garage. The amendment does not mean that citizens are seeking a vote on all development projects. This approach was generated by concerned neighbors after almost a year of meetings with SEPTA and township officials. We the People of Cheltenham strongly support smart, sustainable business growth and fair, responsible development.
After WTPOC filed its petition in proper order, the county commissioners, acting as the board of elections, voted against placing the bill of rights amendment on the ballot. WTPOC challenged their decision. On Sept. 17, National Constitution Day, Judge Kent Albright in county civil court ruled that the board of elections overstepped its authority and ordered it to honor the petition and to perform its administrative duties. It is now required to frame an unbiased question for a Nov. 3 vote.
This is not a time for rumors or misconceptions. Our Home Rule Charter says that citizens have the “right to be informed, to be heard and the right to participate, and to amend the Charter, from time to time as needed.” Please join your neighbors for conversation about our bill of rights amendment.
We invite you to the first of a series of community meetings, “An Evening of Questions and Answers,” this Thursday, Oct. 1, at 7:30 p.m. at All Hallows Church in Wyncote, Greenwood Avenue and Bent Road.
For more info: 215-572-0752 or visit www.wethepeopleofcheltenham.com.
We the People of Cheltenham