Port Matilda mayor: Vote for someone else

crosenbl@centredaily.comOctober 18, 2013 

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Port Matilda mayor Bob Wiser in front of the veterans memorial in the town on Thursday, May 17, 2012.

CHRISTOPHER WEDDLE — CDT photo

Port Matilda Mayor Bob Wiser has a different campaign message: Don’t vote for me.

Having held the post for four years, Wiser is running unopposed for a second term. Normally for an incumbent, that would be a good thing.

But after winning the spring primary handily, Wiser, 70, changed his mind. Unfortunately for him, he missed the August deadline for taking his name off the Nov. 5 ballot.

Now he’s asking Port Matilda residents to vote him out of office by writing in a qualified alternative candidate.

“I just lost my interest,” he said. “I really enjoyed doing it.”

A borough resident since 1949 and retired town postmaster, Wiser became interim mayor in 2009 after Vi Duncan, who held the post for 10 years, abruptly retired and moved away.

Borough Council appointed Wiser, then the borough secretary.

That fall, ironically, Wiser won a write-in campaign, beating the sole ballot candidate.

During his term, he said, he served the community as best he could, trying to resolve local disputes about garbage, pets, parking and other issues. He also led the construction of a local veterans memorial, which he considers his top accomplishment.

But Wiser said he’s tired of butting heads with the Borough Council for two years about adopting a “weed ordinance” for making negligent homeowners clean up overgrown properties.

He thinks several Port Matilda lots are in disrepair, reflecting poorly on the rest of the town — a problem, he said, council members won’t take seriously.

“I was not able to get everything accomplished that I was pursuing and hopefully some positive changes will be enacted to make the town more presentable to our visitors and residents in the future,” Wiser wrote in the borough’s recent newsletter.

“Much needs to be done and most residents in this town take pride in their appearance of their homes and yards but the exceptions have been frustrating and unfair of the neighbors who take pride in their properties.”

Council President Steve Kibe disagrees that unsightly yards are a pervasive — or contentious — problem.

He said the borough has ordinances in place against accumulated junk and trash outdoors if they pose safety or health risks. But he’s not in favor of checking lots for acceptable grass heights and aesthetic appearances, calling the approach “a little instrusive.”

“In a small town with fixed incomes, different things happen, lawnmowers break,” Kibe said. “We don’t want to send our mayor or borough employees out there with a ruler and measure grass. But for the most part, we don’t have that issue.”

Wiser also has two personal grievances with Kibe and the council.

At one council meeting, Wiser said, he was publicly admonished for talking about zoning during a TV interview after a local bank closed — a topic, he said, that was well within his rights as mayor to discuss.

At another meeting, Wiser said, he was asked to leave before an executive session but never fully told why. He then wrote a letter to James Nowalk, president of the Pennsylvania State Mayors Association, seeking clarification on the council’s legal authority to exclude him.

Quoting the state’s Borough Code, Nowalk wrote back that “the mayor may attend any or all regular and special meetings of council and may take part in the discussions of the council on matters pertaining to borough affairs.”

Wiser said both incidents were “demeaning and embarrassing,” playing a large role in his reluctant decision to quit.

“At my age, I don’t need to be stressed out,” he said.

Kibe said he doesn’t have a personal issue with Wiser. He said he respects the mayor, appreciates his dedication to the borough and was “saddened” by his change of heart.

He said Wiser did “a very good job” handling residents’ disputes in a small municipality without a police force or a code enforcement officer.

“Vi was a fantastic mayor, and she cared deeply about the borough,” Kibe said. “Then Bob came along, and he did the same thing. He stayed on top of things.”

Should Port Matilda’s residents not heed Wiser’s call to boot him out of office, and he then retires before the new term, the borough’s council will appoint an interim mayor, said Jodi Neidig, of the Centre County Elections Office.

The new mayor would have to run in the next municipal election to continue in office, Neidig said.

To win this election, a write-in candidate only will need to be the highest vote-getter, Neidig said, noting a second-place finisher would not automatically succeed Wiser if he steps down.

She said she has never heard of a candidate asking voters to choose someone else.

“I’m going to say it’s something that doesn’t happen often, but I don’t know if it has never happened here,” she said.

Kibe hopes that Wiser, if re-elected to another term, reconsiders.

“I would like very much if the will of the people is that he serves, he would change his mind and serve,” Kibe said. “That would show him that there is still a great deal of support behind him.”

But Wiser said his mind is made up. He said Dec. 31, in any case, will be his last day in office.

In the meantime, he wants his neighbors to vote for “any good candidate” but himself.

“I hope somebody with the qualifications steps up, puts their hat in the ring and decides to do it,” he said.

Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620. Follow him on Twitter@CRosenblumNews.

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