Elliott Killian had to request a change in Ferguson Township law before he could run for supervisor.
The age to serve dropped from 21 to 18 after a majority of the township voted for the change, and Killian was 20 when he took office at the start of 2012.
Municipal Election Day is on Tuesday, and at least one of Killian’s colleagues will change come Jan. 1.
Almost halfway through his term and the youngest elected official in the Centre Region, Killian, a 21-year-old Penn State horticulture senior, talked about what he’s learned and his ideas for the township.
Q: How do you balance your roles as a student and a township supervisor?
A: I think when I first started, I thought I could easily commit to both equally. But I would definitely go to a township meeting or township responsibility instead of class. I look at what’s the better experience I could have, or what’s the better value I could put in. To me, it’s always a township responsibility. I schedule my classes around it, so I don’t ever have Monday evening classes.
Q: What challenges have you experienced in serving?
A: I think one is meeting the residents’ expectations in a responsible way. We’ve had one neighborhood in the past, Park Forest, that talked about a corner that they couldn’t see — it was a sharp turn and there were a lot of speeders. A couple years ago, someone just went right through a house or a garage. So we’re looking at ways to trim bushes so you could see around the corner, things like that. Government, in my experience, isn’t proactive, it’s reactive, and it’s also kind of slow. Sometimes I wish certain topics we could move quickly on. Sometimes it’s difficult to create a solution for residents that both we can do and that doesn’t take a long time.
Q: What are your future political plans?
A: I’m not planning on being re-elected or seeking a higher office. I think, for me, this was a great experience and a great opportunity that I could do it. I’ve certainly learned a whole lot about the area, and also teamwork, leadership skills, public speaking.
Q: Related to that, talk about the key things that you’ve learned while on the board.
A: I feel like I’m an expert in sewer. I think sewer, recycling are two of the things I feel like I know a lot about. Also, how we do road construction. At the township, we decide what we value, then it goes to the (Metropolitan Planning Organization) and then the MPO does it and we hope we get funding. In one of my classes —it was plant identification — the professor said, ‘after you take this class, you’ll get this magnifying vision’ (to identify plants specifically). I have this magnifying vision when I drive down a road. I know the history of the road or what are the future projects. And I think that’s one of the reasons, again, why I wanted to serve was my dad had that. When we’d be driving down the road, he’d say, ‘this was named Lowe’s Boulevard and they changed it to Colonnade.’ Little things like that. So it’s given me a new appreciation.
Q: Your dad, Richard Killian, served as a supervisor. What kind of support or resource is he for you now?
A: Sometimes I’ll be talking about an issue to get history and he’ll give me advice. Knowingly or not knowingly, he’ll say what I should do. And then I’ll tell him what I was thinking or what my solution is, and then he pauses and says, ‘yeah, OK, that’s it.” When I was running, there were a couple people I didn’t know who were against me as a candidate just because of my dad. They were fearful that I would have similar views, which I probably do, but I think, at least I hope, I come up with different solutions or have a different perspective.
Q: What kind of feedback do you get from constituents?
A: I feel like I’m not quite as popular on the phone as other supervisors. I think the more that I talk to people, they’ll normally have a comment, like ‘you guys have done really well on signage on Whitehall.’ I think the township needs to go in the direction of social media, because in Ferguson we don’t have a Facebook page or Twitter or things like that. Not that we need them, but to engage in social media in some way so people can contact us. The live C-NET (discussed in relation to switching board meetings to Tuesdays), I was hopeful of getting that because then people could be watching C-NET live and see a topic, and say, ‘oh, I know something about that topic,’ or ‘I have a question about that topic’ and then they could tweet someone on the board or the township. People don’t actually have to be at the meeting to be interactive.
Q: What would you like to accomplish before leaving the board?
A: The wind turbines. One of the things I was always frustrated about and would talk to my dad about when he was on the board was that you can’t have small wind turbines, ones that are a foot tall, on residential lots. You have to have 25 acres to have one of those huge turbines because we have a wind turbine ordinance. I always thought it was ridiculous you couldn’t have these wind turbines the size of a fan. I’ve brought it up several times, and I think eventually we’ll amend that ordinance. If it isn’t, I’ll write my own ordinance.
Another idea I’ve had is having a regional logo. I say I live in State College, but I live in Ferguson Township, even though my mailing address is State College. I think that’s one of the problems with our identity. I was thinking ‘greater State College area’ because that includes a lot of us, and then having that logo incorporate all of us so that we all feel that we’re one.
Q: What are your future plans?
A: I will be an entrepreneur. Right now I’m looking at mushrooms — using mushrooms to build structures. There’s a company right now making shipping packaging out of mushrooms. A company is also making car bumpers, so if a car crashes into another car, it’s easy to replace. Some mushroom materials have been shown to be stronger than concrete by weight. That’s it right now. That might change next year, next week.
Q: Do you think you’ve paved the way to allow more young people to run for local office?
A: When I was running, I cared more about the referendum than me getting elected, because it’d be a legacy decision. For the Centre Region, we pat ourselves on the back with our regional parks, that we say 100 years from now they’ll look at us and say, ‘these people were wise for conserving that land.’ It’s these legacy projects that we’re proud of. Maybe 20 years from now somebody else starts running and they’re able to do it because of what I did.