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The Sentinel

An Eye on the Penn State Administration


Borough, What Happened To ‘Tightened Bonds’?

When the newly elected members of the State College Borough Council came into office earlier this year, they quickly moved to reach out publicly to the student population, and to, as The Daily Collegian phrased it, “tighten bonds” with Penn Staters here in Happy Valley.

Now, over two months after they stated their intentions, have these bonds of friendship and community been forged? Were all their ideas really helpful in the first place? When will they reach out to students in a meaningful way?

Borough Council Looks To Tighten Bond With Students (TDC) Feb. 21, 2008 — Any community that hosts a university is familiar with building and trying to maintain amiable “town-gown” relations.

“Town-gown relations is a broad spectrum of activities,” Tom Kurtz said. After compiling its findings, the borough manager’s office created three top priorities that received the best response at the town-gown symposiums.

The first priority is creating a welcome packet for all new residents, including information “targeted mostly towards students,” Kurtz said. The packets would contain information about trash, noise pollution and party ordinances, he said.

This first idea is laudable and certainly not difficult to accomplish. If the borough leadership finds itself constrained for time, why not reach out to the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA)’s Off-Campus Representatives, or the students in the Off-Campus Student Union (OCSU) for help in accomplishing this before the fall term?

The second priority, Kurtz said, is to create landlord-tenant relations programs, which would help settle disputes. A similar idea was proposed previously by Elizabeth Goreham, now president of borough council.

This landlord-tenet relations center was promised over nine years ago by then candidate for office Liz Goreham. I’ve asked before on Safeguard Old State why this hasn’t been implemented. We’ve heard too many feel-good promises — it’s time for this to become a reality. Your action (or inaction) will be the standard by which your time on the borough council is judged.

The third priority Kurtz presented was to create a “walkabout” program in which a small group of residents, cops, borough officials and university officials would greet new borough residents at their homes. Other ideas proposed were developing an online education program for off-campus life and a party host ordinance, which would allow the host of an out-of-control party to have the opportunity to call police without receiving a penalty.

This third idea seems wholly unnecessary and, frankly, rather instrusive. There is no need for the State College police to be wasting their time engaged in a “walkabout” to greet new residents. Their job is to protect and serve, not to meet and greet.

If the borough council wants to establish more information for students living downtown, or work to foster a more caring community, they should start by repealing the three-unrelated rule that hampers downtown real estate development and bars students from living in homes with more than three unrelated friends.

Further, work with the Department of Office Campus Living (OCL) and its head, Loretta Doss, to ensure that good policies are put in place that keep in mind both the desires of the permanent residents and the needs of the student population.

A set timetable was not introduced, but the borough plans to hold a meeting with students and borough residents in the coming months, Kurtz said.

The State College Borough Council needs to fundamentally rethink how it works with the students who drive the economy of this community. It needs to help students work hand-in-hand with policy makers and it needs to take a step back from the unhelpful and divisive political sloganeering that occurs every year during events like State Patty’s Day.

Both the students and the townspeople need to renew their relationship with one another, and while this certainly doesn’t require the oversight or approval of the State College Borough Council, it would at least be nice to know that they’re paying attention to the students in a context other than passing a new policy aimed at forcing more students into high-rise apartments and out of single homes, for instance.

UPUA President Gavin Keirans reached out to the members of the State College Borough Council within one week of being elected as head of the student body. He has already petitioned the borough leadership to establish a commitee on town-gown relations, and he’s been pushing for the realization of Council Chairwoman Liz Goreham’s long promised resource, the Landlord-Tenet Dispute Resolution Center.

The Borough needs to be both receptive and aggressive in working with the eager student leadership in implementing these positive projects, both for their transient student constituents and the long-term townspeople. Strike while the iron is hot.

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