Changing of the guard

Newcomers to Honesdale Borough government

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 11/30/21

HONESDALE, PA — Jim Hamill didn’t do much campaigning when he ran for a seat on Honesdale Borough Council. A week ahead of the 2021 municipal elections, he posted to his personal Facebook …

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Changing of the guard

Newcomers to Honesdale Borough government

Posted

HONESDALE, PA — Jim Hamill didn’t do much campaigning when he ran for a seat on Honesdale Borough Council. A week ahead of the 2021 municipal elections, he posted to his personal Facebook page to “humbly ask” local residents for their vote and support.

A friend, who until then was unaware of his candidacy, responded, “How have you not mentioned this to me?”

“I kind of have a thing where I undersell and overdeliver,” he wrote back with a wink.

With 15 years of local television news under his belt before transitioning into the tourism industry at the Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau, Hamill was already a familiar face and name when he threw his hat into the race. That may have had something to do with his winning the most votes (677) out of all five candidates. With a healthy overall voter turnout—as far as municipal elections go—it’s also the most votes a council candidate has won in recent history.

When he did talk with people about running, he emphasized an intersection between tradition and modernization that he would make his focus as a member of council.

“In the lead-up to Election Day, I got a good feeling that people are very optimistic about the direction that Honesdale’s going in. I think that’s a shared belief across many different backgrounds and generations,” Hamill said. “People are very much in tune with the idea that we want to maintain Honesdale’s small-town charm, while responsibly going ahead and trying to accentuate all the positives.”

Hamill isn’t the only fresh face to get voted into office this year. Fellow first-timer David Nilsen will be joining the seven-person council, and Derek Williams—who defeated incumbent Sarah Canfield—will take on the mayorship come 2022. As these rookies trade places with some local government veterans, Hamill describes it as a “changing of the guards in some ways.” And it’s come at a turning point between tradition and futurization for the third-class county seat.

“It’s not necessarily that the system is broken… I just think that the system needs to be brought into the 21st century,” he said. “I’d like to help foster more of a modern approach to the problem-solving. The borough could be a little bit more tech-savvy in using different platforms to message to the public so that everybody’s informed better.”

He envisions better utilization of social media tools; a sleeker, more user-friendly website; updates to internal communications between borough employees; and some new tools like a regularly issued newsletter, for example, on all that’s new in the borough.

As a regular attendee of the council’s bi-monthly meetings, Hamill has heard it plenty of times before from fellow residents: the council is preparing to vote on a contentious new ordinance, and unhappy members of the public not only oppose the ordinance itself, but feel that they’ve been kept in the dark about its potential until the latest possible moment.

“We need to have a lot more transparency. People need to understand some of the finer details that are happening,” he said. “Part of that is having a positive message so that people will want to be part of the process. Before we even get to opening up the process in which we decide things as a council, I think that we need to engender in people’s minds that they want to be part of the process. Right now it just feels like it’s adversarial between the public and the government.”

Hamill has been able to get a taste of local governance as chairman of Honesdale’s parks and recreation commission. From this perspective, he’s found that issues under the broad umbrella of “quality of life” tend to stand out to him as top priorities.

Stormwater and flooding issues, he said, are yearly problems that affect everybody in the borough, especially those who own property in the most severely affected areas.

“People whose backyards are flooded time and time again, based on the affect that we just don’t have the infrastructure: That’s a huge quality of life issue,” Hamill said.

In general, infrastructure will be front and center for the new council member, many issues are included in the Greater Honesdale Partnership’s recent revitalization study: fixing up the sidewalks; improving light poles; enhancing pedestrian safety; investing in the local parks system; and making a headway in creating a trails system that utilizes the Lackawaxen River.

Each of these issues, of course, is going to cost the borough money. And a lack of funding has often been the reason why various problems persist without any quick solutions. Hamill said that he wants to find “creative ways” to solve the borough financial woes, and do it without asking residents to foot the bill.

“Council members Jared Newbon and William McAllister, along with the leadership of president [Mike] Augello, have done a really good job in keeping the fiscal stability of the borough in place,” Hamill said, referring to their work to avoid raising taxes on residents with the recent budgets. “But [they’ve said that] in 2023, there’s going to be a difficult scenario where we’re going to have to face a reckoning with our finances.”

Hamill wants to start communicating with the public now to make sure they understand what’s coming, and so elected officials and residents can start planning for it in a collaborative way, rather than at odds with one another.

“I think we need to bring everybody together to understand the situation and then find the most pragmatic approach to solving that, for a long period of time,” Hamill said. “We can’t keep coming back to the same drawing board and saying, ‘Nothing we can do about this, we’re just going to have raise taxes on all the homeowners.’”

As he waits to be sworn in, Hamill said that he’s thinking about his kids and how he can use his council seat to better their lives.

“The great generations of leaders before my time made Honesdale a great place for me to grow up in,” he said. “I just want to do my part to ensure the same for the next generation.”

Read next week’s edition of River Reporter to learn more about mayor-elect Derek Williams.

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