Mount Union’s new borough manager is less than two weeks into the job and says it’s become clear already the Bricktown community has energy and motivation to give, and he’s looking forward to finding opportunities for the public to work side-by-side with borough government on community projects.

Talking about his initial goals, Miller, who is also serving as police chief, said he is excited by public enthusiasm and how that energy might be used to fuel community initiatives.

“Simply put, there are a lot of people ready to work and contribute and are very driven to do so,” Miller said. “It is our greatest strength, and when we work together, it’s powerful and palpable.”

Although still in the midst of orientation, Miller said he’s already looking at issues where public participation can help shape or steer borough action.

He said the best example right now is the new committee on the revitalization of the former General Refractories office building which housed the Mount Union Area Historical Society’s Industrial Museum for the past 20 years. Before determining the building’s future, the borough is turning toward the public for ideas on potential uses for the historic structure.

“There are people who are ready to contribute and it warrants giving those groups and members of the community a legitimate opportunity,” he said. “If you have people who are ready to engage, you move with them, you give them opportunity to influence the decision-making process and it’s a great way for the community to come forward and have a real voice.”

Council president Carol Kuklo said she, too, wants to clear a path for community involvement and believes the first step is a welcoming relationship between council members and constituents.

Kuklo said this year she wants to encourage the public to attend council’s committee sessions, when appropriate, thus giving residents more opportunity to weigh in on the decisions facing council.

“They the residents need to have input,” Kuklo said. “My goal is to get the community more involved.”

Council members took steps to that effect last year by hosting two town hall sessions; plans for a third town hall meeting are in the works.

“What the council and I are trying to demonstrate is that we’re not a hollow chamber,” Miller said. “We are really listening.”

Miller, former Huntingdon County Emergency Management Agency director, said his past work in government taught him that good leadership knows when to reach out.

“I spent a lot of time working in government and I’ve learned government doesn’t have all the answers, nor should it,” he said. “We’re going to be at our best when we’re empowering the dreamers and movers of Mount Union and I think we can best do that through clear processes, accessibility and accountability.”

Sitting in on his first council meeting as borough manager Jan. 2, Miller received authorization to create a new website to improve accessibility and to put into place a new procedure for tracking and addressing complaints about borough services, thus boosting accountability. He’s also surveying council members and staff alike to gauge their expectations since Mount Union’s last borough manager departed in 2010.

Because of the nearly decade-long gap between managers, there’s wasn’t a conventional passing of the baton between predecessor and successor but Miller his first days on the job have been made great by staff efforts.

“It’s been fantastic. There’s good information flow, good cooperation and we’re really hitting the ground running together,” he said. “Everybody has jumped in and is ready to build and re-envision what we can become as a borough government.”

He also praised the efforts of staff and council members for their efforts over the years to perform the tasks usually assigned to a manager.

“I was not disappointed by the amazing work that staff has done to keep the borough government functional,” he said. “The work that council and employees have done to prevent serious negative impacts is admirable.”

As he moves forward in his orientation period, Miller said he will continue to seek out opportunities for direct public involvement and continue to explore ways across the board to improve borough efficiency, and to get a better sense of Mount Union’s strengths and its challenges, like locating funds to complete the Pennsylvania Avenue wall project and the replacement of the Moore Avenue Bridge at Liverpool. He noted that his dual role as manager and police chief provides flexibility so that he can prioritize where he’s most needed at any given time.

“I’m beginning to map out our unmet needs, maintenance issues, project statuses and workforce processes in order to establish a comprehensive picture of the action I need to take to address our needs,” Miller said. “Significant time is being spent with staff to establish a sense of where we’ve been, where we are and where they believe we could go.”

He said he’s doing similar introductory work with the police department as well.

Working with staff and council and other leaders throughout the community, Miller said he hopes their combined efforts will help reinforce Mount Union’s value as a good place for families to live and businesses to invest.

“I see opportunity all over the place,” Miller said. “Some things can happen fast, some will take generations but the future is bright so long as we open our hearts and eyes to it.”

Rebecca can be reached at dnews@huntingdondailynews.com.

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