Section 1502 of the First Class Township Code places general supervision of township affairs in the hands of the board of commissioners. Commissioners combine many of the roles found in separate branches or levels of the state and federal governments. The board serves as the legislative body of the township–setting policy, enacting ordinances and resolutions, adopting budgets and levying taxes. Since there is no separately elected executive, the board may also perform executive functions such as formulating the budget, enforcing ordinances, approving expenditures and hiring employees. About 86 percent of those townships operating under the Code have hired managers, while most others use the township secretary for general administrative purposes. In many townships commissioners also play a large role in administrative activities and oversee the day to day operation of township government.
Because of a commissioner’s elected status, an individual in that position is often viewed as a community leader. Commissioners are the proper recipients of complaints, ideas and suggestions concerning township affairs. In many cases, the commissioner is called upon to perform as a problem solver, acting as an agent for township citizens with municipal or even outside agencies. The commissioner has a role in representing the township’s communal interests past, present and future. Although assisted by a planning commission, paid administrator or historical commission, many of the final decisions are made by elected officials.
The extent of any one commissioner’s activities in these roles is defined by the individual’s own view of civic responsibilities, particular fields of individual interest and personal skills and talents. To a large degree, the commissioner’s role is also defined by the local political culture, the generalized local attitudes toward municipal government and commonly held expectations of how officials will operate.
The basic qualification to serve as a township commissioner is to be a registered voter and resident of the township. Commissioners must reside in the township continuously for at least one year before their election. To continue serving as a commissioner, an individual must retain residence within the township. To qualify as a voter, a person must be 18 years of age and a resident of the election district. A person whose name appears on the district voting register, but who is no longer a resident of the township is not a lawfully registered elector. Legal residence includes not only a person’s intention, but also a physical presence. The requirement of residence approximates domicile. Intention or voter registration is not enough; an individual’s actual residence is better determined by his conduct than by his words. A person cannot declare a domicile inconsistent with the facts of where he or she actually lives.
Commissioners elected from a ward must have resided continuously for one year within the ward prior to their election and must continue to reside within the ward during the entire term of office. Commissioners moving to a residence outside the ward they are elected to represent automatically disqualifythemselves from holding office. Redistricting can work to deprive ward commissioners of their seats. Where the township has fewer than five wards, a commissioner who is displaced by redistricting may serve the remainder of the term as an at large commissioner.
Incompatible Offices — A commissioner is prohibited from also serving as township treasurer, township secretary or auditor. Only one commissioner at a time may serve on the township’s civil service commission. A limited number of commissioners can serve as members of the township planning commission, but are prohibited from becoming members of the zoning hearing board. Additionally, a township commissioner cannot serve as a member of a school board.
A school board is a legislative body of citizens called school directors who are elected locally by their fellow citizens and who serve as agents of the state legislature. Each board consists of nine members who serve four-year terms of office without pay.
School directors, although locally elected, are really state officials, co-partners with the legislature. They are designated by school law to administer the school system in each district. The school board is a political subdivision of the state for the purpose of convenient administration of the schools and follows the School Laws of Pennsylvania enacted by the legislature having direct and pertinent reference to public education, its programs, its operation and its management.
Effective school boards concentrate their time and energy on determining what it is the schools should accomplish and enacting policies to carry out these goals.
In essence, school boards have three functions: planning, setting policy and evaluating results.
Constables belong to the executive branch of government. As such, they are answerable to the governor of Pennsylvania. They perform services for the Pennsylvania Magisterial courts, but do not belong to the judicial branch.
In Pennsylvania, constables are peace officers. As such, they are also empowered to quell a disturbance of the peace. A disturbance of the peace in Pennsylvania is defined as an imminent threat or danger to persons or property. For example, if a constable observes a public brawl, then the constable may arrest the participants for breaching the peace. According to Pennsylvania common law, a citizen may also have a limited power of arrest commonly known as a citizen’s arrest for felonies committed in view, but they are not given the shroud of authority a constable, sheriff or other law enforcement officer is given.
Duties of a Constable
Protecting the Polls
Constables are also charged by Pennsylvania statute with maintaining order at election polls and ensuring that no qualified elector is obstructed from voting. Constables are the only peace officers permitted at the polls on Election Day. In fact this duty is mandated upon constables; failure to protect the polls, or provide for their protection through appointed deputies, is punishable with a fine.
Working for the Courts
Constables may serve the court, but are not required to. When serving the judiciary, constables may serve judicial process, writs, arrest warrants, levies and collect fines. These services are regulated by Act 49 of the Pennsylvania statutes. The constable is paid for these services by fees which are specified in the statutes, and paid by the defendant in criminal cases or the plaintiff in civil cases.