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The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS) has been serving townships of the second class since 1921, when Gov. William Sproul signed Act 189 to create PSATS. PSATS is committed to preserving and strengthening township government by lobbying state and federal lawmakers and educating and informing its members through workshops, an annual conference and exhibit show, and award-winning publications.
The PSATS Municipal Government Academy certification (PMGA) is supported by PSATS. It is a graduate program meant to provide Pennsylvania’s elected and appointed local officials and staff with the leadership skills and professional development needed to meet the demands and expectations of their office or position. Within the graduate academy individuals must obtain 12 points in each category of public works, public safety, administration, and planning/zoning. Individuals can receive a PMGA certification by obtaining a total of 60 credit hours and attending three major PSATS events.
We recently sat down with West Goshen Township Board of Supervisors member John Hellmann who just recently received his certification from the PMGA academy in July of 2021. An electrician by trade, John was looking for ways to give back to his community when he was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Board of Supervisors in 2020. He quickly learned that there were many things the average citizen takes for granted in government and wanting to learn more about the ways of government he enrolled in the PMGA academy.
How did you hear about PSATS and the PMGA program?
Being on the Board of Supervisors at West Goshen they automatically sign us up to be members of PSATS. I started off by attending the bootcamp that they offered for supervisors in April of 2020 right after COVID hit. I then signed up to be officially enrolled in the academy in July of 2020 but had taken courses prior to that. It took me from April of 2020 until July of 2021 to receive my certification. I completed 72 credits.
What do you feel is the goal of PSATS?
From my perspective their major goal is to represent the interests of residents of townships before the legislative body in Harrisburg. Specifically, it helps represent and pursue the interests of the township government whose function is to serve its residents.
The other value of it is training. PSATs municipal government academy is a fantastic opportunity for newbies like me that got involved in my township and to learn about all the different facets of government.
What is the value of PSATS to its participants?
We have what we call an apprenticeship training program as an electrician which is 5 years long. You know nothing and we take that and mold you, training you in what you need to know as a skilled tradesperson while working on the job.
Like in an apprenticeship job, with PMGA you learn the theory and how to do it while on the job. In terms of theory, once you learn it then you can apply the same theory in a completely different situation. But you understand the basics of what you are trying to accomplish.
If you learn the theory of the government in different ways you can apply the knowledge in a way that is beneficial to its residents. It makes for a competent individual in that position.
Another advantage to the academy class is networking. For example, PENNDOT offers a number of classes and a bootcamp course and I got to meet with them and was able to solve a problem that we had from a resident.
The academy really allows you to meet the experts in the field.
What are some township issues that you feel can be directly addressed with coursework from PMGA?
I recently took a survey of residents to see which issues are most important to them. I found overwhelmingly that the township should address traffic, i.e. too fast, too much volume and/or too loud. I took many public works classes with PSATS that helped with this such as residential traffic management, traffic calming, and another course which talked a lot about different mitigation efforts to actually calm traffic speed and volume.
As for public works, our stormwater is becoming more and more of an issue. We must replace over 30,000 feet of metal pipeline in the township. There were a number of classes on stormwater, i.e. stormwater compliance (what your municipality needs to know), the EPA requirements (MS4 Permit requirements).
In terms of administration, a class on building and rebuilding trust in local government offered ways to develop transparency and openness between government, the elected officials and staff, with the citizens so people don’t feel that they have to scream and yell to resolve problems. We have a good township here that provides good services. We can encourage and require willingness to serve our residents and be transparent as to how things are done. One course that helped with this is Municipal eNewsletters: Communicating With Your Audience. Learning about the analytics and the results of our communications is really helpful along with getting the word out to residents.
What was your main takeaway from the PSATS experience?
My takeaway from the PSATS experience is that there is so much to learn about running government. We as the township’s Board of Supervisors are the most fundamental government body in dealing with people’s lives. There is so much to learn in terms of code, law, protocol, procedure, staff and generally about how things are done. There are proper ways to pursue changes and it is quite a bit to understand and learn. You have to get your hands on it and then with the formal training you get those kinds of answers. You can appreciate the issues more which therefore makes you more effective as a leader.
Overall, being a member of PSATS can greatly benefit both township leaders, staff and its residents.
We thank John for serving on the Township’s Board of Supervisors, for his dedication to the people of West Goshen Township and we congratulate him for getting his certification from the PMGA academy.