Q&A with New S.C. Councilman Gene Sweeney
Spring City Borough Council Candidate, who has all but won the election for the third seat, Gene Sweeney took time to talk to Patch about his election and the future.
This year's race for Spring City Borough Council was ceratinly a tight one, with three republicans and three democrats going at it for three seats. Incumbents Mike Petak and Don Shaner, along with Eugene [Gene] Sweeney have all but won the election. They will take their seats in January, barring write-in ballots ousting one or more of them. If seated, Sweeney takes the place of council Vice President Rich Beard, who did not run for re-election.
Sweeney took time to talk to LRSC Patch Local Editor Kevin Haslam about his election and the future, and to let the community get to know him a little better in this Q&A.
LRSC Patch: Where do you come from? Why did you want to run? What was the premise behind your campaign?
Gene Sweeney: I grew up in Philadelphia. My family moved down here to the Gilbertsville area my last year of high school. After college, my girlfriend at the time [now wife] was looking for a place to live, so she bought the house in Spring City. So, I've been in Spring City about nine years.
I'm a schoolteacher at Kutztown Middle School. I teach business.
The reason I ran was I knew there was going to be an opening, because I knew one of the guys wasn't running again. I don't have a major thing on my own. I have no agenda of my own, other than I think it's a great town and would like to see it get better. That's really what I'm hoping for. I guess my campaign is I would like to not see any tax increases, especially with the way the economy is. Any way the council can help improve Main Street would be good, without negatively affecting the rest of the residents throughout the town.
Patch: What was the campaign like? Did you do this before?
Sweeney: Never did it before. I think the democrats were definitely better organized. The republicans pretty much worked independently. I always assumed when running for office there was going to be party people helping you. There really wasn't. No county help at all by the republican party. It was pretty low key though. It's not a major office.
The one thing that surprised me, I finally decided to get signs. One of the democrats called the police on me, because I had signs on the poles. I thought it was really petty. And it wasn't that I had signs on the poles, it was that you couldn't staple them to the pole. You had to use string. I don't know what the reasoning behind that is, because if you go to any telephone pole in Spring City, there's 500 staples in it already. So, it's not that it hasn't been done. I looked at other signs - dry basement signs - that were already hanging up. They're stapled, so I figured I would hang my signs.
So, I thought it was a little petty to go so negative so quick in the campaign. But, the best part about the campaign was really just talking to people - seeing what their opinions were on what should happen in Spring City. Particularly Election Day, I spent the whole day at The Flag House, so I got to talk to people.
That was really cool. You hear a lot of good stories. I talked to people that used to live on my street years ago. I learned the history. That was the best part. All in all, I thought it was pretty positive, except for having the cops called on me.
Patch: Now you wait until January. Are you making any preparations or reading documentation in the midst of that? What are you doing to get ready?
Sweeney: First thing I did was I found a book online that Pennsylvania puts out about borough law. It has an explanation of what a borough is, what the borough government is responsible for. It's only 60 pages, so I read that. What I'm trying to do is look at what other boroughs are doing that are our size.
A lot of the time, you hear about what Phoenixville is doing with their revitalization. But, it's a tough comparison. So, I'm trying to look at other boroughs that are our size and maybe have the same issues we have. That's mostly my goal right now and check that out. Still paying attention to what's going on currently with the council - attending meetings and reading minutes.
Patch: What are the issues that you foresee or take a step back and look at. You mentioned a stable budget and helping downtown, but are there any other issues you see in Spring City you'd like to improve upon or take a look at more thoroughly?
Sweeney: I think one thing, and I don't know if government can do this, but a better sense of community. I've got a three-year-old kid that we took out trick-or-treating. On my street, we have about 20 houses on our block. Only five were giving out candy. That's kind of a silly thing, but five years ago, it would have been half the houses. So, the sense of community, at least on my block, is not there as much. You see these kids all year long. So, I just think there's parts of Spring City where the pride's just not there.
It is a great town. I think there's a little bit of a negative perception about Spring City, particularly outside of town. I've read on the comments section of websites, talking about Spring City having terrible crime. It really doesn't. I don't know if percentage-wise it's a little higher than Royersford, but there's not that big of a problem. I've lived here for nine years and have never had a problem with crime. So, there's misconceptions there.
One of the things a lot of voters were talking about was the inconsistency of enforcing codes. For instance, during snow emergency days, sometimes police enforce snow emergency routes, sometimes not - sending mixed messages to citizens. There are all types of issues where there's an opinion and it's not enforced consistently.
Another thing I've heard a lot of is this idea where council does things in secrecy. You've been to the meetings. I don't find them to be secret. I find that the attendance isn't very high. I think that's another misconception. That's also something the democrats promoted. I think they may have misled the public. More than secrecy, I think there's a lack of interest from the citizens. People are busy at 7 or 7:30 at night on a Monday.
But, that's what I like about your site. You're actually covering Spring City. The Mercury isn't always able to. There's lots of towns in the area. To send someone to those meetings may not be top priority. I also don't know how many people my age are reading newspapers. So, where do you get your information from with what's going on in local government. I think that's how the idea that the council being secret came from, too.
Patch: What would you say makes you a leader?
Sweeney: I'm not trying to do this as a leader. I would rather represent the people. I think my ideas are as valid as anyone else's and on the other side, I think theirs is as valid as mine. I'm not leading anyone. I'm just here to represent people.
I just want to talk to people. Get people's opinions and input. That's the great thing about having such a small town. You should be able to talk to your elected representatives pretty easily - call them up or email them - and give them your opinion. Kind of like the old town hall meetings. That's what I'm for.
Patch: A little more about yourself. You said you're a musician as well?
Sweeney: Yes, I play in a blues band - Alligator's Blues Band. An acoustic duo - Teacher's Lounge. And I'm in the Reading Phillies Mascot Band. We dress up as mascots at the Saturday home games. I'm Blooper.
Patch: Where does your musical background come from?
Sweeney: Growing up, I had a strong interest in music as a kid. I played a lot. I started in like fifth or sixth grade, met some kids in junior high, played in high school and had a couple of bands and continued with it. I never had any formal education on it other than private lessons. When you become a musician, it just becomes a part of your life.
Patch: Do you think that your experience with teaching and developing children will aid you in your endeavors?
Sweeney: I think you learn to deal with people. Everybody comes from a different background and has different priorities. You talk to people and you never know what someone's been through. You learn that quickly with kids. You learn about them as people. That will help with talking to people throughout the borough.
Just having an open mind. One of the things experienced teachers try to do is try to avoid hearing stories about kids before they get them, because then you start a relationship with a kid and already have an opinion. That was something interesting to learn. It's true. I see it now. I hear a teacher has a lot of difficulty with a kid and I think the kid is great and a great student. I think that can be similar to public service - just dealing with people in general.
Patch: Is more open communication the message you'd like to impart upon the community?
Sweeney: Yes. We have a great town. We have the advantage of having a small town. If you don't like the way things are going, speak up and tell someone. When I get sworn in, I'm not going to be worried about peoples' parties. The democrat-republican thing doesn't matter to me anymore. We've got a job to do. The borough has to work. If something's not working, let people know. Let's have an open line of communication.
I'm looking forward to seeing local government and the challenges involved.
Patch: Anything else you'd like to add?
Sweeney: My goal is really to represent the people and as time goes on, to talk to the citizens. That would be a great improvement - if people are thinking government is working for them the way it should. That's the nice thing. State and Federal government is so far away. Borough government is right here. So, I hope that will improve.