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Filippelli Sworn in as State College Mayor

by on December 17, 2019 6:20 PM

Ron Filippelli is ready to bring his years of experience serving local government and community organizations to a new role: State College mayor.

The former borough councilman and retired Penn State faculty member was officially sworn in as interim mayor on Tuesday afternoon at the Municipal Building in a ceremony performed by Centre County President Judge Pamela Ruest.

Filippelli was appointed by borough council on Monday night from among 11 applicants to fulfill the remaining two years on Don Hahn's term as mayor. Hahn was elected magisterial district judge in November and his resignation as mayor was effective at 5 p.m. on Monday.

Introducing Filippelli prior to the swearing in, council President Evan Myers detailed the new mayor's lengthy history of public service.

“I’ve known Ron for decades as a dedicated public servant,” Myers said.

A Penn State professor emeritus of labor studies and associate dean emeritus of the College of the Liberal Arts, Filippelli served two terms as a borough councilman, from 2007 to 2015. That included two years as council president and one year as chair of the Centre Region Council of Governments General Forum.

His service to the local community has gone well beyond council chambers. He has served on the boards of Schlow Centre Region Library, State College Community Land Trust, the Downtown State College Improvement District, Centre County Airport Authority and Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.

Filippelli also chairs the borough's zoning rewrite committee and was previously appointed by Hahn as liaison to the university.

"I am honored and humbled by my appointment as mayor," Filippelli said. "I want to thank council for their consideration and placing their confidence in me. I will do my best to be worthy of your confidence. I would also like to commend the other citizens of State College who came forward to offer their willingness to serve. The number of volunteers is a testament to the vitality of our borough."

He also praised Hahn for his leadership during a trying time in the borough that included that included the fatal police shooting of Osaze Osagie and the community tensions that rose to the surface as a result.

"I would like to thank Mayor Don Hahn for his exemplary service to State College during one of the most challenging periods in our history," Filippelli said. "I know that he will be an excellent justice."

State College Mayor Ronald Filippelli speaks following a swearing-in ceremony on Dec. 17, 2019 in the State College Municipal Building. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com

State College's mayor is the ceremonial head of government — acting as an ambassador for the borough within and outside the local community — and presides over borough council meetings. The mayor does not vote on any action of council, but can veto or approve ordinances. The position comes with an annual salary of $13,000, which is set by council.

After the ceremony, Filippelli spoke with reporters about how he came to apply for the position of interim mayor, the biggest challenge facing the borough, his goals, his role in the community and why he won't run for mayor in the 2021 election.

Following are excerpts from that conversation.

This has been a difficult and challenging year for State College. Do you see yourself playing a role in the healing process?

Ron Filippelli: Absolutely. I think the mayor can be kind of a… mediator in that process by being an interface with groups in the community who have grievances, groups in the community that have interests in one policy or another, and council. Of course the mayor is not a decision-maker, is not a policymaker. The job, I think I have the skills to do because I have done that for years at the university. I did it when I was active in the borough. I’m confident I can carry that out.

The mayor is not a policymaker, but are there any policies you’d like borough council to home in on during your term?

RF: I think the main problem the borough faces, the long-term problem, the structural problem that’s very important is the problem of affordable housing. I’ve been involved with the State College Community Land Trust in regard to affordable housing and I think State College needs a single, comprehensive housing policy, which it does not have now. It has excellent groups. It has Housing Transitions and State College Land Trust. Obviously, the borough has several programs which address this issue.

My goal would be to try to encourage the borough and these various organizations to come together, because we don’t have the kind of affordable housing we need in the borough. It’s a problem for students, obviously. That’s a rental issue. But I’m talking about homeowners, too, who need to be able to have starter homes. Young professionals, for example, we’d like to attract to live in the borough, young families. The housing stock in the borough does not support that kind of a need and we need to have some kind of policy to address that. I think it’s a critical issue.

Do you have a blueprint you want to follow to address that?

RF: Well, as I said, I think the first step is to bring all of the organizations in the borough together that are now addressing the issue of housing. Bring them together into a kind of uniform housing policy in partnership with the borough, of course. The borough is central to that whole issue. That would be the first step. How do we use our money to address the issue? What are our priorities? What can we do and how can we do it? I think that will be very high on my agenda.

Was submitting your name for consideration as interim mayor something you thought about when you first learned Mayor Hahn would likely be resigning?

RF: I’ll tell you the truth, I didn’t. I can prove that by talking to (borough manager) Tom Fountaine. When we first talked about this at lunch many months ago, I said absolutely not. But here I am. Things changed and I’m happy to be here and I’m looking forward to it.

What inspired you to apply?

RF: I think the most important word in a democracy is "citizen." To me, that’s a kind of hallowed word. And I wanted to make part of my life a life of service, being what I considered to be a good citizen. For me, whether mayor or not, I’ve been involved in many, many ways over many years. That’s just who I am and those are my values.

Will you seek reelection as mayor in 2021?

RF: Oh, I will not seek reelection. Absolutely not… In fact I don’t think anyone who put their name forward to be interim mayor should have run for reelection. That’s a big advantage to run for reelection. The mayor should be an elected officer and this is a temporary appointment. No way would I run for reelection and no way did I think anyone who put their name forward should run for reelection.

Not running in the 2021 election was part of council's discussion about potential guidelines for selecting the interim mayor. Another big guideline that was tabled eventually was about not being a Penn State employee. What was your view on that?

RF: Of course I’m no longer a Penn State employee and I haven’t been for quite a long time. But I thought that was the wrong approach. Now to put that in context, I think what was really meant there was not so much a Penn State employee. I think that got garbled in the communication. I think what the sentiment was is that there were some individuals who thought that someone with a full-time job should not be mayor because there wouldn’t be time to do what the mayor does. No, I think obviously this is a Penn State… we’re here because of Penn State. We’re not so much dependent on it now as we were in the beginning, but how many people in the borough are connected to Penn State? An enormous number of residents.

What are some of the highlights of your experience and things you think are noteworthy?

RF: I had two terms on borough council. That’s very high on my list. My two years as president of borough council. My one year as chairperson of COG. My work for the library board. I think the library is a cornerstone institution in any democracy. My time spent on the library board was extremely rewarding. There’s nothing bad you can say about libraries. That’s not true of most institutions, but that’s true about libraries.



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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