BLACK LICK — The race for a leadership position in Burrell Township could easily be settled on Tuesday.
One of the three seats on the board of supervisors is up for election this year, but the only two candidates seeking the job are Democrats. The winner in Tuesday’s party primary would run virtually uncontested for the six-year term in the general election in November.
Current supervisor John Shields and former supervisor Gary Henry are campaigning for the post.
Each said his interest in serving the public is what drives him to run.
“I want to help the community and the public as much as I can. I enjoy doing that,” Henry said.
His past stint of service as a supervisor lasted a few months from mid-2011 until the election that year, when he was appointed to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of David Henry, whom Gary described as a distant cousin.
Gary didn’t run for election, and the seat was taken by another cousin, Larry Henry.
Shields has twice served as a supervisor. His first tenure began in early 2008, when he was appointed to replace John Markle after his resignation, and ended after David Henry defeated him in the 2009 election. He was appointed again later in 2010 to fill a seat left vacant when Leslie Henry — an uncle of the other Henrys — retired from the board.
“I like working for my community, mainly,” Shields said. “I was born and raised in Black Lick and grew up here. I am trying to give back to the community and help things out. And I’d like to draw some business back into the community.”
Burrell Township has a mix of landscapes. There are vast areas of farmland served by back roads, state game lands and surface coal mining operations. Its population centers include the old coal-mining towns of Josephine, Palmerton and Black Lick; some newer housing developments such as Smith Plan and Strangford; and the streets that cross the borders with Blairsville Borough.
The township is bisected by U.S. Routes 22 and 119, its commercial center straddles Route 22, and, arguably, the biggest impact on the township’s economy in the last decade has been the opening of Wyoming Technical Institute — WyoTech — the automotive trade school in Corporate Campus industrial park.
How will WyoTech be a factor in township life in the coming years?
“We have heard rumors that they want to leave, but we hope they are just rumors,” Shields said.
“The public is starting to adjust to a lot of what’s going on and getting used to the fact that they are going to be here. I’m not seeing a whole lot of problems myself.”
When WyoTech opened a decade ago, housing became a premium commodity in the region and area neighborhoods saw growing volumes of traffic and activity by the young students attending the school.
“You have kids who are away from home for the first time and experiencing freedom,” Shields said.
Both candidates said township residents have had run-ins with the students, but Shields said the problems have been different from those that people in Indiana have experienced with Indiana University of Pennsylvania students.
And Henry said it appears that WyoTech administrators have not taken those issues lightly, and have worked to eliminate problems.
“The kids aren’t as much trouble as before. They keep after them, and if they have trouble, they get rid of them,” he said.
“WyoTech has helped the community a good bit” through economic impact, Henry said. “And I think it will stick around here for a while.”
The development of Marcellus shale gas well drilling sites will be another issue commanding the supervisors’ attention in the next six years, Shields said.
And finances will be even tighter, he said.
“Unless things loosen up with state funding or federal funding of any type … it’s going to be a struggle to find funding for road projects in the next few years, I believe,” Shields said.
Both said that the upkeep of township roads is a top concern for the township residents they’ve met during their election campaign.
Residents want the supervisors to “mainly keep after the roads, keep them in good shape, keep the ditches clean, the grass mowed, the odds and ends,” Henry said.
“For most, the big thing they’re wondering about is the road work and stormwater management,” Shields said. “And we’re still dealing with a few people who want certain roads closed. That’s what I’m hearing.”
Getting elected to the board of supervisors has traditionally been a ticket to full-time work on the township maintenance crew, meaning service as road masters in charge of plowing snow and patching potholes. Both have backgrounds as laborers.
Henry, 50, worked 11 years at LaMantia Produce, in Blairsville, before being named to the supervisors in 2011, and now is employed by J.B. Myers Enterprises, of Blairsville, a company that rents and services portable toilets for construction sites.
Shields, 55, served with the Manpower agency on temporary community improvement projects in the 1970s and 1980s, gained 10 years of experience as a foreman in labor jobs, ran a landscaping company for six years then worked for an excavating company in the township as a machine and equipment operator before he was appointed a supervisor in 2008.
Each man said he hopes for the voters’ support on Tuesday.
“I want to try to get some new development in the township,” Henry said. “There’s always room for development, no matter where you are. And the road jobs need to be done.
“I’ll work with everybody in the township and give 100 percent in whatever I can do,” he said. “I won’t turn anybody away, and will do the best job I can do. I want to help out in any way I can.”
Shields put the revival of Black Lick as a goal for the supervisors.
“Black Lick … for years had a bad reputation, and I’d like to see that scar go away and see some positive development in the community,” Shields said.
“I’d have to say … I’ve always tried my best to look out for (township residents’) interest and I hope I’ve done that in the last few years. I’m always open for suggestions and I strive to be there for them.”