NEW Castle’s dysfunctional government badly needs an overhaul.

In theory, a strong mayor and five-person council govern this near-bankrupt, blue-collar city of 21,000.

In practice, residents have had to choose between self-serving politicians who misuse taxpayer money and good-old-boys who wield their connections to advance their own interests.

We believe the people of New Castle deserve better -- and so do they.

A year ago, voters approved, by a 3-1 margin, a Home Rule study commission to conduct an overdue review of New Castle’s outmoded government structure.

Since then, the volunteer, seven-member body has met twice a month to draft a city charter. This municipal constitution will govern the city after February 2024, when Act 47, the state law covering financially distressed cities, expires.

Yet, for all its importance, public apathy — not a lack of transparency — has compelled members of the Home Rule study commission to operate virtually in the dark, with little public oversight or input.

Attendance by the public at these meetings at City Hall has been, to put it nicely, underwhelming, generally limited to commission members, consultants, and a New Castle News reporter.

Without their full participation, how can residents expect the commission to operate in their best interest?

Much is at stake. The new charter will shape the city’s future as a self-governing home rule municipality, setting parameters for local elections and taxing authority, as well as city commissions, boards, and council.

Under Home Rule, the city may set its own Earned Income Tax rate. If New Castle falls back under the state’s third-class municipal code, however, its Earned Income taxing authority could not exceed 1%.

The charter will determine who will lead the city’s financial comeback: A strong elected mayor, or a number-crunching city manager, hired by a city council of probably five or seven members.

Failure to achieve home rule could put the city into financial receivership. Under receivership, New Castle would become a subject of the state, with little or no self-governance.

The clock is ticking. Residents will vote on the commission’s final proposal in a May 2021 primary ballot referendum. By then, however, it will be too late to influence the plan.

To their credit, members of the study panel have volunteered their time to make their community better. Now, the rest of the city needs to wake up and step up by giving them a hand.

Commission meetings take place every two weeks at 6 p.m. at City Hall. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 25.

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