Derek Slaughter: “…a forward thinking vision that is continually improving upon what we offer…”
by Taylor Lightman
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Derek Slaughter, a Williamsport native currently seeking the Democratic nomination for Mayor. He works teaching math to high school and college students and serves on Williamsport City Council. In Williamsport, the mayor has a great deal of power, acting as the “chief executive of the city, enforcing the ordinances of council…supervising the work of all city departments, appointing department heads, and submiting the annual city budget to council.”
The result of this election could mean a lot for the direction of Williamsport and central PA broadly. In this interview, we briefly touch on his background, his tenure on city council, and what it’s been like on the campaign trail.
Taylor Lightman (TL): In a March 2019 opinion piece in the NYTimes, Michele Anderson describes a ‘modest but persistent” trend of homecomers, or “people who have spent some time away, usually to pursue better opportunities in cities, and then choose to return to their rural roots.” She gives an account of people who have rejected the calls for greater urbanization and come back to rural areas to start a business, raise their family, or work on issues of justice.
As a Williamsport native, who moved away, and then moved back, do you identify with these homecomers? Why did you decide to come back to Williamsport?
Derek Slaughter (DS): After completing my M.Ed. at the University of Maryland, College Park, I worked in the DC area for about a year and then decided to move back home. I was away from Williamsport for about six years (including undergrad at Penn State) and I also did a semester abroad in Spain. To me, it was never a question of if I would move back home but when. Who I am as a person is partly the result of the opportunities that were afforded to me growing up here, in my hometown. A good friend of mine told me there was a job opportunity open to teach math and coach basketball so I decided it was time to come back home.
Once here, I wanted to make a positive impact. I was the head girls’ varsity basketball coach for 10 seasons and I still teach math at our high school. After I decided to run and become a member of City Council, I did not have the time to continue coaching. I volunteer assist as time permits. I am also an adjunct math professor at Penn College.
TL: What values do you bring with you to this community work?
DS: I bring a number of values including strong work ethic, experience and a vested interest to see the community succeed. Also, I believe traveling around has given me a number of diverse perspectives that I can use to drive positive change in Williamsport.
Tenure At City Council:
TL: During your short tenure on the Williamsport City Council, there have been some issues with the Williamsport Municipal Water & Sanitary Authority (WMWSA) turmoil and the hiring of the City Engineer — have these problems impeded progress on the issues you wanted to address when you first ran for city council? Or, perhaps, are these the kind of ‘good governance’ issues you sought to work on when you were first elected?
DS: It boils down to transparency, efficiency, and accountability to me. There are a number of Board members on WMWA whose terms have expired. It is my belief that Board members’ terms should be up-to-date. Therefore, the Mayor needs to bring reappointments or new appointments to Council for consent and approval. There have been other concerning events transpire at WMWA over the last few years including losing their Executive Director, Engineer and Solicitor all within a short period of time. We have a number of very important items we are working on including a Stormwater Agreement, MS4, Grafius Run, Pollution Reduction Plan, and Levee Recertification. In order to remain accountable and transparent, we need Board members whose terms are current to work on these issues.
TL: During your first term in City Council, you co-signed a letter with your fellow City Councilor’s rebuking Mayor Campana for having a photo in his office with the phrase “Make America White Again.” Have you heard back from the Mayor’s office? Do you feel that race relations have improved or deteriorated in Williamsport over the past decade? What can be done to ensure that there is racial equity in Williamsport?
DS: I have not personally heard from the Mayor’s office and I am not sure if any of my colleagues have heard or not. There are a number of elected officials, City employees, organizations, non-profits, etc collaborating to empower all walks of life in our community. We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We may never be perfect, but we can always strive to improve and be better tomorrow than we are today. I think we can continue to lean on each others’ wisdom and ideas on what works and what does not work in our community, have some difficult conversations, and put programs into action that build community engagement and uplift all of us to be positive members of the communities in which we live.
On The Campaign Trail:
TL: For those that are not aware, what is the role of the mayor in Williamsport? What powers is one able to exercise as Mayor?
DS: We operate under a Strong Mayor form of government as part of PA’s Optional Third Class City Charter. The Mayor’s role includes a number of important duties. The Mayor appoints to certain Boards and Commissions, appoints department heads and oversees all departments of the City, creates the City budget to bring to Council for review and approval and many other important responsibilities.
TL: You’ve made bipartisanship a central theme of your campaign — what issues do you think you will able to work with Republicans on? How will bipartisanship be embodied during your term as Mayor?
DS: We have already begun work on many fronts including economic development, strategic recruitment and fiscal responsibility. It is critical that we work together to move our City in a new direction. Williamsport is ready for new energy and focus. We need to work together to modernize our City government and processes to make Williamsport thriving and solvent once again.
TL: Many times, those on the right have monopolized fiscal responsibility, which is why I’m excited you’re running on this. What does fiscal responsibility look like to you? How can Williamsport be more fiscally responsible?
DS: It goes without saying that as Mayor of Williamsport I will insist on a better, transparent budget process, where City Council and my administration would work closely together, and in an open, public process. As I see it, we have three options:
- We can continue doing business as usual and raise taxes again;
- We can borrow more and more money and pass this burden on to future generations and if they cannot make the payments then risk putting our City in jeopardy of bankruptcy;
- Take a good, hard look at our City finances and learn how to live within our means.
I think the third option is our only option. We have to tighten the purse strings and not continually put the financial burden on the backs of the taxpayers.
TL: I believe that we win when we offer people a strong, values-led vision of the future. Can you articulate a vision of what a thriving Williamsport might look like?
DS: We need to attract business and industry that provides sustainable, living-wage jobs. We need to have a City budget that is accurate and realistic. We need to work together to attract talented professionals to our area and retain those who are already here. Williamsport has a great health system, two wonderful colleges and a school district that is topnotch. We need to capitalize on the assets in our community while having a forward thinking vision that is continually improving upon what we offer. Williamsport is a great place to live, work and raise a family.
Fun Stuff :)
TL: How do you relax and let steam off?
DS: Traveling, playing basketball, hanging out with my family and reading
TL: What have you been reading recently?
DS: “Talk like Ted” is what I’m reading currently.
TL: Do you have any podcast, music, or movie recommendations? What’s good on Netflix?
DS: I like historical documentaries on Netflix and most of the movies I watch are kids’ movies :) Our kids are 7 and 5.
Thanks for reading, y’all! You can keep up with Derek’s campaign on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Website. Democratic voters that live in the city of Williamsport will see Derek on their ballot in the May 2019 primary election. He is running uncontested in the Democratic primary. The Republicans will select either Don Noviello or Eric Beiter during the primary election. The November 2019 election will decide the next mayor of Williamsport.