Ceil Kessler and Yukie King
Greensburg City Council 2021
Ceil Kessler and Yukie King are running for Greensburg City Council as a coalition team to bring fresh air and new ideas to the council.
Their platform was developed with the backing of Voice of Westmoreland (VOW), a nonpartisan, grassroots organization that focuses on issues that are important to residents of Westmoreland County: health care, clean air and water, living wages, racial justice, education and fair government. VOW believes all should have a voice — not just the powerful few — and provides opportunities for all people to get involved in the political process and to take collective action.
In that spirit, the pair are calling for a future in which we govern collaboratively with the people of Greensburg. They will work to ensure that citizens are well-informed and their views are considered. They will:
- Educate citizens on current city issues and create clear, interactive communication channels
- Survey residents so they can co-develop programs with city leaders and elicit feedback from the community on programs that are implemented
- Incorporate commonly understood language in legislation and city ordinances
- Provide continued electronic access to City Council meetings
Regular communication and outreach will help to ensure that all citizens are included in decision making and all perspectives are considered to provide the best response to Greensburg’s challenges.
REDUCING POVERTY AND INCREASING ACCESSIBILITY
The platform includes four main areas of concentration to reduce poverty and increase accessibility for those who need services most:
- Offer job training, both through the Private Industry Council and by incentivizing businesses; fight for higher wages; offer career services; fight for unions
- Support public transportation and ensure it serves the areas where those who need it most live
- Support services for parents and caregivers
- Justice issues: Lift penalties for small amounts of marijuana; establish an anonymous reporting system for abuse of power; shift from punishment toward rehabilitation
As the city begins to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, many individuals and families are still struggling with the financial ravages of the pandemic. These initiatives will help those in need to make a fresh start and work toward a better quality of life.
As far as worker support, “I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone who is a worker. There are not enough employee protections in Pennsylvania in general,” King says, adding that workers often have their hours changed without notice or appeal, and vulnerable populations in particular are not protected.
The team is not alone in its assessment: A recent study by Zenefits, a human resources firm, found that the United States ranks last among developed nations in terms of national policies around health care, unemployment, retirement, parental leave, and paid vacation and sick days. The United States ranked in the bottom five along with the Czech Republic, Latvia, South Korea and Mexico.
Likewise, among U.S. states, Pennsylvania ranks 24th in Oxfam’s annual Best States to Work report, which states: “Pennsylvania is ranked last in the Mideast region in worker rights and protections. It falls behind the region in ensuring better compensation and conditions in the workplace — policies related to higher state incomes and a variety of other desirable indicators. By passing legislation improving the treatment of workers, Pennsylvania can begin to better its regional standing.”
All of us want to be able to have coverage when we are ill or unemployed or caring for a sick child or parent, and to live securely, free from hunger and want, in our aging years. Advocating for improved benefits at the local level will raise the quality of life for all in the city of Greensburg.
In the area of justice issues, the coalition would like to see the city consider an ordinance lifting penalties for small amounts of marijuana and to create an ombuds position or an anonymous reporting system that would allow citizens to report abuses of power.
“We need to have better visibility into the whole justice system. One of the ways you fix problems is to have an anonymous reporting system to allow people to report those who are corrupt, without fear of retribution against their families or their job. There needs to be a regular feedback system to report abuse of power. I would hope to hear that it’s not needed, but a system needs to exist for times when it is.”Ceil Kessler
“I’m committed to looking at other cities in states with the best rankings, and passing legislation to improve worker benefits where we should. There’s no reason for Pennsylvania to be middle-of-the-pack here. This region has been shrinking in population for years. Let’s give people a reason to stay,” says Kessler.
SAFE AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING
Ensuring that all Greensburg citizens have safe and affordable housing is a key goal for the coalition:
- Provide more, and more affordable public housing
- Ensure that all rental housing is safe and well-kept
- End housing discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation
- Offer shelters for those in need of emergency assistance
- Explore creative options such as a land bank, which helps to acquire problem properties and transfer them to responsible ownership and productive use
“There is more we could be doing for housing. As far as low-income residents of Greensburg, a lot of the places that they live are not well-maintained. I think everybody should be secure in their housing.”Yukie King
Options such as a land bank, conservatorships or rent-to-own options for abandoned or decaying properties could help to prevent blight and provide affordable housing for those in need. Investing in safe, affordable temporary and longer-term housing for those who are most vulnerable helps to make the entire city safer for everyone, and ensuring that our children grow up safe and healthy is an investment in our community’s future.
FIGHT FOR HEALTH AND EQUITY
During the pandemic, both physical and mental health have been put greatly at risk. The platform for health and equity includes both COVID-related responses and investments for the longer term:
- Ensure that federal response funds are distributed equitably and to those most in need, with an emphasis on awareness
- Establish a health committee to respond and develop a pandemic plan for future issues
- Endorse continued equitable distribution and awareness of vaccines
- Expand mental health services
- Offer increased access to drug treatment programs
“We need to give people stable ground to stand on,” King says.
Every person wants a safe and secure home, food on their table and protection from the ravages of the coronavirus. Planning for equitable distribution of future vaccines, and working for wise use and equitable distribution of federal COVID response funds, will help to ensure that all city residents are safe, fed and housed during this and possible future pandemics.
The pair are calling on people to come together to ask for a unified response, including a committee to coordinate communication about funds and assistance that are available, as well as distribution of the vaccine, should another such crisis occur
“We need to establish a health response committee to provide a way for residents to sign up for the vaccine, set up a place to distribute it, coordinate the distribution of the vaccine with healthcare organizations, and organize communication with our residents.”Ceil Kessler
The question does not revolve only around COVID-19: “How do we handle something like this better next time? What if we need to have it distributed yearly? In light of the absence of a county health department, as one of Westmoreland’s larger cities, we need to plan for that,” Kessler says.
Overall, both would like to see more diversity among those who represent the citizens of Greensburg.
“It’s important to have a diversity of perspectives,” Kessler says. “If any organization is filled with one type of person, you are always going to be looking at things through that one lens. To solve problems, first you need to be able to identify problems, and then look at that problem from a variety of perspectives. If you have only one perspective you may not even perceive that a problem exists, and if the people who are affected aren’t part of your process, then your solution could end up being worse than the problem itself.“
“Generally speaking,” Kessler says, “we need to make sure we’re always engaging the community in our decision process, but representation on the council is key.”
To learn more:
Coalition email: KingAndKessler4GbgCouncil@gmail.com
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/KingAndKessler4GbgCouncil