By Robert Bruce Slater
When a small group of residents of Bear Creek Township, Pa., voted in 1993 to secede and form a separate borough, they elected Walter S. Mitchell Jr. ’66 as mayor. And, he’s been mayor ever since.
Mitchell views the secession as an “unqualified success.” While many towns and cities throughout the state are in financial difficulty, the borough maintains a $200,000 budget surplus.
One of the smallest municipal entities in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Bear Creek Village Borough consists of only 144 households. The residents decided to secede because they were dissatisfied with the level of municipal services. They instituted a small, earned income tax and established an annual budget of $110,000 used mainly to fund the services that they took over from the township–garbage collection, road maintenance, and snow removal.
A five-member governing council holds administrative power. As mayor, Mitchell can veto legislation or vote to break a tie. Another important responsibility for the mayor is maintaining contacts with county, state, and federal officials to secure grants that supplement the borough’s tax revenues.
One perk Mitchell loves about his job is having the legal authority to perform marriage ceremonies, something he has done more than 30 times since taking office. “It gives me the opportunity to be with people at the happiest times of their lives,” he says.
Bear Creek Village is the essence of participatory democracy. About one-tenth of the residents are actively involved in the borough government. In addition to eight elected officials, there is a planning board, a zoning board, and a homeowners association.
Besides his mayoral duties, Mitchell directs a company he founded 33 years ago–Mitchell Financial Group, of Wilkes-Barre.
President of the Pennsylvania Association of Community Theaters, Mitchell is involved in local theater groups as an actor, director, and producer. His favorite roles have been Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and Daddy Warbucks in Annie.
An American studies graduate, Mitchell was also color commentator on radio broadcasts for Lafayette football and basketball games. Today, he volunteers as an alumni admissions representative, interviewing area high school students.
The Mitchell family legacy at Lafayette dates back to the late nineteenth century. He was the fifth generation to enroll and his son, David K. Mitchell ’05, followed in his footsteps.