Derek Slaughter has nearly completed his first week in office after taking the formal Mayoral oath on Monday in a ceremony at City Hall. The large desk on the third floor corner office has a plaque bearing his name, but after four days, the office is still relatively bare. The to-do list, however, is long.
Slaughter remembers the first time he sat in the same office with then-Mayor Gabriel Campana. At that time an educator and basketball coach for Williamsport Area High School, Slaughter had been asked, along with fellow basketball coach Allen Taylor, to consult with Campana on the issue surrounding the removal of basketball hoops in Memorial Park.
It was the first time Slaughter had interacted with city government on a consulting level, and he said, “I felt like nothing came to fruition.” He was frustrated, but also awakened to the political process.
“I felt like there was more I could do,” he said. After talking with city council members and attending training in Harrisburg, he ran for city council. Further motivated during his two years on council to effect greater change, he said, “I realized I could have the most impact from the mayor’s seat, so I decided to run.”
The rapid civic awakening, rise through Williamsport City Council, and now appointment to the mayor’s seat makes 38-year-old Derek Slaughter the first African-American mayor ever in the City of Williamsport, and the first democratic mayor to be elected since 1988.
Slaughter is uniquely poised for this position. He comes to leadership not as a seasoned politician, but with experience as a math teacher and a basketball coach. In high school he was a starter on the state champion basketball team while also serving as the Drum Major of the Williamsport Millionaires’ Marching Band. “I was seen both as a ‘jock’ and I played the saxaphone in the marching band,” he said. “The two worlds didn’t always go together.”
Now in the political arena, he’s walking that bipartisan line: a democrat who believes firmly in fiscal responsibility. “I don’t make policy, or any decisions based on party, but I choose to look at each situation separately,” said Slaughter.
The first order of business
It’s difficult to pin down the “first” order of business for a new mayor; the days after assuming his role have been busy. “My immediate agenda is to get my administration in place,” he said. He’s also directed the implementation of new software updates including upgrades to the accounting software, website, and making improvements to technology. These immediate changes, Slaughter says, will streamline and automate record-keeping for employees and lead to accurate and transparent fiscal accountability.
Slaughter is prepared to see the resolution of state funding requested for Grafius Run and the Williamsport levee project through.
“I also want to make sure all of our Board appointments are up to date,” he said, and he’ll be involved with negotiating union contracts.
Assuming the role of mayor is somewhat like becoming a new parent. “There’s no blueprint; it doesn’t come with a manual. Mayors from other cities have reached out to offer support and advice, which has been extremely helpful,” he said. Much of his time so far has been spent meeting with department heads. He has appointments with Rep. Wheeland, Sen. Toomey, and a planned visit from Gov. Wolf.
Moving forward, the Mayor said he’ll focus on “a comprehensive Recreation Department plan, updating zoning ordinances, community development, and building advisory committees.”
Slaughter knows that “change” will be one of his biggest challenges in office, especially in the early days when personnel and processes come under scrutiny. Streamlining, implementing modern technology and new software, and identifiying waste are traditionally a part of any new administration’s agenda. “I’m hopeful that as the positives are seen from these changes, people will be accepting,” said Slaughter.
The vitality and future of Williamsport is important to Slaughter. He grew up in Williamsport, his wife, Vanessa, was born and raised in the city, his children and many friends and past students live here. He’s pleased to be in the position as a role model to the kids he’s taught over the years. “This is a culturally diverse city,” he said, “And it’s humbling to be entrusted as Mayor.”