Veteran municipal leaders share thoughts on past, present, future

By on January 3, 2018

Dave Kramer (left) and Mike Vigunas collectively put in 33 years of service to Warwick Township as elected supervisors.

January is a time for reorganization. For Lititz Borough and Warwick Township, changes in the new year are more pronounced than usual.

Three veteran board members ended their municipal tenure last month. Michael Vigunas was a township supervisor for 21 years, while C. David Kramer served for 12. Karen Weibel presided over her final Lititz Borough Council meeting Dec. 27, bringing her 22 years of service to an end.

What made them want to serve, why did they dedicate so many years to their municipalities, and what led them to step down? They recently reflected on the past, present and future of Lititz Borough and Warwick Township.

Michael VigunasWarwick Township

Michael Vigunas began his public service in 1995 as a member of the Warwick Township Planning Commission. Back then, the Warwick Middle School was packed with citizens expressing their opposition to a proposed Walmart. It was a controversy that stirred the Warwick and Lititz areas for years, until Walmart abandoned its plans and eventually a Target was built with far less opposition.

“To say I was a bit intimidated then is an understatement,” admits Vigunas, who later was asked to fill the term of Warwick Township Supervisor Riggs Kohler who passed away in 1996.

Vigunas had big shoes to fill, since Kohler was very active and involved as a supervisor. After that Vigunas decided to run for office and has found it to be personally rewarding to serve as a supervisor.

“I have met, learned, and worked with some of the most intelligent and insightful individuals with a vision that has made the Lititz and Warwick communities a great place to live, work, and visit,” says Vigunas.

Vigunas reports that it is camaraderie with staff and the other supervisors that he will miss the most. As he points out, the board is in a transition period and it is extremely important for new people and ideas to serve the township and continue in elevating the ideals of the township that values open farmland, planned economic and land development, and the culture and traditions that make the Lititz/Warwick area a model for other communities.

Vigunas grew up in Lititz and has lived in Warwick Township for 46 years. His father was transferred with Warner-Lambert in 1956 when Vigunas was 7-months-old.

Vigunas is president of MAX International Converters, Inc. and MAXStick Products Ltd,, which is based in Lancaster, and has locations in Luxembourg, Europe and Sydney, Australia.

In his years as a Warwick Township supervisor, Vigunas has found that land use and planned growth have been primary focuses for the township, going back to that big Walmart controversy.

“The Lititz/Warwick area is in high demand and we see a steady uptick in population and businesses that wish to come here. It is a tough balancing act to accommodate the demands under zoning while also looking to preserve farmland that is important to the cultural backbone of the area,” says Vigunas.

Controlled and responsible growth are the goals of the newly completed five-year Strategic Plan that enables Warwick Township, Lititz Borough, Elizabeth Township, and the Warwick School District to coordinate our efforts in planning for the best possible outcomes for the region.

“I believe a healthy economic development plan is important to the area, so that people will continue to want to live, work, and visit this area. Businesses will contribute tax dollars to the build and maintain the infrastructure needed in the area as well as create jobs and generate prosperity for the region,” he says.

Vigunas explains that while you can’t stop growth, you can try to guide it as best you can. Warwick Township supervisors have sought to consolidate growth with projects like the Shoppes of Kissel Hill and the medical campus to the south, as well as the Rock Lititz development north of Lititz.

“If I look back 20 years, I think we made the correct decision on not agreeing to the Walmart Superstore that was presented to us. I think the entire area would be completely different from what it is now, and not in a positive sense,” says Vigunas.

In coming years, Vigunas sees the biggest challenge facing Warwick Township in coming years will be management of growth and farm preservation.

He won’t be stepping back from public service for long. Starting in January, Vigunas will serve as president of the Lititz Regional Community Development Corporation, which was created to help existing and new business obtain state grants for economic development. The LRCDC also helps to obtain grants for community projects and municipalities to obtain state grants for infrastructure projects.

As for words of wisdom to his successor, Vigunas says, “Stay true to your values and remember that you are serving the residents of Warwick Township. They are depending on you to make the right decisions for the Township and how it impacts their lives and those around them.”

David Kramer Warwick Township

For Dave Kramer, Lititz has been home since 1972, when he moved with his wife and 6-month-old son following his service in the U.S. Marine Corps and graduation from college. He came to the area for a job at Sperry New Holland, later working in advertising and public relations at Armstrong World Industries, and then as senior vice president and agency principal at Godfrey Advertising for 23 years. In 1988, Kramer moved to Warwick Township.

“After I sold my interest in Godfrey in 2000, I had the time and wanted to become more involved in community service. I considered running for Warwick School Board or the Warwick Board of Supervisors. I decided my business background might be of more benefit to the township,” says Kramer.

Elected in November 2004, he began serving in January 2005. He then served another 6-year term, for 12 years on the board of supervisors. Kramer notes that he firmly believes in term limits for elected officials.

In his 12 years as a Warwick Township supervisor, he has seen many changes.

“We’ve experienced a great deal of residential and commercial growth. In 2005 there was no Target, no Rock Lititz, no Listrak, no Traditions of America, no Lititz Reserve and no Warwick Woodlands. Newport Square was new,” says Kramer.

With reasonable, forward-thinking zoning and Transferable Development Rights (TDRs), the Township has been able to confine much of the development to the southern and northern Route 501 corridors, while preserving more than 1,000 acres of farmland at the same time, he points out.

“People need places to work, and places to live. But it’s crucial that we have food to eat. We’re still 54 percent agricultural, and I hope it stays that way,” says Kramer.

Like Vigunas, Kramer agrees that managing growth, and conserving farmland and open space are key issues, as well as effectively managing law enforcement through the Northern Lancaster County Regional Police Department.

“I’ve been in the township for about 30 years. And it has changed. Because it’s such a great place, more people want to live here and in the vicinity,” notes Kramer. “For example, not so long ago there were no traffic lights in sleepy little Rothsville. Now we need three. There are as many as 15,000 car trips through there every working day.”

When Kramer first became a supervisor in 2005, he studied the Joint Strategic Plan at that time. Among the recommendations was to merge the Warwick and Lititz Police Departments, which seemed like a good idea. He had been involved with the Lancaster Crime Commission and had a high regard for the challenges of municipal law enforcement. Although he led the effort to bring that merger about, it ultimately didn’t pan out. Later the same fundamental concept was extended to Penn and Clay Townships, leading to the genesis of the Northern Lancaster County Regional Police Department.

“I have been honored to serve first as the chair of the NLCRPD steering committee, and then as police commission chairman since the force’s inception in 2012,” says Kramer.

Kramer hopes that his legacy as a township supervisor will be in improving law enforcement and preserving farmland, but he points out that he never achieved anything alone.

“Our community is blessed to have a collegial board of supervisors, a township manager and staff, great volunteer boards, and a public works department that are selfless, and second-to-none. Their unifying interest is in making Warwick Township a great place to live. I am proud to have been part of the team,” says Kramer.

For the future, Kramer views managing and limiting commercial and residential growth as goals, while preserving farmland, open space and the township’s rural character. There are also challenges in recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel into the future.

Kramer may be retiring as a supervisor, but he has a full agenda in public service. In recent years, he has learned about child abuse and wants to work toward prevention. He is also interested in music. In 2016, I wrote and copyrighted lyrics to a song called “A Moravian Hallelujah.” He is also working on a non-fiction book and remains as chairman of the Veterans Honor Park of Lancaster County, which should be built in 2018.

His words of wisdom to his successor: “Strike a wise balance between preservation and development. Continue doing all that’s possible to preserve Warwick Township’s special rural character by conserving farmland and open space, and resisting the re-zoning of agricultural land for the benefit of a handful of developers. Cows and corn beat shopping malls any day.”

Karen Weibel Lititz Borough

Karen Weibel has the distinction of being the first woman to be president of Lititz Borough Council. She was elected to borough council in 2005 and in 2008 she was named as president by the other council members.

“I’ve always thought women could do anything they aspired to, but it wasn’t actually a goal of mine to become the first female council president,” admits Weibel.

Weibel wasn’t the first woman on borough council. She credits Ruth Fry McKennon for being a role model to her. In a borough with few women in office, there were several women who influenced Weibel.

“Ruth has been a mentor and a colleague whom I could bounce ideas off of and ask for background and perspective on an array of topics,” says Weibel. “Arline Shannon, the first woman to chair the Lititz Planning Commission and Gladys Crowl, a great historian, were other role models for me.”

Through her 12 years on Lititz Borough Council, and 10 as a planning commission member, Weibel has been known for her thorough and painstaking attention to detail. She was always well-prepared for each council meeting, while gaining a full perspective on any issue, whether it was a conditional use hearing or stormwater management planning.

A native of Rhode Island, Weibel made Lititz her home in 1975, after moving to the borough with her husband. Over the years, she worked in various administrative and managerial positions. She was named to Lititz Borough Planning Commission in 2005, serving for 10 years. It was Mayor Timothy Snyder who encouraged her to run for Lititz Borough Council.

“I was asked by Tim Snyder, who was serving on council at the time, and I thought it was an interesting opportunity,” says Weibel, who ended up serving for three four-year terms or 12 years.

When she decided not to run for borough council last year, it was to make room for the young talent on council. As she says, “Now, it’s their turn.”

Among the biggest challenges facing Lititz Borough are external and unfunded mandates, such as the Chesapeake Bay initiative, changes in government auditing standards, and changes enacted by case law rather than legislation.

Through her years as as a member and then president of Lititz Borough Council, Weibel emphasizes making sure that residents have an understanding of the laws that council operates under. She has always been known for treating residents with the utmost respect and fairness.

She has been pleased with the junior council member program, which was started by former council member Doug Bomberger and is now run by Snyder, to give teens the opportunity to learn about local government and offer their insight. She is also excited about the Venture Lititz program, which was initiated to nurture the downtown area.

“When the U.S. Postal Service stated that they were going to close our Post Office, I worked with Kelly Withum, Gaylord Poling and Tom Tillet in Rep. Pitts office to raise awareness. As you can see, we succeeded,” she recalls.

Another important improvement in Lititz Borough is the rental inspection program, which was the work of a team of about a dozen people, to advance safety for landlords and their tenants.

“Change is inevitable, but you have to plan for it and be prepared to pivot so the outcome is positive,” says Weibel, who plans to continue her involvement with Venture Lititz and the planning commission.

As for Weibel’s words of wisdom to her successor, she reminds him to not “mess with the stars,” referring to the 1937 Lititz Christmas stars that will be repaired and possibly reproduced to add to the current 48 stars that line the streets at Christmastime. She has learned that Lititz residents want the stars to remain exactly the same.

“Oh, yes, and I encourage my successor to enjoy the honor it is to serve our town. I know I have,” says Weibel.

Laura Knowles is a freelance reporter are regular contributor to the Record Express. She welcomes reader feedback and story tips at lknowles21@gmail.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *