The Trans-Atlantic Commute

All those city council members who grumble about having to go out in the evening to attend a monthly meeting can be thankful they don't have to fly eight hours to get there.
by | August 2000

All those city council members who grumble about having to go out in the evening to attend a monthly meeting can be thankful they don't have to fly eight hours to get there.

In February, Catherine Kernen, who was two years into her four-year term on the borough council in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, was transferred to Manchester, England, for business purposes. Rather than resign her post, however, Kernen decided to try to finish her term.

Since then, she has been scheduling business meetings back in the U.S. to coincide with the council's meeting schedule. Her employer, a pharmaceutical firm called AstraZeneca, foots the bill for her flights.

Although Kernen hopes that she will figure out a way to move back to Collegeville, while still keeping tabs on the company's British and Swedish workers, she has embraced her current situation. "They even have borough councils in the U.K," she says. "I follow everything, and it's exactly the same issues that they're having here as in Collegeville." She is taking a class on Swedish politics and watching the British grapple with suburban sprawl and traffic calming.

Kernen spends about 15 hours a week on council business, almost all of it on the Internet. She relies on e-mail for communication and reads local newspapers online. "You couldn't have done this a few years ago," she says.

So far, her constituents and colleagues seem satisfied with the arrangement. "If anyone asks me to, I'm happy to resign," she says. "I'll stay as long as I can add value."

Fellow council member Lee Leming, who exchanges e-mails with Kernen almost every day, notes, "We've had people on the council who lived in the borough and did less. It's what you make of it, no matter where you are."

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Anya Sostek | Former Correspondent | asostek@gmail.com