Saturday, October 23, 2004

BoS Meeting 10/21/04

Once again the Express Times' Edward Sieger and the Morning Call's Joe Nixon did great jobs of reporting the meeting. Kudos to both of them. They both described the Public Comments discussions very well. However, our take on the outcome is not as upbeat. We lose. To avoid enduring one or two LONG speakers per year, all township residents have been muzzled. BONG. Time's up! At least we have not been relegated to the tail end of meetings as Holmgaard so cavalierly suggested. Our five minutes each comments will still be heard at the beginning of meetings. Oh yes, those of us who PLAN to speak must sign in (Supervisor Hoff's contribution) before the meeting starts. That's not to say that if someone does not plan to speak but feels compelled to comment on an issue under discussion that he/she cannot speak. They can. And, the chairman has the authority to allow speakers extra time. Let's hope John Ackerman stays as Chairman for a very LONG time!

Residents with major issues, like the residents of Heather Lane whose basements were flooded with raw sewage during Hurricane Ivan, should call the Township Manager and have their issues put on the agenda. Agenda items get more time allotted to them and, as we were told, will give the Board an opportunity to think about the issue before the meeting, thus making for more reasoned discussion.

Speaking of Heather Lane's residents, there was NO discussion of their problem/solution during this meeting. We wonder if the township helped them or not? We don't know. If you are one of those residents (or anyone else who knows the answer), perhaps you can enlighten us? Was there a special meeting for you? We hope everything worked out to your satisfaction.

There was NO discussion of the meeting notification GAFF last week. That was a surprise. It would seem that if we, the residents, are not going to mention it out loud then they, the officials/solicitor, are not going to mention it either. Looks like they won't be paying the $100/each fines for holding meetings without proper public notice(s). The meetings we are referring to were budget "worksessions" (sic) held on Oct. 18 & 19. The notice for these meetings appeared in the Express Times on October 19, 2004, a day late for the first meeting. We did expect an apology or an explanation. We did not expect payment of a fine. A simple, "We messed up. It was a mistake. It won't happen again," would have been fine. Our guess is that they WILL pay more attention in the future. There will be a budget "worksession" (sic) again this coming Monday (Oct. 25th) at 4:30. It was announced at this meeting and also appeared in yesterday's Express Times Classifieds.

Another item that we expected to be more of an issue was the fact that two meetings in a row had Agenda additions after the Tuesday 2:30 PM cut-off time. A resident, Gretchen Gerstel, made it clear during the Comments session that that was a no-no and that it was noticed and not appreciated. (ERROR: In fact, we were told by someone in the know that the item added to this meeting's Agenda (after Tuesday at 2:30), Steeplechase North, was tabled because Supervisor Nicholas felt that adding it was in violation of the rules.) CORRECTION (10/30/2004): Supervisor Nicholas voted to TABLE Steeplechase because Solicitor Kline was discussing a letter that none of the Board had seen.

Also during the Comments session, resident Scott Gingold asked if the township had a Sinkhole Trust Fund. He was told "NO." He expressed concern about all the sinkholes recently found and what the township's future liability may be. He also suggested that since all residents who comment must give their names and home addresses, that all speakers/developers do the same (that is state their names and home addresses). After that, each one did! Kudos!

Other items of note:

  1. Stan Kocher asked to have a statement added to the minutes describing the planning and hours that went into the 250th celebration so that people reading the minutes 50 years from now will see that the township did indeed try to celebrate properly and that it took a hurricane to keep them from it.
  2. A Forks police officer (name missed, sorry) was named Top Cop for giving out more DUI's than any other. One officer (in addition to Chief Dorney) was in the audience for the reading of the award letter.
  3. FEMA met with PennDot re. the Frost Hollow swale. Repairs to the area at Route 611 are underway. Chairman Ackerman expressed concern that the garage that is in danger be protected and asked that the Township Manager check into that.
  4. Solicitor Kline reported that several potential new businesses (in the township) are concerned about initial fees.
  5. The township newsletter will no longer be mailed to every household. It will be available online. If requested, a newsletter will be mailed. Contact the township office if you need it the "old fashioned way," in print.
  6. A joint Planning Commission/Supervisors meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, October 26, 2004 at 7:00 PM to review the text additions to the SALDO (Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance). Important! Try to attend!
  7. Kline reported that before a CO (Certificate of Occupancy) is issued for a development, street signs should be in place. This is a safety issue. We are not sure, but we think this is to be added to the stop sign ordinance (#288) adopted last meeting.
  8. Alex Gale reported that the paving around the new municipal building was slowed last week due to rain and that the insulation for the PD is late because of high demand both in southern states hit by the hurricanes and in China. Also... yes... more "extra" money spent! $27,000 was the cost to stabilize part of the site. Apparently there was an old dry well and a wet spot that were not noticed on the original site inspection.
  9. Supervisor Nicholas raised the issue of all the changes to the original municipal building plan. She provided each of the Board with copies of the building drawing that THEY approved. She alleged that it has been changed considerably. Gale said that the "footprint" had not changed. Barb Bartek (Secretary to the Board/Office Manager) was directed to find the minutes from the meeting in which the plans were approved. It will be discussed at the next meeting (Nov. 4).
  10. SOMERSET MEADOWS (north of Newlins Road) was under discussion. The developer was not present. Solicitor Kline explained that this project was proposed in 1997 and the developer paid $73K to cover improvements to Newlins Road (within a 10 year period). The project is dead. The developer wants his money back a few years early. Engineer Hay suggests giving back $10K and using the balance to improve Newlins as soon as Riverview West is completed. Hay said that Riverview West should be completed within 1-1/2 years.
  11. The Park Maintenance Building low bidder was Kistler at $148,000. It is $16,500 more than budgeted and includes only the shell building. The interior work will take another $73,000. The interior costs, suggested Hoff, could be added to next year's budget and the overage can be funded from this year's capital improvement fund.
  12. A Tom Cat Scrubber to clean the floor in the Community Center will be purchased for $12,490. Supervisor/Community Center Manager Miller said that there is too much floor there now to continue cleaning it by hand. This is a riding scrubber.
  13. The Municipal Software Package purchase was tabled until next meeting. There was a contentious discussion between the Township Manager and Supervisors Nicholas, Hoff, and Holmgaard. Nicholas suggested that a package that other townships and municipalities of our size use also be considered. Holmgaard said that they were all the same so they should award the bid now to the company that the TM wanted (for $70K plus a $450/mthly fee). There was pre-meeting demo at 6 PM of the pre-selected package. It was the first time that Nicholas had seen it and she did not know what other options were out there. She expressed her concerns. The upshot is that a committee consisting of Nicholas, Ackerman, Office Manager Barb Bartek, and Township Manager Kichline will view a demo of the alternate package (one found by Nicholas after making a few calls to Bethlehem Township, Palmer Township and the City of Easton) and present their findings at the next meeting.

Notable also were:

  • Supervisor Holmgaard made reference to a letter sent to the Board that was only presented to them that evening. Supervisor Hoff said that the Township Manager gave it to him after she received it and he held it for a "few" days before giving it to them. Holmgaard was angry. He said he was "shaking." Kline said that it could be discussed as it was not marked CONFIDENTIAL and was now public record. It was only discussed like that. It was not read. We learned that it was written by the township auditors and that it discussed the need for better record keeping. It made suggestions too.
  • Supervisor Miller refused to be appointed to the committee to review the software stating that he knew nothing about computers and software.

There was an Executive Session at the end of the meeting to discuss a personnel issue. (ERROR: Afterwards, (we heard) a vote was taken to affirm that the Municipal Building plans that were voted on originally are the plans that are being built. Period.) CORRECTION (10/30/04): WE HAVE SINCE LEARNED that the plans for the Municipal Complex were changed by Mr. Gale and because contractors have bid on these changes, the Supervisors were forced to vote on the NEW plan in order to make the changes/bids legal. Supervisor Nicholas is/was not in agreement with Mr. Gale's belief that he could make changes to the plans without the Supervisors' vote on it. Mr. Gale is a Field Construction Manager and not a Supervisor. This vote was taken after the Executive Session.

We urge all interested residents to attend the upcoming meetings. Much is going on! Again, they are:

  1. Monday, October 25, 2004 at 4:30 PM - Budget "worksession" (sic)
  2. Tuesday, October 26, 2004 at 7:00 PM - Joint Planning Commission & Supervisors to discuss text additions to the SALDO

Our objective is to relate what is experienced at Forks Township meetings for those who cannot attend. We are attempting to be as factual as we can. If we make a mistake, tell us via email or Comment here in the blog, and we will do our best to correct it. We are not perfect. We want to get it right.


Big Red said...

This new time limit is ridiculous! Five minutes is not enough! But then again, people with “legitimate problems” can gain more time onto their speeches. What I want to know is what classifies a “legitimate problem?” If I had any problem important enough to bring to the Board of Supervisors, I would definitely find it worthy of being labeled “legitimate,” and also worthy of their time! I am beginning to wonder if problems that are not legitimate are equivalent to problems that the Supervisors do not want to hear. And as they said, there were only a few speeches given that ever lasted longer that five minutes at these Public Comment sessions, so once again why is there a need for a restriction?

It's a FAC2 said...

I cannot believe that once again we have bowed down to the developers! Just because a developer decides that we should have a time limit does not mean that we should jump to what they say. Who runs the township, the supervisors or the developers? I think the outcome of this meeting (5 minutes) shows us the answer. When are we going to run our township again? Will it be when the developers are long gone and the damage is done?

Progress is the Future said...

5 minutes is too much time. If you need more, it's simple: request to be put on the agenda.

It's not "bowing to developers" but it is common courtesy. The Supervisor meetings are BUSINESS meetings, not complaint sessions. NOBODY in the room wants to hear hot air for more than 5 minutes unless they can plan for it with an agenda item.

As for the building project. Supervisor Nicholas has taken it upon herself to micromanage this project too. Give her a hardhat and a shovel then, because she lacks the proper background to evaluate the effectiveness of a building structure or business operation. Change orders are part of the building process; none of the changes are going to cost the taxpayers any more money. If you took time to read the bid specs, instead of complaining, you'd see that there are built in measures for necessary change orders that were anticipated.

Once again, you all want to see the supervisors vote on issues that are micromanaging. Next, you'll say that the BoS should hold a 5 hour worksession with the public, and vote on what temperature to set the thermostat in the township garage. Gee whiz people, grow up!

Progress is the Future said...

No we elect the supervisors to manage our government. Not question day to day operating realities.

Nicholas isn't questioning finances, but trying to stick her OPINION in--not the general public's. The staff knows better how the building project will best accommodate the public on a day to day basis, not Nicholas.

As to rennovate the Laneco, that is ridiculous. The township would be buying into someone else's problems, that is inevitable. Heck, that is one of the reasons Giant itself built another building!

Guess what! We don't elect leaders as puppets! We elect them because their ideals are agreed upon by their voters. The project was approved, so it the point is moot.

Progress is the Future said...

I guess this is the biggest point:

You state that they "didn't consider all the options?"

How is that fact? Ya know, the Township functions 5 days a week, not for just a few hours every other Thursday night. [insert shudder here] Some things get discussed during normal business hours because not all things warrant public discussion!

How do you know that they didn't discuss the old Lanceo in passing, or contact the owner? Perhaps the owner told them straight out "No I'm not selling or leasing" and it died there?

You don't know. And I'm sorry, it is totally unreasonable for there to be a transcript of every word or thought that passes through the halls of an office, government or otherwise.

I want to make it clear, it is not the RIGHT of any of us to be privy to the thought process of any elected official or the staff.

Progress is the Future said...

I assume you go to the meetings, and you still have misunderstandings. Therefore, if actually being at the meetings doesn't help you out, I'm not sure they'll help out others either.

Still, if it were cost effective to do so, I agree that it would be an idea worth considering. I happen to know, however, that you would choke on the actual costs associated with setup and maintenance of this endeavor.

* * *
Still, you are missing the point. We elect officials to make decisions so that we AREN'T PART OF EVERY SINGLE DECISION!!!

I think I know what you want. You want the supervisors to call you every time they need to vote: "Do you think we should allow this American corporation to build a factory here?" "Should we pay the electric bill this month?" "Do you think we need to hire one more police officer?"

Come on, you can't be the center of the township. Nobody wants to be bothered by that level of detail, that is why we elect LEADERS. Let them lead! If you don't like them, don't vote for them!

* * *
Additionally, here is another point. You quote Steel prices as being "at an all time high."

To be honest, I don't know if that is true or not, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.

Even with that, take a look at the building specifications: They are concrete block with wood frame trusses. The amount of "steel" in them is negligible.

Progress is the Future said...

Every project is going to have it's "highest cost" item. If it wasn't concrete, then some other item would top the list. However you can't justify a stop to a project or process for one variable. There is a bigger picture.

I'll cite one example: The old building lacks new "features" such as efficient insulation. Therefore, the costs of fuel oil, maintenance, and electricty for heating the building are well above and beyond what they could be. With new facilities, over time the township will spend LESS on heating and SAVE money.

Sometimes it takes an investment to get a return.

* * * *

It would be different if the Steel/Concrete prices went up 5000%, but they have not. They are simply the highest they've been.

Ya know, so is Gasonline. It's the highest it's been in years-- does that mean we should tell the supervisors not to plow snow this winter, to save on fuel costs? Obviously, that is obsurd.