Mayor Andy Szekely recently blogged on the need to focus mainly on grassroots efforts in truly revitalizing our town. You can read his blog here: http://mayorszekely.wordpress.com
As is often the case when the Mayor and I discuss local issues, I disagree.
He mentions Doylestown, Phoenixville and Ambler quite a lot in his arguments as fine examples, so I figured I'd spend a minute or two researching their revitalization history. As I suspected, what I found was that in each case, a COMPREHENSIVE approach to revitalization was the key. The common threads were:
1) As the Mayor rightly states, small businesses taking a chance
2) Prudent government investment in infrastructure and other areas, as well some type of revitalization/main st. organization.
3) Events and, yes, grassroots efforts
Not one of them happened with grassroots efforts alone. And typically, #1 happened after the stage was set by leaders with foresight -- creating and fostering an environment that was favorable.
From their own website... "Doylestown became the recipient of several community development grants from the Commonwealth, which were for specific use in the central commercial business district. Historic street lights were purchased. Funds were made available to downtown business owners for façade improvements... As a result of combined efforts of borough government, individuals, businesses and other organizations, the center of Doylestown once again enjoys a mix of offices, eating establishments, small businesses and representatives of major chains." In Doylestown it took 8+ years to get from realization to the initial sense that they were turning the corner. Even with this comprehensive approach. It did not happen overnight, and not with grassroots efforts alone.
In Phoenixville, "Since 2002, when the [Chester County’s Community Revitalization] program was initiated to complement the county’s open space preservation program and its Landscapes II planning guide, Phoenixville has been the recipient of $5.5 million for streetscape improvements, streetlight installation, construction of curbs and sidewalks, and water and sewer system improvements." “I look at Phoenixville today, and there has been a significant return on investment” through the revitalization program, said Borough Manager E. Jean Krack. Reference: http://www.dailylocal.com/article/20120522/NEWS/120529821/county-revitalization-program-marks-10-years#full_story]
Yes -- small businesses like Molly's took a chance on Phoenixville -- 3 years after this effort began. An effort that began 11 years ago. It didn't happen overnight, and it wasn't just grassroots.
In Ambler, the "the plan consists of a revitalization program for entry gateways and Main Street enhancements. Grant funding includes approximately $500,000 from Montgomery County’s Revitalization Program and nearly $800,000 from Transportation Enhancement (TE) Grants. The scope of work for the Redevelopment and Revitalization plan includes development of a comprehensive planning database and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) analytical tools to support redevelopment of the industrial rail corridor area. The project is being developed in conjunction with the Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority." Once again, I hear cooperation and planning on a grand scale -- not just a grassroots effort. I also hear transit-oriented -- something we're excited about bringing forward with the Madison Lot redevelopment. We are seeing the exact same level of cooperation from the County and SEPTA as we move forward. These relationships are critical and key to success.
There are a lot of themes I hear consistently above that mirror efforts put underway with this current Council over the past few years. Investment in Main St. infrastructure, water and sewer improvements, technology/GIS, etc.
Another theme that's consistent here is grants. There's this ugly rumor floating around that we don't get enough grants. The truth is we've applied for over $6 million dollars in grants since 2010. That includes some major items we're reaping the benefit of, like:
* $3.5 MM for PCTI (the wood-vine connector)
* $330K for Wood Street
* $40K TCDI grant (Wayfinding)
* $25K from Montgomery County Revitalization
And the list goes on and on. We've also recently applied for significant grants from DCED for further infrastructure improvements. And we continue to invest wisely in ourselves in aging and failing infrastructure.
My point is -- it's not just grassroots. That might make for nice political rhetoric, but it's simply not true. It takes lots of effort -- from government, businesses AND individuals alike (just like it did in Doylestown) -- in a coordinated fashion -- to revitalize a town.
The Mayor mentioned them, so it's worth noting that Mary Fuller and Richard Strahm have given countless hours to making some of the events he mentioned, like First Fridays and Founder's Day, happen -- events so critical to creating a buzz around Lansdale. And Mr. Dunigan, with the help of the Administration, has spent the last three years finally putting the books of this town in order. Our budgets are balanced, our credit rating is up, we're putting money in the bank, and we're being recognized at the state level for the fiscal accountability that's been brought to the Borough.
All this is not simply grassroots -- it's a comprehensive, sensible approach, that's clearly WORKED many times before.
I would ask that when people go to vote next Tuesday, May 21st -- that they recognize that this comprehensive approach is underway. It's a process, and it doesn't happen all at once. Let's support those that would see it through -- not the fear mongers that would once again have us step back from the precipice of REAL revitalization.
As a sitting member of Lansdale Borough Council who just went through the process of getting elected in 2011, and with the next slate of Primary elections creeping up quickly, I thought it might be interesting to give folks an overview of how things work and offer my perspective on how both candidates and voters may (or may not) benefit from the process.
The first hurdle for any candidate affiliated with a Political Party who wishes to run is to circulate nominating petitions and file them. To be complete, these require candidates to obtain 10 (ten) signatures from registered voters of their Party in their Ward. That's right, just 10. In Ward 3, which I represent, that's roughly one half of 1% of the eligible electorate. Needless to say, the bar is not very high, so it's very easy for anyone to end up on the Primary ballot as a Republican or Democrat. Independents follow a different process and do not take part in the Primary. More on that later.
From this point, each local Party Committee, both Democrat and Republican, will tend to "endorse" candidates. This endorsement is in no way required, and does not change the names on the ballot box in any way. This endorsement is essentially a "show of support" from each local Party's committee that certain candidates are supposedly aligned most properly to the ideals of the Party they represent. For me, this process seems to make the most sense at the State and National levels, where "Democratic" or "Republican" ideals are easily communicated and translated into policy. Locally this really has no bearing on the day-to-day issues we face on Borough Council, and so to me, an endorsement at this level often becomes instead a popularity contest where the endorsed candidates are "in tight" with the committee. So the endorsement may have no bearing on that candidate's qualifications, platform, or real ability to win an election. Instead it tends to be based on whether they've shown themselves to be a "good" Republican or Democrat at the local level. Again, whatever that means at the local level? As a Democrat, I was able to attend the recent endorsement meeting for the Lansdale Democratic Committee on April 1. In defining the endorsement, the local committee people made a couple of key points:
It should be obvious to everyone that there's a major disconnect between #1 and #2! The endorsement is not expressly for the purpose of helping people understand who might be best suited for Council, and yet is meant to give people “guidance”. Buyer beware!! As a practical example, let's consider the case of the Ward 1 endorsements that were made. In Ward 1, there are 3 candidates vying for 2 seats. The candidates are: Mary Fuller, the highly dedicated incumbent Council Vice-President and Lansdale Democratic Committeeperson who chairs Parks and Rec (among other committees) and has brought us Founders Day and Fireworks for two years; Jeff Howard, a local resident and landlord; and Joe Wolf, a local Democrat. Through questioning, I was able to learn that Jeff had attended exactly one Democratic Committee meeting, and Joe was attending his first. Jeff was not present to speak to his candidacy at the endorsement and did not send any note or proxy, and Joe stated that he was admittedly new to politics, just learning, and didn't have anything specific he was looking to accomplish. How did the voting go? In the first round, Jeff won clearly. That's right – the gentleman who had attended exactly one LDC meeting and wasn't present to explain why he was running. This is the person who “best represents the ideals of the Democratic Party.” Beyond that, there was a tie between Mary and Joe in the first ballot. In the second ballot, Mary eeked out a 1-vote victory. So, a dedicated, life-long Democrat, Committeeperson, highly committed to our town, with an actual track record of delivery, barely managed to get the endorsement, behind a gentleman who wasn't there, and over a gentleman who was admittedly new to the whole thing!As a Democratic voter, what should you take away from this? Exactly nothing, except that there was clearly some other agenda at work, and certainly NOT what's best for Lansdale. Isn't this precisely what's wrong in American politics today? I suspect that people want something more, particularly nowadays. I think they want to hear equally from all the candidates on the issues. Full disclosure: as someone who won despite not having the endorsement of their Party, I believe strongly that this is true -- that my constituents want to make that choice for themselves – and not be influenced by the nuances of local party politics. I applaud LDC committeemen Robert Willi (also running in Ward 3) and Bill Henning for advancing the idea of an open primary in contested races. Unfortunately their voices were drowned out by a majority who apparently continue to feel that presenting real qualifications for office are less relevant than whether you wave the Democratic Flag. And frankly, based on the majority of endorsement outcomes on April 1, I don't even think the LDC is focused on that goal either. Sadly, they appear to have some other agenda in mind.And so we arrive at Primary Election Day, which is May 21st this year. In Ward 3, there are 2 seats up for election to Borough Council. What this means is that the top two vote-getters from each Party will be automatically "moved forward" to the General Election ballot. Assuming there are at least 2 candidates who filed from each Party, this means there will be at least 4 candidates to choose from for two spots in November. I say at least, because this does not account for potential Independents. Independents are able to start circulating nomination papers the day after the deadline for filing Party-affiliated nominating petitions -- in this case March 13. The number of signatures an Independent candidate should obtain is computed by taking 2% of the voter turnout from the previous election where someone would have been elected -- in this case the 2011 election. In Ward 3, voter turnout in November 2011 for my seat was 1,019 votes. This would mean an Independent candidate in Ward 3 would need roughly 21 signatures (from any registered voter in the Ward) to get on the General Election ballot. So double what was required for the Primary, but still very doable, considering that there is no restriction on Party. Independents have until August 1st to circulate and file these nomination papers. Assuming they obtain the requisite number of signatures, they are added to the November General Election ballot. Almost makes one wonder why anyone would go through the primary nomination process, right?? Except, the truth is, the system, as it is today, still favors the Party candidates in the General Election. That Independent candidate has no organized structure (the Party committee) to help him/her disseminate information and get the word out. He/she must recruit and organize his/her own poll workers which are critical on election day. He/she must do all his/her own fundraising. And when it comes time to vote, he/she must educate voters not to simply push the "D" or "R" columns in the ballot box, but to look at the Independent column and push the correct button. Unfortunately for the Independent, the statistics indicate that most people still just push the big button at the top. I'd offer that this is an unfortunate reality in our political system, at least insofar as it influences local elections. Local officials such as myself are generally part-time politicians, with day jobs and families to support. We do this job because we see a need in our town and we want to make a difference. And we need all the help we can get. Frankly speaking, anything that disadvantages a local candidate because of his/her national political views is a bad thing in my book. So, as we enter the voting booth this year to select our local candidates, I'd hope that each of us would each reflect on ALL of our candidate choices and their platforms, and whether those things make sense for us and Lansdale, regardless of what column they happen to be in on the ballot, or whether the local Party "endorsed" them.
- The endorsement is not for the purpose of identifying who might be best to serve on Council, but instead to identify (as I mentioned above) who best represents the “Democratic Party”. When I pointed out the fact that this doesn't necessarily lead to the best Council candidates being endorsed, there was no argument of this fact.
- Another point made in support of endorsement was that local Democrats might be looking for “guidance” on who to support when there are several people to choose from. This statement was made as the committee considered whether to leave the primary “open”, and let the voters decide who to move forward to the general election.
The Mayor was kind enough to respond to my inaugural post, so I felt it only proper that I clear up a few problems I see with his response. You can read his comments here. So without further ado...Dear Mayor Szekely,Instead of starting at the beginning, let's change things up and start at the end.You stated that I'm demonizing the former administration. I would say that demonize is a bit of a strong word. My perspective is, they failed Lansdale, on the whole, for many years. If this were not true, how would a large group of like-minded individuals from different parties, who clearly rejected partisan politics on the local level, run on a platform of putting Lansdale back on the right track and win convincingly, as a group? I'll tell you why. Because people realized that the town had in fact been on the wrong track for many years and needed a radical change in direction. Are we really debating this? I guess you say you are not an apologist for the previous administration, but some of your comments seem contradictory on this point. Had good things happened before 2010? Certainly. Did they present a concerted effort, combined with sensible fiscal management, to bring about a renaissance in Lansdale? Certainly not.
Thanks for sharing your concerns about option 4. Yes, Option 4 does speak to demolition. Not my personal choice either. But Option 5 does speak directly to historic preservation. I just take issue somewhat with your approach to presenting the information. Option 4 seemed the focus of your article, as if it were almost a foregone conclusion that we were headed down that path. (Trying to stir things up a bit are we?) You spent basically no time on the possibility of a historic renovation and preservation, when in fact that was the option that had the most traction in our meeting. Dan's report dealt with a number of items and didn't get into the nitty gritty detail of each item. If you had asked, any one of us would have told you where we were leaning. Instead we have your sensational blog to entertain us.
I'm sorry to hear that you find Timi and her staff's security almost laughable. Like you, she is in the public eye every day. But unlike you, she has the daily responsibility to make decisions that affect (positively and negatively) all the 16,000+ residents of this fine Borough. And execute the sometimes unpopular decisions that Council makes. As the titular head of the Police Department, you know what Chief McDyre and all of our fine police officers deal with in this town every day. It's why we do have Officer Cornelius in our meeting room every month. Do you find his presence unnecessary? I, for one, do not, and I thank him for being there. In any case, having a safe and secure working environment has absolutely nothing to do with a welcoming atmosphere. You know better than that.
In terms of my silliness. Let's first properly quote my statement. I said that basing our decision to potentially improve the Council meeting room on poor attendance at meetings is like saying, "People don't care what we do here, so why should we invest in the facilities that serve them." Which is somewhat different than me proposing that residents might be saying "if the Borough doesn't care, why should we". Because you're right, that would be silly. But alas, also not what I said. However, let's re-focus on the big picture and take those pesky feelings out of it for a second...
First, we need to accept that Borough Hall does need pretty substantial improvement and renovation. If we can't agree on that, then honestly there's really no point in having this conversation. So, I have in my hand this report from a respected architectural group which Council approved and selected out of a rigorous RFP process. Reviewing the total physical improvements recommended I arrive at an estimated repair/improvement cost of roughly $1.9MM. These are the band-aids, repairs and upgrades that would keep it functional in its current layout, and bring it up to ADA compliance. Because of it's current design, however, particularly the roof(s), I am told that some of the problems are likely to re-occur over time.
Next, we must accept that the Police Station also needs to be updated. You stated: "I think most people, including myself, agree that a new Police Station does make sense." You don't elaborate, but you seem utterly convinced that the Police Station needs to be built from scratch. Why is that? (For the record, I agree that it does, but my reasoning is based on the Speizle report and all of the inconvenient facts therein.) But what is your reasoning, as I'm not sure at this point whether you take stock in what the experts are telling you? Or are you taking the part of the report you like and ignoring the parts you don't? Let's assume, for sake of argument, that you (and they) are both right. A brand new Police Station, on it's own, is estimated to cost at least $4MM.
So for $6MM, I've got a shiny new police station and a patched-up Borough Hall. The police Station now has the space it needs and the proper secure zones. Borough Hall is largely the same, except that now it has an elevator so folks with disabilities can actually reach the 2nd floor or basement if they need to, and the HVAC actually works well enough to keep the building properly warm in the winter. Unfortunately, it still has most if not all of the fundamental design problems it's always had. And we may face additional problems with it in the future because of this design. It may cost even more to fix at that time, but that'll be someone else's problem, right? And from a functional standpoint, it's completely the same. Not to mention, we still have the operational and other costs of running two separate buildings, rather than one. (It'd be very interesting to crunch those numbers. I'd be very surprised to learn that having one modern building and one older building is more cost efficient year over year than one integrated modern one.) Now, instead, for an additional investment of $2.5MM (definitely a considerable sum), I can consolidate my core municipal functions in one building, manage a single set of operational costs, and solve the various functional layout problems that exist with Borough Hall, providing a safer, modern, more efficient building for borough staff and residents alike. Depending on that number crunching we might even save money in the long run. And yes, we can preserve it's historic character as well.
While I'm mentioning borough staff, I'd like to point out, although you don't seem to think so, that we really do have a responsibility to them, in addition to taxpayers. In your first blog you stated, “I am an elected official, and I have an obligation to the taxpayer and not to staff.” I'm sorry, but I really couldn't disagree more. I have a responsibility to both. As the most visible stewards of our fine Borough on a day to day basis, all Borough staff certainly need our steadfast support as well, don't you think? I mean, as the titular head of the Police, I'd say you have an even bigger responsibility to them, no?
Moving on, you are correct, I did not mention AMS. You classify their report as useless. Certainly your opinion, but as it largely informed the direction of the 311 Task Force in moving forward (and many of its recommendations form the basis of the Task Force's report), I would have to respectfully disagree. You may not like the conclusions of the Task Force, or the report that formed its basis, but that does not make said report useless. I'll be happy to respond to your 311 blog at a future date, since I disagree with most of your conclusions and assertions, as you know. Sorry, I'm catching up on all your blogging!
Didn't want to disagree with me on IT? That's a shame... :-) (For those of you who don't know, IT is my day job.)
Regarding the HR Study. Could it have been done by our solicitor? Possibly. They have lawyers who understand HR law, but not necessarily what is required for HR and Talent Management. Two related by separate things. Even if we assume for sake of argument they could do it, do you think they would do it for free? Given the amount of time and energy Hess put in, I expect the cost would have been comparable, if not more. And let's be very clear for our readers -- we did not just buy job descriptions for $100K. We didn't even buy just a comprehensive Employee Manual either, which as I mentioned before, the Borough has NEVER had. There were also additional opportunities for management training, talent management sessions, etc. included. I just want to ensure we present the whole picture. But honestly, we needed that manual, and those job descriptions. Operating a Borough of this size without them would be almost laughable, if it wasn't so serious.
Regarding the previous administration's spending habits. It's wonderful that they spent money on 311 and Stony Creek Park. Well, sort of. In the sense that those are noble ideas, good. (We'll leave aside poor execution on 311 for now.) In terms of spending our already largely depleted reserves, very bad. Spending money from your savings account, which we might have wanted for a really rainy day isn't a good idea unless you absolutely have to. And the truth is, we didn't need to spend our reserves. I'm sure you've heard of good debt vs. bad debt. When rates are low, it makes lots of sense to borrow money to invest in things that will retain their value or improve in value over time. That's good debt. The decision to borrow money at historically low rates to make many necessary improvements to our town is an easy one. And frankly, one which has garnered this Council and Administration an award from the Commonwealth for fiscal accountability and best management practices. For those who would like further reading on this topic, see: http://lansdale.patch.com/articles/lansdale-recognized-by-state-for-fiscal-accountability. (Our readers may be wondering how we decide what needs attention. As the Mayor well knows the Administration maintains a living capital improvements list, which is constantly reviewed, added to, subtracted from and re-prioritized. It allows the Borough Manager, department heads and Council to have a clear picture of what all the major needs are in the Borough, both present and several years into the future. From this list, we are able to make informed decisions through critical examination of the needs.)
To your first point(s). Are you proposing that we should have run multiple RFP's for different buildings, hired different firms to study them, and then be left to our own devices to pull that information together into an intelligible whole to make a comprehensive decision? I see so many problems with that approach, I'm not sure where to begin. Just the added time and money required to manage multiple firms all doing essentially the same thing alone makes the entire idea seem, well, silly. With regard to Speizle's report, you mentioned that some of the reported issues are trivial. Sure they are. Are you saying they should have left them out and provided a less comprehensive report? And in what way does that detract from the millions of dollars of serious issues that they DID report?
Finally, regarding the idea of having Speizle continue on to the design phase without doing yet another round of RFP's, which you seem to have so much trouble with. When you find a professional (lawyer, accountant, or yes, even architect) that you trust, do you fire them every time a slightly different item comes up? Do we change out our solicitor or engineer every time a new project comes up? Should we be bidding out engineering services to different engineers for every road and infrastructure project we do? Is that really what you're saying?? Is this really "eyebrow raising" unethical behavior? Nonsense. We have a highly respected architectural firm who has done exemplary work for us. You yourself state above that you don't have a problem with their credentials. (I will take you at your word, since the thrust of your arguments seem to suggest the opposite.) In any case, if these things are true, and they are the firm with the most knowledge of our situation, it would be only logical to ask them for a design. (And I would submit this is precisely why the law allows for it.) Does that mean I need a permanent relationship with Speizle? Of course not. But as long as I have a need, and they continue to prove worthy of our support, I just don't understand the objection at all. Otherwise, you'd better get prepared to get bogged down in Council while we RFP a new Engineer and Solicitor every other week. Fair enough?
Thanks again for giving me an opportunity to set the record straight.Warm Regards,Councilman Denton Burnell
In response to Mayor Andy Szekely's recent blog entry, which you can read here, I felt it was time to follow up on a long overdue campaign promise and start to blog about my experiences as a Borough Councilman.
As such, in an effort to clear up any potential misconceptions, I'd like to offer a somewhat different view (i.e., my view) of the issues surrounding the potential upgrade of the Police Station and Borough Hall. It's my contention that our Mayor has painted a somewhat one-sided picture. As anyone who knows the Mayor knows, he always welcomes a healthy debate, and this is certainly a topic which deserves it. And while this is a (very) long post, I do encourage you to put up with my wordiness, as I feel a complete picture is required.
Let's start with this statement from his blog: "...Spiezle and Associates, was contracted to do a facilities study in order to independently and objectively assess the condition of Lansdale’s structures. I understand this rationale to a certain extent." I ask, why only to a certain extent? If the study was to be done independently and objectively, as it was, and an almost 100% new Council and Administration needed to take stock of the issues that had piled up over thirty years of neglect, wouldn't it be only prudent to embark on such an investigation? I submit it would be completely irresponsible not to. Incidentally, you will find this sensible investigative approach was repeated in a number of other areas: financial management, human resources, IT, and so on.
Actually, before I continue on the building front, let's get the dirty word out of the way now, as I'm sure you'll hear it a lot over the next 8 months. Consultants. Yes, the Borough has hired consultants (gasp) to help make sense of the state of affairs it inherited from an administration that had done little to keep its house in order and invest in the maintenance of its assets. The Borough does not have highly trained financial auditors, HR or IT experts on staff. Our taxes would be much higher if we did. It needs temporary help in many specialized areas. The truly important thing is that once you have advice from those consultants, you act. Otherwise you are indeed just wasting taxpayer money. So, what have we learned and been able to accomplish with the help of these dastardly consultants? Quickly taking stock of just a few of those consultants I mentioned above:
And so on. The point is, we engage consultants where expertise is needed to understand a problem fully and then make informed decisions about how to move forward and make things better. We don't commission studies to sit on a shelf and collect dust.
- Forensic Audit: Completed and Activated. (Incidentally, balanced budgets for the last 3 years with money being put BACK into reserves. Reversed a dangerous downward trend of deficit spending. Awards for exemplary financial management. I must have missed this item in the Mayor's kudos to Council.)
- HR Study: Completed and Activated (First time in HISTORY that the Borough has had a basic Employee manual. May seem trivial, but is extremely critical in our overly litigious society. Many more improvements in this area.)
- IT Study: Completed and Activated (Strategic planning complete and initial key investments underway. Our technology infrastructure on many fronts has been woefully behind and outdated.)
- Facilities Study: Completed and activation underway. (The reason we're having this conversation in the first place.)
Back to the buildings... The facilities study was clear -- both buildings have major issues. Everyone seems fairly content to generally accept that fact (for some reason I can't quite fathom) for the Police Station, but as it seems to be the more controversial subject, I'll focus on Borough Hall.
From the study, a summarized, very shortened list of issues with that building:
Because of the aforementioned issues with the building (and many others not mentioned here), the focus should not be on whether we do something to Borough Hall, but precisely what we should do. Take a walk around the nooks and crannies of that building and the issues noted above are clear to the naked eye. Spend any time there and you will know they are very real. A high-level estimate to just fix/patch those items is $2 million. Nothing to sneeze at. But please understand, these are not unnecessary or self-serving improvements. This is what – at the very least – must be done. It just doesn't seem clear how this item can be up for debate. If your house is broken, unsafe and potentially unhealthy, you have to fix it if you can. Don't you?
- The windows, walls, copings, and roof all require major repair or replacement.
- Infestations and mold.
- Significant HVAC issues
- Roof flashing, roof membranes. Water leaks from all directions. (See #2)
- ADA. Yes, the building is not ADA compliant. The second floor and basement are completely inaccessible to folks with disabilities.
However, that $2 million I mentioned does absolutely nothing to deal with the other inadequacies (i.e. layout), in terms of functional usefulness, of the building. This is the area where reasonable people might disagree, but I contend that it requires a full and complete view of the problem, taking the overall renovation of the Police Station and Borough Hall into context. By way of analogy, as we plan to pave roads in the Borough, we tackle all the problems underground, not just those on the surface. It just makes good business sense to do so.
The Mayor mentions that, by his count, on average 13 people attend Council Meetings. (Sad but true.) I infer that this is his way of saying that a new Council chamber layout, with proper (i.e., modern, but decidedly un-lavish) audio/visual facilities and somewhat expanded seating (impossible in the current building structure) is unnecessary, because people don't come to meetings. Frankly, his attendance estimates may actually be high if you exclude staff, but I honestly think that misses the point entirely. It's essentially like saying, "People don't care what we do here, so why should we invest in the facilities that serve them." I suspect that's the attitude that “sustained" us for the previous 30 years. What I like to call the "let's do just enough to keep things from falling apart" approach. That's not sensible management, and it's not running things like a business.
Fortunately, because we have managed our money wisely and built strong partnerships with companies like Merck, we have a unique opportunity to invest sensibly in the infrastructure that serves the community. To give them (yes, the Community, not Council or Staff) something very functional they can take pride in. The Mayor asks, "Do people flock to Doylestown to see Borough Hall?" Probably not. It's not a tourist attraction. But again, I think this question entirely misses the point. Do the people that work and conduct business there appreciate the facility they have? Does it make it easier and more efficient to conduct business, and so those people are more productive as a consequence? Is it more inviting, perhaps inspiring more people to participate more actively? Does it provide a sense of pride for the community? Probably yes.
Admittedly, pride doesn't pay the bills and probably isn't enough. So, the question really boils down to this: is a well-constructed, fully-integrated facility with modern amenities (that significantly enhances the appearance of a gateway corner of our town) more cost-effective in the long run than two separate, un-integrated buildings, one of which is getting a (mere!) $2 million makeover and may need further upkeep in "nearer" future. Honestly, when you phrase the question that way, factor in year over year operational costs, and know the dollar amounts involved in a half-solution ($6.63MM) vs. a whole solution ($8.51MM), the way forward seems a whole lot clearer. Band-aid for nearly $7 million, or solve all your problems for $8.5MM. Yes, those are big numbers. It's what happens when you neglect your town for many years. I think we all see the greater potential in Lansdale. And we need a holistic approach that stops kicking the can to the next group, and takes responsibility for the challenges that face us now. They'll just end up costing us more later if we don't. You only need to look at our current situation to know the whole truth of this statement.
I need to touch on pride again for a second. Pride is very important. That's why there is "quite a stir" when the word demolish gets thrown around in reference to this building. What the Mayor may not know as he was unable to attend the Admin and Finance Committee meeting last week is that there was indeed much discussion about the need for historic preservation of this building. We definitely have razed too many historic buildings in this town, and we have a responsibility to look at options that accomplish the goal of resolving all the building's deficiencies while preserving its historic character. In point of fact, one option we are reviewing does just that. So we are not headed inexorably down a path that levels the existing building. We are exploring all the options, as we ought to do. As any good business would.
Let's also deal for a moment with the Mayor's "cheap shot" (his words) about the bathrooms. Here's what the report actually says: "The Borough Manager's office is currently located on the first floor of the Borough Hall. The space is aesthetically pleasing and appears to have adequate square footage for the Manager's needs. However, the office's location on the first floor poses a security risk. Currently, members of the public have easy access to the Borough Manager and his/her staff as they are located directly off the main lobby. Additionally, the Borough Manager does not have private restroom facilities so he/she must use the public restroom through the lobby. In an effort to improve the safety of the Borough Manager and his/her staff, it is recommended that these offices be relocated to either a secured zone on the first floor or the second floor." (Emphasis added by yours truly.) I suppose we can debate about whether you feel the Borough Manager should be security conscious, but I think we all read the papers and Patch, and are comforted to see Officer Cornelius in Council each time we are there. So, to summarize, this was mentioned in the report in the context of a safe working environment, not so the Borough Manager could take afternoon showers in her office. A cheap shot indeed.
Lastly, with all due respect to the Mayor, I do find somewhat irresponsible the way in which he has portrayed the process we've gone through with Speizle, a highly respected architectural firm in this region. He seems to be saying that Speizle provided a report which was purposely misleading about the conditions of the Police Station and Borough Hall, so that they might immediately swoop in as the Borough's savior for the architectural services required, should we decide to do something. For the record, Speizle was properly vetted by the Borough, and selected after a full and open RFP process. Their credentials are significant.
So what we actually have is a respected firm that has spent a significant amount of time studying our issues, has a thorough understanding of the problems we face, and an impeccable track record with this type of design project. Why in the world would we want to go through the process of soliciting yet another firm to come in, essentially start from scratch, absorb what Speizle has already done (if they would even be willing to leverage someone else's work), and only then start a design process? Seems like a fairly obvious waste of time and money if you value the services the firm has already provided. Once again, the real underlying insinuation is that the Mayor questions Speizle's work in general. It's certainly his prerogative to do so, but I do not, particularly given their work product to date. Moreover, whatever designs are proposed, the implementation must still follow the very typical and thorough bid process we always go through. Ample opportunity for discussion and redirection.
In summary, we will continue to follow the process and discuss the issue openly. Demolishing the building is only one option, and in the Committee's opinion, not the most palatable one. But the recommendations are very clear that something must be done to both buildings. Please come to our Committee and other public meetings, listen to the conversation, and express your opinion.Thanks for listening!