Good Debate


Veto Vote Threat by Lansdale Mayor Stalls Municipal Complex Progress: Update

The preliminary and final land development approval for the municipal complex has stalled, awaiting a two-thirds majority vote from council next month to override Mayor Andy Szekely’s veto.

          Posted by           Tony Di Domizio           (Editor) , October 18, 2013 at 04:03 AM

The last vote at the last meeting at Lansdale Borough Hall—a unanimous one granting preliminary and final land development approval for a new municipal complex—went from bittersweet to sour Wednesday night when Mayor Andy Szekely threatened to veto council’s vote. “This requires my signature. In thinking long and hard about this, I will not sign it, effectively vetoing it,” Szekely said. Szekely refuses to officially sign off on the land development, citing the borough is needlessly spending $10 million for renovations without exploring other options. He said there was no Requests for Proposal process in the hiring of Spiezle Architects to design the project. Council must have a 2/3 majority vote—or six people—to override the veto, per Solicitor Mark Hosterman. Szekely has submitted to Hosterman in writing his reasons for the veto. First of which is the RFP issue: Spiezle was hired through a RFP for a facilities stud, but hired without a RFP for architectural work, he said. “Conducting a study and doing architectural work are two different issues,” Szekely wrote. He wrote that spending $10 million on a new municipal complex does not improve the life of the average resident.  “To claim that the new borough hall will be a gathering place for residents is  wishful thinking,” Szekely wrote. “If borough operations are running smoothly, there is almost no need for residents to go there other than to pay bills, request permits and discuss problems.” Szekely criticized the plan for a 120-seat meeting room, when average attendance at meetings is less than 30 people. “No one considers a residential move or makes a business decision based on a town’s municipal building,” Szekely wrote.  Lansdale Council is expected to approve a bid award for the project at its next meeting Nov. 6, which takes place at the North Penn School District Educational Services Center at 6:30 p.m. Council Vice President Mary Fuller said she was disappointed by Szekely’s threat and wondered why he would be against a new borough hall. “I am disappointed that the only veto that this mayor has ever issued will be against a new borough hall,” Fuller said. “Those of us sitting up here, and those who work in here day after day, we work on the inside, we know what’s wrong with those buildings.” “I’m not sure what your motive for this veto is,” Fuller said, adding it is three weeks before an election where Szekely, a Republican, could be ousted by Democratic challenger Doug DiPasquale. After the meeting, Fuller said she was fed up with the “pay-or-play politics” in Lansdale. “The funny part is the mayor stated to the press that he would elaborate on his decision to veto, as he only made the decision on his way to Wednesday’s meeting,” said Fuller. “People on the street have told me he was spotted drinking at Lansdale Tavern with a former councilman pre-meeting and post-meeting. I have to wonder what truly inspired this decision: politics, alcohol, former alliances or a combination of the above.” Council President Matt West lauded Szekely during the meeting for using his authority as mayor. “How about that? Democracy at work. Great! One of those checks and balances that the mayor gets to conduct. Well done,” West said. After the meeting, West compared Szekely’s maneuver to the effects of the shutdown that the nation was facing as of Wednesday evening. “It’s obstructionist for the sake of being obstructionist,” West said. West added he was certain there would be a two-thirds majority voting to override the veto next month. Councilman Requests Delay of Project Bid Award Szekely wasn’t the only one to potentially gum the works. Councilman Jack Hansen requested his colleagues not take action on the bid award vote next month. “The reason is, in January, we will have a different council sitting here. It’s a project the new council has to deal with for the next two years,” Hansen said. “I ask council not impose this will on the next council. This will also affect the borough for the next 50 to 60 years.” Councilman Dan Dunigan said such an action would be “irresponsible” as the council that brought the project to this point. “We planned for it, the money’s in the bank, we’ve gone through the designs, so to get down the road and say ‘Eh, we’ll let the next guy decide whether or not to get it done,’ no thanks,” Dunigan said. Council heard again firsthand of the unreliability of the HVAC system in borough hall from borough Manager Timi Kirchner. “Two Mondays ago, my office suite was an icebox,” Kirchner said. “I show up on Tuesday in the icebox, and it’s 82 degrees. That’s life in borough hall all the time, among other discomforts.”

Timetocleanup                              October 17, 2013 at 10:27 AM
              10 million for one building and the rest of the town looks like slums. Money well spent. Why don’t you use more money and fix the crime and the overall look of the area
The Truth                              October 17, 2013 at 12:57 PM
              Maybe they should spend the $$$ on fixing the f’d up road NEXT to the Borough Building…
Just a Neighbor                              October 17, 2013 at 01:33 PM
              That’s kind of a dumb comment seeing that they are fixing the roads next to the borough building.
The Truth                              October 17, 2013 at 02:05 PM
              Ok, if by “fixing” you mean leaving it ripped up for well over a year and just throwing down metal planks and putting up saw-horses then yeah, I guess that was a dumb comment…
Just a Neighbor                              October 17, 2013 at 03:00 PM
              Everything must be a simple for you
Andy Szekely                              October 17, 2013 at 03:10 PM
              Mr. West may call me an obstructionist but wasn’t he the lone dissenting vote two weeks ago when Council voted to approve the LED sign for First Baptist Church? I guess that makes him an obstructionist too.
The Truth                              October 17, 2013 at 03:48 PM
              a simple?  Are you from Italia?
The Voice                              October 17, 2013 at 04:41 PM
              I guess the Mayor doesn’t care about the Borough workers in Borough hall who have to work every day in a building that is literally crumbling around them. Last I checked he never spoke out against the architect when they had done work for the Borough in the past. He never even explained why to the audience at the meeting as to his position. You would think he would explain then when he had the opportunity. Instead he waits until after the meeting when the reporters asked him.   Mr. Hansen is  a showoff. Wanting Council to not vote on a new Borough Hall so that it wouldn’t be a burden to the next Council. Really? Since when did this matter to him? Hasn’t he as President of Council pass legislation on controversial things knowing full well that it would “burden the next Council.” What a hypocrite!
The Voice                              October 17, 2013 at 04:50 PM
              Mr. Mayor, At least Mr. West explained his position in full in front of Council as to why he voted no. As I recall he was not present for the vote for Lansdale Catholic to get a LED sign. He stated if he was he would have voted no on that also as he doesn’t think they are a necessary in the Borough. So how is this being a obstructionist? It’s not even in the same relm as what you did.
Andy Szekely                              October 18, 2013 at 09:50 AM
              Mr. or Mrs. Voice, I have indeed spoken to more than a few workers in Borough Hall who have confided in me that the supposed “horrific” conditions in Borough Hall are grossly exaggerated.  However, because of repercussions they are hesitant to disagree publicly with their boss. Mr. or Mrs. Voice, what work are you referring to that the architect did in the past for the Borough? They haven’t done any work for the Borough other than the study. I have debated the process of renovating Borough Hall at length in previous Council meetings primarily with Councilmen Burnell and Dunigan. And as there were only seven residents in the audience on Wednesday, I am assuming that Mr. or Mrs. Voice was probably at the meeting when I discussed this issue then. Why belabor the issue when everyone knows my position? According to the rules of logic, my veto was a simple no vote. So am I to assume that anyone who disagrees or votes against the majority is an obstructionist? I’m glad we live in a Republic not an authoritarian single-party state.
Brandon Yates                              October 18, 2013 at 09:52 AM
              Nice to have a mayor with some backbone. It’s unbelievable that people are attacking him as “obstructionist” for blocking 10 MILLION in wasteful spending.   I haven’t been very active in local politics but I’m going to try to turn out as many votes as possible for him and against the incumbent council.
Reverend John Hale                              October 18, 2013 at 02:54 PM
              Hasn’t the Mayor already come out in favor of a new Police Station (he’s the titular head of the department, you know), which would likely be well more than half of the estimated $10MM for the new complex?  Hasn’t he also agreed that the current Borough Hall needs fixing?  Also, did I see the Mayor enjoying some liquid courage before the meeting Wednesday at the Lansdale Tavern?
Andy Szekely                              October 18, 2013 at 03:55 PM
              Reverend, you say that a police department “would likely” cost more than half of the estimated $10MM so I’m assuming you’re not sure exactly what a new police station will cost– give or take a couple million– but what the heck it’s only tax dollars right? I’m sure the Lansdale residents won’t mind paying more because Council didn’t want to put one of our largest spending projects out to bid. Unfortunately, we won’t have any other pricing options for renovations or different designs for the police department because this Council approved the architectural firm who did the study to do the architectural work. Best practices? I don’t think so. Nice comment about Lansdale Tavern. Stick to the debate.
Reverend John Hale                              October 18, 2013 at 04:15 PM
              If Council didn’t put this project out to bid as you say, then what’s this link on the Borough website all about?  Seems this is a public bid for this project.{2B07A6AE-79CA-4BAB-A22C-07E8C5147EAD}&DE={E1C49A13-F6BE-49BA-8FDF-418B4ED1277E}
Andy Szekely                              October 18, 2013 at 04:57 PM
              Reverend, I appreciate the link to the Borough website for the bids. But you’re mistaken. Listed on the website are construction bids not architectural design bids. The architectural design determines the construction and therefore, a large chunk of the costs. To build a building or conduct major renovations you need to start with an architect not a construction crew. The Borough did NOT put the architectural design work out to bid except through the facilities study. Again, two very different things. A study on the condition of buildings and then being awarded a contract for design work based on that study. Quite a conflict of interest that I and many others logically conclude.
The Voice                              October 18, 2013 at 06:43 PM
              So Mr. Mayor, You are against the firm that did the study to do the work. It would seem to me that it would only be logical that the firm that you hired to do the study would also be the one to do the overall drawings.  I to have also talked to many Borough employees and they have told me horror stories of working in the Borough Hall. Never has any of them ever mentioned the fact that they were ever intimidated by their bosses. Once again it is a campaign agenda prompted by political parties in this Borough. I think the current Council has done a good job compare to previous Councils that just gave lip service and did absolutely nothing. This current Council has said and done what they said they would. Do I agree with all their decisions? No, but I do respect them. I am afraid that the next Council that comes in will be just like previous Councils. Spend down the reserves why doing nothing.
Andy Szekely                              October 18, 2013 at 08:40 PM
              The Voice, You miss the point. I am not against the firm to do the work. I am against the flawed process. Why on earth would it be logical to hire the firm that did the study? Two different issues. Why wouldn’t the Borough want to explore other architectural firms for different designs and pricing? Tell me how this is a best practices policy? If there was any inkling based on the RFP for the study that the same firm could have the architectural work, inherently there is a conflict of interest. Furthermore, if you are perceived as an ally of the administration, then employees will tell you what the administration’s position is. As far as power struggles here there are three, Republicans, Democrats and disciples of Timi. Again, you like this Council demonizes their predecessors. Stony Creek Park? Streetscape grant? the Pavilion? Silk Factory? Turbo Lofts? All happened prior to this Council. Absolutely nothing, huh? Not quite.
Elizabeth Leibson                              October 19, 2013 at 02:23 PM
              Andy Szekely I am with you on this one! I don’t want to see my tax dollars used for frivolous things like rebuilding the police station or borough hall. They are perfectly fine as I see it. If anything we need to enforce stop signs or put up a light at necessary intersections like 5th and Line St. Thank you Any for standing your ground.
sean greene                              October 19, 2013 at 11:19 PM
              There was water pouring in through the first floor meeting room ceiling just three months ago.   In what way is it “frivolous” to provide Lansdale’s public servants with safe and humane working conditions?   Let’s remember that it was these same public servants that you hold in such disregard (the “disciples or Timi) that worked around the clock during Superstorm Sandy to keep the power on in the borough when surrounding municipalities lost electricity, make sure that our emergency plans were in place and the roads stayed clear of downed trees, and provide public safety for all the events that Mayor Andy takes credit for organizing. The building needs renovation plain and simple and since this action by council is not an ordinance I am not sure the mayor, a largely ceremonial position, even has a vote in the matter. PA Code:§ 43.7-701.3. The Mayor shall NOT have the right to vote upon any matter before the Council provided, however, if in the event any vote of Council results in a tie, the Mayor may cast a vote in order to resolve such tie or abstain from voting thereon. In all cases, however, the Mayor shall approve or veto any Ordinance of Council as set forth in §  43.6-607 of this Charter.
Leroy Howard                              October 20, 2013 at 09:12 AM
              To sean greene: maybe if the Administration repaired the problem areas when they were discovered, they wouldn’t BE problems. Or, perhaps, they were let go intentionally for the sole purpose of getting a new building. Just a thought. And while I too commend the employees for their work during Sandy, I don’t think they did it out of the goodness of their hearts, I’m sure they were getting paid. I think anyone else in that position would have done the same. Again, just a thought. And could you please show where The Mayor took credit for organizing any events that were provided “public safety”. And by “public safety” I’m guessing you mean the Police department- again, being paid. By the way, I too think the building needs RENOVATION. As the Mayor is implying, maybe we don’t need to destroy it in order to fix it.
The Voice                              October 20, 2013 at 12:17 PM
              Mr.Mayor, I am saying that to go out and look for another firm would cost the taxpayers when you take into consideration that the firm you hire would also want to do their own studies that had already be done. This would delay what is already going to happen. From what is reported in this article and what I have heard in Council meetings, the money is already there. The only thing left to do is tear down the present Borough Hall except for three walls that everyone seems to want and the tower on top of the building.
The Voice                              October 20, 2013 at 12:28 PM
              Mr Howard, While your right that the employees were probably paid to be there  the building itself is a hazard. The Borough has sunk money into a building that has been flawed from the beginning. I don’t know if you realize that there is at least five roofs on top of borough hall. This was done to try and stop the leaks that have occurred every time it rains. Plus factor in that during severe rains that the basement floods your looking at taxpayers money being spent on a situation that  is not going to get better. I rather spend my tax dollars on a new building that hopefully would not have the problems that this current building is having and would serve both the Public and Borough employees (including the Police Force) more efficiently and safely.
Andy Szekely                              October 20, 2013 at 04:09 PM
              Mr. Greene, Are you saying that Borough conditions are unsafe and inhumane? If that’s the case then code enforcement should have shut Borough Hall down when it was deemed unsafe. If conditions are inhumane, then maybe we should get the District Attorney’s office involved to investigate these inhumane working conditions. Or are you simply exaggerating? If conditions at Lansdale Borough are so horrendous, why do we have so many long time employees? Is it because working conditions are not that bad? And the last time I checked the pay and benefits for Lansdale employees is very competitive. You also confuse Timi’s disciples with employees. Timi’s disciples are her supporters on Council. As far as the reference to the mayor’s role according to PA State law, you’re right. But our solicitor had my name on the resolution for approval– he didn’t have to as it was largely administrative (or maybe he didn’t know)– and I decided not to sign it. If the approval of this resolution wasn’t within my role or responsibility as the mayor, then it shouldn’t have had my name on it for approval.
Andy Szekely                              October 20, 2013 at 07:11 PM
              The Voice, You’re wrong on a few items. You say that the Borough will have to pay for additional studies. Not true. The Borough paid for a study for the assessment of the condition of Borough properties and buildings. Separate issue. If an RFP were to be put out for architectural designs for the Borough, the architectural firms would conduct their own assessments– not a study– and prepare designs for review for the Borough. The Borough would then select the design they prefer based on our esthetics and its price. Just like having work down on your home. By the way, the Borough paid for the study (it is ours) and is therefore available for any architectural firm to review. You mention that Borough Hall has been flawed from the beginning. How did you come to that conclusion? Are you an architect? Or was that the determination of the architect that did the study? Once again a conflict of interest and all the more reason to have multiple bids. And you also mention safety like Mr. Greene. If the building is not safe, why doesn’t code enforcement do something about it? Because if Borough Hall is dangerous and the Borough is allowing an unsafe situation, then we are setting ourselves up for a lawsuit. You also mention that the money is already there. The Borough borrowed $10 million in 2012 for anticipated capital projects. Yes, we have the money in the bank. Borrowed money.
Reverend John Hale                              October 21, 2013 at 08:53 AM
              Yes, Borough Hall was flawed from the beginning.  It’s been said many times by current and former employees that the building leaked from day one resulting in water in the basement soon after the 1985 renovations were completed.  Since the Mayor knows these employees well, maybe he should ask this simple question.  Also, I noted that you’re issue is now that there wasn’t an RFP for the architect and not that the project wasn’t publically bid.  Architectural fees are fairly consistent from one professional firm to another and wasn’t it reported here on The Patch and in The Reported that the Borough got quite a deal on the fee based on prevailing rates for the region?  9%-10% is fairly standard for preservation/new work and the Borough negotiate about 7%.  Seems like Council and Administration did a pretty good job.  As for the conflict of interest you’re trying to pedal, the same could be said for most every professional services.  For instance, the Borough engineers and traffic engineers review/study situations, propose solutions, prepare estimates, assist with the bid process and the then oversee the work.  Should we do an RFP each and every project?  That would be an expensive (more tax dollars) proposition, not to mention an administrative mess.
Andy Szekely                              October 21, 2013 at 03:41 PM
              Reverend, I agree that Borough Hall needs renovation. I have not disputed this. However, you and others seem to be skirting the big issue here which is that Spiezle was awarded this contract without competing bids. Period. Your argument about the 7% versus 9-10% doesn’t hold water. Great the Borough secured a 2-3% reduction in fees. But here’s a little math for you: the estimate for construction is close to $10 million, and therefore the fee for Spiezle will be 7% which is $700,000. Mr. Dunigan confirmed this in Council when I asked him what the cost of Spiezle would be. What we will never know is what if there was another estimate for the design–and therefore determining construction costs– that came in at $7 million? Based on your estimates, even if we paid 9% to another architect, we would still be saving the public $3 million. Furthermore, you can’t compare spending $10 million on a Borough Hall which can have tremendous variation to spending $500,000 or even $1 million on a road, for example, which has engineered specs that don’t vary. The variety of designs for Borough Halls is certainly greater than the variety of designs for roads. Here’s another flaw in your argument that an RFP would cost us money, which by the way, tell me, was there an RFP put out for the architectural design? No. An RFP was put out for a study. After the study, an RFP should have been put out for architectural design work for Borough Hall/Police Station. Now here is the important part: if an RFP for architectural design work was put out the Borough would have collected the bids and reviewed them according to aesthetics and price. The bid would then be awarded to the favored firm based on design and price. We do not pay architects for bids. The confusion has been that the Borough has to pay each architectural firm to do a study in order to bid on the project. Architectural firms take a risk when they put together a bid.
LansdaleResident                              October 21, 2013 at 06:43 PM
              This council is using the Borough Complex Renovation issue as a last-gasp strategy to cover up and hide their failures over the last two years.  This council has failed to attract any real significant new business investment ( > 250 employees), in spite of the electric rate discount scheme, the “Classic Towns” designation, and the fancy L Branding Logo.  Outside of the PTCI corridor, this council has failed to address the crumbling roads and sidewalks throughout the borough.  The Madison Lot Redevelopment project was a nice presentation; however, because Dunigan spearheaded that effort, we all know it is destined for the trash bin.  Hatfield Township is running rings around us at the end of Welsh Road, first a Lowe’s, then a super Wawa, then a Shop Rite, next a Chick-fil-A.  They are laughing all the way to bank taking Lansdale residents’ money, and Lansdale still hasn’t figured out how to make the Performing Arts center project fly, ten years after allowing that skunk Mangan to swindle us into purchasing that useless building.   Desperate for something to show the voters, Council cooked up this lamebrain scheme to spend 10 million dollars on a borough government building renovation.  Oh yippie.  Yeah, that will really help revitalize the Borough and bring in millions of dollars of business investment.  First “wayfinding signs,” now this. . . .   The borough hall renovation project is NOT what we should be focusing on right now.  Mayor Andy Szekely’s position on 311 has always been correct, and he is correct on this issue also.  Good job, Mr. Mayor.  Do anything you can to stop this madness.  You are the only person in that entire snake-infested government that has any common sense and is looking out for best interests of the voters.
Reverend John Hale                              October 22, 2013 at 03:44 PM
              The Mayor’s focus seems to be changing with each post.  First, it was that there wasn’t a competitive bid for the construction.  When that proved false, then he says, oh I meant the architectural design wasn’t put out to an RFP.  Then when it’s pointed out that the Borough negotiated a fee some 20-30% less, than the going rates, he’s changing to cost of construction.  The architect doesn’t bid the construction work.  They provide an estimate.  Then it is open to public bidding process to determine the actual cost.  So, if the project does come in at $7MM, sticking to your simple math equation above, the architect selected gets about $490,000, while the Mayor’s hypothetical architect at 9% would cost the Borough $630,000.  And the Mayor is looking out for the taxpayer?  Seems he’s looking out for himself ahead of an election.
Andy Szekely                              October 22, 2013 at 05:19 PM
              Reverend, Please follow the argument. Design drives construction costs. Construction costs are going out to bid. No one disputes that. I have always maintained that the RFP for architectural design should have gone out to bid which it did not. You mention, “if the project does come in at $7MM,”. What if the project comes at $12 million? Plus, who’s to say that another architect wouldn’t have discounted their rates just like Spiezle’? But we’ll never know. Let’s face it, Spiezle got the architectural work without any competing bids. Explain it to the tax payers.
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