On Wednesday night, Lansdale Borough Council voted 5-4 to terminate Timi Kirchner as Borough Manager. It is unfortunate when anyone loses their job especially in such a public forum as a Council meeting, but as public officials and political appointees this is the downside of what we signed up for. Without a doubt, Ms. Kirchner has served the Borough well in various capacities. Among some of her achievements, she has improved the morale of Staff, instituted managerial hierarchy and she has outlined goals and evaluated their completion as was witnessed in her slideshow presentation last night.
However, as I have outlined in this blog on numerous occasions there have been some questionable policy decisions overseen by Ms. Kirchner. Denton Burnell was correct last night when he stated that, “it was Council who authorized the spending” on such projects such as 311 Arts and the Borough Hall. But as an advisor to Council, I think that not advocating for additional architectural bids was imprudent. I have argued this in the past and to this day, I have not received a rational answer as to why the project was not put out to bid. Could the Borough have saved $2 or $3 or perhaps $4 million? We’ll never know. Furthermore, for the past sixteen months, Lansdale has been operating out of four trailers that cost the Borough a little over $100,000. There has been no interruption of services to our community, in fact, in March 2014 the Administration recognized Staff for their excellence in getting Lansdale through a difficult winter. This occurred while operating out of four trailers.
We paid $500,000 on nearly completed architectural plans for 311 West Main Street before Laura Burnham and Shirley Trauger presented their final assessment of their study. Was this prudent spending and planning? No.
Another misstep for Ms. Kirchner was the constant demonization of previous Councils and Borough Manager, Lee Mangan. While Mr. Mangan may not have been perfect, a lot of development occurred in Lansdale from 2000 to 2008 including the Turbo Lofts and West Main Gateway shopping center with Starbucks, the Pavilion Shopping Center, Station Square, Stony Creek Park and the West Main Streetscape grant. All very nice additions to Lansdale. Never was a conciliatory tone taken or an olive branch offered to those who previously served the Borough. No one is perfect and we should remember that.
Finally, the question to pose Lansdale residents is this: “What is the role of local government?” I think everyone would agree that public safety is first and foremost, followed by uninterrupted electricity, functioning sewer treatment, smooth roads, i.e., a sound infrastructure at minimal cost. As these requirements are satisfied, then quality of life issues such as libraries, parks and other “soul” enriching elements may or may not follow suit.
We saw what happened when trying to instill the arts in town through the purchase and renovation of 311 West Main Street; the Borough lost $3 million never to return. Will the average Lansdale residents’ lives be improved substantially with a $13-14 million Borough Hall? Imagine if we saved even as little as $3 or $4 million by going through a proper architectural bidding process; $1.5 million could have gone to a renovation of the Kugal Ball/Railroad Plaza, $500,000 to the Lansdale Historical Society, $300,000 for improved playground facilities at Whites Road Park, $200,000 for the Library; or simply passed the savings on the the Lansdale resident; the list goes on and on. The reason I mention these possibilities is that money spent on the examples above would have affected and improved the lives of more Lansdale residents than the money spent on Borough Hall.
Here are a few thoughts to ponder: if the Borough is operating efficiently and effectively, why does anyone need to go to the Administrative Borough Hall? The average attendance to Borough Council meetings is thirteen residents. Does anyone believe that number will increase with a new Borough Hall? Where would you rather be on a warm summer Wednesday evening? Sitting in a new Borough Hall listening to a debate over rate increases or sitting in a beautifully reconfigured Railroad Plaza? Will a new Borough Hall bring in new businesses? Or will lower taxes bring in new businesses? Interesting questions to think about our government moving forward.
I truly appreciate what Timi Kirchner has done in Lansdale, and I wish her every success in the future.