The State of Affairs in Lansdale

01212012 024On 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.

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7 responses to “The State of Affairs in Lansdale

  1. Well Done

  2. I have one thing to ask since this was all about money. Was it wise to fire someone who will still be payed until the end of the year and also now pay their replacement at the same time? Couldn’t Council or at least those who voted for her termination, waited until the end of the contract that was expiring at the end of this year and just not renew it? Wouldn’t this have also saved the taxpayers money?

  3. Why are electric rates going up when Lansdale residents are paying the highest rates in the region? If residents could choose their electric supplier they could save 15% before the increase. Businesses could save much more than that. The point of the borough’s monopoly was to save us money, not to take advantage of a captive market. The practices of the borough electric department toward businesses and landlords are usury, legally untenable and the reason monopolies are forbidden. No other electric company in the state requires a landlord to pay a tenants delinquent electric bill. No other company charges a 10% penalty for a bill paid one day late.

  4. Andy,

    As you might expect, I have a very different opinion of what transpired on Wednesday night. As always, on the surface, your arguments seem simple and straightforward. Of course, as is always the case, the truth is somewhat more complicated. And, as usual, I feel compelled to point it out.

    I am not here to malign the character of those who did this. I vehemently disagree with their decision to fire Timi, and have already expressed that the best way I know how. But it is done, and I can’t change it. What I will say is that the way in which this was done was wrong, and completely unnecessary. This could have been done with decency and respect, instead of an unannounced public political firing, with zero succession plan. (For those that would compare to 5 years ago — know the history. The motion to remove Mr. Mangan was advertised. Mr. Mangan was also given an opportunity to leave with some dignity and avoid the spectacle of the meeting. There was a succession plan. None of that is the case here.) To make matters worse, you put a man who has given decades to this Borough on the spot and asked him to do a job he was clearly uncomfortable doing. Knowing full well that he has too much class to say no. He deserved better.

    Moreover, the supposition that this was about a “change in direction” really seems like mis-direction to me. Our new leadership (and most of Council) voted with the administration’s recommendations (and some of their own) on all major issues last year. Sometimes unanimously, but never with more than 1 or 2 dissenters. We:

    1) Gave Timi a new contract in June 2014 which ensures that she is now paid through the end of this year (passed UNANIMOUSLY). If she was doing such a bad job, why did we do this?
    2) Borrowed another 10 million dollars (passed unanimously). IF we’re really taking on too much debt, why did we do this?
    3) Increased electric and sewer rates to properly support our utilities (passed 7-2 and 8-1, respectively)
    4) Increased taxes to keep pace with inflation and ensure we are saving money for a rainy day (passed 6-2)
    5) Passed a budget that incorporated those increases and kept departments trim (passed 7-1)

    I hope folks can see a little of the confusion I have here… To underscore it, I hear that our new leadership is not changing course on any major projects in flight. I’m actually glad to hear this, as we have a number of important projects going on, but it only adds to my confusion about why this was necessary. At this point, I recognize my confusion is irrelevant. I would just like people to understand that this was clearly NOT about the job Timi was doing. If it was, numbers 1-5 above would have never happened the way they did, and we wouldn’t be moving ahead with all of these projects.

    Andy — Timi is gone, and you’re still talking about Borough Hall. Perhaps it is time to move on. What if we HAD done a design bid? What if we received 5 designs? What if it took us 6 or 8 months longer to make a decision? What if, by the time we got our act together, the roof at Borough Hall had fully caved in (which legitimately could have happened) and we were compelled to fix it for a million dollars or more? What if our final chosen design for a NEW hall, when put out to construction bid, cost 2 million MORE because the economy had improved (which did happen)? What if we then rejected that bid and made the (bad) decision to patch Borough hall up for 4 million dollars? (We had to make it ADA compliant and it would have been more pricey by then) What if we decided to build another separate police station (as you wanted to) and paid 4 million for that? What if, 5 or 10 years later, our umpteenth patch job on Borough Hall cost us another 2 million? (If you’re counting I’ve already spent 11. And I’m being conservative.) What if, what if, what if. You agreed the police needed a new building. You agreed that Borough Hall was crumbling inside. Building one building and patching another one makes little financial sense. The “what if” game at this juncture really does no one any good. We need to move forward. We can’t un-build the building, and you can guess as much as you like about what might have been, but they are, after all, just guesses. My what-ifs could just as easily have turned out to be true. Your readers should not confuse any of our what-ifs for facts.

    On the trailers — you simplify for effect. To be clear for our readers, Borough government is not being run out of those trailers. Today it is being run out of those trailers, AND the police department (public safety — the first role of local government), AND the educational services building. We’re also forced to use the Electric building for additional office space, AND the Wissahickon park building and Parks & Rec building for additional meeting space. And the Fire Company in emergency situations. The functions currently provided by all those locations will then be provided by one integrated, efficient, well-organized building when completed. Borough government is not 2 meetings a month where 13 people show up. Borough government is a daily affair, where many dedicated people come to work to support all the necessary functions of running this town and keeping us safe. Many who’ve done it for 30+ years. I realize you’ll say they don’t need it, and people “don’t come to town for that building”. Perhaps not. But someone’s opinion of a town is a collection of impressions. If a place looks like someone’s been taking care of it and investing in it, even the government buildings, it almost certainly improves your opinion of that place. That has value to me and it does affect people’s buying and investing decisions. It would certainly affect mine. You feel government should do the bare minimum. That the “soul” enriching items are optional. That’s fine. As a resident, I disagree. They are not optional to me. I am willing to do a little more to have pride in all the aspects of the place I call home, and not just hope that the capital markets will make it happen. I don’t want to live in a town that does the bare minimum. I want to provide a place people want to go to work in, and live in, and play in and have pride in. You and I will always differ on this, and how we get there, and that’s fine. That’s politics. But please don’t pretend that we’ve run the government out of trailers all this time. The police would tend to disagree.

    I am hopeful for the future of this town. What I have heard from most of my constituents is that they aren’t satisfied with the bare minimum, or “just enough”. They want Lansdale to be what it “was” and what it could be again. I want that too. To do that we must respect the lessons of the past, but not dwell in it. We must learn to work together, and do things in the light of day. We must stop making political decisions, and make the right ones. We must treat each other with respect. We must rebuild trust. We must admit our mistakes. God knows I’ve made some on this journey. We must put aside our anger, our hurt pride, our desire for revenge, and our desire to be right at all costs. We must act like adults. IF we can do all those things, we have a chance to make Lansdale the place it has the potential to be. I am willing to work with anyone who can do those things with honesty and integrity.

    I too wish Ms. Kirchner all the best. She was an amazing administrator who did so much more than simply improve morale and institute policy. She built a cohesive team that exhibit the idea of one team thinking every day, and work passionately for the betterment of our town. Her contributions cannot be underestimated.

    Thanks,

    Denton

    • As a long term resident of the borough, and as someone who is trying to grasp all the recent changes, I regularly attend council meetings and stay up to date with all the information presented with all of the projects and undertakings. I was incredibly upset at the way the termination of Ms. Kirchner was handled, at the drop of a hat during a public forum. She deserves more than that from a community in which she worked so hard to improve on a daily basis. After events like this I like to tune into the mayor’s blog to get his opinions on these type of changes. Once I read his post I thought maybe I was wrong about Kirchner, but then that thought quickly dissipated when I remembered that our fearless leader uses more misdirection than a magic act in a hall of mirrors. I was comforted only after reading Denton Burnell’s reply, again reminded of the sanity and logic this great town can produce. Denton reminded me of the great work Kirchner accomplished while in office, while also exposing the vital details the mayor so carefully left out in his original post. When I finished reading I realized I can not wait for the day that I am walking out of the voter ballot after submitting my vote for Denton Burnell as the mayor of Lansdale.

  5. I’m sorry Andy but I don’t quite agree with you and I don’t think I could say it any better than Denton just did.

  6. Tom, thank you for meeting today and explaining why you went with Red Cedar Grill. Although I disagree with having the event outside of Lansdale I understand why you went with them. The message I got from Steve was he questioned why it was not in Lansdale too and I needed to talk to Mary on why. I apologize for not having you on the email from the beginning and will do so moving forward.

    Hopefully on future events we will be able to keep them in Lansdale, as we focus on local Lansdale we should all have that in mind. As a council and leaders of this community we should be communicating honestly and not worrying about the next election. All too many times that seems to be issue.

    Sent from my iPad

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