Monday, December 19, 2005

Tarentum Borough Council meeting December 19, 2005

It was standing room only at the meeting of the Tarentum Borough Council this evening. A camera from WPXI was filming the proceedings, and as I write this blog I have just heard that what they plan to report in the 11:00 PM news is "the battle over a skatepark." The meeting was about 90 minutes long, but the bulk of the time in the meeting involved the skatepark issue I've mentioned before (here and here or even here, for example).

As usual, the most important action taken at the meeting was the one everyone probably thought was the most innocuous: the approval of the minutes. With that one vote they approved the record of everything they had done in the earlier meeting. It passed without any discussion.

It was at the point of the citizen comments that the Council started to hear from the people and organizations of the community, and the crowd present ensured that the Council would be listening to them for a while.

The first citizen comment was from Andy Burch, who rose to call for Council President Magnetta to step down in light of charges (here) against him. Apparently there had been some preliminary court proceeding this morning in that case. I thought the citizen's demanding tone was inappropriate, especially given that Mr. Magnetta is innocent until proven guilty.

I rose to speak on behalf of Central Presbyterian Church in support of the skate park. I'm not sure what set him off, but in the middle of my rather brief comments Mr. Magnetta cut me off and told the Council that he wanted the skate park issue to be "tabled" at this meeting. I'm new to how they do things around here. Nobody had told me there were limits on what issues taxpayers could bring to the Council; no one told me there were any time limits, or that I had exceeded them; and Mr. Magnetta had not told me to sit down, so I remained standing while the Council members figured out how they wanted to use the time on the docket of this meeting reserved for "Citizen comments." Then Mr. Magnetta started recognizing other people to speak, and I waited my turn until he realized that he had not let me finish. When he recognized me I picked up about where I remembered being interrupted and I finished what I had to say.

My comments were basically that young people had been using the parking lot at Central Presbyterian Church for skateboarding for years without incident; that the Council's approval of the grant application for the skate park in 2004 was a positive thing; that the church supported the proposal, and that I encouraged them to follow through on the project.

After I sat down Joe Davidek asked me how many members of the Session of Central Presbyterian Church were residents of Tarentum. I didn't have the roster in front of me so I didn't have the answer at my fingertips. Apparently this was the sole question that mattered to Mr. Davidek and Mr. Magnetta, not how many members of the church are Tarentum residents, not how many people in Tarentum are affected by our church's ministry, and certainly not how many of our activities are focused on the Tarentum neighborhood around our church. These councilmen certainly have an interesting perspective on serving the community by counting noses rather than taking actions that make a difference for people.

There were a number of comments by others in attendance both for and against the skatepark. Some neighbors of the Crab Diamond site were present to speak against the skate park. They raised concerns about the cost of the skatepark, whether there were not a better site elsewhere in the borough, and whether all of the costs of the skatepark project were correctly estimated. There were also residents who came to speak in favor of the skatepark because of the benefits it would bring to the young people of the community. Councilwoman Sopcak offered answers to many of the concerns raised by the citizenry. There was a helpful statement from the owner of the (for-profit) Skatepark of Natrona, about the broad popularity of skateboarding and what was involved. Mayor Wolfe made sure it was known that he was 100% opposed to the skate park.

Mr. Magnetta reminded the Council that he wanted the skate park issue "tabled" so that the 2006 budget could be adopted. Whenever I go to meetings around here I am introduced to new uses of traditional parliamentary terms. I think that they meant that somehow they could adopt the whole budget without amending it in any way, but without implicitly re-endorsing the skate park. But nobody explained what this novel use of the verb "to table" actually meant, so the public will have to watch what happens in January to understand what the Council actually did.

The remainder of the meeting went very swiftly, with a number of perfunctory motions to schedule meeting dates and continue business as usual. Council approved two important repairs: a new boiler for Highland Hose at a cost of $7,750; and the repair of Brackenridge Avenue along Bull Creek at a cost of $118,925.

There was an interesting discussion around the motion to rent space in the Borough Office building to the Borough Tax Collector to be used as the location for payment of taxes. Apparently the new tax collector was to pay a smaller rent for a smaller office than the previous tax collector had paid for a larger office. Councilman Davidek said that the rent charged to the tax collector should have no relation to the size of the space rented. I thought that in the real world landlords and commercial tenants routinely took issues like this into account in their negotiations about rent. But this is Tarentum. And believe it or not, the Council voted for the common-sense proposal to charge less for a smaller space. And that is Tarentum, too.

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