Monday, March 27, 2006

Tarentum skatepark plans forming; recreation board holds closed meeting

one proposal for Tarentum skateparkThe newly reconstituted Tarentum Recreation Board met tonight at 6:00 PM to receive information and make some preliminary decisions about the design of the skateboard park. Three representatives of the local skaters were present to report on the planning process they had gone through on Sunday.

Carl Magnetta, chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee, called on Dan Schmidt of Gibson Thomas, the Borough's engineers, to report on the parameters within which the design would need to be done. His starting point was that the Community Development Block Grant on which the Borough was counting had been reduced. Because the block grant was to be matched by a 15% share from the Borough, his starting assumption was that the borough's share of the project would be reduced accordingly, in spite of the fact that the Borough had budgeted over $30,000 for the project. Based on his calculations the skate park needed to be done within $120,000.

Mr. Schmidt said that he anticipated two contracts: the first being one for excavation of the site, laying the surface, and fencing the park; the second being the equipment itself. Mr. Schmidt explained that the equipment manufacturers were reluctant to give out per piece prices for the items of equipment, but wanted to bid on collections of equipment to be installed.

Mr. Magnetta said that he felt the borough should put down the full pad in the first phase of the project, and leave space for additional pieces of equipment as funding becomes available. He indicated that he was going to pursue grants from the Scaife Foundation and the foundations of local industries in order to get the needed equipment for the skatepark.

There was a question about whether the Borough was pursuing a grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation. I was somewhat confused at this point because some were claiming that the Borough had to pay that foundation in order to get a grant from it. My own review of the application materials did not show the necessity of paying anything to the Tony Hawk Foundation in order to get a grant.

Reff Revilla of the Skate Park of Natrona reported on the design process the local skaters had engaged in over the previous week. The representatives of the skaters presented a list of obstacles (i.e., equipment) rated in order of popularity, and described the process by which the skaters had been polled. The representatives also made it clear that they felt the full pad should be put in first and that the obstacles should be added as funding was available.

Plans and specifications for the park will need to go to the Allegheny County Council of Governments by April 17. The borough engineer will develop these to go for the maximum size concrete pad.

Councilwoman Ginger Sopcak raised a question about whether the existing fencing can be used temporarily. Mr. Schmidt explained that there is no mandate for fencing around the park, but that the recommendations are that where there is fencing it should be about six feet high, to prevent impact of the skaters with the top edge of fence.

There are no plans to put lighting into the skateboard park, so skating should be limited to daylight hours.

Ginger Sopcak raised the question of who decides about spending all of the money allocated for this project in the borough's 2006 budget. At first it seemed that the answer was the Recreation Board, but as the question was pursued it became clear that the Council will need to tackle this question. Many of those involved in managing the borough's funds have been assuming that the Borough's part of the project should be the engineering fees plus the required 15% match to the block grant. Ms. Sopcak reminded the group that the borough has already budgeted over $30,000 for the skatepark based on the previous assumption of the size of the block grant.

The Recreation Board finished this part of the meeting at 6:43, at which point Council President Magnetta asked those who were not members of the Recreation Board to leave. This request was made a number of times, so I left because I was a member of the public and not a member of the board. I feel that the requests for the public to leave were unnecessary and inappropriate, especially when the Recreation Board had not gone into executive session. But because the council president stated that the meeting was a closed meeting I left.

The work of the borough, its committees and boards, ought to be transparent to the public. We have a right to know what is being discussed and what is being decided. In the earlier part of the meeting there had been some difficult points when it was not clear who had what status at the meeting. If the seating had been planned for this meeting it would have been possible to set up the room so the members of the new Recreation Board were clearly identified, and those of us who were observers and citizens would have been identified as well. Mixed general seating for all was an invitation for participants to get confused about who had what level of official involvement in the decisions that needed to be made. With separate seating areas the Board could have maintained good order while allowing the public to see and hear what was happening.

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act should have been a sufficient deterrent to any leader's request that members of the general public leave. If the Board had reason to go into executive session they could have made the decision to do so in public.

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8 comments:

Anonymous said...

You didn't have to leave. There's no such thing as a closed meeting of a recreation committee.

I know one woman who just ignored Magnetta and stayed for the so-called closed meeting.

She was rewarded with a lengthy discussion of how ugly last year's borough Christmas tree was.

Stewart said...

I guess it is a good thing I did not stay then. I was one of the people who helped decorate the tree that was under discussion. One of the members of the rec board made the cocoa we drank that day. I don't know where the complainers were, or why the borough workers never put up the decorations that were higher than we could reach. Assurances had been given at the previous council meeting that there would be cooperation in getting those decorations put up.

I know that no one had to leave. I realized I was making a choice when I heard someone with no legal right to disinvite anyone doing so anyhow. I don't like the practice of issuing those disinvitations. And when one part of the public were told they were not welcome, I chose to count myself with the masses.

Fieryo said...

Carl should have made mention at the council meeting last week that when the new Rec board met they would at some point go into executive session. However, the minutes to last night's meeting should be made available to the public.

The skaters who were appointed as representitives to design the park seemed to be very prepared with their information. Unfortunately they didn't have much of an opportunity to speak due to some disruption at the meeting between a few residents and board members. This proved to be non-productive and time consuming.

It was the first meeting of the new board. The priority issue was indeed the skatepark. But, the new board also had to have the opprtunity to discuss upcoming events for the Boro and delegate committee heads for certain projects. The point of separating the borad from the residents was well made. Sitting all together in the audience did add to some confusion as to who was who and who was there to do what.

Since we are on that subject, the tree being a focal point in our town was an absolute disgrace and somewhat embarassing. It seemed there was a constant struggle between the council and the Boro as to just who would finish the decorating and up-keep of the tree and the area around it. So, shame on whoever dropped that ball. Let's hope it does not repeat this year.

All in all, it was a productive meeting and some great ideas for future activities were discussed with a positive attitude. Committee heads were appointed for various activities. If all goes well, we can look forward to some great events in Tarentum this summer.

Anonymous said...

fieryo,

Carl could have announced last year, last week or last night that they were going to go into executive session and they STILL couldn't have done it.

You can't have an executive session to talk about an ugly Christmas tree. (With all apologies to the decorators of the tree.)

You can have an executive session to hire or fire someone. You can have an executive session to discuss a specific legal situation. You can have an executive session to talk about buying or selling property. PERIOD.

You can't have an executive session cause you don't like Ginger and you wish she'd leave.

You know, the reason these public officials feel free to tromp all over the rights the Sunshine LAw gives you people is that you never bother to learn what those rights are.

Fieryo said...

Anonymous,

There are people who are new to the system or still learning the process of the political gambit. I am not refering to Carl. I refer to myself. Please be kind when teaching. I for one am still confused on some issues. I am from a large city where the political presence and political members act differently. By that I mean is, accordingly. I was warned about small town politics but never thought I would actually experience it. I am amazed and shocked by the actions of some of these council members. Back door politicing and the good old boy mentaliy is something I am still getting used to. This doesn't mean that large town politicians don't operate the same way, they just hide it better.

This ridiculous, redundant bickering between Carl and Ginger is (yawn, roll eyes) old and tiring. And might I throw in childish. It becomes a non-productive meeting when this goes on. You are absolutely right about the (incorrect?) way he asked everyone to leave. The two of them need to put their personal differences aside and remember they are working for us. If they choose to work against each other let them do it on their own time and on their own turf. My time is better used. It usually doesn't involve two grown adults taking tantrums.

The fact that a lot of these council members have been on board since who knows when plays a big part in what THEY feel they need to make public and what THEY feel is best for the residents. Again, I agree, not keeping them in check gives them power and control. I have been to meetings where questions have been asked and it is almost like going to battle to get a straight and honest answer. When the council feels they have explained something to you and feel they need not explain any further, they move on. Some folks don't know how to insist on an answer that not only satifies them, but also explains the reason for the answer. I do feel it is in my best interest to research the Sunshine Act in more detail. There are some points I am cloudy on but learning just the same.

How do we get more residents to attend these meetings and ask the questions that need to be asked and insist on answers? I encourage people to attend these meetings and most times I get the same response, "won't do any good, they will just do what they want to anyway" I'm up for any suggestions.

Peace to you.

Anonymous said...

I think all of you that are doing the complaining on this site need to take a step back in time. There were many meetings that Ms Sopcak asked many council members, borough manager,code enforcer and etc. to leave her meetings. Just ask. Did Mr. Rossi or Mrs. Newcomer invite council to thier latest committee meeting/dinner? Talk about breaking sunshine law. I am sure there were more important things to talk about in this executive session than a ugly Christmas tree. Grow up. Who said this is what was discussed? Who knows this is true? Who was there? Better yet, was someone listening to the executive session? You people need to realize that these things are being done to better the community not to cause controversy. We need to all work together and help each other. It seems to me and many others that we now have a new committee with fresh ideas but there is always one that does not want to see it happen. What is wrong with fresh ideas? Remember it is council and its various committee's not just one going for the glory. We all make mistakes so lets hope that the next (all) committee meetings will be published in the paper. Start fresh again and let's get the ball rolling for a better Tarentum. There is light at the end of the bridge.

Stewart said...

To the most recent anonymous commenter,

Thanks for the perspective. It is important to remember that there are good things happening in Tarentum, and "light at the end of the bridge".

The skateboard park is a very positive thing, and I have heard Council President Magnetta on a number of occasions give Councilwoman Sopcak the credit for initiating the grant that is making it possible.

The history of spotty observance of the Sunshine Law in Tarentum is one that probably includes all of Tarentum's politicians as at least occasional violators.

It is exciting that there are good ideas developing. As all these great things develop I would like to see a greater level of transparency.

Anonymous said...

Just what IS the problem between Mr. Magnetta and Ms. Sopcak? They obviously want people to know of their dislike for each other, so why not just get it out in the open and be done with it! Let's hear some DETAILS!! And, if their problems are "personal", (as was their secret meeting from the public to oust Mr. Magnetta), then they should keep those problems to themselves and do what the voters wanted them to do.....make it a better community! Mr. Magnetta is to make his comments known at the next Council meeting....I can't wait! I hope the Borough Building is overflowing with people who want an explantation for this type of behavior!