Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Tarentum borough council committees meet in public; conflict brewing about recreation board

Tarentum borough council committees met in public for almost three hours Monday evening. Near the end of the meeting there was an extensive discussion of a looming conflict between the recreation board, the council's parks and recreation committee, and a previous recreation board. This conflict will come to the Council next week through a motion to "correct" line item 451.530 in the borough's budget.

There are many facets to the conflict about the recreation board, involving its identity, role, authority, and funding. As to the identity of the recreation board, it has been claimed that a previous recreation board existed, with the chair of the borough council's Parks and Recreation Committee as a member. Past Council President Carl Magnetta acted at the beginning of this year to recruit volunteers to help with recreational activities in the borough. At the February meeting it became clear that the intention was for this group of interested people to replace the previous recreation board. If the previous board had been meeting, there do not appear to be such basic records of its existence and functioning as minutes of meetings or a roster of members with their terms of service. Then Council President Magnetta deemed that the old board was non-functioning, and began the process of appointing a new board, which was elected by the Council in March. That board began meeting and has done some preliminary organization.

Meanwhile the list of those alleged to have been members of the previous board has gradually grown, although it still has not yet reached the size of a board that could meet to do anything.

Solicitor Strellec admitted that there was confusion about the identity of the recreation board, and said that it was a problem that the old board was never dissolved or dismissed.

Councilwoman Ginger Sopcak asked the borough manager to send a memo to the members of the old board and the members of the new board to ask them to state their interest in serving on the recreation board. If some people are not interested, there may be a way for the council to fill vacancies and give a voice to everyone who cares about recreation in Tarentum.

There is great confusion about the role and authority of a recreation board. Solicitor Strellec pointed out that under Article XXVII of the Borough Code, a recreation board has the responsibility for providing, improving, maintaining, and regulating recreation places, which is distinct from recreation activities such as concert series, parades, or bingo games. If the Borough ever formally established a recreation board under Article XXVII, the claimed role of the old recreation board with respect to recreational activities was mistaken. And the role with respect to recreational activities that was offered to the new board would be similarly mistaken.

On a side note, it would also mean that the Recreation Board ought to be involved in the skateboard park project, given that the skateboard park will be a recreation place.

In the borough budget line item 451.530 is allocated to the "Recreation Board", but as long as people can remember the money under that line has been used for recreational activities. It would be reasonable to assume that when the Council put the money into the budget at that line they intended it to be used for the same kinds of activities as had been done in the past. Meanwhile the new board, that is eager to do its work and will need funding in order to accomplish anything sees a budget that says there is money for their use. From the perspective of the Council's Parks and Recreation Committee (with two members) the Council misspoke when it used those words in the budget, and the budget needs to be corrected. From the perspective of the new Recreation Board (nine members), the change is likely to be seen as a change in the budget that takes away their funds. This conflict comes to the Council at the next meeting.

In other committee business there was an hour-long presentation and discussion with representatives of H&T Capital Markets about a callable note and redoing a bond issue. Because it was deemed to be time-sensitive the council voted to instruct H&T to begin work for redoing the bond issue. This action does not commit the Council to anything, but enables a formal bond proposal to come to an advertized meeting of the Council without delay.

There was an extensive discussion of how the borough is managed, i.e., who supervises the department supervisors, and whether the borough needs a manager or a secretary.

At the next council meeting there will be a motion to advertise an ordinance granting a franchise for cable service to Salsgiver on the same terms as the franchise granted to Comcast. Residents of Tarentum may soon have a choice about who will provide their cable TV service.

Councilwoman Sopcak reported on the bids for the projects being done with CDBG money through the Allegheny Valley North Council of Governments. It appears that the lowest bidder for the skateboard park construction used a different material than that in the specifications for the project. A group of skateboarders is discussing whether this difference would be acceptable. The second lowest bidder for the construction did use the material specified.

I felt this lengthy meeting was very positive in light of the fact that most of the committees were doing their work in public. Ever since I started watching the Tarentum Borough Council I wondered when the committees that brought all that business to the Council actually met. Frequently most of them did not appear to hold advertised meetings. Tonight's meeting feels like a healthy transition to a more open local government.

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