The Mayor was kind enough to respond to my inaugural post, so I felt it only proper that I clear up a few problems I see with his response. You can read his comments here. So without further ado ...
Dear Mayor Szekely,
Instead of starting at the beginning, let's change things up and start at the end.
You stated that I'm demonizing the former administration. I would say that demonize is a bit of a strong word. My perspective is, they failed Lansdale, on the whole, for many years. If this were not true, how would a large group of like-minded individuals from different parties, who clearly rejected partisan politics on the local level, run on a platform of putting Lansdale back on the right track and win convincingly, as a group? I'll tell you why. Because people realized that the town had in fact been on the wrong track for many years and needed a radical change in direction. Are we really debating this? I guess you say you are not an apologist for the previous administration, but some of your comments seem contradictory on this point. Had good things happened before 2010? Certainly. Did they present a concerted effort, combined with sensible fiscal management, to bring about a renaissance in Lansdale? Certainly not.
Thanks for sharing your concerns about option 4. Yes, Option 4 does speak to demolition. Not my personal choice either. But Option 5 does speak directly to historic preservation. I just take issue somewhat with your approach to presenting the information. Option 4 seemed the focus of your article, as if it were almost a foregone conclusion that we were headed down that path. (Trying to stir things up a bit are we?) You spent basically no time on the possibility of a historic renovation and preservation, when in fact that was the option that had the most traction in our meeting. Dan's report dealt with a number of items and didn't get into the nitty gritty detail of each item. If you had asked, any one of us would have told you where we were leaning. Instead we have your sensational blog to entertain us.
I'm sorry to hear that you find Timi and her staff's security almost laughable. Like you, she is in the public eye every day. But unlike you, she has the daily responsibility to make decisions that affect (positively and negatively) all the 16,000+ residents of this fine Borough. And execute the sometimes unpopular decisions that Council makes. As the titular head of the Police Department, you know what Chief McDyre and all of our fine police officers deal with in this town every day. It's why we do have Officer Cornelius in our meeting room every month. Do you find his presence unnecessary? I, for one, do not, and I thank him for being there. In any case, having a safe and secure working environment has absolutely nothing to do with a welcoming atmosphere. You know better than that.
In terms of my silliness. Let's first properly quote my statement. I said that basing our decision to potentially improve the Council meeting room on poor attendance at meetings is like saying, "People don't care what we do here, so why should we invest in the facilities that serve them." Which is somewhat different than me proposing that residents might be saying "if the Borough doesn't care, why should we". Because you're right, that would be silly. But alas, also not what I said. However, let's re-focus on the big picture and take those pesky feelings out of it for a second...
First, we need to accept that Borough Hall does need pretty substantial improvement and renovation. If we can't agree on that, then honestly there's really no point in having this conversation. So, I have in my hand this report from a respected architectural group which Council approved and selected out of a rigorous RFP process. Reviewing the total physical improvements recommended I arrive at an estimated repair/improvement cost of roughly $1.9M. These are the band-aids, repairs and upgrades that would keep it functional in its current layout, and bring it up to ADA compliance. Because of it's current design, however, particularly the roof(s), I am told that some of the problems are likely to re-occur over time.
Next, we must accept that the Police Station also needs to be updated. You stated: "I think most people, including myself, agree that a new Police Station does make sense." You don't elaborate, but you seem utterly convinced that the Police Station needs to be built from scratch. Why is that? (For the record, I agree that it does, but my reasoning is based on the Spiezle report and all of the inconvenient facts therein.) But what is your reasoning, as I'm not sure at this point whether you take stock in what the experts are telling you? Or are you taking the part of the report you like and ignoring the parts you don't? Let's assume, for sake of argument, that you (and they) are both right. A brand new Police Station, on it's own, is estimated to cost at least $4M.
So for $6M, I've got a shiny new police station and a patched-up Borough Hall. The police Station now has the space it needs and the proper secure zones. Borough Hall is largely the same, except that now it has an elevator so folks with disabilities can actually reach the 2nd floor or basement if they need to, and the HVAC actually works well enough to keep the building properly warm in the winter. Unfortunately, it still has most if not all of the fundamental design problems it's always had. And we may face additional problems with it in the future because of this design. It may cost even more to fix at that time, but that'll be someone else's problem, right? And from a functional standpoint, it's completely the same. Not to mention, we still have the operational and other costs of running two separate buildings, rather than one. (It'd be very interesting to crunch those numbers. I'd be very surprised to learn that having one modern building and one older building is more cost efficient year over year than one integrated modern one.) Now, instead, for an additional investment of $2.5M (definitely a considerable sum), I can consolidate my core municipal functions in one building, manage a single set of operational costs, and solve the various functional layout problems that exist with Borough Hall, providing a safer, modern, more efficient building for borough staff and residents alike. Depending on that number crunching we might even save money in the long run. And yes, we can preserve it's historic character as well.
While I'm mentioning borough staff, I'd like to point out, although you don't seem to think so, that we really do have a responsibility to them, in addition to taxpayers. In your first blog you stated, “I am an elected official, and I have an obligation to the taxpayer and not to staff.” I'm sorry, but I really couldn't disagree more. I have a responsibility to both. As the most visible stewards of our fine Borough on a day to day basis, all Borough staff certainly need our steadfast support as well, don't you think? I mean, as the titular head of the Police, I'd say you have an even bigger responsibility to them, no?
Moving on, you are correct, I did not mention AMS. You classify their report as useless. Certainly your opinion, but as it largely informed the direction of the 311 Task Force in moving forward (and many of its recommendations form the basis of the Task Force's report), I would have to respectfully disagree. You may not like the conclusions of the Task Force, or the report that formed its basis, but that does not make said report useless. I'll be happy to respond to your 311 blog at a future date, since I disagree with most of your conclusions and assertions, as you know. Sorry, I'm catching up on all your blogging!
Didn't want to disagree with me on IT? That's a shame... :-) (For those of you who don't know, IT is my day job.)
Regarding the HR Study. Could it have been done by our solicitor? Possibly. They have lawyers who understand HR law, but not necessarily what is required for HR and Talent Management. Two related by separate things. Even if we assume for sake of argument they could do it, do you think they would do it for free? Given the amount of time and energy Hess put in, I expect the cost would have been comparable, if not more. And let's be very clear for our readers -- we did not just buy job descriptions for $100K. We didn't even buy just a comprehensive Employee Manual either, which as I mentioned before, the Borough has NEVER had. There were also additional opportunities for management training, talent management sessions, etc. included. I just want to ensure we present the whole picture. But honestly, we needed that manual, and those job descriptions. Operating a Borough of this size without them would be almost laughable, if it wasn't so serious.
Regarding the previous administration's spending habits. It's wonderful that they spent money on 311 and Stony Creek Park. Well, sort of. In the sense that those are noble ideas, good. (We'll leave aside poor execution on 311 for now.) In terms of spending our already largely depleted reserves, very bad. Spending money from your savings account, which we might have wanted for a really rainy day isn't a good idea unless you absolutely have to. And the truth is, we didn't need to spend our reserves. I'm sure you've heard of good debt vs. bad debt. When rates are low, it makes lots of sense to borrow money to invest in things that will retain their value or improve in value over time. That's good debt. The decision to borrow money at historically low rates to make many necessary improvements to our town is an easy one. And frankly, one which has garnered this Council and Administration an award from the Commonwealth for fiscal accountability and best management practices. For those who would like further reading on this topic, see: http://lansdale.patch.com/articles/lansdale-recognized-by-state-for-fiscal-accountability.
(Our readers may be wondering how we decide what needs attention. As the Mayor well knows the Administration maintains a living capital improvements list, which is constantly reviewed, added to, subtracted from and re-prioritized. It allows the Borough Manager, department heads and Council to have a clear picture of what all the major needs are in the Borough, both present and several years into the future. From this list, we are able to make informed decisions through critical examination of the needs.)
To your first point(s). Are you proposing that we should have run multiple RFP's for different buildings, hired different firms to study them, and then be left to our own devices to pull that information together into an intelligible whole to make a comprehensive decision? I see so many problems with that approach, I'm not sure where to begin. Just the added time and money required to manage multiple firms all doing essentially the same thing alone makes the entire idea seem, well, silly. With regard to Speizle's report, you mentioned that some of the reported issues are trivial. Sure they are. Are you saying they should have left them out and provided a less comprehensive report? And in what way does that detract from the millions of dollars of serious issues that they DID report?
Finally, regarding the idea of having Speizle continue on to the design phase without doing yet another round of RFP's, which you seem to have so much trouble with. When you find a professional (lawyer, accountant, or yes, even architect) that you trust, do you fire them every time a slightly different item comes up? Do we change out our solicitor or engineer every time a new project comes up? Should we be bidding out engineering services to different engineers for every road and infrastructure project we do? Is that really what you're saying?? Is this really "eyebrow raising" unethical behavior? Nonsense. We have a highly respected architectural firm who has done exemplary work for us. You yourself state above that you don't have a problem with their credentials. (I will take you at your word, since the thrust of your arguments seem to suggest the opposite.) In any case, if these things are true, and they are the firm with the most knowledge of our situation, it would be only logical to ask them for a design. (And I would submit this is precisely why the law allows for it.) Does that mean I need a permanent relationship with Speizle? Of course not. But as long as I have a need, and they continue to prove worthy of our support, I just don't understand the objection at all. Otherwise, you'd better get prepared to get bogged down in Council while we RFP a new Engineer and Solicitor every other week. Fair enough?
Thanks again for giving me an opportunity to set the record straight.
Councilman Denton Burnell