The discussions on the creation of a 311 West Main Task Force begin tonight at the administration and finance committee, according to borough manager Timi Kirchner.
Council voted unanimously to advertise an amendment to the code to allow for the creation of 311 West Main Task Force. Council will vote on making the task force official Aug. 17.
“This is a very preliminary stage,” Kirchner said Tuesday night. “What we felt was important was for the people to see the possibilities and what the potential cost of those possibilities were.”
Council now has a goal: get the task force official and appoint people to it and get life back into 311 West Main Street.
And it can do it without any worry of lawsuits against anyone responsible for the money pit in the middle of Lansdale.
Council Tuesday night voted unanimously to not litigate potential claims associated with 311 West Main Street.
“They voted not to litigate claims on code violation issues,” said solicitor Mark Hosterman.
He said the borough could have sued “any responsible party.”
Hosterman confirmed that the lawsuits against the borough from the former North Penn Regional Council of the Arts and former Lansdale Center for the Performing Arts Executive Director Marja Kaisla are active.
Hosterman commended council for devoting sufficient resources to properly analyze whether to litigate issues related to 311 West Main Street. He said council gathered necessary facts and information by consulting with borough engineer Remington, Vernick and Beach, a construction litigation counsel and The Spiezle Group.
“I am seeing firsthand how borough council has taken a very thoughtful approach to this important decision concerning the present, past and future of 311 West Main Street,” Hosterman said, reading from a prepared statement. “Without violating the privilege associated with these extensive discussions, I can only say borough council thoroughly discussed the merits of litigation, the cost of litigation, the time associated with litigation, the comparative monetary value of borough’s claims, anticipated defenses to litigation and the merits of those anticipated defenses.”
He said borough council has not chosen to ignore the claims.
“Borough council has determined it is not in the best interest of the borough to pursue them,” Hosterman said. “Such a decision is a sound decision and a good way to safeguard the financial resources of the Borough of Lansdale.”
He said instead of looking back and casting blame and going to court at great expense to taxpayers, council kept the focus on fixing the numerous problems at 311 W. Main Street and maintaining forward momentum in the community.
Councilman Jack Hansen said council is not turning its backs on anything in the building.
“We feel it is in the best interest of the borough and taxpayers not to pursue at this time,” he said.
Council also voted unanimously to waive privilege and authorize the disclosure of Remington, Vernick and Beach’s assessment report and Spiezle Group’s building analysis report.
Hosterman, again reading from a prepared statement, said, in the spirit of promoting open government, he supported the waiving of privileges associated with the reports.
“(They) will serve as a useful tool to borough council,” he said.
He also commended the consultants for doing a fine job in preparing said essential tools.
“These documents will shed light on the very issues that borough council has wrestled with concerning the closure of the facility, prohibiting access to the facility, litigating potential claims and the very future of the facility itself,” Hosterman said.
However, Hosterman said any discussions from executive sessions on the merits of litigation, the cost and time associated with litigation, the monetary value of potential claims, anticipated defenses and other discussion regarding parties and persons potentially responsible for the problems at 311 West Main Street will not be made public.
“Such discussions would be fraught with potential for legal action against borough officials for alleged disparaging or defaming speech,” Hosterman said. “I am in full support of maintaining attorney-client privilege.”
Hosterman did acknowledge another valuable resource: Fire Marshal Jay Daveler.
(Daveler) brought firsthand knowledge to the discussion including his concerns for public safety at the time 311 was open to the public without his authorization,” he said.
Kirchner said the reviews affirmed councils’ suspicions. She said time and dollars were invested to determine the extent of the issues at 311 West Main Street inherited by council.
“No matter the inheritance, the building is ours,” she said.
After the meeting, Kirchner said the $4 million was a “big number” for council to take in.
“It’s a big building and there’s a lot at stake,” she said. “It’s part of our downtown and it’s ours.”
As far as where to find the money to make it all possible, Kirchner said, “We’ll turn over every stone.”
“Again, that’s what part the task force is looking at: what are we going to put together to make sure it is done right this time?” she said.
Kirchner wouldn’t grants could be something the task force could consider.
She would not discuss the possibility of raising taxes, rather left it up to the community to decide that.
“That’s part of what the community has to look at. That’s in the hands of the community,” she said.