With what councilmembers called "two great candidates" before them and with a decision that was "like splitting hairs," Jason Van Dame, a fourth-generation Lansdalian, was appointed unanimously to fill the vacated Ward One seat on borough council Wednesday night.
Van Dame and resident Jeff Howard were the only two Ward One residents who submitted letters of interest in December to fill the vacancy left by a resigning Paul Clemente.
Van Dame, a registered Independent, will serve out Clemente's remaining term, ending Dec. 31, 2013. He would then need to run in the election for a chance to keep his seat.
"Yes, at this point, I do plan to run in the fall," he said.
Van Dame doesn't have an agenda.
"I want to ensure that the borough continues to run well in the long term, for the health of the community, for the property investment and for my family," he said. "I'm not in any way politically motivated. I felt that I was a capable applicant and I think it's important to step up and fill those roles."
Van Dame said his biggest belief is in taking ownership of the community.
"So much you hear about in the press and media is negative," he said. "I think a lot of good things are going on in Lansdale and I'm excited to be a part of it."
Van Dame and Howard both spoke to the public, prior to the 8-0 vote that appointed the former to council. In that vote, Councilman Dan Dunigan made the motion, which was seconded by Denton Burnell.
Van Dame said he was a fourth-generation resident who was born at the old North Penn Hospital and grew up on the corner of Delaware Avenue and Valley Forge Road. Van Dame now resides in the home that his grandfather was raised in on Jenkins Avenue.
Van Dame is married to Megan Van Dame, who is a registered nurse. They have three children: a daughter in seventh grade at Penndale Middle School and two sons in second and fourth grade at York Avenue Elementary. Van Dame said Megan spent the past 12 years at home raising their children, while earning a nursing degree in the last couple years.
In April 2000, before the Van Dames became parents, Jason Van Dame left "the relative security of a full-time employed job" and went out on his own. He is now a self-employed carpenter and remodeling contractor.
"While I prefer the hands-on and craftsman side of the business, a lot of the lessons I learned on the business side of it has given me some valuable tools for this potential position," he said, prior to the vote.
Van Dame also acts as den leader for Cub Pack 62 at St. John's UCC, and will be in his fourth year of coaching for Lansdale Little League.
He is also vice president of the Iron Eagles Motorcycle Club in Lansdale.
"(We are) people that love riding cycles and having a good time. We combine those opportunities to raise a couple thousand dollars a year for Manna," he said.
Van Dame outlined the reasons he applied for the council seat. First, as a taxpayer and property owner, he has a vested interest in ensuring the welfare of the community in the short and long term, he said.
"As a a parent, I teach my children to be good citizens. I prefer to do that by leading by example than by using my words," he said. "As a citizen, I do think it is our civic duty to step up and contribute in our society. As a person, I feel it's important to constantly find ways to better oneself and better those around you. This position will help me do both."
Howard told the public that he purchased his home in Lansdale in 1996 after his military career came to an end and his civilian career “became less nomadic.” He said he chose Lansdale because it met his needs at the time.
“As years passed, through some great neighbors, friends made, honest business relationships, community organizations and community functions, Lansdale surpassed my needs and became my home,” Howard said. “Being semi-retired, I feel an obligation to return my services to the community that so graciously served me.”
Prior to the vote, sitting councilmembers thanked both men for their interests.
"Thank you to both of you for expressing an interest for serving on council," said Councilman Jack Hansen. "I was extremely impressed by both of you. I hope you stay involved in the borough."
Ward One Councilwoman Mary Fuller said she would have been happy to serve with either one.
"It's a matter of splitting hairs," she said. "Both of you are very qualified and thank you for coming forward."
Council President Matt West addressed the Vice Presidency of council. Clemente was vice president when he resigned, and no one has been appointed that title yet.
Lansdale did not have a reorganization meeting in January; Lansdale's custom is to hold such a meeting on the first meeting after a municipal election.
West said that, in talking with solicitor Mark Hosterman, there is nothing on the books that mandates council has to fill the vacated vice presidency within a certain amount of time.
However, council will delay such a decision until its February business meeting.
"Given that we just appointed a new councilperson tonight, we didn't want to put him in a position to vote for someone he doesn't really know," West said. "Given he's a councilmember, he should be in consideration as well. If we apply that, it's not fair for him to be considered five minutes after being appointed."