During the campaign leading to my election as a new member of Bellevue Council, I heard a consistent theme. The residents and voters of Bellevue are sick and tired being left in the dark with regard to their local government. For that reason, I came up with a strategy that I believe might help keep the public more informed with regards to what is going on. As any employee is required to report to their employer for everything they do on the job, I committed myself to publishing a detailed explanation for every major vote cast and action taken, especially those that might generate something of a stir in the community. These explanations will be published here on my personal blog, but will also be submitted to some of the more popular media outlets in our community for their consideration in publication.
With that having been said, I offer this post as my first public explanation for the actions I took and major votes I cast on Reorganization Day – Monday, January 4th.
President of Council: Immediately following the swearing in of all new council members, it is required by Bellevue’s Home Rule Charter that a new President of Council be elected. Leading up to the meeting, I was woefully unprepared to vote for anyone to serve as Bellevue’s new President of Council. Not satisfied going into the meeting unprepared, I touched base with numerous members of council concerning who they believed would be running for the seats. As a result of those conversations, I learned that Kathy Coder was not only interested in being elected president, she was actively seeking someone to run with her as Vice President.
As a side note, more than one of the above-mentioned conversations occurred via email and in just one of those e-mails to a certain member of council I used the language, “I’ve been praying about this…” It is fascinating that I have not only heard that language spoken by other members of council, I have also discovered it in an editorial written by Connie Rankin in the Citizen published on Friday, January 8th (sadly it is print only, not online so I cannot link to the article). The use of that language makes no sense in context, except to make it perfectly clear to me, that while I hoped we were building bonds of trust, what I write or say to certain members of council will inevitably be shared with their friends.
In addition to the fact that I can trust her not to share my private e-mails with the media, there are a number of reasons I chose to support Kathy Coder to be the next President of Council and worked to help her find someone to serve as her Vice President. For those of you who don’t know, Councilwoman Coder has built a career around her gift for organizational leadership/management. She has some of the best professional networking skills I’ve ever seen, enabling her to draw more regional attention to Bellevue than any other local leader I’ve ever known. Additionally, for years, Councilwoman Coder has served as a faithful community servant, voluntarily, without regard for public recognition, committing countless hours to the betterment of Bellevue through a variety of boards, committees, groups, and service projects. Bellevue would have been blessed to have her serve as President of Council but unfortunately, we weren’t able to rally a fifth vote. As a demonstration of her desire for a unified council, Coder encouraged all who were supportive of her bid for president to get behind the only other known candidate, Lynn Heffley.
For this reason, I voted in favor of Councilwoman Heffley being elected to serve as our next president. (motion passed by a unanimious decision)
Vice President: Immediately following the election of council president, Bellevue’s Home Rule Charter requires council to elect a new Vice President. For all of the reasons stated above, I proudly nominated Councilwoman Coder for the position. In addition to Mrs. Coder, Councilman Henry Lenard was nominated. While I’m sure Councilman Lenard would make an excellent vice president given the opportunity, for the reasons stated above, and due to the fact that I nominated her, I voted in favor of Councilwoman Coder to be elected as our new vice president. (motion passed with 5-4 decision)
Employee Salary Ordinance: Following the Reorganization Meeting, a short “business meeting” was called to order. During this meeting, council was asked to consider a couple of ordinances. The first ordinance under consideration was a salary ordinance for borough employees. Included in this ordinance was, reportedly, dramatic pay increases for some employees. I cannot say for certain what members of the previous council knew about the proposed salary increases as most of that was discussed in “executive session,” but I, and the other new members of council, were given no documentation or justification for these proposed salary increases. I’ve STILL not been informed who is supposed to receive said pay increases, what job the people receiving the pay increases perform, and why the pay increases are justified.
I am an adamant fiscal conservative who was elected by many voters disgusted by the fact that Bellevue has some of highest taxes in Allegheny County. Every year the budget is stretched and threats of further tax increases loom. As a matter of policy, I will always refuse to support any increases in borough spending without concrete, substantial justification. Frankly, as a newly appointed member of the Finance Committee, I have plans pursue substantial reductions in spending and corresponding tax reductions. Needless to say, I voted against the salary ordinance with its dramatic pay increases because it was presented to me with absolutely no justification. To vote in favor of the ordinance would have been a direct violation of my commitment to fiscal responsibility and prudence with taxpayer dollars.
Before I’m labeled “anti-worker” or “anti-livable wages,” I should point out that as a business owner, I know that worthwhile employees come at a cost. I’m not against paying worthwhile employees a worthwhile salary in order to remain competitive in attracting them and keeping them. That being said, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I STILL don’t even know which positions are slated to receive an increase in salary, let alone what justifies the sudden jump in pay. Thankfully, my colleagues on council joined me in voting the measure down 6-3 and supported paying all borough employees their 2015 pay rates until justification can be documented and properly considered. While some are labeling this matter a “failure of council to have an adequate working knowledge of its own laws” (see The Citizen editorial), in reality it’s a failure of the previous council to pass this ordinance before the legal deadline of December 31st. It’s also a failure of our borough administration and newly elected leadership to assume passage of such a bill without so much as basic job descriptions, performance reviews, and detailed justification for an immediate request of increased spending!
The other votes cast on Monday were relatively unnoteworthy. I voted in favor of maintaining the same meeting schedule employed over the past two years as it seemed to work effectively and I saw no reason to change it. I also voted in favor of adopting the new community garbage collection rates as they are determined by a third party contract and are all but forced on us.
While I look forward to working with my colleagues on council in the coming months, I am most excited to personally share with you, the residents and voters of Bellevue, what is happening in your local government. I invite you to attend council meetings or send me your thoughts, concerns, or questions. I was elected to represent and serve you, the people of Bellevue. I will not simply play along or “do things as we’ve always done them.” Bellevue deserves better. With your help, I intend to give it better!