Council split on sign response

Bellevue mayor Emily Marburger’s latest misstep with regard to the WizardVue festivals will cost a nonprofit group a significant chunk of their proceeds, but could result in a more organized event procedure that will impact both officials and groups wanting to stage events in the borough.

Marburger has for the most part remained silent during questions from council and the public regarding not only the upcoming Harry Potter-themed festival on June 22, but the first such event held last August. The first festival resulted in the borough being billed for nearly $10,000 in unnecessary auxiliary police salaries. WizardVue Two was approved by council in January contingent upon Marburger providing a financial accounting of the first event and plans for the second within 30 days. At Bellevue Council’s regular meeting on May 28, a number of council members argued that permission for the event should be revoked because the required information had not been received. In fact, council had directed the borough solicitor to contact the Friends of Bayne Library, listed as both the sponsor and the beneficiary of the festivals. With the involvement of the solicitor, Marburger told council that she was “removing herself from the equation.”

She did not remain removed for long. Just days after that meeting council discovered that borough employees had been used by Marburger to cover the “Bellevue: Live, Worship, Shop” sign on Route 65 with a sign proclaiming the borough to be “WizardVue.”

That action became the focus of a lengthy conversation among council members at Tuesday’s pre-council meeting.

“This is a really, really terrible situation,” said council member Anya Pikul.

Council agreed that the action had been taken by Marburger in violation of the borough’s signage ordinance, which requires that a permit be obtained. Furthermore, it involved the expenditure of borough funds for the public works employees and equipment used, something Marburger and the Friends had been specifically forbidden to do in connection with WizardVue Two.

Council member Glenn Pritchard wanted officials to make a strong statement in their response to what he termed unauthorized, unilateral action by an elected official so that such a situation was less likely to occur in the future.

Council member Linda Woshner said that if council allowed illegal behavior at borough expense by an elected official, it would have to allow other groups to cover the sign as well.

“Where does it stop?” she asked.

“How is this any different from me ordering the DPW to put up a Trump sign?” Pritchard asked, later asking “Why didn’t they put it on the McDonald’s sign” that sits directly across the highway.”

He jokingly offered to help Woshner put up a campaign sign once the WizardVue sign is removed, which Woshner jokingly declared that she was going to do. Director of Administrative Services Ron Borczyk joined in the tension-relieving exchange to say that he would have them arrested if they tried to cover the sign.

Which brought the discussion back to what should be done about the current sign.

“I’ve been so mad about this,” Pikul said, but said she had to weigh the potential value of the event in attracting visitors to Bellevue and promoting childhood literacy locally. However, she warned Marburger, without “significant changes” she would not vote to approve the event next year.

Marburger’s sole comments during the discussion was to ask why no one had gotten upset last year when she draped a spider web around the bottom of the sign and attached a small WizardVue yard sign. She also said that “it was not me going as mayor to the DPW and asking for special favors.”

Council member Tom Fodi said that covering the sign was “blasphemy,” and “offensive.” He made a motion to have the sign removed immediately. Council member Jodi Hause asked if he would amend his motion to require that the Friends of Bayne Library reimburse the borough for the cost of installation and removal, but Fodi refused, saying that his only interest was in getting the sign down as quickly as possible.

“It has to come down,” Woshner said. “This is a disgrace that it even went up, that the DPW supervisor was asked to do this.”

Fodi’s motion was defeated in a 5-3 vote, with he, Pritchard and Woshner voting in favor of immediate removal and Grant Saylor absent. Opposed were Pikul, Hause, Anthony DiTullio, Val Pennington and council president Tom Hrynda, who noted that council did approve WizardVue Two. Pritchard responded that the event was approved with conditions that still had not been met.

Pikul then made a motion to charge the Friends of Bayne Library $325 for the cost of using two DPW employees for three hours to install the sign, and the use of a borough truck. Borczyk said that was determined to be very close to the actual cost, and included a $75 fee for the truck usage. Furthermore, the Friends would be required to have the DPW remove the sign within 24 hours of the event, which would fall on a Sunday and could involve the employees receiving overtime pay, and the group will be billed for that cost as well.

That motion was approved in a 6-2 vote with Fodi and Woshner opposed.

Pikul said that a new event application procedure had been drafted by Police Chief Matt Sentner, and that in the future, organizations would have to submit the application to the borough 60 days before the event. At that point it would be reviewed by various borough departments, then go through the appropriate committee of council and finally council as a whole. Borczyk said that he had made it clear to all employees and department heads that no individual requests for borough services could be granted without the approval of council as a whole.

The borough’s new focus on procedure and ordinances did throw a wrench into plans to erect a banner across Lincoln Avenue advertising the North Boroughs YMCA’s 5k race in July. Volunteer David Gillingham Jr. said that in the past he had always just dropped the banner off at the borough office and it had been erected soon after. This year, he said, he was told that under the ordinance the banner could not be erected sooner than five days before the event. In a 5-3 vote – with Hause, Pikul and Pennington opposed – council approved allowing the race sign to be erected as soon as possible. An additional motion by Pikul added the condition that the installation be done at no cost to the borough. It was approved in a 7-1 vote with Fodi opposed.

“It doesn’t matter if we have a motion not to spend money,” Pritchard said. “We can just spend it and apologize next month.”

Council was not quite done with the mayor, however. Officials noted that Marburger had declared that there would be free parking in Bellevue every Wednesday from 2 until 6 p.m. in conjunction with the farmers markets held in Bayne Park. Because free parking involves a loss of revenue to the borough, approval historically has been given by council, not the mayor. Marburger, however, said that she had done the same thing last year with no complaint, and that former mayor Paul Cusick had done the same thing the year before. Council approved a motion authorizing the free parking.