Hostilities resume in Bellevue

The seats may have changed but the song remained the same as Tuesday's Bellevue Council meeting became particularly hostile.

In criticism led by Mayor George Doscher and council member Kathy Coder, the council majority was accused of recommending a "liar" for a job, making the borough look bad because of a recommendation for the joint planning commission, and violating the borough's administrative code by not having all of council involved in evaluating prospective engineers.

Doscher objected to the public works committee's recommendation for a seat on the planning commission, saying that other candidates for the volunteer position "have better standing in the community."

The committee recommended that current planning commission member Michele Smith be reappointed.

The mayor said that Bellevue had to be "concerned about appearances" now that it is part of a three-borough commission. Other boroughs need to respect Bellevue's representatives, Doscher said, adding that if the committee's recommendation is approved, "I'm afraid that could be a problem."

"I think we need to keep a relative standard of quality," Doscher said.

Coder said that the other boroughs were represented by architects, engineers and attorneys, and that Bellevue's representatives should be in similar professions.

In fact, Avalon is currently represented by one architect and two others not employed in zoning-related professions. Ben Avon's team includes an architect, an engineer and a contractor. The other two members of Bellevue's contingent include an architect and a contractor.

Council member Jane Braunlich, who chairs the public works committee, said that not only has Smith represented Bellevue on the Tri-Boros Planning Commission, she served on Bellevue's individual planning commission and was employed with the borough's code enforcement office in the past.

Council president Linda Woshner said that she consulted Bellevue's other representatives and was told that Smith has done a good job representing Bellevue's interests on the joint commission. She also rejected the idea that everyone on the planning commission should be an architect or an engineer.

"I want to see a number of perspectives," Woshner said.

The mayor also had "reservations" about an applicant for a summer job in the borough, saying that the applicant had made "false accusations" about borough employees during a parks committee meeting.

Woshner said that she was "extremely uncomfortable" discussing a personnel matter in a public meeting, but the discussion got the green light from solicitor Tom McDermott.

The mayor referred to the applicant's report at a committee meeting that she felt that three officials opposed to Bellevue managing its own swimming pool this summer -- a matter of continued debate -- had attempted to discourage her from applying for a position. Doscher said that the applicant initially told the committee that she had been called by public works supervisor Tony Barbarino, but later admitted that she had "misspoke" and that the conversation with Barbarino actually had occurred when the two met about another matter.

Council member Jim Viscusi said that an applicant's comments outside the job were not relevant, and that there had been no complaints about the applicant's past job performance.

This led to a challenge by resident Susan Schaffer at the end of the meeting, in which she challenged Viscusi as to whether he had conducted a background check or spoken with prior employers.

Braunlich said that individual council members had no business contacting employers or conducting background checks, and that this was something that should be done by the director of administrative ser-vices.

Another conflict occurred during this final visitors portion of the meeting. Schaffer was informed by Woshner that she had exceeded the time limit for comments. When Schaffer continued to talk, Braunlich made a motion to adjourn that was seconded by Viscusi. Schaffer left the meeting, and Woshner asked for comments from other citizens before the meeting was adjourned.

Before the end of the meeting, however, Doscher and Coder again joined forces to criticize the fact that council as a whole was given the opportunity to interview only three of the engineering firms that had responded to the borough's request for proposals.

Both said that council had not been allowed to select which firms were interviewed. Coder said this was a violation of the borough's administrative code, which requires that council ratify the actions of its committees.

Braunlich said that the proposals were placed only on the public works committee's agenda by the borough administration, and that DAS Doug Sample had instructed the committee to come up with a "short list" for interviews. The committee came up with three firms, Braunlich said, one of which was added to the list solely at the suggestion of committee member Mark Helbling.

She and Woshner said that it always has been council's practice, even while Coder was president, to have committees do this. Braunlich pointed out that in the case of hiring an architect for the streetscape design, council had not been allowed to interview any of the candidates, and the single recommendation received by council had come from the business district advisory council and not even a standing committee of council.

Woshner said that, also during Coder's tenure, she had asked repeatedly that other bond refinancing companies be interviewed, and had been told the finance committee's recommendation of a single company was sufficient.

Braunlich said that the materials submitted by all the engineering firms had been made available to all council members, and they all had been free to make recommendations for the interviewing process.


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