On Monday, Jan. 4, The Citizen staff attended five different municipal meetings. At the first four, the procedure was pretty much the same. The meetings began at the advertised time with the swearing-in of newly-elected officials, followed by the election of a president and vice president. They then moved quickly through such first-of-the-year business as naming committees, appointing a solicitor, and setting meeting dates for the coming year. The meetings ended with everyone sharing refreshments and good will.
Except in Kilkbuck, where there were no refreshments. Rest assured we pointed out the faux pas of not having any cookies.
Then we got to Bellevue.
Bellevue couldn't even get all the officials in one place at one time so that they could be sworn in.
They couldn't appoint a solicitor, because that task had been usurped by the lame duck council in December. They actually ignored a directive from their former solicitor to pull off that one.
They couldn't set meeting dates, because it turns out the new solicitor can't make council's meetings on the first Tuesday of each month, which is when a borough ordinance requires they be held.
They couldn't name committees, because...well, we're not really sure why they couldn't name committees. Perhaps re-elected president Kathy Coder was not entirely sure she could count on the support of council's newest Republican, Democrat Mark Panichella. After all, Panichella had promised his vote to any number of people.
The high point of the evening came with Mayor George Doscher's closing remarks. They were quite eloquent, urging officials to put aside their differences -- and their egos -- and keep their eyes on the prize of working in Bellevue's best interests.
The comments were something Doscher could not say with a straight face without admitting his past indiscretions in council chambers, which he very bravely did. You have to respect that. It's hard enough admitting your faults to yourself, let alone letting everyone else in on them.
In any case, we were greatly inspired by the mayor's plea for council members to work together to become a sum greater than its parts. But did his words impact the members of council?
It was tough to move to that state of mind for the four people who say they weren't invited to be sworn in with everyone else. It will be even harder if Coder's committee appointments don't reach out to the new minority Democratic majority.
Council members Linda Woshner and Jane Braunlich serve an important function in the government, namely making sure that the borough obeys the laws that no one else seems to recognize even exist. But their knowledge and experience has to be directed beyond the minority role of finding fault and into more positive efforts. Coder made a big mistake not appointing them to committee chairs the first time around. With the inexperience of so many members of the current council, it will be any even bigger mistake this time.
Will Coder take the high road? Will Braunlich and Woshner accept an olive branch? Will Panichella resolve his political identity crisis?
It could only happen in Bellevue. Stay tuned.