Ford City Council meeting keeps contentious pattern going
FORD CITY — Once again, there was so much finger-pointing and bickering during the borough council meeting Monday evening that Councilman Jerry Miklos even found time to point out that he believes a Leader Times report on last month's regular meeting overstated how much finger-pointing and bickering took place then.
“The Leader Times article (headline) said ‘bickering adds three hours to (the June 10) meeting,' ” said Miklos. “Well, the meeting was approximately three hours in total, so I don't know how that happens.”
While Miklos made valid points about semantics, his argument did little to disprove the sentiment.
Minutes into Monday's meeting, voices were raised after Mayor Marc Mantini read the June police report and spoke about recent events concerning his investigation into a citation for a condemned building and the alleged actions of an unnamed borough official.
“I went through a tremendous questioning of my integrity,” said Mantini, amid a cacophony of several council members questioning the facts behind the mayor's remarks and the time and place he chose to make them.
Once that argument died down, Miklos took issue with Councilwoman Kim Bish over her attempt to help answer questions he asked about details in the borough's June water report, snapping, “I don't know if you understand what I'm saying.”
When Council President Lou Vergari said the borough would look into Miklos' observations, Miklos said, “With all due respect, I've asked questions like this in the past and I've always been told we'll get an answer, and I've never gotten an answer back.”
Shortly after, borough engineer James Garvin recommended council have each of Ford City's three existing water wells analyzed by Valencia-based Stehle Consulting LLC as part of planning for the borough's new water treatment facility. Garvin said the preliminary evaluation would cost up to $5,200 and would help planners decide on the most efficient system to use.
After Councilman Rob Mohney made a motion to approve the agreement seconded by Councilman Eugene Banks, Miklos said he didn't agree.
“I'm not necessarily opposed to this,” said Miklos. “What I am opposed to is voting to spend money when we don't know how much money it is.”
Garvin replied, “I know it's a lot of money, and I hate asking you guys to spend money like this, but it's something very critical with what we want to do.”
Councilman Paul Harmon later revealed that the borough had paid for a similar study in 2010 and the matter was tabled for further discussion.
Miklos later took issue with the amount of time council has to look over bills for approval, such as the $10,862 payment to Garvin that members approved 5-1. Miklos was the lone opponent.
“Can we try to operate a little more efficiently?” he said. “Let's pretend we're a professional operation here.”
Talk then turned to the future of the Ford City High School building that Armstrong School District plans to close in 2015. Vergari said he had again spoken with Mike Coonley, executive director of the Armstrong County Department of Economic Development, regarding the possibility of designating the building and site as a Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zone (KOEZ) that would provide tax benefits to whoever buys it. Vergari said Coonley told him that Kittanning officials had already begun looking into the program for the two schools ASD plans to close there.
“If we're not going with the KOEZ, it will possibly make Ford City High School less appealing,” said Vergari.
However, he said the borough is still at the mercy of ASD.
“It's not our building,” said Vergari. “It just happens to be in Ford City. (ASD) can do what it wants with it.”
Although Miklos inquired about a previously discussed town meeting about the issue, Vergari said that type of event would likely be something held down the line and only if ASD eventually gives the building to the borough. The matter was again tabled. The KOEZ designation will be voted on at council's next meeting.
A contentious air continued as discussion turned to changing the borough's health insurance broker. Bish recommended hiring Pittsburgh-based BABB Inc. — a company Bish disclosed she worked for from 1988 to 1993.
An audience member mentioned a potential conflict of interest. Bish responded that her employment there was 20 years ago and she hoped residents trust that she has their best interests in mind.
Miklos said he was also skeptical about Bish's motives and claimed council members were in danger of violating Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act by discussing it outside a public meeting and rushing into a decision without reviewing other potential brokers.
“When anybody says, ‘Trust me,' ” said Miklos, “I automatically get a little nervous.”
Bish exclaimed, “Hey, Jerry, you know what? I'm sick of doing the work. If you want to do the work, you go right ahead and do it. Because I'm tired of it.”
Miklos opposed the motion to go with BABB, but it still passed 5-1.
Council next meets at 7 p.m. July 22.
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