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Editor's Voice: A strange way to operate

Posted 4/16/13

Middletown Borough Council has voted to spend $290,000 to renovate the Behney Building, the home of the borough’s electric department, into the headquarters for the police department without a design plan, blueprint or, to the public’s …

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Editor's Voice: A strange way to operate

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Two councilors voted against the expenditure – John Brubaker and Scott Sites. Two other councilors were absent. Brubaker and Sites said they voted against the expenditure because they had not seen any designs for the project. Sites, in fact, had questioned the majority’s decision in January to spend $20,000 already budgeted for police department renovations at the borough building on renovations to accommodate the police force at Behney, insisting that $20,000 was not enough.  – a contention that was met with disdain.

Three months later, Council President Christopher McNamara is strangely laying blame, if indeed there is to be any, on the hefty expense on councilors who voted for the project as presented in January. “We took a vote in January to move the department down there . . . so this part of this falls on you folks,’’ he announced to council the night it approved the $290,000 project.

That is not a good reason to move forward with the project.

Perhaps the renovations have grown in scope since Police Chief Steven Wheeler was asked to be involved in the plans.

Wheeler, hired just a couple months ago, recommended that the new headquarters include two sound-insulated interview rooms, a secure evidence room, a holding cell and a locker and shower room for officers. These seem like reasonable requests – and Wheeler has decades of experience in law enforcement, so he should know the basic needs of a police force.


“You have to trust some people,’’ said Councilor Barbara Arnold, who voted for the $290,000 expenditure. Well, yes, and no.

It’s council’s job to manage the people’s money. Council has the last word, is the final authority, possesses the responsibility to make sure the people’s money is spent wisely. Should governments blindly rubber-stamp everything that its department heads request? There should, at least, be design plans before council approves such a hefty expense. Is $290,000 a reasonable amount to spend on the Behney renovations? We don’t know – there are no design plans yet. We doubt that council knows, either.

This council, despite its insistence that it is more fiscally responsible than past councils, seems to have a penchant for spending money and launching projects without plans. It voted to de-fund the Middletown Public Library last summer, then made the public wait for months before it revealed more substantial plans to create a nonprofit corporation to run it. In November, it cut down trees in the downtown business district before a consultant could complete a design plan for the renovation of the district. What it will look like, and how it will be financed, is still unclear.

What’s equally disturbing is the fact that the $290,000 Behney project was not on council’s agenda – it was brought from the floor after the public’s chance to comment about borough business. The same thing happened when council de-funded the library, and closed the borough’s emergency communications center. This council has a habit of clandestinely moving forward with its plans by avoiding the public as best it can – even though it is the public’s money, the public’s assets and the public’s property it is managing.

That is not a good way for government to operate, either.

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