Press Release Issued by Borough Council Predicts Unanimous Vote on Hiring of Borough Manager

Conshohocken was used as an example of how municipal governments operate in an opinion piece in the Bucks County Courier Times this morning. The example had to do with how the Borough handled the hiring and announcement of its new Borough Manager. Here are some of the key passages:

Conshohocken issued a press release on June 18 announcing its new hire, to be made that evening. At the top of the release, underlined in capital letters, was the following: “Not for release until 7:30 p.m. EDT contingent upon council vote.”

That statement alone confirmed that the vote to hire Manfredi was merely a pro forma exercise, the decision having already been made. More revealing was the first sentence of the press release: “Conshohocken Borough Council is pleased to announce the appointment of Richard Manfredi in a unanimous vote as the new Borough Manager effective June 30, 2014” (emphasis ours). The release reported a unanimous vote (which, in fact, it was) hours before the actual vote was taken.

This chain of events offers a window into how municipal government (school boards included) sometimes works. Discussion and debate — the nuts and bolts of governing — take place out of the public eye and uninfluenced by public comment. Then, for public consumption, votes are taken that reflect decisions already made. If it weren’t for the legal requirement that such votes be recorded at a public meeting, we’re sure officials would simply dispense with the formality.

This has nothing to do with Manfredi. From what we can tell, Conshohocken made a good choice.

But the wording of the press release announcing the appointment — accurately calling the vote before anyone voted — raises suspicions about how much of the business ostensibly conducted at public meetings is merely for show.

So here is thing. The public had no idea that Manfredi would be the person voted on that evening. How can the public be asked to provide thoughtful public comment on something that it hasn’t been provided a chance to do some research on. For example, Manfredi was the former Township Manager in Warminster. In that position he negotiated with the YMCA to take over a township recreational facility.

There is currently a debate in Conshohocken regarding a similar concept regarding the Fellowship House. Last year Borough Council asked the board of the Fellowship House to consider having the YMCA manage the facility and programming. The board voted against it.

After the standing-room-only turnout at the meeting of Borough Council when the Fellowship House presented its new business plan, it seems plausible that some of those concerned citizens may have wanted to attend the meeting at which Manfredi was officially hired to ask Borough Council if his experience working on this type of deal made him an attractive candidate. Another good question is whether this specific experience could signal a renewed effort by Borough Council to encourage the board of the Fellowship House to work with the YMCA. Instead there were no public comments. did not receive the announcement press release, so we were unable to give the public any information about it. We did see it on the agenda without a mention of Manfredi’s name and we did notify the public that it was likely a vote would be taken that night on hiring a new Borough Manager.

So what do you think? Let us know in the comments.