Civility, sanity and professionalism was restored to Rice Township last week with the reorganization of the Board of Supervisors from its previous chaotic state to one of competence and character.
At the board’s reorganization meeting on January 6, newly elected supervisor Mark Taney took his seat, replacing George Venesky, and the transformation began.
Marcia Thomas was elected chairwoman and immediately pledged transparency and the restoration of the public trust, something that had been sorely missing in Rice Township under the majority rule of Miller Stella and former supervisor George Venesky which lasted three very long years, damaging the township’s reputation and finances. Although Stella remains on the board, his role will be lessened. His “regime”, and those are his own words, is over.
The changes were significant and in the best interest of the taxpayers. Don Armstrong was replaced by Alicia Steir as the township secretary/ treasurer at an annual salary of $30,000 plus benefits; a savings of $7,000 that had been paid to Armstrong. Stein will bring a renewed professionalism and dedication to the township that was lacking under Armstrong, a Stella/ Venesky crony who assumed the position after the pair fired Thomas at the 2011 reorganization meeting. Unlike that politically motivated action, Armstrong was replaced due to incompetence. He was not publicly humiliated as was Thomas. After he was not reappointed, a fact of which he had been made well aware, he addressed those in attendance, thanking them for their support. If he really had their support, he would not have lost his bid for a supervisor seat to Taney. But still, under chairwoman Thomas, he was granted the floor.
For the past three years, taxpayers were not granted the floor. They were limited to speaking only five minutes, and had so do so standing behind a podium. If concerns were raised the previous board majority did not like, the gavel pounded and there was the threat of being physically removed by police. Prior to entering the meeting room, taxpayers were wanded for security and told nothing could be taken into the room, i. e. purses or bags of any kind.
Not anymore. Taxpayers are no longer searched and treated as enemies. They are welcome and encouraged to attend meetings where they can address the board from their seats and raise any concerns they please: no pounding of the gavel, no threat of police, just civilized discussion. It’s democracy in action.
And gone will be the ridiculous legal bills paid to the previous township attorney, another Stella/Venesky Crony-Bill Higgs. Attorney Jack Dean was named township solicitor and the planning commission attorney. Dean has served as solicitor for Rice Township previously and will bring legal advice that was previous lacking.
Another positive change was the appointment of Bob Pipech as zoning officer. Pipech, a long time Rice resident and former supervisor, will bring years of knowledge to the position which was formerly held by Lou Konopelski. Pipech’s familiarity with township codes and municipal matters will be an asset.
Another benefit to township is the appointment of Taney to the position of road master. Taney’s background in road construction is an obvious plus. During Stella’s tenure as road master, very little was accomplished in a township where several roads are in disrepair. The maintenance of every municipality’s roads is a basic essential; one of the primary functions of the board.
Minority member Stella will not be shut out of township business as Thomas was when he and Venesky wielded power. He will be kept informed and treated with the respect of an elected official. Once he sees how township business is supposed to be conducted, he may gain the knowledge that elected officials hold a public trust; their service is to the taxpayers.
No such lesson is needed for Thomas who served the township for more than 20 years. And Taney, an intelligent and interested resident, will be an asset to the board.
Change for the better has come to Rice Township and it was the voting electorate that made that change possible.