Lockport Twp Annual Town Meeting 4 12 2016
During a sometimes raucous two-hour town meeting, Lockport Township residents demanded that their elected officials not only listen to them, but be more transparent about their spending and what is happening in their “government of the people.”
Others in the divided crowd praised the township for its low taxes and good services, and supported the board’s controversial $1.1 million purchase of the 25,000-square-foot former Parkview Christian Church on Farrell Road in December, which critics said went against the wishes of a majority of the public.
The mandated annual town meeting got off to a rough start as its location was changed two days beforehand to accommodate a large crowd, causing many to arrive late and accuse township officials of violating a state law requiring 15 days notice.
But Township Clerk Denise Mushro Rumchak said the law also requires her to change the location if necessary to accommodate the anticipated number of people. Once she realized how many would be attending, she changed the site from the township’s office at the Central Square building to the Lockport Township High School auditorium and posted the information on the township’s website, at Central Square and in all its libraries.
Last year’s annual meeting drew nearly 200 residents to the Central Square meeting room. Tuesday’s session was attended by about 100.
“I did everything I could,” she said, adding that she sought legal counsel before changing the venue.
Township critics chided elected officials for their lack of transparency in changing the meeting venue, not providing enough copies of the financial report and in purchasing the building that most people opposed at last year’s town meeting.
“You had a whole year to realize how many people would be coming. You tried deliberately to keep down the attendance,” Denise Marynowksi said.
Others were concerned that there were not enough copies of the annual financial report, which the people were expected to approve, whether they read it or not.
“This business of transparency is very important. The board needs to address that,” Carl Bebrich said.
The financial report, which was available for public review in the clerk’s office two days before the meeting, was not enough — all township documents need to be digitized, Bebrich said, noting that there is “no reason” why such information cannot be made available electronically.
“It’s just laziness,” he said.
Others said the township needs to do a better job of making information available to constituents.
Township Collector Lance McCalla urged people to attend the town board’s monthly meetings to learn about what is going on.
“Meetings are more than once a year,” he said.
Cindy Allison said she “appreciated” the board and acknowledged that it was “hard to make everyone happy.”
“All we want to do is talk about what is going on. We’re not trying to take over. We want to understand what is going on,” she said. “Our state is in major trouble. There is no budget, no money. All I expect is for you to spend our money wisely.”
The reason many critics attended was to speak out about the township’s purchase of the former Parkview Church on a seven-acre site on Farrell Road.
Township officials said they needed to expand their offices and provide a community center. It now has 8,000 square feet at the three-story Central Square building, which also houses the offices of the City of Lockport and the Lockport Park District..
According to the minutes of the April 14, 2015 annual town meeting, residents overwhelmingly voted down resolutions authorizing the town board to “rent or purchase property upon which a township center will be constructed” and to “construct a township center.”
“What does it take to get you to listen to the people?” George Rudnicki asked.
In December, 2015, the board voted to purchase the church building after exploring other options, such as renovating their existing space at a cost of $2.5 million; rehabilitating a former drug store for $2.5 million; or buying the former Crest Hill Library which had no parking lot, Township Supervisor Ron Alberico said.
“We heard what you said. We looked at different buildings,” he said. But when the church site became available in October, township officials considered it a “great opportunity,” and the church wanted to close by the end of the year, he said.
In addition to the $1.1 million price tag, it will cost another $1 million to renovate and the township has saved $2.2 million for that, he said.
“Because we got such a good deal, we were able to lower the tax rate this year,” Alberico said.
After 35 minutes of public comment, someone called for a vote to end it, but the motion failed on a tie vote, 43-43.
Pete Delaney said it was “anti-democratic” to try to end the meeting before everyone had a chance to be heard.
“This meeting is once a year and to make a motion to censor people who come here once a year is disgusting,” Delaney said.
“Everyone should get a chance to speak at this meeting,” Terry Broadhurst said.
After the motion to end comment failed, there was an attempt to replace the moderator John Barbush with someone more “neutral.” Township Attorney Gary Mueller called Barbush out of order a few times for making statements. That motion also failed to pass. People continued to talk for at least another 30 minutes and voiced more concerns.
Johnny Seals of the impoverished, unincorporated Fairmont area said, “It seems like Fairmont has been forgotten … left behind for 30 years.”
“You have some money. We don’t need a lot,” he said, suggesting that the area needed better streets. “All I’m asking is for you to do the right thing. When you see someone in need, you need to step up and fill that need.”