SOUTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. – South Whitehall's board of commissioners held its first in-person meeting at the township's renovated Walbert Avenue campus Wednesday.
The board also welcomed Ben Long to his first meeting. Long was appointed last month to fill the spot held by Matthew Mobilio, who resigned in April. Long is not a candidate in the fall election and will serve only through Jan. 3, 2022.
The meeting was over in 70 minutes, shorter than the three- and even four-hour marathons earlier this year.
Road paving contract
The commissioners approved unanimously a $988,482 paving contract with H&K Group Inc. of Skippack. H&K's Lehigh Valley Site Contractors will pave roads in the Clifford Park and Woodlawn Manor annex areas.
H&K's bid beat three others and was about $300,000 below the amount budgeted. When Commissioner Michael Wolk asked how the contractor could make such a low bid, Public Works Manager Herb Bender said H&K makes its own paving material.
"H&K can mill the roads, take (debris) back to their plant and turn it into new blacktop," Bender said. The average bid for the work was $1.17 million, he said, so the township's estimate was not too far off.
The paving schedule will be posted on the South Whitehall website, Bender said. He said the contractor will space out the work so the neighborhoods getting new blacktop will not be thrown into gridlock.
Future of virtual meetings
The Wednesday meeting was held in hybrid format, with a public chat option on the livestream for those who did not attend in person. Whether public input can be expanded at future meetings was discussed.
Monica Hodges, a Republican candidate for commissioner in the November election, said South Whitehall should continue to accept public comment online.
Solicitor Joseph Zator said Gov. Tom Wolf allowed virtual meetings during the pandemic, but whether public input will be accepted virtually after COVID-19 is not known.
Commissioner Joseph Setton pointed out that the chat function already allows public participation from home.
"This is the first time we've had a meeting in this room," President Christina "Tori" Morgan said. She said a review of the cost of additional audio/visual technology and the legal basis for holding virtual meetings should be reviewed before decisions are made.
Wolk asked the board to agree on the principle of virtual meetings with public input, but no decision was made.
"Post-pandemic life is not going back to where we were before COVID," Wolk said, in asking for continued virtual input.
The transparency of meetings also came up during a discussion of the township's audits. South Whitehall is catching up on a decade of incomplete audits, blamed on embezzlement by a former employee and software changes. The township's finance committee will review audit progress at meetings that have not been public in the past.
Resident David Kennedy, a Republican candidate in the fall election for the board, asked that those meetings be open.
"Just because it's a committee doesn't mean it can't be open to the public," he said.
Wolk said he favors open meetings. He and Kelly represent the board on the South Whitehall finance committee, which also includes staff members.
Morgan said if meetings are open to the public, they have to be advertised in advance. No decision was made Wednesday on the committee meetings.
The site of a June 28 meeting to discuss development at the former ParkView Inn remains undetermined.
Resident David Burke said he expects more than 100 people to attend. Holding the meeting at a school auditorium to provide space for a crowd and social-distancing is being considered, township staff said.
The board also approved an extension of approval of the fourth phase of Abe Atiyeh's Parkland Manor on Crackersport Road. The senior living facility is on the site of the former Westend Racquet Club. Morgan, Setton, Wolk, Long and Diane Kelly all voted in favor of extending the approval through March 2022.
The commissioners approved the plan in 2020. The pandemic and other issues delayed the project, according to the development team. While Wednesday's vote extends the time for the project to be constructed, it does not change the proposal.
The next board meeting will be June 16 at the 4444 Walbert Ave. municipal building.