Derry Borough officials are looking for a new voice on the Derry Borough Municipal Authority (DBMA) board, and borough council made it happen at Tuesday’s virtual meeting by voting to appoint Barbara Phillips to fill the board vacancy.
Councilwoman Sara Cowan nominated Phillips to assume the authority board post for a five-year term expiring Dec. 31, 2025. Council tabbed Phillips over Richard Thomas via a 4-2 vote, with Cowan, Matthew Clever, Jim Ritenour and Jeremy Stein voting yes, and Grant Nicely and Al Checca each casting dissenting votes.
Thomas, a former authority manager who recently served as board chairman, saw his term expire in 2020. Phillips, a Fourth Ward resident who dealt with another major flooding incident last summer, also currently serves on council.
During the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, authority manager Amy Forsha pushed for Thomas to remain on the board.
“Rich has gone above and beyond the call of duty,” Forsha said.
“His main motive for being on the board is community service ... he knows about the history of the water authority, and is really helpful when it comes to equipment breakdowns and diagnosing things.”
Before council’s vote to fill the vacancy, Cowan read a pointed letter regarding Thomas, which noted his experience but also questioned his true role in the authority’s day-to-day operations.
“I have no doubt Rich Thomas is an encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to matters of the authority, every question asked could be answered and explained by him — on paper, he checks every box. It has now become a pro and con situation and I can’t with good conscience move past the cons.”
“... We have a manager who relies on him so completely that he has been, to a degree, running the authority behind the scenes. There are real problems that have been talked around for more than a decade,” a portion of the letter read.
“The easy solution here is to appoint Rich Thomas for another five years because he knows what he’s doing. It would be easy to appoint him for another term and continue to have a board that takes no real responsibility and lets him handle the situations that come our way, or we could appoint someone new, who has already shown so much initiative in this council.
“The municipal authority board and management, myself included, should step it up and be more involved and work together as a board to make things right rather than it being a one-man show,” Cowan read.
“I have the utmost respect for Rich Thomas — he has served the board well for 30 years — but I think the time has come to start holding board members and management accountable. By having him on the board, I don’t see that being a real possibility.”
This past fall, Thomas was presented with an Extended Service Award from the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association, recognizing his 30 years of service with the authority. Thomas was appointed to the authority board in 1991 and eventually became authority manager, serving for 14 years until retiring in 2015. He later rejoined the board and served as chairman.
Nicely suggested last week that council consider Thomas for another term on the board, given his knowledge of the authority and the borough’s infrastructure.
“He’s an encyclopedia when it comes to the water authority,” Nicely said. “I think it would behoove the community to keep him on the board at this time.”
Checca said previously that authority, ideally, would have a more even representation of board members who reside in Derry Borough and Derry Township. With Phillips’ appointment, the authority board boasts five borough residents.
Phillips said last week she would place an emphasis on residents who have dealt with flooding issues in the recent past.
“I want our entire community served, but most specifically the Fourth Ward residents that are dealing with flooding — not just flooding, but sewer water flooding,” she said.
Borough solicitor Lee Demosky said last week that Phillips, as an authority board member, would only be excluded from any executive sessions discussing litigation related to her personal flooding issues.
Also discussed at Tuesday’s meeting:
- Mayor Alanna DeRito-Gaudiello’s report for December included receipts of $515.27, with traffic receipts of $24.76, non-traffic receipts of $206.88 and $283.63 in clerk of court and miscellaneous receipts. There were 22 complaint calls, zero traffic citations, zero non-traffic citations and zero parking tickets during the month;
- Borough officials plan to discuss amendments to the 2021 budget on Thursday, Jan. 14.
In other business, council approved:
- Lee Demosky as borough solicitor in 2021;
- Gibson-Thomas Engineering Co. Inc. as borough engineer in 2021;
- 2021 membership to the Central Westmoreland COG and Indiana/Westmoreland COG;
- A resolution that borough police officers will not be required to make contributions to the police pension fund;
- For the borough secretary/treasurer to pay bills between meetings to take advantage of discounts and prevent bills from becoming past due;
- To appoint Sara Cowan as primary voting delegate and Lori Latta as secondary voting delegate for the Westmoreland County Tax Collection Committee;
- To allow Derry Volunteer Fire Company Chief Josh Campbell permission to change 911 call outs;
- A $14,500 police services contract with the Derry Area School District in 2021, an increase of $1,000 over last year;
- Contract with Sable Kennel in 2021;
- To hold council meetings virtually through March.