Tom Bland out as Oakmont recreation board chairman, vacancy needs to be filled
Oakmont recreation board seeks a new member and leader after borough council voted against reappointing its chairman.
Tom Bland was on the recreation board the past 10 years, the last six as chairman. He served on council four years prior to being appointed to the board.
A motion to reappoint him to a new five-year term on the board failed by a 1-4 vote Jan. 22.
Councilwoman Leah Powers voted in favor. Council President William Benusa and members Tim Favo, Carrie DelRosso and George Coulter dissented.
Vice President Patricia Friday and Councilman Justin Lokay were absent.
Coulter, who commended Bland on his tenure and volunteer service to the borough, said Bland could have stayed on the board if he agreed to step down as chairman, but he refused.
“Your leadership has been good in many respects (and) it’s been bad in some respects,” Coulter said.
Benusa echoed Coulter’s sentiment.
“We attempted to reach a compromise to this situation,” he said. “This is not a one-year cycle thing that the new board members have seen. This is an ongoing issue for years … He still had the opportunity to mentor the group, to even direct the group. It’s just that he would not be the person in charge.”
Powers said it was not council’s decision who chairs the recreation board.
“I’m not sure bargaining for a borough volunteer position is appropriate,” Powers said. “To vote ‘No’ on a reappointment sends a very strong message to our borough volunteers. This is not the way to make contributing members of our community feel appreciated. It is not the way to cultivate collaboration and productivity.”
Resident Joanne Anderson, who was reappointed to a three-year term on the boulevard project board at the Jan. 22 meeting, agreed with Powers.
“It’s disappointing,” Anderson said. “I just have to wonder what’s next and what do I need to be careful of and not.”
Several residents and members of the recreation board offered support for Bland and attempted to sway council’s decision prior to the vote, but to no avail.
Recreation board Vice Chairman Tony Lascola said rumors of Bland’s removal circulated throughout the borough the past few weeks. He spoke with council members prior to the meeting about what may happen without Bland at the helm.
“We do not have a succession plan in place,” Lascola said. “We do not have anybody on the rec board currently who has a desire to be chairperson. That’s when I was told, ‘There’s a stack of resumes and it’s not their problem.’”
Favo said “there’s been no conspiracy” to remove Bland from the rec board, but there is a need for better financial discipline within that organization.
Powers countered with examples of money in the rec board budget, about $41,000 originally earmarked for grant matches, that was taken out by council for other purposes unbeknownst to the board.
“To suggest that Tom Bland is fiscally irresponsible is absolutely false,” Powers said after the meeting.
Bland did not speak during the public comment portion of the meeting and did not stick around for adjournment.
He said outside council chambers that he was disappointed with the vote, but happy with the support from his colleagues and other residents.
“I’m extremely grateful for the people who spoke on my behalf,” he said.
Recreation board meetings are open to the public, so Bland could still attend them and have input on projects.
He said he would “take some time and think” about how he could continue helping the borough.
Bland also disputed Coulter’s claim about being asked to relinquish his chairmanship. He said he was asked to resign from the board completely.
Bland said he hopes to see some new leadership on council much like council majority wants for the recreation board.
“I’m hoping other people want to get involved in council,” Bland said. “They apparently felt there was a need for fresh blood on the rec board, so I would throw that right back at them.”
Residents interested in serving on the recreation board can submit letters of interest to the borough office, 767 Fifth St.
Letters will be reviewed by remaining board members, who will then recommend someone for council to appoint. It was unclear when the vacancy would be filled.
The next recreation board meeting is 7 p.m. Feb. 20 in council chambers.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, [email protected] or via Twitter @MikeJdiVittorio.