Action on the Township Manager Doug Cleland's contract was again postponed during the Wednesday, April 18 Board of Commissioners meeting, but discussion of the topic, from audience members and a few members on the board, didn't die as easily.
Following their executive session, Board President Liz Rogan announced the agenda item regarding Cleland's contract would be deferred for later action, but that she would accept public comment on the topic as long as it wasn't on the language of the contract. Commissioner Brian Gordon expanded that purpose of that was because the language could be amended and changed, so it made no sense to have comment on the current draft.
The first person to approach the podium was Joe Manko, former board president and Lower Merion commissioner of Ward 9.
"How do we view Doug Cleland? Quite simply, as one of the most extraordinary public servants any of us have ever encountered," Manko said at the meeting. "His talents are such that he could have excelled in the private business sector (with much greater compensation for doing so), but fortunately for all of us who are residents of Lower Merion, he chose to pursue a career in public service."
Manko spoke on behalf of eleven former members of Lower Merion's board: Charlie Bloom, Lita Cohen, Matt Comisky, Ken Davis, Jim Ettelson, Maryam Phillips, Bruce Reed, David Sonenshein, Mark Taylor and Charlie Ward. All eleven were present for the meeting.
Manko and his former colleagues' collective remarks sought point out the township's achievements under Cleland's management, such as the township's maintenance of a Triple-A bond rating, and hence why the board ought to approve his contract.
"The strength of any institution is its people, and Doug Cleland is at the core of a remarkable group of people," the former board president continued. "The ease with which Doug does what he does often obscures how remarkable a job it is. Indeed, it may seem, because he makes it appear so effortless, that it is a job which might be performed easily, or perhaps by someone less gifted."
"One merely needs to look at other municipalities...with demographics very similar to our own, to see that outcome is not preordained," Manko added.
Four other comments echoed these sentiments on Cleland's work, pleading for his contract renewal.
A point of contention came when Bala Cynwyd resident John Maley approached the podium during public comment.
"I'm here to get an apology from Commissioners Brown and Gould to Manager Cleland, the solicitor and every member of the staff and [board]," Maley said.
Maley discussed the investigation Commissioner Jenny Brown wanted in regard to deferred compensation, and felt she got out of hand, saying her comments and approach of the matter "borders on slander."
"There's a point at which you can't be nice, nice," Maley said of what he say as mellow responses from the board and staff in regards to the deferred compensation debate.
Maley struck a chord with a few commissioners when he later remarked that his father watched former U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy's crusade in the mid-20th century, and said "Joe McCarthy gives the Irish a bad name."
"I'm not so sure your wards have bad names with you two in it," Maley said to Brown and Gould.
Theses comments were brought up several moments later by commissioners like Philip Rosenzweig.
"I would like to express my extreme distress...that John Maley denigrates my colleagues and promptly puts and his coat and leaves before hearing their rebuttal," Rosenzweig said. "Any member of the public is entitled to debate [the board], but no one is entitled to" do it in the hostile manner with which he felt Maley did.
Commissioner Zelov agreed, saying the comments were not only unfair, but also ignorant of the hard work Brown does as a board member.
Democratic Commissioner Daniel Bernheim wanted to make sure that the public was aware the split on this matter wasn't about about Democrats vs. Republicans. He added that the board and the public debate with the utmost respect for one another.
Commissioner Brown, who thanked her colleagues for their remarks, sent her constituents an e-mail regarding Cleland's contract the morning of April 19. In it she wrote, "Suffice to say that you know there is a problem when you cannot determine from the four corners of the document what compensation the manager would be entitled to and approximately how much it would cost taxpayers."
"It was also clear that the problems with the contract language couldn't be resolved by changes to the language on the fly," she added in the e-mail. "Therefore, the commissioners agreed at the last minute that the proposed contract needed to be removed from the agenda last night."
Brown also wrote that regardless of changes to the contract's language, "when it comes back on the agenda, the total proposed compensation, which will cost taxpayers in excess of $550,000 for two years, will still be unreasonable for the job description, excessive compared to similar positions, and unfair to taxpayers."
No specific date was given as to when the board would next broach the topic of Cleland's contract. The next stated Board of Commissioners meeting is Wednesday May 16.