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The race for Bell Acres council has seven hopefuls running for four, four-year seats, according to the Allegheny County Office of Elections’ unofficial candidate list.
Incumbents Brock Meanor, David Renfrew and Michelle Veeck face newcomers Janelle Hanneman Aslam, Julie Klug DiCenzo, Finn Johnson and Charles Kulbacki.
Incumbent Lane Grafton is running unopposed for the two-year seat, and Mayor Kenneth Alvania is running unopposed for reelection.
Here are the candidates and their responses to questions posed by the Sewickley Herald.
Janelle Hanneman Aslam
Age: 44
Political party: Democrat
Education: MBA from Cornell University, Bachelor of Science in marketing and management from Miami University of Ohio, graduate of Ottawa-Glandorf High School, Ohio
Occupation: Marketing and innovation
If elected, what are two short-term goals? While we love Bell Acres for the green space and proximity to Sewickley, downtown Pittsburgh and our neighbors, I believe there is an opportunity to create a stronger sense of community. I want us to build our connections with residents and our local government. We can do this by improving communication to and from our borough council, welcoming new residents, organizing events for kids, pets and adults to meet each other, and creating more spaces to host these events (better playgrounds, pet parks, et cetera). My second goal is to collaborate with other boroughs, outside organizations (recycling, outdoor and more), and anyone who can elevate the power of our small borough while keeping our spending the same. We can do so much more efficiently if we purposely work together to better all of 15143.
If elected, what is one long-term goal? As our borough expands and welcomes new homes, potential schools and businesses, we need better infrastructure for the various needs of our community. Our roads are used more than in the past, and the fast traffic creates risks for safe walking and biking. We can improve the safety on our existing passageways. We need more sidewalks, bike trails and safer routes. We need to improve our road surfaces so that they are not a danger to use. We should also evaluate how we can provide public transportation for better access to Pittsburgh and downtown Sewickley for our aging and growing population.
How do you plan to communicate with constituents and involve them in the decision-making process? The borough currently hosts in-person meetings, surveys its residents every five years and occasionally updates its website. These mechanisms are not actively drawing our residents to be informed. An effective government allows its residents to continuously provide feedback, listen attentively to these needs, and update their plans and actions with transparency in multiple communication forms. There is an opportunity to improve residents’ access to local resources and information regarding the decisions made on their behalf. My campaign utilizes not only a passive communication source of a website (votejanelle.com), but also active forms that directly engage, including social media, direct mail, email ([email protected]), conference calls and friendly conversations with my neighbors. These are all simple ways to communicate better and effectively govern; I intend on implementing a multi-prong approach immediately to share information between our government and residents.
Julie Klug DiCenzo
Age: 64
Political party: Democrat
Education: Graduate of The Ohio State University, Columbus, School of Allied Medical Professions; Bachelor of Science in Medical Communications
Occupation: Medical writer and editor (retired)
If elected, what are two short-term goals? I’m a member of the Bell Acres Green Space and Trails working group, and we’ve been in the process of reviewing existing trails and parks in our area and preparing a map for the borough website. So one short-term goal would be to improve our park amenities and form a volunteer group to better maintain and improve our current trail system, with future expansion a possibility.
A second short-term goal would be to improve communication with our residents. I’m also part of the Bell Acres communications focus group that is working on an update of the borough website. The improved website will be more user-friendly and better organized so that information our residents need will be easy to find. A really interesting part of the website for me is the extensive history section.
If elected, what is one long-term goal? Bell Acres recently updated its long-term comprehensive plan, and as part of that process, our residents indicated that a top priority is the protection of our green space. Bell Acres has hundreds of acres of land under conservation easement with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, along with additional acreage protected by the Allegheny Land Trust. Municipal officials have a duty to protect and to conserve our natural resources, and if elected, I would work to carry out that duty to the best of my ability. Recently, for example, a local drilling company wanted to withdraw millions of gallons of water from Big Sewickley Creek to use for their fracking operations. I worked with the borough manager and council in requesting that the PA Department of Environmental Protection deny the permit for this water withdrawal from the creek (they did).
How do you plan to communicate with constituents and involve them in the decision-making process? I encourage residents to attend the monthly council meetings, check the borough website, or call the borough office.
Finn Johnson
Age: 60
Political party: Democrat
Education: BS in management
Occupation: Founder/president of a professional services business
If elected, what are two short-term goals? To open more green space for the residents of our community, and to improve communications between the borough and its residents. It’s been my privilege to serve on two focus groups formed following the recent update to Bell Acres’ Comprehensive Plan. These groups are working towards realizing both of these goals. The Green Space/Trails focus group has put together a set of recommendations that I fully embrace. This includes fundraising for the design and creation of new trails. On the communications front, I and others from the focus group have been working on a soon-to-be-completed new website for Bell Acres, and the borough is in the process of adopting Savvy Citizen as a means of better reaching out to members of the community. The next step is to communicate these improvements to our residents so they can better engage with the borough.
If elected, what is one long-term goal? My primary long-term goal would be to improve infrastructure within the borough – specifically as it relates to roads and stormwater runoff. Past heavy rains have washed away some roads and degraded the stormwater drainage systems. Our current infrastructure was designed for a different time, so we need to address any deficiencies and update our systems with good planning and appropriate funding. We need to think about infrastructure as an investment and build things to last. While we’ve managed to make short-term, temporary fixes to immediate problems, we need to take a longer view on these solutions. Obviously, the availability of funding to address long-term solutions can be a problem, so hopefully, we can obtain funding from any state/federal funds that become available, but regardless, we must improve on this front and make the most of what we have available now.
How do you plan to communicate with constituents and involve them in the decision-making process? As a volunteer on the Communications Focus Group, I took the lead in developing a new website for the borough (nearing completion), and for recommending the borough contract with Savvy Citizen as its preferred digital communications platform. These two projects are only a start, as we have identified other areas for improvement as well, so I look forward to building on the progress that is already being made. Once the borough communicates more effectively with its outreach efforts, I believe we will see more community engagement. Bell Acres is a wonderful community and there is room for all sorts of ideas and feedback. If elected I will work to continue to make community outreach a priority.
Charles Kulbacki
Kulbacki did not respond to requests for information for this article.
Brock A. Meanor
Age: 25
Political party: Republican
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Robert Morris University and law degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law
Occupation: Attorney (Pending bar admission)
If elected, what are two short-term goals? Continue to improve infrastructure and improve borough parks and greenspace.
Over the last few years, Bell Acres has been plagued with landslides and road closures. While many have been repaired, we must continue to repair and replace when necessary. Over the last four years, we have implemented a 10-year road improvement project, worked with both the county and the state to get roads reopened and received a $50,000 grant to purchase a piece of equipment for our public works department to help with repairs.
The pandemic has forced many of us to stay closer to home and enjoy our surroundings. That’s why I would like to see us improve and revamp the borough park next to the fire department, I would like to see QV continue to develop the baseball fields on Campmeeting, and the borough should continue to protect green space.
If elected, what is one long-term goal? Keep Bell Acres a great place to live. My family has called Bell Acres home for nearly 200 years and I want to preserve what makes our community great for the next generation. That includes supporting our police and fire department, protecting green space, improving infrastructure, limiting spending and keeping our taxes low. Many residents of Bell Acres are concerned about the impact a new high school will have on property taxes, we must be sure to spend within our limits so that we do not have to raise taxes. I hope we can eventually cut taxes to help offset some of the increases in school taxes.
How do you plan to communicate with constituents and involve them in the decision-making process? Communication is key! That’s why we are in the process of creating a new borough website to keep residents better informed. We also recently began using a communication app that allows us to send out memos and information. Our council meetings are also always open to the public. In the future, I would like to see the borough become active on social media. Our police department is very active on Facebook and many residents find it very helpful.
David Renfrew
Age: 72
Political party: Republican
Education: BS electrical engineering
Occupation: Retired
If elected, what are two short-term goals? Ensure that improvements identified by residents during the recently completed Comprehensive Planning process are implemented as planned. The most anticipated task is rollout of the upgraded borough website. Another goal is to ensure the 2022 budget provides sufficient funding for our police, fire and public works to maintain a safe and secure community.
If elected, what is one long-term goal? Over the past 20 years, Bell Acres has maintained financial stability and achieved an AA bond rating as a result. My goal is to make sure Bell Acres continues to manage its expenses so that it can provide services required by residents, yet not raise borough taxes.
How do you plan to communicate with constituents and involve them in the decision-making process? Borough meetings are held the second Monday of each month and I encourage public comment at the start of each meeting. Meeting agendas are published on the borough website, as are minutes of all council meetings.
Michelle Veeck
Age: 50
Political party: Republican
Education: Bachelor of Arts, The College of William and Mary
Occupation: Contract analyst for LegalSifter
If elected, what are two short-term goals? To continue to prioritize fully funding our police department with the necessary equipment and provide them the support they need to keep Bell Acres a safe and enjoyable community; also completely funding our public works department who keep our roads and entire infrastructure to our highest standards – with no adverse effects to balancing our budget which we have prided ourselves in doing for the past several decades.
If elected, what is one long-term goal? To continue the Wastewater Improvement Projects throughout Bell Acres and fund it through grants, so there will be no additional cost to the Bell Acres Municipal Authority. This will be essential for our future taxpayers who cannot pass the required Allegheny County Perk Test for new homes and our current residents who are concerned about the resale of existing homes.
How do you plan to communicate with constituents and involve them in the decision-making process? Our constituents are invited to our monthly council meetings and engage in public discussion sessions. In addition, we pride ourselves in making our meetings transparent by posting all the agendas for the council meetings, planning commission, and Bell Acres municipal authority, as well as, public hearing notices on our borough website, in the borough building and at the Big Sewickley Creek Fire Hall.
Katie Green is a Tribune-Review news editor. You can contact Katie at [email protected].
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