YARDLEY BOROUGH >> The borough council on Tuesday publicly interviewed four candidates for an opening on council created by the resignation of Sandi Brady earlier this month.
Stepping forward to fill Brady’s open seat are former Councilman Ryan Berry, educator Demetrius Houmas, investment banker Matthew Curtin and recent college graduate Akvile Montvilaite.
Curtin, a registered Republican, grew up in Lower Makefield along the Delaware Canal and now lives with his wife and three children on North Main Street.
A managing director with Merrill Lynch and Bank of America, Curtin said with his children now in school, he has more time to give back to the borough and said he believes he has a good skill set and a high IQ to bring to the table.
“I’m very open to other opinions,” he said. “And to me, people’s ideological views are their own. You can have a lot of discourse, but from me there’s no character assassination. It’s just whatever we have to do. And I think local government is meant to be pragmatic. And I think I’m a very pragmatic person who gets along with people.”
Curtin, a graduate of the Pennsylvania State University who holds an MBA from the Wharton School, said if appointed he’d be most interested in working with budget and financing.
He praised the borough for doing a better job of increasing transparency with regards to the borough’s finances, but said what’s still lacking is a focus on more long term planning for projects.
He favors the extension of the North Main Street sidewalk to Dolington Road. “I believe sidewalks are an important part of the community,” he said.
He also supports the replacement of the Mary Yardley Footbridge, which he called “a shared community asset” that should be funded by the community, both through public and private funding.
Curtin said while he isn’t educated on the zoning restrictions that exist in the floodplain and can’t offer an opinion without research, he does favor the creation of a “war chest” in the borough’s budget for unexpected events, like floods. “It’s going to happen. We just don’t know when.”
Curtin serves on the board of the Pennsbury Athletic Association, coaches the 11&U travel team and is on the board of the business school at Penn State.
Berry, a political independent who has served on council for the past four years but lost his re-election bid on Nov. 5, resigned his seat on council in order to submit his application for Brady’s open seat.
During his term on council, Berry led efforts to preserve the Reading Avenue Woods and recently took on the task of updating the town’s floodplain ordinance, a task he said he’d like to see through to completion.
“I still feel I have something to contribute,” said Berry.
Berry said his top priority would be to see the next phase of the North Main Street sidewalk completed from 88 North Main Street to the Mary Yardley Footbridge easement. “It’s all contingent upon funding, but that would be my top priority.”
Another top priority, said Berry, would be “keeping the borough’s finances in good shape, maintaining what what we have at a high quality and planning for the future.”
Questioning by council got a little testy when Councilman Mike Ruttle called Berry “unpredictable” and “unreliable.
“If we look back on this past election, I think it is fair to say there was a resounding rebuke of the leadership of this council ... You and Mr. (Bryon) Marshall were resoundingly defeated,” Ruttle told Berry. “And the voters of the borough rejected you. It’s incumbent upon this council to understand the election as a message that the voters of this borough sent. The problem is you had a record of governing the borough poorly. You are asking this council to thumb its nose at the election results and the voters of this borough and that’s a serious problem.”
Berry defended himself, saying he is “proud of the last two years" and his performance on council.
Berry argued that he has been a productive member of council, positive and cooperative and would do the same if appointed to the vacancy.
“I come to every meeting," he said. "I do what I say I’m going to do. And I do compromise. I am reliable and my track record proves that,” he said.
Ruttle then attempted to bring up an issue of litigation, which was quickly cut off by Councilwoman Caroline Thompson who said the line of questioning was inappropriate. Thompson led the meeting as the chair of the General Government committee.
With that, Ruttle left the council table, accusing council of preventing him from “engaging in his First Amendment rights to engage in a public discourse about a matter that is important to the borough,” which is who will be appointed to a seat on council.
The interview with Berry continued without Ruttle at the council table.
Berry, a data analyst with Bloomberg LP, said if appointed he’d like to chair the public safety or the Community and Economic Development committees.
Ruttle returned to the council table as the interviews continued.
Houmas, a life skills special education teacher in the Bristol Township School District, has lived in the borough for the past 12 years.
“I thought it would be interesting and I wanted to get more involved,” said Houmas, answering a question about why he applied for the opening.
A registered Democrat, Houmas said he favors the extension of sidewalks on North Main Street and loosening the borough’s floodplain ordinance to an extent that will keep residents in the community and be beneficial while not allowing someone to build a palace in their backyard.
Houmas said he sees development as the biggest issue facing the borough, though he admitted there’s not a lot of space left to develop.
When asked what committees he’d be interested in chairing, Houmas said the Community and Economic Development committee where he’d be interested in working with the business community.
The fourth and final candidate interviewed by council was Montvilaite, a pharmacist for long-term care facilities in New Jersey.
Montvilaite, who is not registered to vote and is not a member of a political party, grew up in the borough and graduated from Pennsbury High School. She earned a degree in biology in 2017 from Lycoming College.
In her free time, she enjoys walks with her German Shepherd along the Delaware Canal.
“Why am I running for council? Because right now I have the time and commitment to put in,” she said. “I am eager to learn more about the community. From where it was just five years ago, we have a much stronger community and I want to keep that going.”
Montvilaite said she favors the extension of the North Main Street sidewalk “because I believe everyone should have safe access to walk down the street.”
She also favors the replacement of the Mary Yardley Footbridge.
When asked about the biggest issue facing the town, she said Initially it was the sidewalks, “but I have seen improvements with that.” The bigger issue now, she said, is the street lighting in town. “Our streets are really not lit enough so it’s not safe. That’s something I think we need to improve.”
At the conclusion of her interview, Thompson noted that in order to be appointed to council Montvilaite would need to register to vote and send the confirmation to the borough by Dec. 3.
Ruttle said timing could be an issue, noting that it sometimes takes up to 30 days for the county to process registrations. “Check with the board of elections,” said Ruttle. “If you can’t register in time, there’s a strong possibility there will be an opening in January.”
Council is planning to fill Brady’s vacant seat at its Dec. 3 meeting.
Councilwoman Thompson encouraged those who aren’t appointed to the vacancy to consider applying again in January.
With incoming Councilman-elect Patrick McGovern’s recent announcement that he would not be taking his seat on council, the newly-seated council is expected to have another vacancy to fill.
Council plans to announce the opening at the beginning of January and immediately begin the process of accepting applications to fill that vacancy.
The appointee will serve for two years until the next municipal election.
McGovern said in a statement released to the press that he would not be taking his seat on council in January after taking ownership of a FaceBook alias that included troubling content.