SOUDERTON — Two veteran Souderton Borough Council members who are leaving office were thanked for their service and reflected on it at the Dec. 2 council meeting that was their last as members of the board.
Both Jeff Gross and Richard Halbom were on council for 12 years, Mayor John Reynolds said.
"They've also both been involved in the borough for quite a bit longer than that and we hope they will continue to participate in borough activities going forward," he said.
"Believe me, the amount of time you two have volunteered is overwhelming and I personally appreciate everything that you've done for the borough," Reynolds said. "Thank you."
Council President Brian Goshow looked back over the time during which the two were on council, which included the 2008 economic downturn.
"Your leadership has helped us go through probably one of the worst economic times this borough has ever faced," he said. "Despite that, I feel like we still moved this borough forward."
Among the accomplishments were the pool renovation project; the borough's 125th anniversary celebrations in 2012 and things that grew out of that including the annual fireworks display; and the train station redevelopment, he said.
"Your mark, I think, is seen in several different places throughout the borough," Goshow said.
Halbom said it's been an honor and pleasure to have been on council for more than a decade.
"During the time that I've been on council, I've considered it my primary responsibility to be a steward of your tax money," he said.
He said he's proud of the improvement to police services during his time on council, which included the hiring of Chief James Leary, who Halbom said is a "superb" chief.
"I'm proud of the progress that we've made in our redevelopment of our Souderton downtown," he said.
As Goshow had noted, the economic slowdown had an effect, but in the improved current economy, things are taking off, Halbom said.
Another of the accomplishments was the start of a single-hauler trash contract, he said, "which was somewhat controversial when it first started, but I think we all agree has been an absolute boon to our community."
During discussions of the pool renovation plans, there were concerns about the amount of money being spent, he said.
"It has far exceeded our financial projections and it is doing extremely well," Halbom said.
Gross thanked all the other council members with whom he served.
"It has been an honor to work side by side with you on many, many projects. You have all brought amazing skills to each one of those committees that we have served on together and I have learned a lot from all of you," he said.
He said it has been an honor and blessing to be on council and he hopes to take what he learned in the position and use it to continue to contribute to the community.
"I could say a whole lot more, I could talk about all the different projects, but I think the projects that we worked on speak for themselves," Gross said. "I think the community is very happy with the way our town is moving and I am just glad to be part of that."
Election swings party majority
Between the 2017 and 2019 elections, the Democratic party has picked up four seats on the council, giving it the majority on what was previously a Republican board.
Both Gross and Halbom are Republicans. Gross did not run for re-election this year. His seat will be filled by Democrat Donna Rogers, who ran as a write-in after Nathan Miller, who was the lone candidate on the ballot for the third ward seat, moved out of the borough too late for his name to be removed from the ballot, Rogers said. In the second ward, there was a three-way race for two seats, with Democrats Julie Munden, who was first elected in 2017, and Daryl William Littlefield defeating Halbom.
Halbom said he spoke to Littlefield and congratulated him on his election victory. He said he also gave some advice, based both on his experience on council and as a zoning code enforcement official in Bucks and Montgomery County towns.
"My advice is this: Party politics has no place in municipal government," he said. "Each one of us who hold these seats on council must place our community's interest above those of a political party."
Regardless of which party is in power, he's seen party politics be destructive in other towns, he said. The council members are voted in by the community and owe their loyalty to those citizens, he said.
"To allow a party boss in Norristown or Lansdale to influence their decisions based on party needs rather than the needs of their community would be a betrayal of that trust and I pray that such does not happen," Halbom said.
He said he is grateful for the trust he's been given over the years and hopes to continue serving the community in other capacities.
Gross said he agrees with Halbom that it isn't about politics.
"We have to run under a banner of one party or another, but once we get on borough council, we are here to serve the community," Gross said.
At the end of his first term, where he had run as a Republican, Democratic party representatives told him they were happy with his service and would not run a candidate against him as long as he was running, Gross said.
That told him he was "where the community wanted me to be as far as doing what they wanted," he said.
Gross said he is thankful for the privilege of serving and remains on the borough planning commission and park board.
"I'll be around. You've got my number," he said.