Monday's borough council reorganization meeting was packed with enough drama to keep council and the rest of us in high suspense, at least until more decisions are made at next week's regular meeting.
Mayor Leo Scoda was called upon at Monday's meeting to break a tie vote for president.
Twice the mayor refused to break a tie and give the position to Republican Jim Lolli. The third vote was the charm for Lolli. The mayor, a Democrat, following some theatrics and gasping from many of the 30 residents in attendance, voted to make Lolli council president.
Messina gave Lolli a run for the money, but in the end Messina couldn't overcome the lone vote of Democrat Jim Del-Nero, who chose to side with Republicans rather than Dems.
Of course Lolli and his supporters were pleased with the evening's outcome, although many in the room had hard feelings following the vote.
Messina, Councilman Chris Swenda and former Councilman Anthony DiGirolomo, whose former council seat was filled by Del-Nero and who sat in the front row during the proceedings munching on popcorn, all bitterly referred to Lolli and his followers as "Republicrats."
Obviously intended as a slur, this phrase has often been used by Official Democratic Party of Phoenixville leader Alex Kovach. Del-Nero ran with Kovach's blessing.
The Democratic Party in Phoenixville is often considered a countywide laughing stock because of its split in allegiances. Truth be told, there are two completely separate Democratic orientations in Phoenixville - the old and the new. Many registered for the party side with the Democratic Committee for the 21st Century.
And it seems that a representative from one side of the Democrats would rather vote for a member of the "opposition" Republicans than vote for a man on the rival side of his own party. Of course, Del-Nero claimed that he voted for the "best candidate."
In a borough where Democrat Andy Dinniman campaign signs at election time outnumber political signs for Republican commissioners on residents' lawns by a wide margin, Messina should have waltzed into the presidency.
Instead Messina chooses to divide council further.
The first words out of Lolli's mouth following the election were about bringing council back together.
One of the first things a bitter Messina said was, "We're going to fight either way because I'll be riding herd on them." Messina also spoke about attempting to shut Del-Nero out of the decision-making process.
Love him or hate him, former Council President Bob Tigro's leadership will be missed (although he'll still be a member). In my short seven months attending borough council meetings, I've witnessed a bit of a new awakening by council.
Meetings don't stretch out into the night anymore and the bitter feuds that I've been told about that occurred at past meetings are nonexistent (at least publicly), so when Messina uses words like "fight" when he knows it will show up in the next day's edition of The Phoenix, I worry.
Under Messina's leadership the planning commission has made great strides. Both Messina and Lolli recently described the positive changes at planning commission meetings compared to those held in the past.
Most everyone agrees that council and planners are doing a better job than before.
Tigro's council was full of give and take. Seemingly councilmen went to the meetings prepared to listen. I often witnessed the give and take and compromise that is vital to democracy.
I've seen council members change the way they were going to vote because of what they've heard during a meeting. And that's a good thing! Otherwise why hold the meetings, if everyone refuses to listen or budge?
There is now the real fear that members of council will once again end up squaring off against each other and choose to highlight the differences rather than the similarities.
All those public policy discussions might fall on deaf ears as council members make their choices long before the meeting starts, based solely on political lines. Lolli has his work cut out for him.
Council voted to table discussion and a vote to fill the vacant seat in the West Ward. Three applicants have presented resumes and hope to fill the position.
Alex Kovach is one of those applicants. Several times Kovach has unsuccessfully run on the ballot for this position. Candidate Kovach said in October, just prior to the November election, "There will be a great shake-up on borough council if I'm elected."
One question is - did Del-Nero select who he thought was the best man for the job or was his vote traded to secure a position on council for Kovach?
Kovach seemed on top of the world during Monday's meeting. At least he sure acted that way, if his annoying, high-decibel comments from the back row were any indication. Does he know something that only the Republicans and Del-Nero know? Could Kovach be the newest member of council?
Or does Messina, or even Tigro, still have a chance to control the presidency? Council may call a reorganization meeting at any time and vote for a new president. If Messina can gain control of the open West Ward seat, could that tilt the balance of power into his lap?
Tigro never had a chance in a situation in which Scoda would break a tie, but could he still regain the position? Can Messina corral enough votes, or will things stay unchanged and Lolli retain control?
The bigger question though is - can council stay centered?
Can council preserve the momentum and keep all its members relatively happy? Or does that really matter as long as council continues on its current course, which seems healthy and stable?
Can the political divisiveness that Phoenixville is famous for be halted before it fully lifts its angry head and consumes all the positive gains that have recently been made?
Bill Rettew, Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.