Remarks by Altoona City Council upset water authority leaders

Because of a microphone left open during a hiatus in Wednesday’s City Council meeting, viewers of the local-access TV broadcast heard lighthearted private banter between a pair of councilmen about an Altoona Water Authority pitch to retain control of the water and sewer systems the authority operates.

The authority says the banter shows closed-mindedness and contempt for its proposal, which the authority says would serve the community better than the city plan to auction the systems for a long-term lease in exchange for a large lump sum payment.

The councilmen say they intended no disrespect.

Not long after authority member – and former city mayor – Tom Martin finished his presentation, then left the podium without a council reply, Councilman Dave Butterbaugh played a recording of crickets chirping, after which Councilman Bill Neugebauer sang a few bars of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

“[This] is about council’s non-response and lack of respect,” wrote authority in-house engineer Mike Sinisi in an email. “They were having fun.”

The chirping of the crickets “signifies silence” – the silence that city consultants have advised councilmen to maintain, Sinisi wrote.

Singing the Battle Hymn was an insinuation “that Tom’s speech was meant to be inspirational,” he wrote.

“Sickening,” he added.

The authority is trying to make something out of nothing, Butterbaugh said Thursday.

As Sinisi suggested, he played the cricket recording to signify council’s non-response – but that non-response shouldn’t have been a surprise, he said.

Council has hired financial and legal advisors, and those advisors are handling matters related to the auction, he said.

“We’re not talking,” he said. “We have no comment.”

Martin is intelligent, and he “knew it would be wise for us not to respond,” Butterbaugh said.

Martin, in fact, after completing his presentation, didn’t seem to expect a response, but stated, “I think I’ll go home,” then left the meeting room.

“They knew the crickets were coming,” Butterbaugh said.

Neugebauer said he wasn’t “being unkind” with his singing.

“I’m sorry it came across that way,” he said.

The song merely signified the “passionate” elements in Martin’s presentation, according to Neugebauer.

“He still has it,” Neugebauer said of Martin. “He did a fine presentation.”

Both councilmen indicated they weren’t necessarily trying to hide the banter.

He knew his mic was on, Butterbaugh said.

“I was not trying to broadcast or not broadcast,” Neugebauer said.

“Butterbaugh’s always sticking his foot in his mouth,” Sinisi said.