Scranton City Council meeting, May 14, 2015
Attendees of the May 14 Scranton City Council meeting heard from residents Ron Ellman, Joan Hodowanitz, Marie Schumacher, Doug Miller, Bill Jacowitz, Trout Unlimited chapter president Charles Charlesworth, the director of the Lackawanna River Corridor Association, Bernie McGurl, Scranton City Council Republican candidate David Burgerhoff, among others. The topics for discussion at the meeting were Sweeney’s Beach project, LST Tax tripling, the state of the city, the 2013 and 2014 audits, Henry Amoroso, the Quality of Life ordinance, and condemned properties.
Council president McGoff started off the meeting by reminding everyone about the Friends of Connors Park Association’s veterans memorial that was recently completed, and will have its first Memorial Day serice on May 25. He also reminded everyone in attendance that the Scranton Armed Forces Day parade is coming up, and will start at the Gino Merli Center, concluding at Courthouse Square. McGoff also encouraged Scranton residents to go out and vote Tuesday, May 19.
Trout Unlimited chapter president Charles Charlesworth and the director of the Lackawanna River Corridor Association, Bernie McGurl, were the first attendees to come to the podium to speak. McGurl and Charlesworth brought a layout of their proposed Sweeney’s Beach project. It’s a project they say will create river access for fishing and boating. They said a couple dozen could be there at one time. Charlesworth and McGurl also stated that the project would also include landscape terraces, pathways, and parking. They have $22,000 in initial funding, but are seeking more. All in all, they estimated $130,000 would be required to complete the project. They also plan to use green technology wherever possible.
McGurl and Charlesworth hope to make some progress by summer of 2015, and are seeking volunteers. When the project is completed, they intend on also using it for environmental, river, and water quality education. It would reduce river temperatures and add trout. The projected capacity was 450 to 550 visitors.
Joan Hodowanitz started off her alotted time with a question: “Any idea how much we paid Rossi for the 2013 audit?” Council had no answer. Hodowanitz claimed the city paid $48,000, but that was not for the audit. She said the audit itself cost over $94,000, that the 2014 city audit is suppose to cost over $40,000, and that no one is slated to do it. She said the legislation is forthcoming for the bids for audit. Hodowanitz said that you “can’t underestimate the value of a timely audit,” especially, she emphasized, for a city in distress. She hopes the 2014 audit will be completed before the end of 2015 and won’t cost $94,000.
Ron Ellman began off his time by saying that “it‘s been brought to my attention that sometimes I support the mayor, sometimes I bad-mouth the poor fellow.” He said Mayor Courtright took a challenging job, “being young and inexperienced.” Ellman stated that instead of a “good, strong administration, he failed himself with his backers.” Addressing an issue he asked council at the last meeting, he stated that the arrangement with Amoroso is definitely a conflict of interest because he was paid by Lackawanna College but represents the city. Ellman said Amoroso should return the money or resign. He feels the city lost its integrity by hiring David Bulzoni and broke their own law. Ellman criticized council for always saying “next week,” when someone asks a question of council. He again inquired of council, “who paid for Amoroso‘s telephone poll?” He again did not receive a response to the question. Ellman stated that all the mayor’s promises are not going to happen, and he was not meeting his own goals.
David Burgeroff, 2015 Scranton City Council Republican candidate, said he was not initially going to speak. He urged voters to be more optimistic, adding, “We need more solutions than complaints.” He said he liked the idea of the Sweeney’s Beach project, as he is a kayaker. He urged residents to get out and vote. Burgeroff urged residents to stop complaining and to “be part of the solution.” He concluded by asking voters to “vote for leaders, not letters.”
Scranton resident Marie Schumacher addressed a concern about a Quality of Life violation that made her want to “cry or puke.” The issue centered around a vacant home and an uprooted tree which was leaning against the house. She stated that it had undergone recent work and was tended to, but has been condemned since 2012. Schumacher stated she had a similar issue happen to her and had to ontain signatures and receipts to prove the home was up to par. She stated that residents have a constitutional right to a vacant home, as long as it is taken care of. The issue drew both ire and agreement from council.
Councilman Evans agreed with Schumacher, and said he was against the condemnation policy. Evans said the mayor is looking to address the situation because too many buildings are being torn down. Councilman Wechsler said the owner wouldn’t responded to notices, asking, “why is this person relieved of responsibility?”
Council members offered comments prior to the time for the evening’s motions to be voted upon
Councilman Wechsler stated he hears the state is working on pension issues, and that he hopes so, but council is trying to do what they can in their “little corner.” He stated that the point of the QoL ordinance is not to condemn properties. Wechsler maintained that property owners are notified several times, so “why are they not responsible? I don’t understand.”
Councilman Rogan‘s only comment was for everyone to go out and vote because many have fought and died for that right.
Councilman Evans used his opportunity to speak to read a prepared speech about how many are trying to demonize local police forces, but he personally wanted to thank them.
Councilman Gaughan spoke about how he recently took part in a neighborhood cleanup, and he was amazed at how many people came out. Gaughan believes the city should sponsor cleanups. He said local businesses can loan tools, mulch, and supplies. He feels many communities already have these things. Councilman Gaughan also believes the City of Scranton should commit to cleanup of neighborhood parks. He plans to arrange a meeting with the mayor and DPW about this. He requested a caucus with David Bulzoni, Mayor Courtright, and Henry Amoroso. He said Schumacher touched on the plans. Gaughan requested another letter be sent regarding the caucus, if colleagues agree. Councilman Evans agreed.
Councilman Mcgoff said one speaker “said I was resposible for pension issues,” but McGoff stated he was not on the board in 2002, when he stated it happened. He also wasn’t a member of city council. McGoff claimed that current council members are not responsible for the pension difficulties. He explained that although city council raised some taxes and fees, they did not raise them as much as the prior council. He explained it was not fair to condemn the current council body, also maintaining that the current council has been more forthcoming than any council in the last eight years.
All motions were passed unanimously. There were comments on two motions before cloture. The introduction, to refer the Sweeney’s Beach project to appropriate committees for consideration, was met with commendation by Councilman Gaughan. The other commentary was from Rogan, Wechsler, Gaughan, and McGoff, and concerned the introduction of a resolution to enter into a contract with Public Assest Management to sell off outstanding city real estate tax liens.
The resolution was unanimously passed and moved forward, but Councilman Gaughan preferred to move forward with council’s prior interest in forming a land bank. Councilman Rogan had more questions, Wechsler stating that it would not be like the last program because it will collect more revenue. McGoff said it would garner the revenue Scranton desperately needs.