Scranton City Council meeting, June 11, 2015

Attendees of the June 11 Scranton City Council meeting heard from residents Ron Ellman, Marie Schumacher, David Dobson, and others. The topics of discussion at the evening’s meeting were the state of the city, city government transparency, the 2014 city audit, Henry Amoroso, and Amoroso’s Scranton City recovery plan.

Scranton resident Ron Ellman, a council meeting regular, started off his time by bringing in a history book about the city. In the book, he explained how, between 1956 and 1966, the city utilized a set of plans Ellman dubbed the “Scranton Plan.” Ellman explained that within a mere ten years, 58 new plants sprouted up in Scranton, several expanded into the city, 30,000 new jobs were created, and all of it was done without government assistance or finance. He said there were a total of four plans all together. Ellman estimated that $3.8 million was raised through these plans and local banks. He described Scranton as a hub, with 60 trucking companies and six trains. He said that the city could still be, if the people took advantage of it. Ellman again attacked Henry Amoroso’s financial plan for the city, and stated that the city suffered from a lack of leadership. He criticized the mayor’s plan, as originally reported in the June 10 Times-Tribune article, to give Al Boscov $15 million. He said that the city is a business, and should be run like one. Ellman called the council “out of touch,” and stated that high school students could run the city better.

Dave Dobson was next on the docket to speak. Dobson reminded everybody to contact the White House and congress, in regards to the Trans Pacific Partnership, and listed their contact numbers. He criticized a proposed plan to, as he labeled it, “monetize the sewer plant.” Dobson said that there isn’t a way. He told council that they should start collecting delinquent garbages fees, and to stop raising the yearly fees. Dobson estimated that residents would be paying $223 a year if the city would do this. He suggested that after anyone was hired by the Chamber of Commerce, a second opinion should always be sought. Dobson told council that the city can’t “go on like this,” and keep paying everyone else’s bills.

Councilman Rogan spoke about Boscov’s $18 million loan debt to the City of Scranton that he says has yet to be paid, and no more money will be given going forward.

Marie Schumacher spoke next, and again had a laundry list of questions for the council, some of which she brought from other meetings where she left without answers. She started off by thanking DPW for repairing an issue at the intersection of Hemlock Street and Stafford Avenue. Her first question was redireted to the Department of Public Works. Schumacher again asked for city loan information for 2002, as far as what was paid back or defaulted on. Councilman Rogan asked for more specifics. She requested information on all of the loans for that year. She specified an SRA loan and $700,000 loan for the Marquee Theater. Schumacher asked whether it was paid back, but if not, “what is the remaining balance?”

Councilman Rogan elaborated that more was owed that Schumacher quoted. He stated that $3.5 million was owed to the city, still. Schumacher went on to inquire about item 7c on the agenda for the meeting. Councilman Gaughan stated that information was requested, but they have not received it yet. Schumacher inquired about what appeared to be excessive overtime for police and firefighters, but was met with frustration from Council president McGoff. He told her that council “can’t answer that,” and that only the individual departments can. He went on to scold Schumacher and said that the “questions you ask can’t be answered by council. We do not have answers.” He further elaborated by stating that if “our staff tried to” council would not have time to do anything else. Councilman Wechsler, attempting to diffuse the discussion, stated that he spoke to the police and fire chiefs to get an understanding about the overtime. Though he did not have the answers she sought, he would meet with them again to obtain the information.

Scranton City Council members offered comments prior to the time for the evening’s motions to be voted upon.

Councilman Wechsler, despite saying he would not comment on Al Boscov and the Mall at Steamtown, focused the majority of his time on that subject. Though he is not fan of the idea of Al Boscov potentially winning the bid to own the mall, he did speak fondly of what he called the “first time in awhile that there has been discussion on economic development.”Wechsler believes that the “mall as it stands” must be “reworked”. He added that he was not a fan of putting money into it the mall in its current state. Wechsler wrapped up his time by stating that he wanted to look into finding a way for DPW and the police to work together to report on issue such as potholes, to more effectively fix them.

Councilman Rogan started off his time to extend a congratulations to fireman Dave Gervasi for his 25 years of service. He stated that he personally knows him well. Rogan addressed an East Mountain resident complaint about gypsy moths. He spoke at length about the destructive nature of how they eat everything, including trees, and cause rashes. He explained that it was something that needed to be dealt with at the county level, as Luzerne County has already been over their head with a similar issue. Rogan said the county needs to take action to spray for the moths. He requested council send a letter to make the Lackawanna County aware of the situation.

Rogan also spoke at length about Al Boscov and the Mall. He spoke about Boscov’s $18 million loan debt to the City of Scranton that he says has yet to be paid, and no more money will be given going forward. He said the city won’t move forward with any more investments in the mall, according to the mayor, who had to backpedal after being part of a Times-Tribune article where he laid out investments that the city would be making with Boscov. The article listed the council as being a part of that decision. Rogan complained that reporters were willing to go with an article that had the headline “Donor’s brother gets job,” but no one was willing to investigate Al Boscov’s political dealing. He referened a site called Alboscov.com, and the investigations it delved into. Rogan unequivocally stated that he personally would not vote for “a cent more” to Boscov.

Councilman Evans continue on the topics of Al Boscov and the Mall at Steamtown. He explained that unless an unknown bidder randomly appeared, Boscov would be the winning bidder for the Mall. Evans critcized Boscov, saying that “to say Boscov is a shrewd business man would be an understatement.” He stated that if and when Boscov obtained the Mall, there was no more reason to give anymore loans to it, and it was time for “this project to stand on its own” without more taxpayer money. He briefly spoke about HP 316, a state bill that is supposed to address pension reform in Pennsylvania. Evans proudly stated that he was behind the plan from the beginning, and urged council to send a letter to Congressmen Farina and Flynn and Mayor Courtright to stand in support of the bill. He requested that the mayor publicly announce his support, as he feels that the bill is a “matter of survival” for Scranton, as it is “mired” in pension issues.

Councilman Gaughan agreed with Councilman Evans concerning sending a letter to the mayor asking for suppor for the pension reform bill. He spoke about an issue two weekends ago involving dynamite (that killed many fish) being thrown into the river near Sweeney Beach. Gaughan called it reprehensible. He said police were called and that council will be having a discussion with the police chief to see about increased patrols in that area. Gaughan reports that Charles Charlesworth, one of the two men who are spearheading the Sweeney Beach project, is requesting an ordinance to be adopted for fishing in that area. Council will be discussing this further with Charlesworth. Gaughan also spoke to the infamous article about Al Boscov and the mayor. He said council’s backing was referenced in mayor’s letter, but they were never spoken to. He called the move “sloppy, bad government,” and another example of Mayor Courtright’s lack of transparency.

Councilman Mcgoff spoke to a discussion about the Mall being turned into a casino, and stated that it was not true. He stated that the city did not own the Mall, and it was likely to be acquired by Al Boscov, so they could not move forward with a plan like that. McGoff said that council couldn’t “coerce” Boscov. He said Mr. Bolus is the one who brought the idea to council, and he was asking for something that the city can’t do. McGoff discussed the fabled Scranton Plan that resident Ron Ellman brought before council, but stated he would love to know what businessss still exist from that plan. He called the Scranton plan a “good model,” but questioned what businesses the city could get to come in that would stay. He addressed the issues that he had with the article detailing the mayor’s loan to Al Boscov. Firstly, he said council had no knowledge of it. McGoff said that council has been trying to build rapport with mayor, and in turn, use that rapport to speak to banks and businesses. He said issues like this aren’t good as they move forward. It was not a good practice. He said it now looks bad when council approaches those banks and businesses. McGoff said council will need to work to repair their image.

All motions were passed unanimously. For a listing of the motions on tonight’s agending, go here.

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