Select a Language

CITY COUNCIL

Committee of the Whole Summary 05/24/21

COMMITTEE of the WHOLE

CITY COUNCIL

SUMMARY
May 24, 2021
5:00 P.M.
Virtual Meeting

 

COUNCIL MEMBERS PRESENT:
M. Goodman-Hinnershitz, D. Reed, J. Cepeda-Freytiz, L. Sihelnik, J. Waltman (all electronically), M. Ventura, S. Marmarou (via dial in)

OTHERS PRESENT:
L. Kelleher, S. Smith, S. Rugis, R. Tornielli, J. Kelly, C. Crespo, N. Judge, A. Amoros, F. Lachat, C. Jones, W. Stoudt, M. Rodriguez, F. Denbowski, J. Long, J. Abodalo (all electronically)

The meeting was called to order at 5:06 pm by Mr. Waltman.  Due to the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration, the public is prohibited from physically attending the meeting.  The meeting is convened via virtual app.

.

  1. Charter Amendment requiring Council to employ its own Solicitor

    Mr. Marmarou stated that many times Council needs its own solicitor.  He expressed the belief that it can be difficult to represent both the Mayor and Council.  He stated that it is important that each have their own solicitor at all times.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that the Charter question was passed by the voters.  She noted the need to determine how to move forward.

    Ms. Reed agreed that the mechanism to bring a solicitor on board with Council is needed but stated that she is uncomfortable moving this forward until the current lawsuit has been settled.  She noted the need to understand the process but stated that she has too many questions at this time.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed with Mr. Waltman.  She stated that these are two separate issues.  She noted the need to review the referendum question language and to implement the steps needed to comply.

    Mr. Waltman stated that the Council solicitor is a separate issue from naming the City Solicitor.  He noted the importance of understanding the referendum as it was passed.  He stated that the Council Solicitor will be an advisor.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed with Mr. Waltman.  She stated that these are two separate issues.  She noted the need to review the referendum question language and to implement the steps needed to comply.

    Ms. Sihelnik requested an opinion from Mr. Lachat about next steps.  She stated that there were few specifics in the referendum question. 

    Mr. Krall joined the meeting at this time.

    Mr. Lachat stated that the referendum includes the word “shall”.  He stated that Council’s solicitor will be a City employee but not necessarily full-time.  He stated that Council can decide on their solicitor’s duties which may include legal guidance.  He suggested passing an ordinance setting the Council solicitor duties, hours, structure, etc. ensuring they are in compliance with the Charter.

    Ms. Reed took issue with the acting City Solicitor guiding Council through this process.  She stated that opposing opinions may lead to conflicts of interest.  She suggested that independent legal counsel guide Council through this process.  She expressed the belief that this is very murky.

    Ms. Kelleher screen shared the referendum question language.

    Mr. Waltman stated that he also has many questions.  He expressed the belief that adding a Council Solicitor does not change the role of the City Solicitor.  He recommended that all Councilors review the language and provide questions.

    He expressed the belief that this does not create a conflict as two equal solicitors are not being created.  He noted the need for Councilors to be clear about the solicitors’ roles when an appointment is made.  He agreed that Council will need assistance going through this process.  He stated that the referendum question has passed and Council must move forward.  He stated that the City has many legal advisors and that Council also needs legal assistance.

  2.  


    Mr. Marmarou expressed the belief that Council is dancing around the issue again.  He noted the need for two solicitors that will work together.

    Mr. Waltman noted the need for care as there are many things to navigate.  He stated that processes and protocols must be drafted and understood.  He requested Councilors read the City Solicitor section of the Charter and the referendum question.  He noted the need for legal protocol and definition of the role of the Council Solicitor.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz requested a resolution be passed by Council clarifying the role and responsibilities of the Council Solicitor. 

    Mr. Waltman agreed.  He again noted the need for protocols and policies.  He stated that there is one City and there will be one legal voice – the City Solicitor.  He stated that there is value in Council having a solicitor but it can also bring new dangers.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned other municipalities with Council solicitors. Mr. Waltman stated that he is unsure if there are any. Ms. Kelleher stated that Bethlehem is the only municipality that she is aware of that has a separate Council solicitor. She stated that Allentown has tried several times but the electorate did not pass the referendum question.

    Ms. Acevedo joined the meeting at this time.

    Mr. Waltman suggested requesting information from Bethlehem so Council can review their Charter and their Council Solicitor information.

    Ms. Kelleher stated that she will request this information from the Bethlehem City Clerk.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that a past Charter Review Commission reviewed this issue but it was not set as a priority. She noted the importance of having roles defined. She suggested learning from Bethlehem as they have already implemented this process.

    Through the chat feature, Mr. Rugis noted that Northampton County also has two solicitors.

    Ms. Sihelnik noted the need to move forward carefully.  She stated that there are many legal issues collecting that need to be addressed.  She expressed the belief that advising Council on issues does not necessarily create conflict.  She stated that there are many benefits to having a separate solicitor.  She questioned how Councilors should submit their questions.

    Mr. Waltman stated that Councilors should submit their questions to Ms. Kelleher.  He noted the need for clear protocols.  He also noted the need not to create liability issues for the City.  He noted the need to think through the mechanics and work flows and the need for the City and City Council to be legally protected.  He suggested that in addition to submitting questions that Councilors also submit their thoughts on the Council Solicitor’s primary role.  He suggested discussing this issue again at the next Committee of the Whole.

    Ms. Reed stated that she feels strongly that Council should have a neutral third party attorney providing guidance through this process that is a well-versed municipal attorney.  She noted the need for interpretation of the Charter and the referendum question. 

     

    Mr. Waltman noted the need for Council to understand first.

    Mr. Lachat agreed that Council may wish to consult with independent counsel.  He stated that he is glad to work with that attorney as needed

    Ms. Kelleher questioned if Council would find it helpful to discuss their questions with Mark Yoder, an attorney who served on the most recent Charter Review Commission.

    Mr. Waltman stated that this may be helpful in the future.  He suggested that Councilors submit their suggestions for outside attorneys to Ms. Kelleher.

     

    Mr. Lachat stated that the City did an RFP in the past for independent counsel for Council and those attorneys can also be contacted.  He expressed the belief that another RFP may not be necessary at this time.

     

    Mr. Waltman noted the importance of reading the Charter and referendum question and sending questions and comments to Ms. Kelleher within a week.

     

    Mr. Marmarou expressed the belief that all Councilors were in accord with the need for a Council Solicitor.  He stated that the conversation is always continued.  He urged Council to do something now. 

     

    Mr. Waltman stated that this is the first time this is being formally reviewed and noted the need to move forward carefully.

  3. “Partying” in Public Spaces

    Mr. Amoros stated that he has had several conversations about this issue.  He stated that there are many complaints about noise, litter and partying at the Pagoda.  He stated that the City will begin consistent and aggressive enforcement.  He noted the need for the MDJs to have the tools they need for enforcement as well.  He stated that a work group has been formed to update the signage.  The work group includes members from the Mayor’s office, Police Department and Public Works.  He stated that the City will be proactive and the time for education and warnings has passed.  He stated that fines will be issued and this will be taken very seriously.  He stated that there are similar quality of life issues at all the City’s parks.

    Mr. Rugis screen shared a plan showing updates to the roadway and parking area at the Pagoda.  He stated that the gate installation is moving forward and the bids for the construction are out.  He stated that three gate arms will be installed to restrict access.  He stated that there will also be a change in the south bound traffic patterns, repaving and work to better address stormwater.  He stated that ADA parking will be added and the island at the Duryea Dr intersection will be removed.  He noted his hope that the project will be complete by the end of summer 2021.  He stated that there is also discussion about using Jersey barriers to restrict access in the meantime.  He stated that the signage will be updated to allow for better enforcement.

    Mr. Marmarou expressed the belief that there must also be an increase in police visibility and enforcement.

     

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz thanked Mr. Rugis for this well thought out plan.  She expressed the belief that this area is parkland and that people should have respect for the area.  She agreed that there should be consistent rules.  She stated that these behaviors have not started recently.  She noted her fear that Jersey barriers would be thrown over the wall.  She noted the need to continue with education and to encourage people who visit the area to be calm and appreciate the nature around them.

    Mr. Rugis stated that the bids for the Pagoda wall repair are also expected shortly and estimated that this repair would cost between $20,000 and $30,000.

    Ms. Reed showed a photo of County parkland.  She stated that County parks contain clear consistent signage and gates.  She stated that there are degrees of access and limitation and noted the need for the City’s enforcement to be consistent with County enforcement.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz noted the need for a business plan for the Pagoda.  She stated that this is a major tourist attraction and suggested a fee to enter the area.  She noted the need to look at the big picture.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that the Pagoda Foundation is working on a business plan.  She stated that there are limited services within the building.  She noted the need to determine how to best use the building and grounds at the Pagoda.  She expressed the belief that there are many possibilities.  She stated that the Pagoda Foundation is getting back on track post COVID.  She stated that the business plan will be brought to Council for their input.

    Ms. Sihelnik noted her respect of the Foundation.  She stated that this is a unique relationship.  She noted the need to ensure there is no confusion about building maintenance, fundraising opportunities and program possibilities.  She stated that this is an opportunity to review and clarify the roles of the City and the Foundation to better work together.  She stated that there are international visitors to the Pagoda and noted that Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz is Council’s appointed liaison to the Foundation.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that the current agreement with the Foundation is clear but welcomed a review of the agreement for possible updates.  She stated that the Foundation is responsible for programming and the City maintains the building and grounds.  She stated that the City gives permission to the Foundation for the use of the property.  She stated that funding is a very heavy lift and welcomed additional public input and dialog.  She noted her appreciation of learning if / when her roles as Councilor and Foundation member are blurred.

    Ms. Reed stated that she is also appointed to the Foundation by Council.

    Police Chief Tornielli agreed that it is far past time for education and warnings for bad behaviors.  He noted that the use of manpower and funding for people who don’t know how to act decently to neighbors in unacceptable.  He stated that citations are being issued and the maximum fine is being requested from the MDJ.  He stated that people are arrested as appropriate for other crimes.  He noted the need for people to learn how to act like good neighbors. 

    Ms. Reed thanked Chief Tornielli and Mr. Rugis for their work.  She stated that there have been threats to the Pagoda facility on social media.  She expressed the belief that these are vindictive people.  She noted the need for all to be aware of these threats and to take them seriously.

    Mr. Marmarou questioned what Police Department patrols the Pagoda.  Chief Tornielli stated that it is Reading Police. 

    Ms. Reed stated that Central Berks also patrols there.  Chief Tornielli agreed but stated that all details are done by Reading Police.

    Mr. Marmarou questioned which MDJ would hear these cases.  Chief Tornielli stated that if the arrest is made after court hours it is heard in Reading Central Court.  Otherwise most cases are before MDJ Johnson.

    Mr. Marmarou questioned why a police car doesn’t patrol the area regularly.  Chief Tornielli stated that there isn’t always time and that these details are costing a lot in overtime.

    Mr. Waltman noted the need for Chief Tornielli to communicate with Council if additional funding or resources are needed.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that many people visit the mountain and enjoy themselves and are being respectful.  She expressed the belief that a small number of people are causing the most problems.  She stated that this should be a family-friendly place and noted the need to focus on the positive.

    Ms. Reed stated that she has heard from a resident of 13th St who has some ideas for solutions.  She stated that she will share this information with Mr. Amoros.

    Ms. Sihelnik thanked Mr. Amoros and Chief Tornielli for the new tone set today.  She expressed the belief that response to this issue can be a call to action for residents to become involved with the Foundation and to share their ideas and feedback with the City.  She expressed the belief that this is a great opportunity to bring prosperity to Reading.

  4. Agenda Review

    Council reviewed this evening’s agenda including the following:

    • Public Comment

    Ms. Kelleher stated that three people have submitted written comment on agenda topics and one person will be speaking on an agenda topic during the meeting. 

    • Resolution authorizing the submission of an application for a PA Walkworks grant with the PA Dept of Health in the amount of $20,000

    Mr. Abodalo stated that this is an initiative with Penn State Health to increase walking and biking in the City.  He stated that the grant will encourage walking and biking and create additional safety for pedestrians.

    Ms. Sihelnik questioned what aspects will be studied.  Mr. Abodalo stated that it will study an active transportation plan.  He stated that it will provide additional structure to the previous plan.  He stated that it will look at downtown walkability and how to enhance current programs.  He stated that it may also identify ways to create future programs.

    Ms. Sihelnik questioned if the study will be done downtown only or the entire City.  She reminded all that the County has recently released their 2020 Bike and Pedestrian Plan.  Mr. Abodalo stated that the entire City would be studied.  He stated that the study will be included with the work of Stantec and will focus primarily in the downtown.  He stated that the same programs implemented downtown can then be implemented in other areas of the City.

    Ms. Sihelnik stated that she is a large proponent of this work and thanked Mr. Abodalo.

    • Resolution authorizing a one year extension of the PROCHAMP registration program

    Mr. Lachat stated that this resolution is not needed as the current contract does not expire until the end of 2021.  He requested that this resolution be withdrawn from this evening’s agenda.

    • Resolution authorizing the submission of the PennDOT “Traffic Signal Maintenance Agreement” for all traffic signals and signs in the City

    Mr. Krall stated that PennDOT has changed processes allowing the City to adopt one resolution for all signals instead of adopting resolutions for each signal as it is changed.  He stated that this will save time and includes the new signals at the new fire station at 9th & Marion.

    • Ordinance authorizing an appropriations transfer of $40,634.03 from Fund Balance to General Plant Supplies in order to make the Samuel Pottieger Trust donations available for use during the current fiscal year

     

    Ms. Rodriguez thanked Mr. Lachat and Ms. LaMano for their review.  She stated that Wells Fargo, the fund manager, had the same opinion on how the funds can be spent.  She stated that there are restrictions on how the Pottieger Trust can be spent.

    Mr. Lachat expressed the belief that the ordinance is appropriate as drafted.  He stated that it is understood that the funds must be used for charitable services for the underserved.  He stated that this transfer will allow the City to be prepared when this topic comes up again in the future.

    Ms. Rodriguez stated that Wells Fargo has requested a report from the City on how the funds were used.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz requested clarity that this is a restricted trust and that the funds must be used for charitable causes.  Mr. Lachat confirmed that this is correct.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned how General Plant Supplies is considered charitable.  Mr. Kelly stated that this line item is part of the Mayor’s budget.  He stated that this will assist the external audit process.

    Mr. Waltman questioned what these funds will be used for and if it is charity.  Mr. Kelly stated that it was earmarked for the gun buyback program. 

    Mr. Waltman stated that there are a variety of charitable activities.  Mr. Kelly agreed.

    Mr. Waltman stated that the funds will be used as stated in the will.  He stated that Ms. Rodriguez will also review expenditures.

    Mr. Lachat expressed the belief that the gun buyback program may not qualify for the funding but that the funding will be used for charity.

    Mr. Waltman questioned if Council approval is needed to spend these funds.  Mr. Kelly stated that it is.

    Mr. Waltman suggested that future budgets include a better line item name for clarity.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz stated that this will be voted on this evening.  She again stated that General Plant Supplies does not sound charitable. 

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that in governmental budgets General Plant Supplies has a meaning.  She noted the need for all to understand the meaning of line item names during the budget review process.

    Ms. Rodriguez suggested that Pottieger remain part of the line item name to prevent co-mingling of funds.  Mr. Kelly agreed to do that.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if all necessary changes will be made to this Bill and if Council is comfortable moving forward this evening.  Mr. Waltman stated that the Administration will make the changes and he is comfortable moving forward.  Mr. Kelly stated that he will also change the account code for budget consistency.

    • Ordinance authorizing the transfer of $99,000 from General Ledger Rental – Parking Authority to General Ledger – Contracted Services to provide funding for special counsel to the Planning Commission for specialized legal advice relating to projects, ordinance amendments, agreements and resolutions involving planning and zoning

     

    Ms. Reed questioned the firm that would be performing this work.  She questioned if an RFP was performed.  Mr. Kelly stated that Mr. Peris has provided this information to Council.

    Mr. Lachat stated that there is much detail in the agenda memo.  He stated that RFPs will be awarded in the future as necessary for legal and other technical consultants.  He agreed that Mr. Peris has provided this information in the agenda memo detail.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that this is a fund transfer.  She questioned if future contracts would be awarded by Council as necessary.  Mr. Lachat stated that they would.

    • Ordinance amending Code Chapter 576 Vehicles and Traffic Section 503 clarifying when parking meter enforcement is exempted

     

    Mr. Waltman expressed the belief that this has already been done.  Ms. Kelleher stated that this is clarifying language and a restatement of the current language.

    • Ordinance amending City Code Chapter 576 Vehicles and Traffic, Part 13 Motorized Devices and All-Terrain Vehicles by modifying the enforcement process and adding due process and an appeals process which will allow the Police Department to destroy the vehicles seized
    • Ordinance amending City Code Chapter 23 Boards and Commissions Part 23 Code and License Appeals Board by adding appeals to Chapter 576 Part 13 Motorized Devices and All-Terrain Vehicles
    • Ordinance amending the City Code Fee Schedule 212-144 by adding fees for the towing, relocation and storage of ATV’s and dirt bikes

    Description

    Fee

    Ordinance No.

    Code Citation

    Reclamation cost for impounded ATV, snow mobile, dirt bike

    $50

    Bill No.   2021

    § 576-1305

    Towing/relocation fee for ATV, Snow mobile

    $120

    Bill No.   2021

    § 576-1305

    Towing/relocation fee for dirt bike

    $120

    Bill No.   2021

    § 576-1305

    Storage fee for ATV, snow mobile, dirt bike

    $25 per day

    Bill No.   2021

    § 576-1305

    Chief Tornielli stated that this will allow the Police to take the illegal vehicles and destroy them if ownership cannot be proven.  He stated that this will also allow appeal of the confiscation before destruction.

    Ms. Kelleher stated that the seizure can also be appealed.  She stated that this will be added to the duties of the Code and License Appeals Board.  She also noted the addition of related fees.

    Mr. Waltman stated that this is part of the effort to get these illegal vehicles off the City’s streets.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz expressed the belief that it is great to codify these regulations.  She expressed the belief that parents don’t understand the responsibilities of owning these vehicles.  She noted the need for increased education.

    Mr. Waltman expressed the belief that officers need the proper tools to enforce City regulations.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz questioned the amount of detail needed when she reads these ordinances into the record.  Mr. Lachat expressed the belief that it was okay to summarize the new fees.

    • Ordinance authorizing an appropriations transfer of $241,000 from General Fund Rental – Parking Authority to Capital Fund Public Works – Parks to enable the construction of the Canal Street Skate Park

     

    Mr. Kelly stated that this is a reallocation of the increased funds from the Parking Authority rental agreement.  He stated that this creates the budget framework for the funds but does not spend it.  He stated that construction contracts will be approved by Council as is customary.

    Ms. Rodriguez questioned if the Parking Authority has begun submitting the increased payment amount.  Mr. Kelly stated that the increased amount should have begun in March 2021 and he will follow up.

    • Ordinance authorizing an appropriations transfer of $294,336.75 from General Fund Rental – Parking Authority to General Fund Part Time Wages in order to increase base pay to $15 for most part time staff

      Mr. Kelly stated that the agenda memo provides the full background of this transfer.  He stated that the Mayor is concerned with the parody created in differing wages for part time employees.  He stated that it was discovered during COVID that the part time custodial staff is underpaid.  He stated that some employees will receive this increase in 2021 and the rest will receive it in 2022.  He stated that the additional funding from the Parking Authority will allow this to move forward.

      Mr. Waltman questioned the number of employees this would affect.  Mr. Kelly stated that it is approximately 24.

      Mr. Waltman stated that more information is needed as $294,000 should not be needed for only 24 employees.  Mr. Kelly stated that he will provide additional information to Council.

      • Resolution ratifying the AFSCME 3799 Contract

       

      Mr. Kelly highlighted the changes in this contract including:

      • Clarifying 11 paid holidays
      • 4% salary increase in 2021 and 4% salary increase in 2022
      • Adjusting vacation time to 7 days off during years 1 – 3 and to 10 days at year 4
      • Providing double time for hours worked on Sunday

      Mr. Waltman questioned if the cost for 2022 was completed.  Mr. Kelly stated that the costs for 2021 and 2022 were completed.  He stated that the contract was reviewed and approved by PFM.

      Mr. Waltman questioned the additional funding needed for 2021.  Mr. Kelly stated that he currently did not have access to his files but that he will provide this information.  He stated that the salary cap in the Exit Plan has not been exceeded.

      Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz requested tabling the ratification of this contract and the FOP contract until she has time to thoroughly read them.  She stated that she has many questions.

      Mr. Kelly stated that the Administration has completed negotiations and noted his concern over delaying ratification.

      Mr. Waltman questioned when these documents were provided to Council.  Mr. Kelly stated that AFSCME 3799 was provided as part of the agenda packet on Wednesday and the FOP contract was provided on Friday.

      Mr. Waltman agreed that this is not much time for some to complete their review. 

      Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz noted the need to set a timeline for ratification.  She questioned if these contracts could be shared since they are legal documents.  She requested a legal opinion. 

      Mr. Lachat stated that discussion should occur in executive session.  He expressed the belief that the contract drafts are not public records.  He stated that he is concerned that they were shared with the public.  He suggested that additional discussion occur in executive session.

      Mr. Waltman questioned delaying the ratification for one week.  Ms. Kelleher stated that next Monday is the Memorial Day holiday.

      Mr. Waltman suggested holding a special meeting on Tuesday, June 1.

      Ms. Sihelnik suggested discussing the contracts in executive session and that there may not be a need to meet next week.

      Ms. Ventura agreed with Ms. Sihelnik.

      • Resolution ratifying the FOP contract

       

      Mr. Kelly highlighted the changes in this contract including:

      • 4.5% salary increase in 2021 and 4.5% salary increase in 2022 - He explained that this will help increase retention and recruitment.
      • Increase the amount of bereavement leave based on the date of notification
      • Addition of a sick leave donation program
      • Expansion of the military leave time to 14 days
      • Addition of a sick leave incentive of $1,000 per year if no sick leave is taken and $500 if up to 24 hours of sick leave is used
      • Increase in the clothing allowance
      • Training incentives

      Mr. Waltman questioned the cost of the salary increases for 2021 and 2022.  Mr. Kelly stated that he will email this information to Council.

      Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned non-uniformed employees who would receive the $375 clothing allowance.  Mr. Kelly stated that this would apply to detectives and criminal investigators.  He explained that they do not wear uniforms.

      Chief Tornielli stated that there are no civilians covered by the FOP contract.

      • Resolution authorizing the submission of a PennDOT permit application for driveways, warning sign devices, parking restrictions and similar features and related PennDOT forms to secure a permit for the 9th & Marion Fire Station

       

      Mr. Rugis questioned if this resolution should be reviewed this evening.  Ms. Kelleher suggested that it be reviewed at the June 14 meeting as it is not eligible for adoption until the 14th.

       

  5. Executive Session

    The seven members of Council, Chief Tornielli, Mr. Rugis, Ms. Kelleher, Ms. Smith, Mr. Kelly, Mr. Lachat, and Mr. Amoros remained in the meeting.  All others left the meeting at this time.

    Council entered executive session at 6:55 pm in accordance with Sunshine Act Title 65 § 708. Executive Sessions (a) 1 personnel.

    The executive session ended and the meeting adjourned at 7:20 pm.

Respectfully Submitted by
Linda A. Kelleher, CMC, City Clerk