Committee of the Whole Summary 06/07/21
June 7, 2021
COUNCIL MEMBERS PRESENT:
M. Goodman-Hinnershitz, D. Reed, L. Sihelnik, J. Waltman (all electronically), M. Ventura, S. Marmarou (via dial-in)
L. Kelleher, A. LaMano, M. Rodriguez, B. Murray, F. Lachat, S. Smith, F. Denbowski, S. Rugis, J. Abodalo, J. Kelly, J. Long, A. Amoros, N. Judge, C. Crespo, D. Harden & L. Werner (CDC), Dr. M. Ma (PA DOH), N. Walanabe & A. Mandell (EPA)
The meeting was called to order at approximately 5:08 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.
- Lead Abatement Coalition
Mr. Denbowski explained that the need for lead abatement was identified during the transition of the new administration, resulting in the formation of a coalition. RAWA held the kick-off meeting for all stakeholders.
Mr. Abodalo introduced the stakeholders from the CDC, EPA and PA Department of Health. He made a PowerPoint presentation. He stated that Berks County has the 3rd highest lead levels in the State, which is related to the amount of housing built prior to the creation of lead paint regulations and the high number of rental properties. He described the health hazards caused by lead poisoning, noting that the lead levels in Reading are three (3) times higher than the lead levels in Flint MI.
Mr. Abodalo described the coalition’s short term goals that include education, an increase in the lead level testing to 30% (from 19%), develop a strategic plan and submit applications for grant funding. The mid-term goals will continue to encourage increased testing, provide information on certified lead inspectors and remediation contractors, begin to provide lead remediation in homes and provide incentives for remediation at rental properties.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed with the need to have a strong coalition that leads with an educational component. She inquired if the Berks County Office of Early Intervention and Children/Youth are involved in the coalition. Mr. Abodalo stated that those offices are not currently involved and he would extend invitations.
Ms. Reed stated that in the 1980s the City’s Board of Health initiated a lead abatement project. She inquired if materials from this period of time were reviewed. Mr. Murray stated that members of the former group were interviewed, including Dr. Kimball, who explained that this project continued until funding was no longer available. (Note: the State had a lead abatement office in City Hall. That office closed during the McMahon administration)
Mr. Murray explained that the comparison to lead levels in Flint MI is ridiculous as those increased lead levels were related to lead within the water system and the increased lead levels Reading are housing/paint related. He noted that the last report on local lead levels was received in 2015.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz and Ms. Reed agreed with the need to provide remediation of properties with lead paint.
Ms. Sihelnik inquired about the long-term sustainability of funding for lead remediation. Mr. Abodalo stated that HUD will provide $3M in funding for the project, which will be modeled off the program currently used in Lancaster. However, he noted the need to have sufficient staff support.
Ms. Sihelnik inquired about the source of the local lead. Mr. Abodalo stated that the lead levels in Flint MI were in the water and in Reading the levels are paint related. Mr. Murray agreed, noting the RAWA project to replace lead water lines when they are discovered in owner occupied properties or rental properties with 2-3 units. He stated that there are a dozen properties with lead water lines remaining, however, lead was not detected within the water at these properties.
Mr. Mandell and Ms. Werner stated that this is a decades old problem and they are pleased that the coalition was formed to take corrective steps.
- Charter Amendment re Council Solicitor
Mr. Waltman read the Charter amendment that was approved and noted that there is a large disparity between the question that appeared on the ballot and the amendment language. The amendment language was drafted by the Charter Review Commission (CRC) and the question was drafted by the Assist. Solicitor, as follows:
Creating a new Home Rule Charter Section 226 – City Council Solicitor
“Shall Section 226 of the Reading City Charter be amended to provide City Council with the ability to appoint their own Solicitor, as fixed by the annual budget?”
A “YES” vote means the City of Reading Home Rule Charter would be amended to provide City Council with the ability to appoint an attorney to work solely for City Council, eliminating the current conflict of having one Solicitor serving both the Executive and Legislative branches of government, as authorized by the annual budget and position ordinance.
A “NO” vote would retain the current language designating one City Solicitor who works for both the Mayor and City Council.”
§ 226. City Council Solicitor
City Council shall appoint a Council Solicitor who shall be a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and experienced in municipal law. The Council Solicitor shall serve as legal advisor to City Council. Council’s Solicitor shall perform professional legal services for City Council. The primary responsibility of the position of Council Solicitor is to advise City Council on questions of law. City Council’s Solicitor shall have his or her own legal secretary to assist in the preparation of all opinions, memorandums, and whatever other correspondence is required in the performance of the Council Solicitor’s duties. Compensation shall be fixed as Council, by budgetary provisions, provides, and who, in all other respects, shall be considered employees of the City.
Mr. Waltman expressed the belief that a fulltime attorney is not needed and suggested retaining an attorney to consult on an as needed basis. He noted that the Charter Board Advisory Opinion #54 stated that the amendment recognizes that the City Solicitor is the City’s primary legal advisor; however, the Solicitor no longer represents City Council (copied in in part below)
C. Interpretation of Section 801 and the Amendment
After amendment of the Charter, of which both sections 226 and 801 are a part, section 801 may now only be read and applied in light of, and taking into account, the Amendment. Section 801 is now modified in its application in a number or respects. First, the City Solicitor is now no longer the chief legal advisor to the City Council. Second, although the City Solicitor may represent the City as an institution,9 the City Council is, for all purposes, represented by the City Council Solicitor created by the Amendment. The Amendment does not alter or amend section 801’s intention that “only one person shall be the legal advisor of the City.” Charter § 801 (emphasis added). That solicitor representing the City as an institution is the City Solicitor. However, the City Solicitor does not represent the body of City Council, nor any City Council member. That representation is the responsibility of the City Council Solicitor under the Amendment.
The provisions of Section 801 that are irreconcilable with the Amendment, as set forth above, are repealed by implication, being repugnant to the Amendment. The Amendment provisions do not expressly repeal any part of Section 801, but the recommendation of the 2019-20 Charter Review Commission, Bill 9-2020, and the vote in the 2020 Primary to adopt the Amendment, express a clear intent to repeal these inconsistent provisions of Section 801, as it is impossible for both to stand.
IV. OPINION OF THE BOARD
It is the Opinion of the Board that:
A. The Amendment, section 226, creates the Office of City Council Solicitor;
B. The Charter, section 801, is repealed by the Amendment, section 226, such that the City Solicitor is no longer a legal advisor to City Council;
C. The Charter, section 801, is repealed by the Amendment, section 226, such that the City Solicitor does represent the City Council in any capacity; and
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz noted that some members of the former CRC disagree about the intent of the amendment.
Mr. Waltman expressed the belief that the Council solicitor can aid in settling disputes when Council has a differing position than the administration on matters. He expressed the belief that the City Solicitor remains as the sole legal advisor for the City.
Ms. Sihelnik stated that she sees this as an opportunity for City Council to have an attorney to assist with Council projects due to the limitations of the Law Department. She suggested defining the meaning of the amendment and setting the parameters for this position.
Ms. Reed suggested obtaining outside legal counsel to assist with developing the parameters for the position and understanding the meaning of the amendment. She expressed the belief that this amendment will cure the problems associated with the City Solicitor walking in the untenable situation when the mayor and Council have differing positions. She noted the need to understand where this position fits on the City’s organizational chart.
Mr. Waltman stated that outside counsel can be used; however, he cautioned that different attorneys have different opinions. Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed with the need to include outside legal counsel to assist with this issue.
Mr. Waltman stated that Council members must first come to agreement on if the Council solicitor will be advisory to City Council and will not replace the City Solicitor as the City’s primary legal advisor. He asked Council to review Charter Board Advisory Opinion #54 in its entirety, and to review the list of attorneys who responded to the RFP and be prepared to make a recommendation and to move the issue forward at the 6-14 COW.
Ms. Sihelnik questioned the duties of the Bethlehem City Council solicitor. Ms. Kelleher stated that the duties are attached to the agenda.
Mr. Waltman asked Ms. Kelleher to contact Bethlehem to see if legislation was adopted to initiate the Council solicitor.
- Update Skateboard Park
Mr. Denbowski stated that the administration is waiting for additional information on construction and the timeline of the park and asked to defer this presentation until the June 21st COW.
Ms. Reed stated that while she appreciates that the managing director arranged a meeting with the Fightin Phils General Manager on July 6th to provide a briefing on the MLB’s elimination/replacement of the Minor League System and the requirements for First Energy Stadium, she is concerned that this briefing was not provided sooner, as other officials were briefed about this issue and the need to identify $15M in funding weeks ago. She noted that various State officials have been posting information on social media about this issue.
Mr. Amoros stated that July 6th was the first date Mr. Hunsicker had available.
Mr. Waltman stated that he spoke with the mayor about this issue this afternoon and the mayor claimed to only have limited information about this issue. He noted that the baseball season is underway and Mr. Hunsicker will have only limited time available. He stated that the overall changes will require a negotiation with the Fightin Phils and with the MLB that includes City Council.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed that Council should have been briefed on this issue sooner. She noted too that the Stadium Commission was briefed at their March meeting and she questioned why the Council liaison did not update City Council about this issue. She noted that the Stadium Commission minutes are posted on the City’s website.
Ms. Sihelnik stated that there was a terrible multi-vehicle accident at the 5 point intersection at Museum Rd., Barberry Dr., and Old Wyomissing Rd. She inquired when the Dangerous Intersection subject will be discussed. Ms. Kelleher stated that that topic is scheduled for the June 14th COW.
Ms. Sihelnik questioned the City’s approach to handling the fireworks issue, as 4th of July is quickly approaching. Mr. Crespo posted in the Zoom Chat about the City’s multi-point outreach on this topic.
Everyone present questioned why the State Legislature has not repealed the bill allowing for the sale of fireworks within PA. Ms. Kelleher noted that the State Legislature has only introduced legislation allowing municipalities to opt out of fireworks sales.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz expressed the belief that it is too late to advise residents not to purchase fireworks, as they are already being deployed in various neighborhoods. She suggested a fireworks buy-back event.
Mr. Marmarou noted that a company is going door-to-door inquiring about water quality. He stated that the company did not obtain a permit from the Police Chief to do so.
Ms. Reed expressed the belief that the general public is questioning the City’s lack of enforcing the various quality of life laws from noise to property management/maintenance. She requested a briefing at an upcoming COW. She noted that Council used to receive QoL monthly reports for the six (6) council districts.
Mr. Amoros stated that he has examined the various quality of life ordinances and that more feet on the street is needed to ramp up enforcement. He noted that everyone – city officials and residents – is part of the total solution.
The meeting was closed for a quarterly litigation case update executive session at 6:38 pm. The six members of Council, Mr. Amoros, Ms. Kelleher, Ms. Smith, Ms. LaMano and Mr. Lachat remained in the meeting. The session concluded at 7:13 and the meeting adjourned on motion by Mr. Marmarou with a second from Ms. Ventura.
Respectfully Submitted by
Linda A. Kelleher, CMC, City Clerk