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CITY COUNCIL



Committee of the Whole Summary 07/06/21

 

 

COMMITTEE of the WHOLE

 CITY COUNCIL

SUMMARY

July 6, 2021

5:00 P.M.

Virtual Meeting

 

DOWNLOAD PDF HERE

 

COUNCIL MEMBERS PRESENT:

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

OTHERS PRESENT:

L. Kelleher, M. Rodriguez, F. Lachat, S. Smith, F. Denbowski, S. Rugis, D. Mekeel, N. Judge, C. Crespo, A. Amoros, R. Banks, R. Tornielli, J. Schlegel, S. Hunsicker
 

The meeting was called to order at approximately 5:05 pm by Mr. Waltman.  Due to COVID-19, the public is prohibited from physically attending the meeting.  The meeting is convened via virtual app.
 

I. FirstEnergy Stadium Improvements

Fightin Phils General Manager Scott Hunsicker explained that Major League Baseball (MLB) is making revisions to the Minor League system and 40 Minor League teams have been eliminated across the country.  The MLB will next consider eliminating teams that have stadiums that do not meet the MLB specifications.  The waiver system for stadiums that do not meet the MLB specifications no longer exists.  FirstEnergy Stadium has 30 penalty points for noncompliance and the stadium must be brought into compliance within the next two (2) years. He stated that to do so will cost approximately $15M and he has applied for a RACP Grant (Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program) from the State for $7.5M and is seeking $3M in contributions from the City, County and Fightin’s. 
 

 Mr. Hunsicker stated the Fightin Phils have the longest affiliation with their parent Major League team in the country (with the Philadelphia Phillies since 1967) and they are the oldest team to still play in their original stadium.  He noted that the MLB recognizes this legacy franchise and the organization’s community service contributions and uses that as a model for other minor league teams.
 

Ms. Marmarou noted the benefits of retaining the Fightin’s in Reading.
 

Ms. Reed agreed noting that the team is a regional economic driver.  She stated that over the past five (5) decades Reading has lost so much industry and Reading cannot afford to lose this as well.  She suggested making this area a sports region due to the stadium’s proximity to George Field and the vacant Glidden’s site on Bern Street.  She stated that she supports the partnership approach to retain the team and improve the historic stadium.
 

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed but questioned the likelihood that the MLB will make more revisions to the stadium specifications in the future that will impossible to meet.  Mr. Hunsicker explained that the MLB recently conducted an inspection and offered the Fightin’s a 10 year lease agreement with the understanding that the organization will work to reduce the stadium’s current 30 penalty points to 10.  He suggested having continual conversations about this moving forward into 2023. 
 

Mr. Hunsicker explained the improvement plan to expand the eastern side of the stadium to create a new team locker room, a new visiting team and female locker rooms, along with new glass enclosed indoor tunnels for pitching and batting.  He noted that these new indoor features will greatly expand the off-season use of the stadium for a variety of events.
 

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz noted that the use of public funds will require the Fightin’s to follow the municipal procurement policies.  Mr. Hunsicker stated that he aware of the need to follow municipal procurement policies.
 

Ms. Sihelnik thanked Mr. Hunsicker for arranging this partnership to support the project and inquired about the economic impact the organization provides.  Mr. Hunsicker stated that the stadium was built in 1950 and has undergone many renovations.  He stated that in addition to the full-time staff, they employ 515 part-time positions and pay multiple city and state taxes.  In addition the organization purchases approximately $2.5M in goods and services annually. He estimated that the stadium produces $20-24M in regional revenue annually, based on Double A franchise information.
 

Mr. Hunsicker stressed the importance of this project to keep the Fightin’s in Reading, as there are currently 40 communities with stadiums, including one in Trenton, NJ, that are now vacant.  He stated that it would be impossible for a new independent replacement team to drive $20-24M in annual local revenue.
 

Mr. Hunsicker noted that the original lease agreement defines the capital responsibilities of the Fightin’s and the City.  This agreement may need some revision.  For example the project will include the replacement of the existing lamping system with LEDs, which is currently a City responsibility. 
 

Ms. Sihelnik questioned if Mr. Hunsicker has a Plan B in place, in case the State rejects the RACP application.  Mr. Hunsicker stated that he is currently honed in only on Plan A.  He noted that the State approved a $13.5M RACP grant for the Erie Minor League team a few years ago so a $7.5M request is not unreasonable and he noted the support he has received from the local State legislators.  He expressed hope that the State will recognize the importance of the City, County, Fightin partnership for this project.  He stated that without RACP funding some value engineering to reduce the cost of the project could occur; however, that would create problems with reducing the MLB penalty points exposing the team to greater risks in the near future. He stated that he remains hopeful, noting that he has heard that the Governor will be making a decision within the next two (2) weeks.
 

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz noted that the City owns the stadium.  She inquired about the female locker room and questioned if there will be a unisex locker room.  Mr. Hunsicker explained that there are now female coaches, trainers and umpires which creates the need for separate accommodations.  There will be a total of three (3) locker rooms – one for the team, one for the visiting team and one for females.
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Mr. Waltman expressed the belief that a $3M contribution to leverage the project is reasonable.  He noted that the team has a long and successful history in Reading. He stated that the Fightin’s are the face of Reading and he noted the importance the team has locally and regionally.

Ms. Rodriguez expressed the need for the team to provide a larger revenue stream for the City.

 

II.      Charter Amendment re Council Solicitor

Mr. Waltman inquired about the results of the Council poll to identify an Acting Council Solicitor.  Ms. Kelleher stated that there was majority support for Mike Gombar.  She explained that the County retains attorneys for an annual retainer fee, not an hourly rate.  She noted that Bethlehem also follows this model, paying the Council Solicitor $25K annually and paying for the attorney’s health care coverage.
 

Mr. Waltman asked Ms. Kelleher to invite Mr. Gombar to the July 12th COW to assist Council with some questions. 
 

III.    Public Art Ordinance

Ms. Reed explained that the need for this ordinance developed as she and Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz worked with a group on Reading Pride’s request for a rainbow crosswalk in Centre Park.  Several in the work group identified other municipalities inside and outside Pennsylvania that address multiple forms of public art installations and the ordinance, policy and application were modeled off successful programs in other communities.  She noted that the ordinance provides a fair process and sets standards for the installer to maintain the project over a reasonable period of time.  She noted some art-related projects like the Pagoda lights on Penn Street and the paw prints on North 13th St near Albright College.  She expressed the belief that opening the door for public art projects will be a nice addition for the City’s 275 anniversary.
 

Ms. Reed explained that this ordinance differs from the former Fine Arts Board, which was a subcomponent of the Reading Redevelopment Authority (RRA), funded by a contribution of 1% for all development projects within the RRA’s development areas (not city-wide). The 1% contribution was used for new art installations and to maintain existing installations. She stated that the Fine Arts Board started in the late 1970s and continued until the McMahon administration disbanded it. 
 

In response to a question from Ms. Sihelnik, Ms. Reed stated that the internal review team could be expanded to include art professionals or community members, although she warned that large boards often have problems operating efficiently.  She noted that other municipalities use an internal team to avoid the recusal of members who become project applicants and that professional advice can be sought by the internal review team on an as needed basis.
 

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed with the need to add art professionals to the review board.  She noted the need for this team to perform an assessment of existing public art and make recommendations for the repair or replacement of the installation.  Ms. Reed agreed with the need for an assessment of the existing public art but expressed the belief that conducting an assessment goes beyond the scope of the internal review board.
 

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz inquired about Mr. Abodalo’s concern about the creation of the Public Art ordinance.  

Ms. Reed noted that Mr. Abodalo received the draft ordinance, application and policy in April, along with others and he provided no response. 

Ms. Kelleher stated that Mr. Abodalo noted that Stantec is making robust recommendations about art in the downtown and the RRA is considering recreating the Fine Arts Board, neither have any impact on the proposed ordinance. 

 

Mr. Denbowski explained the difference between the Fine Arts Board, funded through development projects within the RRAs defined development areas, noting that funds can be used for new projects and the maintenance of existing projects.  He stated the Public Arts Ordinance is for citizen-based projects that include community input. Mr. Amoros stated that he is meeting with Mr. Abodalo tomorrow and will add the Public Art Ordinance to the agenda.
 

IV.    Administrative Code Amendments

  • Defining a quorum and allowing for remote participation

Ms. Kelleher stated that the current code does not define a quorum and the proposed amendment sets the quorum at four (4) members of Council and allows for those participating remotely to count toward making quorum.  The amendment also sets standards for remote participation.  Council can choose to participate remotely for COW and other types of general meetings and can elect to participate remotely for four (4) regular business meetings per year.  Additional remote participation can occur if the following situations occur:
 

(i) illness or disability of the member of council;

(ii) care for the ill or child in the member's immediate family;

(iii) emergency or inclement weather; and

(iv) family or business travel; and

(v) schedule conflicts
 

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz inquired about employee productivity during the pandemic.  Ms. Kelleher stated that analyzing productivity would need to occur on a per office basis, noting that the Council Office had no change in employee productivity during the pandemic, with the office continuing to operate at a high performance level.  
 

Ms. Sihelnik agreed with the need to revisit business operations.  She noted the need to consider a good balance between in-person and remote participation for elected officials and staff. She asked Mr. Lachat if he had reviewed the ordinance.  Mr. Lachat stated that he has reviewed the draft and the language is based on the language used in proposed amendments to the State’s Borough Code and Third Class City Code.   He expressed the belief that this is a practical amendment.
 

Mr. Waltman stated that the ordinance will be introduced on the July 12th.

  • Continue to allow the submission of written public comment

Ms. Kelleher stated that when the pandemic shut down occurred public comment was expanded to include written comment.  She recommended continuing to allow written public comment, as more citizens are taking advantage of that form of communication. 
 

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz agreed noting the overall increase in community engagement since the meetings are being live-streamed on Facebook.
 

Ms. Sihelnik also agreed with continuing to allow written comment; however, she noted the need to refine the public comment section on the agenda to note that posting input on Zoom chat or making comments on Facebook are not considered public comment.
 

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz questioned who will be running the technology when hybrid meetings start.  Ms. Kelleher stated that she will be handling the technology, noting that IT has devised a very simple procedure that is easy to use.  She noted that the Audit Committee meeting last week was an in-person and remote hybrid meeting and there were no technology problems.
 

Ms. Kelleher stated that although Council can physically attend, there will be no change to public participation.  The public can still access the meeting via Zoom links on the agendas or by Facebook and public comment will be received by connecting with the Zoom link, by phone or in writing.
 

V.      Charter Amendments

  • Eliminating the requirement for the Public Works Director to be a licensed engineer

 

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that she would like to move this referendum forward due to the difficulties the City has had in attracting a Public Works Director candidate who is a licensed engineer, noting that the City can contract with engineers as needed. She noted that an ordinance needs to be enacted by July 28th and delivered to the County Elections office in early August to get on the General Election ballot.
 

Mr. Amoros stated that he would have preferred to have a private discussion about this issue prior to a public discussion at a COW.
 

Mr. Waltman asked Mr. Amoros to provide feedback when he is ready to do so.

  • Correction to remove Recall Provision – Charter Section §1110
  • Correction to remove Charter Section §907 Appropriation Revenue Ordinance - limiting property tax increases that will exceed 105% of the real estate tax income actually collected in the previous year.

Charter Section 907 is invalid and is superseded by 53 Pa.C.S. § 2962(b) to the extent that it purportedly limits City Council’s ability to impose a real estate tax rate above “105% of the real estate tax income actually collected in the previous year.” In re Charter § 907 (Adv. Op. 20, April 28, 2010) at 3.

  • Correction to remove – Charter Section §1204 Charter Amendments a - The citizens of the City through the initiative process provided by this Charter

 

Ms. Kelleher explained that the Charter contains errors and invalid language that requirescorrection. 

Mr. Waltman recommended working with Law to get one or two ordinances prepared for introduction on the 12th and the others at some point in the future

 

VI.    Other

Ms. Sihelnik inquired if the City’s splash pads are operational. 

Mr. Amoros confirmed that they are operational, noting that the essential part for the Schlegel Park pool is being delivered on the 8th.  He expressed hope that the pool can open in early August.

 

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz thanked the Police and Fire Departments for their work on fireworks related calls over the past weekend.  She suggested billing the State for the local costs to contain the illegal use of fireworks due to the State’s legalization of fireworks sales within Pennsylvania. She also thanked the Police and Fire Departments for their work to rescue the man that was in the Pagoda cistern.
 

Mr. Waltman disagreed, noting that sending a check will not stop the problems created by the legalization of the sale of fireworks.  He stated that the State legislators need to grow up, recognize the problem that they have created and repeal the law, noting that this law is detrimental to all people and all property.  He stated that $7M in revenue from the sales is a drop in the bucket for the State budget.
 

In response to a question from Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz, Mr. Waltman stated that there are several areas the $3M contribution for the Stadium project can come from - the general fund, the capital fund or the ARP funds. 
The administration will make a recommendation.

 

Mr. Marmarou disconnected from the meeting at this time.
 

Ms. Reed expressed condolences to those affected by the collapsed building in Florida.  She noted her appreciation to all those who have responded to assist.
 

The meeting was closed for an executive session on the recycling litigation at 6:47 pm. 

Mr. Waltman, Ms. Sihelnik, Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz, Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz, Ms. Ventura, Mr. Marmarou, Ms. Kelleher, Ms. Smith, Mr. Denbowski, Mr. Rugis, Chief Tornielli and Mr. Lachat remained in the meeting.    

The executive session concluded at approximately 7:20pm.

 

Respectfully Submitted by

Linda A. Kelleher, CMC, City Clerk