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Committee of the Whole Summary 09/20/21


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September 20, 2021
5:00 P.M.
Hybrid Meeting


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

L. Kelleher (in person), M. Rodriguez, F. Lachat, S. Smith, S. Rugis, J. Long, C. Crespo, A. Amoros, R. Tornielli, W. Stoudt, J. Kelly, A. Acevedo, J. Bower, G. Litwin (all electronically)

The meeting was called to order at approximately 5:06 pm by Mr. Waltman. Due to COVID-19, the public is prohibited from physically attending the meeting; however, citizens without internet access or dial-in capability can view the meeting in the Penn Room. The meeting is convened via virtual app.

  1. Electricians Continuing Education

    Mr. Waltman introduced Mr. Bower and Mr. Litwin, noting that when Mr. Bower made a presentation on the Electricians Examining Board at a regular meeting, he was asked to provide information on continuing education for electricians.

    Mr. Bower and Mr. Litwin questioned if the question pertained to continuing education or the phased educational process used to become a master electrician.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz clarified that the question pertained to educational process used to become an electrician.

    Mr. Litwin explained that the process used by the Electricians Examining Board is governed by State statute and local ordinance. He explained that the local IBEW and contractors inform the community about the process. He stated that an electrical contractor must sponsor someone to enter the apprentice phase and the apprentice must complete 480 hours of in-class education and 8000 hours of on the job training with a master electrician before becoming eligible to test for the journeyman level. At the journeyman level, a candidate must complete an additional two (2) years of on the job training to become eligible for the masters test. He explained that while education centers such as RACC or Thaddeus Stevens may meet the educational requirements, they do not provide the 8000 hours of on the job training. He noted that sponsorships are not required at the master level.

    Mr. Waltman thanked Mr. Bower and Mr. Litwin for returning with information about that process.

    Mr. Bower and Mr. Litwin disconnected from the meeting.

  2. Salary Increase Deputy Police Chief

    Ms. Sihelnik stated that this ordinance was discussed at the September 13th COW and due to the number of questions, the topic was referred to this meeting. She suggested discussing the issue in executive session as it is personnel related.

    Mr. Waltman stated that the ordinance pertains to a salary increase not associated with a personnel matter such as performance.

    Mr. Abodalo connected to the meeting at this time.

    Ms. Reed inquired if the proposed salary is in tandem with the salaries of former deputy police chiefs and if the increase is consistent with the increase provided to the Police Chief. Mr. Amoros offered to research the issue and report back.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz inquired if any additional police officers will be receiving increases. Mr. Lachat explained that the Chief and Deputy Chief were promoted from within the ranks and are now removed from the FOP bargaining unit. Under the PA Chief’s Act they are both entitled to the increases and benefits afforded to those in the bargaining unit by the contract.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz inquired why this is retroactive to the beginning of 2020 and how this increase can be applied when it was not included in the 2020 or 2021 budgets. Mr. Lachat stated that the FOP contract is effective as per January 1, 2020 and that the Chief’s increase was also retroactive. He noted that the contract did not complete the negotiation process prior to the approval of the 2021 budget and that the contract expired December 31, 2019. The newly negotiated contract applies to 2020-22.

    Mr. Waltman explained that the budget is a blueprint that requires amendment from time to time throughout the year. He added that this increase is contractual and it is not performance based.

    Ms. Reed noted that it is ironic that this increase requires Council approval; however, Council is not permitted to provide input.

    Mr. Kelly explained that salaries are tied to the annual position ordinance and this should actually be an amendment to the position ordinance ads the salaries are attached to positions. Mr. Lachat agreed.

    Ms. Reed noted that the name in the ordinance is incorrect; Ortiz needs to be corrected to Ruiz.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz asked that the ordinance be thoroughly reviewed to make sure it is legally accurate.

    Mr. Kelly stated that the position ordinance applies to positions not those in the positions, so the name should be removed.

    Mr. Lachat was asked to revise the ordinance to eliminate the name and to make the ordinance an amendment to the position ordinance.

  3. Council Solicitor

    Mr. Waltman stated that Mr. Gombar and Ms. Krishock applied for the Council Solicitor position. He asked Ms. Kelleher to schedule 15 minute interviews for each applicant.

  4. Other

    Ms. Reed asked Chief Tornielli to provide some information on the uptick in violent crime. The Chief stated that he received an assessment report from Criminal Investigations. He stated that the recent incidents started with the shooting of two high school aged males at 10th and Spring Streets followed by incidents in the 1100 block of Moss St., Cotton St, the 100 block of Walnut St., and the 000 block of N 11th Street, including several armed robberies in the 000 block of N. 11th St.

    Chief Tornielli stated that the events were enflamed by social media posts around local gang disputes. The disputes are personal, not territorial, leaving individuals feeling disrespected. There are commonalities between the armed robberies and the shooting in the 000 block of North 11th Street and the threats and perceived threats at Reading High and Central Middle School. The threats were fanned through social media.

    The Chief stated that the recent arrest of an individual charged with the 2018 murder of three men on Moss St. rekindled prior disputes triggering some of the recent violence.

    The Chief noted that the lack of School Resource officers in schools has hampered the Department’s ability to get ahead of arising issues. He noted that due to low manning police levels, the Department’s School Resource officers were removed from schools. Although a Department of Justice grant was received to put those officers back in schools, the RSD and City have not yet replaced the officers in schools.

    The Chief expressed the belief that the recent crimes are also caused by MDJs applying no bail or low bail and no incarceration time.

    Mr. Gombar connected with the meeting at this time.

    Mr. Waltman expressed the opinion that people should not react/overreact to messages posted on social media.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz noted the need for further discussion separate from the Priorities Summit scheduled for this Wednesday. She also noted the need for the mayor’s participation in the discussion, as he is not at this meeting. She suggested a Crime Summit.

    Mr. Amoros stated that the information discussed at this meeting will be conveyed to the mayor and he agreed with an “all hands on deck” approach.

    Ms. Reed agreed with holding a Crime Summit that includes County, State and Federal officials.

    Ms. Rodriguez disconnected from the meeting at this time.

    Chief Tornielli stated that there is no need for a Crime Summit as he regularly speaks with County, State and Federal agencies. He stated that the Department needs those who like to talk to become active in the various communities to encourage cooperation with the investigations.

    Mr. Waltman agreed, noting that the Youth Commission may play an important role in opening lines of communication with those at Central Middle School and the High School.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned who leads this call to action and how trust can be established with those who want to assist with the investigations.

  5. Executive Session – potential litigation

    The seven members of Council went into an executive session with Mr. Amoros, Ms. Kelleher, Ms. Smith, Mr. Gombar and Mr. Lachat at 5:55 pm. Mr. Marmarou left the meeting at 6:09 pm.

    The executive session concluded at 6:18 pm

  6. Protest

    There was a brief discussion on the protest organized and advertised on Facebook claiming lack of public access to officials, corruption, extreme Parking Authority enforcement, etc.

    Mr. Waltman noted the extensive steps taken to offer people the ability to observe and participate in all public meetings via Zoom connection and dial-in, BCTV MAC Chanel, Facebook, and the Penn Room.

    Ms. Cepeda-Fretyiz stated that there has not been sufficient outreach.

    Mr. Waltman noted that multi-level outreach has occurred through many platforms and the information is on the City’s website and every Council agenda. He expressed the belief that the average citizen has no issue with their ability to observe and participate in meetings and contact their Councilors. He expressed the belief that this complaint has been raised by only a small number of people through social media. He asked to have this topic listed on the September 27th COW agenda.

    The COW concluded at approximately 6:25pm.

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