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CITY COUNCIL

Regular Council Meeting Minutes 04/26/21

 

 

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City of Reading City Council
Virtual Regular Meeting
April 26, 2021
At the conclusion of the COW Meeting

Council President Waltman called the meeting to order at approximately 6:43 pm.

Due to COVID-19 Emergency Declaration, the City was forced to change their meeting format to prohibit the public's ability to physically attend the meeting and for public comment to be provided through alternative methods. The public comment can occur in writing (email message and letter clearly marked for public comment) or via telephone or internet connection with the virtual app. While the City Clerk is present in Council Chambers, all other attendees are participating remotely by phone or electronically through a computer application. The meetings can be viewed live on the BCTV MAC Channel 99 or on the City's website at https://www.readingpa.gov/content/city-council-video.

The invocation was given by Father Theodore Petrides, Sts Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church.

All present pledged to the flag.

There were executive sessions held after the Committee of the Whole meetings on April 19th and April 26th on litigation re PA Sunshine Act Title 65 § 708. Executive Sessions (a) 4.

ATTENDANCE

Council President Waltman - electronically
Councilor Sihelnik, District 1 - electronically
Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz, District 2 - electronically
Councilor Ventura, District 3 - via telephone
Councilor Marmarou, District 4 - via telephone
Councilor Reed, District 5 - electronically
Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz, District 6 - electronically
Asst. Solicitor F. Lachat – electronically
City Clerk L. Kelleher - electronically
City Auditor M. Rodriguez – electronically
Chief of Staff F. Denbowski representing the mayor – electronically

PROCLAMATIONS AND PRESENTATIONS
None.

PUBLIC COMMENT
Council President Waltman announced that there were three (3) citizens registered to provide public comment – two (2) on agenda topics via the virtual meeting link and one (1) on a non-agenda topic via telephone.

Xiomara Linda Guererro, no address provided, expressed concern about the proposed Aggressive Loitering and Panhandling ordinance due to her belief that the ordinance butts up against the current social injustices. She inquired about how the community input was included in the drafting of the proposed ordinance. She suggested communicating with the panhandlers to better understand their plight. She noted that not all panhandlers are seeking funds to support their drug habit and that most are homeless. She noted that there are many different reasons for being homeless. She stated that she herself was homeless by choice for a time, prior to the pandemic, as a way to save money. She stressed the need to connect with this population and avoid penalties such as incarceration.

Katie Gambler, of Mulberry Street, spoke about the unfairness of the current Handicapped Parking space policy that requires a person to step through a process to obtain a handicapped parking space near their home but allows anyone with a handicapped placard or license plate to park in that space. She stated that this provision provides serious problems for person who had the signage installed as they are now forced to park farther away from their home. She asked for help resolving this problem.

Richard Rivera, representing Randolph Hernandez from the PA Latino Officers Association, stated that he is the cofounder of this east coast origination formed in 2012 to represent Latino police officers and provide a forum where officers can discuss work situations encountered and help bridge various gaps within the work community. He stated that the organization deals with concrete facts. He expressed concern with the proposal to remove the college credit bonus points from the promotions process. He stated that he is a retired Irish Latino officer who has experienced discrimination and he described his work to obtain college credits to improve his ability to perform his duties when he was a police officer. He expressed the belief that having college credit bonus points inspires officers to improve themselves. He stated that the New Jersey State Police requires a college education. He expressed the belief that eliminating the college credit bonus points will reduce an officer’s incentive to improve during his career.

The City Clerk read the questions submitted by Xiomara Linda Guerrero regarding the Aggressive Loitering and Panhandling Ordinance and blighted properties, attached in full.

Councilors Goodman-Hinnershitz and Reed agreed with the sensitive nature of the homeless population and the varying life choices they face. They noted that the proposed ordinance does not create a caste system but a diversion program that can intervene with assistance. They noted that the proposed ordinance does not carry the threat of incarceration and imposes a small fine if the person charged does not want to participate in community service.

They stressed that the ordinance addresses Aggressive Panhandling and Loitering, noting that taking an aggressive stance is quite different from those behaving peacefully.

Council President Waltman asked Ms. Gambler to contact the City Clerk who can explain the current law regarding handicapped parking.

Chief Tornielli stated that the Police Chief’s office reached out to officials from the PA Latino Officers Association, specifically Ramon Caraballo, three times seeking input on the amendment of the promotional requirements without response. He noted that the proposed ordinance does not eliminate the college credit points from the hiring process, only from the promotional process, were the on-duty experience the officer brings is more highly valued.

APPROVAL OF THE AGENDA & MINUTES

Council President Waltman called Council's attention to the agenda for this meeting, including the legislation listed under the Consent Agenda heading, and the minutes from the April 12th Regular Meeting and the meeting summaries from the COWs held on April 12th and April 19th, along with the April 19th Nominations Committee meeting summary

The minutes from the April 12th Regular Meeting, the summations of discussion as listed and the agenda, as amended, were approved by acclimation.
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Consent Agenda
The Consent Agenda is designed to provide efficient approval of non-controversial legislation that does not require discussion/debate by giving approval via acclimation when the meeting agenda is approved. The President of Council will call Council’s attention to the list of Consent Agenda legislation at the meeting before action is taken, which allows Council to remove a piece of legislation for separate consideration.

A. Award of Contract - for Bituminous Materials and Asphalt Cement for the Public Works Department to New Enterprise Stone & Lime Company, Winfield, PA for the price of $45,000.00. The actual expenditure may be greater or less than the estimate based upon the need of the materials

B. Award of Contract – LFT Engineering Consultant to McCormick Taylor, Exton, PA, as follows: 2021 - $210,000, 2022 - $210,000, 2023 – $210,000 - Total price of the contract will be $630,000 for paving, road construction, road maintenance, etc.

ADMINISTRATIVE REPORT
Council President Waltman stated that the mayor is under the weather this evening and he is represented by Chief of Staff Frank Denbowski.

Mr. Denbowski highlighted the mayor’s activities since the last report and the report attached to the agenda and distributed electronically; in summary:

Councilor Reed thanked Mr. Denbowski for always being available at various meetings and for his endless willingness to provide assistance.

AUDITOR'S REPORT

The Auditor highlighted the report attached to the agenda and distributed electronically. In summary:

REPORT FROM DEPT. DIRECTORS, BOARDS, AUTHORITIES, & COMMISSIONS1.

Police and Fire Civil Service Boards – Steve Price, Board Solicitor and Craig Breneiser, Fire Civil Service board member.

Mr. Price explained the various civil service lists and expiration dates for hiring and for promotions for the Police and Fire Departments. He stated that the entry level reading comprehension test for Police hiring is scheduled for May 15th at Alvernia. Those that pass are invited to take the Civil Service test followed by the physical agility test, oral test, background investigation and psychological exam. This process is overseen by the Civil Service boards. He stated that these processes have been hectic due to the increased need for hiring over the past years.

Mr. Price explained that the promotions process is defined by ordinance. Amendments to the process originate with the Civil Service boards who make amendment recommendations for Council enactment. He stated that he understands that some have questions and recommendations about the proposed amendment to eliminate the college credit bonus points from the Police promotions process and he suggested meeting to further discuss this issue so he can draft a memo for the Police Civil Service board to consider.

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz stated that she has requested the percentage of officers who have college credits and who are without college credits. She stated that when reading Chapter 77 she learned that the Civil Service boards select the type of testing used. Mr. Price explained how and why the boards determine the type of testing that will be used based on the need of the departments at the time.

Councilor Marmarou inquired about the promotional requirements for the Detective rank. Chief Tornielli explained that Detectives are not promoted; the Detective position is a lateral for Patrol Officers and the move is made by the Police Chief.

Councilor Sihelnik inquired if bonus points for credited continuing education courses could be applied in place of college credits. She noted that continuing education classes are more in tune with the responsibilities and function of various positions. Mr. Price stated that the Civil Service boards could consider that change and make a corresponding recommendation to Council. He noted that the recent amendments to add a requirement for Patrol experience and eliminate college credit bonus points were approved by the Civil Service board prior to the introduction of the ordinance at a Council meeting.

Councilor Sihelnik thanked Mr. Price for considering that suggestion. She noted that the City and Police Department have no educational reimbursement program for employees. She stated that the current promotional process applies a quarter of a percentage point for years of service. She inquired if that amount could be increased to assign a higher value to longevity within the Department. Mr. Price stated that that issue can be considered by the Civil Service Board.

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz suggested applying points for those who are Reading residents, as that may increase diversity within the departments. Mr. Price stated that many recommendations are being made and he requested a separate meeting so he can capture all the recommendations for submission to the Civil Service board.

Mr. Price stated that at one time Fire applied residency points for new hires but found that Reading residents were not applying. Mr. Breneiser agreed, noting that only 10-15% of Fire applicants are Reading/Berks County residents. Most applicants come from outside the County boundaries.

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz suggested an in-depth discuss about Civil Service at a future COW so various options can be considered.

Mr. Breneiser stated that currently the Fire Civil Service board has only two of three members which creates quorum problems. He asked the City to find a volunteer for this board.

ORDINANCES FOR FINAL PASSAGE

A. Bill 30-2021 – Amending the 2021 Position ordinance by reassigning two (2) police Officers from the Patrol Division to the Criminal Investigation Division who will be assigned to the State Police Auto Task Force, fully funded by the Pennsylvania State Police Auto Theft Taskforce Introduced at the April 12 regular meeting

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz moved, seconded by Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz, to enact Bill No. 30-2021.

Chief Tornielli explained that two (2) patrol officers have been assigned to the Auto Task Force since 2004. This amendment to the position ordinance formalizes the assignment as it will continue.

Bill No. 30-2021 was enacted by the following vote:
Yeas: Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Sihelnik, Ventura, Waltman, President – 7
Nays: None - 0

B. Bill 31-2021 – Amending the City Code Chapter 77, Part 1 Police Department by amending the experience requirements for the position of Captain and striking Section 110 College Credits for Sergeant, Lieutenant and Captain and reserving that section Introduced at the April 12 regular meeting

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz moved, seconded by Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz, to table Bill No. 31-2021.

Bill No. 31-2021 was enacted by the following vote:
Yeas: Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Sihelnik, Ventura, Waltman, President – 7
Nays: None - 0

C. Bill 32-2021 – authorizing the Agreement of Sale for 313 A South 8th Street for $600, after the City followed its purchasing policy by notifying the surrounding neighbors of the property that the property was available for bid Introduced at the April 12 regular meeting

Councilor Marmarou moved, seconded by Councilor Sihelnik, to enact Bill No. 32-2021.

Bill No. 32-2021 was enacted by the following vote:
Yeas: Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Sihelnik, Ventura, Waltman, President – 7
Nays: None - 0

D. Bill 33-2021 – authorizing the Agreement of Sale for 423 Schuylkill Avenue, Reading PA to the Reading Parking Authority for $25,000 Introduced at the April 12 regular meeting

Councilor Reed moved, seconded by Councilor Sihelnik, to enact Bill No. 33-2021.

Councilor Reed stated that she is pleased that this transaction is finally taking place. She noted that she identified the need to convert this vacant lot into neighborhood parking when she served on the Parking Authority Board. She expressed the belief that this lot will assist a parking stressed neighborhood.

Bill No. 33-2021 was enacted by the following vote:
Yeas: Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Sihelnik, Ventura, Waltman, President – 7
Nays: None - 0

INTRODUCTION OF NEW ORDINANCES
Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz read the following ordinances into the record.

A. Ordinance – amending the zoning map by moving 226 North 5th Street into the same zoning district as 230 North 5th Street, also known as the Medical Arts Building property, into the same Commercial (C-C) Zoning District. As part of the project, both properties will be combined into a single parcel for commercial uses and residential apartments. Public Hearing scheduled during the May 3rd COW

B. Ordinance – amending the zoning map by moving 654, 656, 658 & 660 Schuylkill Avenue into the same Commercial Neighborhood (C-N) Zoning District for a mixed use development. As part of the project the properties will be combined into a single parcel for a convenience store/restaurant, a barbershop, dwelling units, and a shared parking area. Public Hearing scheduled during the May 3rd COW

C. Ordinance – amending City Code Chapter 353 Loitering; Obstructing Public Places, by renaming the Chapter Loitering and Panhandling, creating replacing a diversionary program to be used to address aggressive panhandling or loitering when it is reported to the Reading Police Department or when police officers encounter it and eliminating the possibility of a prison sentence

D. Ordinance - authorizing an appropriations transfer of $40,634.03 from Project #31-01-03, GL#01-00-00-2990 – Fund Balance to project #31-01-03 under GL #31-01-00-4510 General Plant Supplies in order to make the Samuel Pottieger Trust donations available for use during the current fiscal year

E. Ordinance – authorizing an amendment to the 2021 Budget revenues reflecting the increase of $1,427,667 in General Fund revenue pursuant to the recently negotiated Cooperation Agreement with the Reading Parking Authority

RESOLUTIONS

A. Resolution 40-2021– reappointing Joseph Amprey to the Ethics Board

A. Resolution 42-2021– authorizing the execution of the Agreement between the City and Hope Rescue Mission to utilize Hope’s Clean Team to clean and maintain the downtown area formerly serviced by the Downtown Improvements District Authority.

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz moved, seconded by Councilor Sihelnik, to adopt Resolution 42-2021

Councilor Sihelnik moved, seconded by Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz, to amend Resolution 42-2021 by replacing all references to the Downtown Improvement District (DID) Authority with “the downtown area in and around Penn Street from 2nd to 11th”

The motion to amend Resolution 42-2021 was adopted by the following vote:
Yeas: Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Sihelnik, Ventura, Waltman, President – 7
Nays: None - 0

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz noted the importance of this partnership with Hope Rescue Mission and their program that provides employment for individuals who are willing to utilize the services provided to them by the Mission. She stated that this program is not focused solely on the homeless but on those who wish to improve their life situation.

Councilor Sihelnik agreed, noting that this program moves a start-up program with volunteers into a program that compensates individuals for their contribution. She inquired about the source of the funding for this program and the rate paid to those providing the labor. Mr. Denbowski stated that the program is funded through the 2021 DID allocation of $175K. The rate of pay is $15 per hour. However, there may be an administrative fee to the Mission. He noted that the City does not know the exact amount that will be paid to those employed by the Mission.

The motion to adopt Resolution 42-2021, as amended was approved by the following vote:
Yeas: Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Sihelnik,j Ventura, Waltman, President – 7
Nays: None - 0

B. Resolution 43-2021– reappointing Ann Sellers to the Environmental Advisory Council

C. Resolution 44-2021– appointing Ryan Yanchocik to the Recreation Commission

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz moved, seconded by Councilor Marmarou, to adopt Resolutions 43-44-2021

Councilors Marmarou and Goodman-Hinnershitz described the strengths and skills these individuals will bring to their perspective boards.

Resolutions 43-44-2021 were adopted by the following vote:
Yeas: Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Sihelnik, Ventura, Waltman, President – 7
Nays: None - 0

D. Resolution 45-2021- approving the settlement of the federal lawsuit with the caption Gary Mogel v. City of Reading, Case 2:18-CV-01512 and the payment of the negotiated settlement amount.

Councilor Sihelnik moved, seconded by Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz, to adopt Resolution 45-2021

Council President reminded Council that any comment on this subject needs to be limited as this is the potential settlement of litigation. There were no remarks or comments made.

Resolutions 45-2021 was adopted by the following vote:
Yeas: Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Sihelnik, Ventura, Waltman, President – 3
Nays: Cepeda-Freytiz, Reed, Ventura, Waltman, President - 4

COUNCIL COMMENT

Councilor Marmarou once again took issue with the need to end virtual Zoom meetings and return to public, in-person meetings where the public can confront elected officials. He noted there would then be no problems with barking dogs or animals walking in front of computer screens if in-person meetings returned.

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz thanked those who commented at tonight’s meeting. She encouraged people to take advantage of the new methods for participating in Council’s sessions – via Facebook Live and providing comment in person through the meeting link or telephone and submitted written comment. She suggested that the Police Civil Service board utilize broad recruitment for the upcoming Police testing to increase the diversity within the Department. She questioned the protocol for reopening City Hall to the public.

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that while she understands Councilor Marmarou’s frustrations, she noted that we are nowhere close to the end of this pandemic tunnel. She noted that the use of Zoom and Facebook Live has expanded the public’s ability to attend and participate in all Council sessions. She noted the need for Councilor Marmarou to make adjustments, as others have, during this unprecedented pandemic.

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz noted the upcoming outdoor sale of gift items at the Pagoda on May 8th from 11 am to 3 pm. CDC guidelines will be followed. She thanked those who assisted with the clean-up of Duryea Drive from the Park to the Pagoda on this past Saturday.

Councilor Reed thanked all who participated in the various clean-ups around the City on this past Saturday. She again thanked Mr. Denbowski for his consistent availability and assistance.

Councilor Sihelnik thanked those who spoke at tonight’s meeting and she invited Ms. Guerrero to get involved with a City board. She thanked those from West Reading who participated in Saturday’s clean-up along the river.

Council President Waltman reviewed the upcoming Council meeting schedule.

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz moved, seconded by Councilor Reed, to adjourn the regular meeting of Council.

Respectfully submitted by Linda A. Kelleher CMC, City Clerk

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  • The Community Development Department is pleased to report that residential renovation, particularly in the City’s historic districts, has increased by 30% compared to this time last year. This increase is an early indicator that there increased interest in the City’s residential market.
  • The CD Department met with Albright’s Chief Financial Officer and a representative from Mediplex Development regarding multiple initiatives. Topics included a multi-million dollar investment to build a new 350 student dormitory replacing an existing facility and the expansion of the athletic center to include electronic sports (e-sports) for students and the neighboring community.
  • The Finance Department submitted the Public Utility Realty Report for 2020 (PURTA) on March 24, 2021.
  • The Finance Department Grants Division submitted a RACP application for resubmission of the 9th and Marion Fire Station Development Project on March 15th. The request is for $4,013,030. Also, recently prepared and submitted was a DCED Keystone Communities Program Grant application for the 800 Block of Penn South Courtyards Improvement Project.
  • As of April 2nd, HRC has:
    • 890 total rent and utility assistance applications were received (an addition of 20 applications since last reported. The previous report stated 890 applications were received. That number was reported in error as 870 applications were received at that time).
      • 835 applications for rental assistance
        • 606 applicants were facing eviction
        • 106 applicants were not actively facing eviction
        • 79 applicants resided outside of the city, but in the county.
      • 8 applications for utility assistance
  • On April 24th from RPD will be holding a gun buyback event from 10 am- 2 pm at the parking lots of the Segunda Iglesia Teslonica located at 924 Greenwich Street and St. John Missionary Baptist Church located at 436 S. 7th Street.
  • RPD met with Alvernia University to finalize the details related to the Police Academy move to the Upland Center in June 2021.
  • RPD’s Lieutenant Shade and patrol officers attended Teen Takeover at the Olivet Club in Pendora Park. This allowed officers to engage with youth by playing basketball and participating in other activities.
    • During the month of March of 2021, the City collected $1,178,885.61 of the Real Estate Transfer Tax and the first quarter of the current year ended with a total of $2,238,038.54 or 48% of total amount budgeted.
    • During the month of March, the Auditor General contacted the City Auditor’s Office in regards to the State Liquid Fuels Audits for the fiscal years of 2019 and 2020. All the information requested has been provided to Mr. Stoppie, the State Auditor Field Supervisor. After the audits are completed the results will communicated to councilmembers, the administration and to the public.