Kicking Can Down The Road
They were set to vote on their Big Answer to the police problem - a DCED study to be conducted by the state at no cost. But this just kicks the can down the road. They know their problem is the Chief. By the time this study is done, the Borough will likely be facing another ten civil rights lawsuits and even more dissension in the police department. This is the kind of leadership I'd expect from an ostrich, not an independent Borough Council.
What the failed to disclose is that the already have a police study. The problem is they just don't like it. When I pointed this out, there were numerous denials from Council.
Council is being disingenuous. I've heard about this study from numerous people. Some of them sit behind the dais. Former Council member Jack Herbst could speak to this study as well. He intended to be at last night's Council meeting, but was feeling ill yesterday. As most of you Nazareth people know, Jack has had too many close calls with his heart. I told him yesterday that his health matters more than a Council meeting.
I also presented Council with a petition signed by 130 people, most of them Nazareth residents, "requesting that Nazareth Police Chief Thomas Trachta be dismissed for abusing the civil rights of ordinary citizens, abuse of office, failure to supervise and blackballing a police applicant with false information."
I asked President Dan Chiavaroli not to throw this petition in the garbage like he did with the cupcakes.
The Ethics Act
I also acquainted them with the Ethics Act. Nazareth Borough has a controlling interest on Nazareth Ambulance's Board of Directors. I can see why that might make sense. but under the Ethics Act, a member of Council like Chiavaroli, who sits on the Ambulance Board, must recuse himself from any votes concerning the Ambulance Company. Up until now, he has been voting on these matters. He stopped doing that last night, so that's one small victory.
This prohibition applies to nonprofits, and according to a 2009 Supreme Court decision, it makes no difference whether there's a financial benefit to the Council member. If it is a financial benefit to the Ambulance Corps, it's a conflict.
The Ambulance Grant
The reason for this ethical requirement can be seen in Nazareth's own actions. In 2012, Nazareth obtained a $27,500 gaming grant that would allow the ambulance company to extend Stoudt Boulevard to Gracedale Avenue. That's great for the ambulance company, which does good work. It's even better for Gracedale, the County nursing home, because there will be quicker access. But this means nothing to Borough residents. Instead of some road in Upper Nazareth, residents would be better served by upgrades to the aging police fleet, pool, or any of a number of pressing borough concerns.
They knew they were bidding on the Gracedale contract, and knew they had competition. Because they rushed and got this grant before they were ready to use it, the money must now be returned.
The Pool Grant
This year, Nazareth is seeking a $50,000 pool grant from the Gaming Board, but never bothered to send anyone when the board met to review proposals. Gaming Board members signaled at that time that they will be reluctant to approve grants by municipalities with a poor track record. Now since gaming Board members are rating these requests individually, it's possible that Nazareth's request will be approved. The borough should have sent an advocate.
The likely result here is that Nazareth has lost $77,500 in gaming money. That's hard to justify when you're talking about a 2-mill tax hike.
Borough Solicitor Lashes Out
After I had finished speaking, Becky Butz asked about whether there was a previous police study, and I was actually requested to clarify what I had already said.
Some Council members claimed was simply an internal investigation, but it was much broader than some background check. Mayor Carl Strye acknowledged that they did, in fact, hire a private investigator, but distinguished that from a study by saying that a study is when you hire someone from the outside to report on problems in the police department. I agreed and told him that's what they did. They hired a private investigator from the outside to report on the police department.
At this point, Al Pierce lashed out.
"Nothing you have said is accurate," he shouted, and then repeated himself as though saying something twice would make it true.
"Are you telling me your own Mayor is inaccurate?" I asked.
"At this point, you're talking to yourself," he huffed.
Actually, I was speaking to Borough Council, and at their invitation. Pierce, with that remark, made pretty clear what he thinks of the Sunshine Act. He is the lawyer who advised Council incorrectly that borough committees could meet in secret. He is obviously embarrassed that he never picked up on that Ethics Act violation.
So we have a tyrannical chief, a Council unwilling to lead, and a solicitor who lashed out unprofessionally at citizens who take him out of his comfort zone. Al is a good attorney and I respect him personally and professionally, but he needs to join the twentieth century. Twenty-first is asking for a bit too much.