2016-03-01 Council Minutes

MINUTES

HAZLETON CITY COUNCIL

REGULAR MEETING

TUESDAY, MARCH 1, 2016

Call to Order: Council met in regular session on Tuesday, March 1, 2016 in Council Chambers. The meeting was called to order at 7:00 pm.

Silent Meditation and Pledge of Allegiance: A silent moment was taken followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.

Roll Call: Cuozzo-present; Gavio-present; Mope-present; Sosar-present; Mundie-present

Minutes of Previous Meetings: The minutes of the January 13, 2016 Special Meeting and January 19, 2016 Regular Meeting were approved unanimously.

Proclamations/Communications: None.

At this point, Sosar made a motion to suspend the rules to go off the agenda, and Mope seconded the motion.

Motion to Suspend the Rules:

Presented by Sosar. Seconded by Mope.

Roll Call (Motion to Suspend the Rules): Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes

MOTION TO SUSPEND THE RULES TO GO OFF OF THE AGENDA PASSES UNANIMOUSLY

Off the Agenda:

Sosar asked if the Mayor will be placing his administrative personnel before Council for a vote. Attorney Sean Logsdon, City Solicitor, said personnel matters should be discussed in executive session and not on the floor. Sosar asked what the administrative personnel have been paid so far this year without Council’s approval. Mayor Cusat said these matters should have been discussed prior to the meeting. Sosar also asked who gave the Mayor the authority to pay them. He added that the Third Class City Code gives him the authority to do so. The Mayor said his administrative personnel consists of all of the same people that were in these same positions when he took office, with the exception of Jerry Speziale as Interim Police Chief and the addition of Joe Zeller as Executive Assistant/Director of Recreation. Mayor Cusat said Zeller is currently filling in as Community Development Director until Fallon Fermin comes back from maternity leave. Sosar commented that the Director of Public Works is supposed to be an engineer, and Mayor Cusat responded it does not say that in the personnel policy. Cuozzo said the job description for Director of Public Works was amended in 2002 to add this stipulation. Sosar questioned how Act 205 funds could be withdrawn and deposited in the general fund. Cuozzo asked why Mayor Cusat was using Joe Yannuzzi’s stamp on checks that were written in January of this year. Mayor Cusat said the bank did not have the forms for him to sign ready until the February 2, 2016 meeting. BB&T Bank recently went through a transition. He said this is a banking error. Logsdon reiterated that these matters should be discussed in executive session. Sosar read aloud a portion of Mayor Cusat’s email regarding Council’s requests for information from Administration. He said he sent an email to Speziale and never received a response. Sosar stated he wants to work with the Administration, but since January 4, 2016, things have been done that Council has not been made aware of. He added that we all need to work on moving this City ahead. Gavio said it is not unreasonable to suggest that these questions be forwarded to the Mayor during the day, so he has time to answer them. He added that the Mayor was not aware of these questions prior to the meeting, and he does not have the answers in front of him. Cuozzo question where the money is coming from to pay Zeller. Mayor Cusat replied it is already there; it comes from the administrative assistant position, Community Development and Recreation. Cuozzo said Zeller’s salary is equal to one full-time police officer. Mope said Mayor Cusat did not receive permission to move money between funds until February 2, 2016, but the money was moved before that. Mope asked what amount Mayor Cusat started the year out with, and he responded $261,000. Mope questioned the money taken from the pension account and put into the general fund. The Mayor said the state said this can be done and the money can be used until December 31st. Cuozzo was concerned with the fact that the required 75% has not been paid to the pension fund.

Motion to Go Back on the Agenda:

Presented by Sosar. Seconded by Cuozzo.

Roll Call (Motion to Go Back on the Agenda): Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes

MOTION TO GO BACK ON THE AGENDA PASSES UNANIMOUSLY

Courtesy of the Floor: John Keegan, 105 Ferrara Avenue, Hazleton said the engineer at the Water Authority is overseen by a non-engineer, therefore, he does not see a reason why the Director of Public Works should be an engineer. He stated that no Council member has the right to remove anything from the agenda without a vote during a public meeting. Keegan said the Department of Administration is responsible for personnel and Council should not get involved.

Mark Rabo, 8 West 1st Street, Hazleton commented about the amendment to the 2013 Community Development budget. He asked if and when next year’s budget will be put before Council. He suggested that public input on Community Development matters should be posted on the website.

                                                                                                                                                           

Old Business:

ORDINANCES

Ordinance 2016-6         Modifying Consolidated Plan for CDBG Program Year 2013 (2nd Reading)

Presented by Sosar. Seconded by Mope.

Roll Call: Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes

                                                                                                                                                           

RESOLUTIONS

None.

                                                                                                                                                           

New Business:

ORDINANCES

None.

                                                                                                                                                           

RESOLUTIONS

Resolution 2016-39            Authorizing the Director of Administration to Adjust Records – Refund of 2015 City Realty Transfer Tax

Presented by Gavio. Seconded by Mope.

Roll Call: Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes

RESOLUTION PASSES UNANIMOUSLY

----------------------------------------------

Resolution 2016-40      A Resolution Amending an Agreement with Catholic Social Services as the Developer for Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Disposition of Real Property in Conjunction with the HOME Investment Partnerships Program Grant

Presented by Mope. Seconded by Gavio.

On the Question:

Zeller said DCED extended its deadline until May 2016. The original agreement with Catholic Social Services expired and an extension is required so they can continue as the developer of the property.

Roll Call: Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes

RESOLUTION PASSES UNANIMOUSLY

                                                                                                                                                           

Comments from the Audience: John Keegan, 105 Ferrara Avenue, Hazleton read from page eight of the Government Study Commission report. It states a centralized personnel system is to be held by the Administration. He said City Council no longer performs administration of the City departments. He added that Department Heads remain in place until they are replaced; therefore, no approval by Council is required. He said no one has the right to remove anything from the agenda without a vote at a public meeting. Keegan felt Council is “usurping” its responsibilities. Sosar said Section 3013(C) states appointments are to be made by the Mayor with the advice and consent of Council. Mope felt the acting positions are in place too long.

Sylvia Thomas, 823 North Church Street, Hazleton said Council and the Mayor need to work together. She stated Council should have the Mayor their list of questions ahead of time, so that he could be prepared to answer them. Mope said Council is willing to work with Mayor Cusat, but he needs to give them the information they request. Thomas said Council needs to work for the benefit of the people and not themselves. Gavio said whenever he has a question, he calls the Mayor or Pribula directly and receives an answer immediately. He said he does not see why the other Council members cannot do the same thing.

John Homa, Hazleton said Council is not shirking its responsibilities and they need to do what they have to in order to move the City forward.

Michael Pozzessere, Zoning Hearing Board Chairman, said tabling the appointments put on the agenda by the Mayor is not in the City’s best interests. He said it is very important to have these boards and commissions in place. He gave an example of how the Zoning Hearing Board was able to close down the hookah lounge on Diamond Avenue. Pozzessere said Council is deeming some appointments more important than others. Residents should be allowed transparency from Council. He asked Council to rethink its decision to table the appointments.

Brianna Mandak, Hazleton, said she is a high school student, and she came to tonight’s meeting to learn about the City and how the government works. She said Council is saying the wrong things about the Mayor. Council and the Mayor need to get along. Mandak said the Mayor is trying to make things better. She said Gavio is the only Council member who is being reasonable. She added that interrupting people who come up to the podium is disrespectful.

Judy Yurcho, 984 North Locust Street, Hazleton said she is disappointed in the Mayor. He made the public think $9.00 extra in earned income tax would get us five more police officers. This was untrue because doing so is illegal according to the City Solicitor. She asked that in the future the Mayor make sure such things are legal before bringing it to the public’s attention. Yurcho said if Council knew it was illegal to do so, they should have mentioned it to the Mayor. She told Gavio that he cannot just give the Mayor everything he wants. We have no industry or businesses coming in to boost the economy. She said she was very disappointed in the way the police handled themselves at the last meeting. She added that if money is moving around between accounts, the taxpayers should know about it. She stated the $10 million being given to the Altamont for its elderly and low income housing project will not benefit the employment situation in Hazleton. We need to bring in businesses and industry. Yurcho questioned why the Solicitor did not say it was illegal to use the EIT funds for hiring more police officers. Mundie said he did not know about it until the night of the meeting. Yurcho stated we have to start moving forward. She suggested looking into a regional police force because it would bring in more police without raising taxes. Gavio stated Mayor Yannuzzi’s budget was excessive and he voted to veto it. Mayor Cusat came up with some reasonable suggestions. He agreed that the Mayor and Council need to work together. Yurcho asked Council to come up with some better ideas and to be upfront about it. Mope said Council brought up some ideas for more revenue with the prior Administration but it went nowhere. She said the burden of tax increases is put on Council, but it should be on the Mayor’s shoulders. The City needs to stop all of its excessive spending. Yurcho suggested putting some well-known businesses in the downtown area.

Mark Rabo, 8 West 1st Street, Hazleton said according to a study done by the FBI, the increase to public safety is negligible when hiring more police. He read aloud from the study. Rabo stated four years ago he suggested the City should have an auxiliary police force and volunteers. He agreed with Michael Pozzessere that the City’s board and commissions are very important, especially with regard to blight. He indicated in his opinion the Redevelopment Authority is just a “dummy corporation.” He said the name of the Vacant Property Review Committee needs to be changed to Blighted Property Review Committee in accordance with the law.

Ed O’Hall(?), Hazleton asked what streets will be paved by PennDOT this year. Frank Vito, Streets Department Foreman, said they did not put out their spring list yet. He said the street he lives on was not graded right when it was originally paved. It pitches the wrong way, the drainage is bad, and causes the formation of very thick ice in the winter. Vito stated he would contact PennDOT about it.

Comments from Mayor: None.

Comments from Junior Council: Josh Narrow said he believes there is a communication issue between the Administration and Council. There is a website where documents can be shared privately, and he suggested they try using it. He said they could also post their questions there, so the Mayor has time to review them ahead of time. Narrow stated performing a crime study is a good idea because it will show where the police are needed the most. He added that he agrees the City needs more police officers on the streets.

Jacob Oressie suggesting creating a form on the City’s website for any suggestions or comments from the public. He added that Council should give the Mayor their questions before the meeting, so he will be prepared.

Eric Degenhart said he believes Hazleton has an exaggerated crime perception and a study should be done. He added the City needs to achieve a better reputation in order to bring in more businesses, jobs and people to the community.

Comments from Council: Cuozzo said Council has asked for information in the past but answers were never received. We cannot vote on any action without any information. Cuozzo asked where the money to pay Joe Zeller is coming from for his position as executive assistant. The Mayor replied all of the work he has done so far has been in Community Development, so it is coming from there. Zeller is also doing economic development. The Mayor said Zeller has not yet worked in the capacity of executive assistant yet this year. Cuozzo questioned if there was enough money in Community Development for economic development. The Mayor said yes. The secretary for Community Development will be retiring in a few months, so that will free up some of the money.

Mope said things are going on in the background that the public does not see. She said she sent questions to Pribula and she expects to get a response from him in a timely fashion. She added that the Mayor needs to prioritize the needs of the City. Mope said she spoke to Police Chief Jerry Speziale about addressing the drug situation before they get here and not after the fact. She believes random checkpoints throughout the City are needed. Mayor Cusat said the police will be doing that for the next two weeks. Once they get the message, things will get better.

Sosar said more responsibility needs to be delegated to the Administration. He stated a housing court should be established in order to fight blighted properties. He encouraged the public to write letters to the county court and county manager about this. Without this, we will not be able to do much about it. Sosar said if Council is going to work with the Mayor, we need to have more information from him and his Administration. Both Council and the Mayor have the best interests of the City at heart.

Mundie said he received the drafts of two abandoned property ordinances from the Solicitor and they should be on the agenda for the next meeting. He stated Council is going to have an executive session after tonight’s meeting to discuss a personnel matter.

Adjournment: Mundie motioned to adjourn the meeting with Mope seconding the motion. Meeting adjourned.

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