Macungie Mayor Rick Hoffman was notably absent from Monday night’s long, contentious borough council meeting, frustrating residents who wanted to weigh in on police coverage and council members who were at times subject to residents’ wrath.
At issue is whether the borough police force is to provide round-the-clock coverage for Macungie. The mayor has said that the occasional open shift will not jeopardize the safety of the borough. Council and several citizens have said they want the 24/7 coverage the borough is used to.
During Monday night's meeting, which lasted more than four hours, several citizens reiterated their arguments. “Council budgeted for 24/7 coverage,” said Dorothy Kociuba. She pointed out that officers from the neighboring boroughs of Alburtis and Emmaus can only aid or cover for Macungie if at least one Macungie police officer is already on duty. “If we don’t have a Macungie officer on duty, we have state police coverage,” she said.
“Do we know why the mayor is not here?” asked business owner Tim Romig.
“The mayor is his own entity,” said Councilman Chris Becker, adding that council last month unanimously passed a resolution supporting 24/7 coverage by borough police.
Council President Jean Nagle said residents’ should take their complaints to the mayor. “Most of what is said about the mayor, should be said to the mayor,” she said.
But resident John L. Long said he pleaded with the mayor to come to the meeting. “It’s not our responsibility necessarily to hunt down the mayor,” Long said. “I feel we’ve been sandbagged by council for two months.”
Complicating matters, the new Borough Code approved by the state Legislature leaves the borough council with less power over police than it currently has. The existing Borough Code gave power over the police force to the office of the mayor but allowed council to set the hours of the police department, according to council members. The new Borough Code, which takes effect July 16, does not grant borough councils the power to set police hours.
Councilwoman Debra Cope said she talked to officials at the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs who said the change was an error and it was their intention to recommend that the Legislature restore that power to borough councils.
Councilman David Boyko made a motion and Cope seconded it to urge the Association and legislators to reinstate that authority to councils. The motion was approved in a 6-1 vote. Jean Nagle voted no.
In the past three years, council engaged in a protracted and expensive legal battle with Hoffman about his authority over the police department. A Lehigh County judge ruled that the mayor was in charge but approved of some of council's actions.
Councilman Joseph Sikorski made it clear he was in no hurry to engage in litigation over the police coverage question.
“Of the seven issues (in the court case) the mayor won four and we won three,” said Sikorski. “And the winners were the attorneys.”