Macungie Council Votes to Restrict Public Comment
Public comments will be allowed only after council members have finished discussing an issue.
Macungie Council was all but done Monday night, and it had been an eventful meeting: the mayor's plan to put GPS units in police cars was defeated and an hour-long executive session yielded a replacement for a solicitor who has had more than 20 years experience with the borough.
But a last motion was still to be made and passed. Before the April 16 meeting, taxpayers were free to comment -- with recognition from Council President Jean Nagle -- at any point throughout the meeting. That was not the case by the end of the evening.
After the solicitor vote, Nagle asked if there was a motion to adjourn.
"No," said council member Gregory Hutchison.
Hutchison recalled earlier points in the meeting that involved a heated exchange between Mayor Rick Hoffman and Tim Romig who owns a business in the borough.
Romig said the mayor, "does not have the ability to tell the truth," referring to a statement Hoffman made at the April 2 council meeting in which he said twice that Lehigh County 911 Director Laurie Bailey told him to purchase a commercial GPS system for borough police cars.
Romig also wanted council to read into the record Bailey's letter of response to her supposed statements, but council refused to share the document they were reading at the public meeting.
In the letter, provided to Patch after the meeting, Bailey said that she never spoke to the mayor before he quoted her. Rather, Bailey said in the letter, she spoke with Hoffman's wife. And she never advised either of them that the borough should fund a private GPS system.
Romig was incensed that council declined to read the letter and had several sharp comments for the mayor.
At the end of the meeting, Hutchison conveyed his own displeasure, then suggested that public comment be restricted to the beginning and end of the meeting. Each person would still be allowed 5 minutes to speak.
"I will not put up with people taking free pot shots. If this is not changed, I will leave the meeting. I will not listen to that crap," Hutchison said referring to Romig's comments.
Council member David Boyko called a move to restrict comment "backward," and "less friendly," after which Council member Joseph Sikorski suggested that corralling comments to the beginning and end of the meeting would not solve Hutchison's problem with offensive language.
"They're the taxpayers. They deserve representation," Boyko said.
Council President Jean Nagle said restricting comment to the beginning and end of the meetings would, however, "prevent people from interrupting us," and agreed that council should revise the meeting guidelines.
Eventually, Nagle was persuaded to drop the idea of restricting comment to the beginning and end of council meetings. She was willing to allow comments after each topic, but only on that topic and only after a council member had made a motion.
That still didn't set well with the borough officials.
"If you wait for a motion, people might not have a chance to comment if the motion is tabled," said Borough Manager Chris Boehm.
But Nagle was adamant.
"I don't care," Nagle said.
After several rewordings, the group came up with a motion:
"To modify meeting guidelines to allow public comment after council discussion prior to a decision being made on that subject."
The motion passed 5-2. Nagle and Hutchison dissented.