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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: 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.

Robert Sentner April 19, 2012 at 12:10 PM
Wow, Some of Macungie council just doesn't get it..... this poor little town that I spent much of my childhood in is going the wrong way. Really sad !!! I love the comment " prevent people form interrupting us" By Jean Nagle. Don't forget you work for the people. elections for some of this council can't come soon enough. Transparency is key to successful government. kills me that they couldn't read a public paper into the minutes when a citizen asks. total lack of transparency
Ron Beitler April 19, 2012 at 12:22 PM
Going down the road of Restricting public comment in any way is NEVER a good idea. Sometimes folks cannot commit to attending a 3 hour meeting so if you arrive late you must wait til the end of the meeting which is never a defined time. Also I strongly disagree with only allowing comment on motions. Often by this time the discussion is over and peoples minds are already made up. There needs to be real dialogue.
Ron Beitler April 19, 2012 at 12:36 PM
Basically it should never be made tougher for the public to speak its mind. In local gov't the whole design should be to facilitate collaboration. These folk are facilitators #1. It's very different locally then statewide or federally. You are not electing someone to go off to some far away place Harrisburg or DC to represent you and make decisions for you. Officials live and are a part of the community you work for.
John Rogers April 19, 2012 at 01:13 PM
And look who is leading the charge. The old guard. The same people who limited public input in the past before it was changed by the last council are back and up to their old tricks. They do not care what the public has to say or what they think. Naugle came right out and said it "I don't care". And that is something she IS being honest about. They proved it in their GPS vote. Personal agenda will triumph over the will of the public every time with that group.
Dave April 19, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Pretty soon there will be no comments allowed until AFTER council has left the building. Restricting comments from the people who voted that council into office. I feel we all need to use our voting power and vote them out of office. Let's elect a council that puts the residents first, not their own petty issues and peccadillos. I fully intend to vote int he next election and make sure I vote against those on council that have an indifference towards the taxpayer.
John Rogers April 19, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Here we go again. The old guard is back at it. The last council came in and granted the public the right to speak and the old guard is trying to take it away again. Their only care is personal agenda, not what the public wants, and don't want to hear what the public has to say. Nagle was being completely honest when she said "I don't care". They don't. Their yes votes for the GPS showing total disregard for the wishes of the taxpayers proved just that.
David April 19, 2012 at 03:54 PM
His wife!?!?! Are you kidding me? Great. Now we have two people sitting at home on disability with nothing to do all day except figure out ways to make life miserable for people.
Ron Beitler April 19, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Gotta find people to run..... Somebody. Anybody.
Sheriffchris April 19, 2012 at 09:07 PM
Why is it that after folks get elected they think they are omipotent or something. They have a real nerve saying they will restrict public comment....how about the recall vote I heard being discussed at the Dinner this morning..that will darn sure get their attention...these folks seem to be full of themselves...we have no need for folks like that

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