Honesdale gets new leadership

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 1/11/22

HONESDALE, PA — An overarching feeling of change underpinned the Honesdale Borough Council’s January 3 organizational meeting, its first public meeting of 2022.

The mayor’s …

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Honesdale gets new leadership

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HONESDALE, PA — An overarching feeling of change underpinned the Honesdale Borough Council’s January 3 organizational meeting, its first public meeting of 2022.

The mayor’s speech

The borough’s new mayor, Derek Williams, kicked things off with an address to residents, laying out his intentions as a newcomer and outlining his hopes for some renewed harmony among local officials and the public.

“All of us up here care, and all of you out there do as well; We wouldn’t be here otherwise,” Williams said. “I believe most people want to see us work together. In the past, we’ve seen instances of the opposite. We’ve seen council members sue each other and open up investigations into each other, and those things are patently absurd, quite frankly. I’d like to think that sort of nonsense is behind us.”

Williams also urged residents to take advantage of these bimonthly meetings, specifically in order to help shed light on any “blind spots” that borough officials might have.

“Representing, working for, engaging in and listening to borough business are absolutely vital forces that make our neighborhoods more resilient. It all helps increase understanding of the place we call home, sharing that understanding helps build trust, trust can connect us as neighbors,” he said. “We have blind spots like everyone else. All of our elected officials up here are men with similar skin and homeowners with stable incomes. We’re clearly going to miss stuff. Please tell us when we do.”

New leaders

First on the meeting agenda was to vote in a new council president, vice president and pro tempore.

For the past several years, the presidency has been occupied by councilor Mike Augello—who was absent from the January 3 meeting. But this year, the torch has been passed to rookie councilor James Hamill. The council picked Jason Newbon and William McAllister as vice president and pro tempore respectively.

Each councilor voted in favor of this new leadership roster, except for Hamill and another newcomer, David Nilsen. Hamill abstained to avoid any conflict of interest that would come with voting for himself for a position that involves higher pay. Nilsen cast the only no vote; he did not offer an explanation as to why.

New schedule

With the gavel now in Hamill’s hands, the council was tasked with deciding its meeting schedule for the remainder of the year. McAllister suggested having two meetings per month, one being a shorter, more administrative one used to pay the borough’s bills and deal with paperwork. The other meeting would be designed to be longer and incorporate deeper discussion about the borough’s most pressing issues.

The council voted unanimously to set a bimonthly meeting schedule for the second and fourth Monday of every month at 6 p.m. The only exception will be the month of January, when the council will meet on January 17 and January 31 at 6 p.m.

Williams requested that for all meetings going forward, a virtual attendance option is guaranteed for the public, whether or not the councillors are meeting in person or not. Borough secretary/manager Judy Poltanis said that this would need to be cleared with the finance committee first to determine what cost there would be to the borough. Hamill said that they’ll return to that issue at the next meeting.

Reopening 2022 budget

The borough’s budget for 2022 was already drafted and all but finalized by the previous council in the final months of 2021. However, the new council has the option to reopen the budget to make changes if necessary.

Councilor Jim Jennings made a motion to reopen the budget in order to give the new council members a chance to look it over. The motion was met with some hesitation from other officials. Poltanis noted that the budget must be adopted by February 15 at the latest, and that it must be up for public review 10 business days before adoption. In other words, the timeline is tight.

Jennings said his interest in giving councilors one last chance to review the budget was rooted in concerns about potential stormwater infrastructure costs that the current budget might not account for.

“It’s not anything against the current budget as it stands… I just know what some of these expenses are that were talked about in committee,” Jennings said. “Just things to consider; if we want to [make changes] this is the only time to do that.”

Councilors Jennings, Hamill and Jared Newbon voted in favor of reopening the budget, while councilors McAllister, Jason Newbon and Nilsen voted against. With a 3-3 vote, Mayor Williams was tasked with casting the tie-breaking vote. After briefly confirming with Poltanis that reopening the budget would not prevent the borough from hitting any deadlines, he voted in favor of reopening.

Star will remain lit

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Greater Honesdale Partnership executive director Lisa Burns asked the council to consider keeping the Dick Smith Star atop Irving Cliff—which usually is lit at night through the holiday season—lit through February 1, as a tribute to local healthcare workers. Burns told council that Wayne Memorial Hospital’s staff has been overwhelmed during this latest wave of the COVID-19, and that leaving the star on through the rest of month could act as a show of appreciation for their “tireless work.”

The council would usually pass such a request on to the parks and recreation commission, and vote at its next meeting based on the commission’s recommendation. However, since the star was set to be shut off before the council’s next meeting, Burns’ request was time-sensitive.

Some discussion revealed that it would not come at any additional cost to the borough. Councilors voted unanimously to keep the light burning until February.

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