Cancellations cause contention

Employee handbook revisions, recurring sink hole problems

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HONESDALE, PA — All events on Honesdale Borough park property have been canceled “until further notice,” after a 6-1 vote during Honesdale Borough Council’s first virtual meeting of May; councilor Jim Brennan cast the only “no” vote. Councilor and parks & recreation chair Jim Jennings noted this included the annual July 4 fireworks display.

Cancelations and postponements have become the new norm in the borough in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. Jennings also moved to keep the Honesdale Pool closed for the entirety of the 2020 summer season; that motion passed unanimously.

Wayne Highlands School District request for ceremony on Main Street

The motions to cancel park events and the pool season were presented and passed relatively smoothly. Later in the meeting, however, a request from Wayne Highlands School District to close Main Street from 5th Street to 12th Street for a “graduation procession/ceremony” on June 13 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. sparked disagreement, tears and anger among the councilors.

Councilor and streets committee chair Bill Canfield moved to deny Wayne Highland’s request to hold a ceremony on Main Street, “since Wayne County is in a red zone, since the Memorial Day Parade has been canceled, since every other event has been canceled in town.”

“If you approve this, you’d be encouraging mass gatherings and that’s exactly what you don’t want,” said solicitor Richard Henry.

After getting seconded by Jim Jennings, Canfield fought through tears, “My heart is broken,” he said. “I know I’m going to get flack for this.”

The motion to deny the school’s request failed: Councilors Robert Jennings, Jim Brennan, Jared Newbon and Jason Newbon all voted against denying the request, outvoting Canfield, Jim Jennings and Mike Augello.

“You should be ashamed of yourselves,” Canfield told the four councilors who voted no.

Brennan said that he was not ashamed of himself. 

“I certainly think that we should talk with the school district and find out exactly what they are proposing to have,” he said. “I think that something could be worked out where very possibly the seniors could march down Main Street.”

Jim Jennings objected to this, announcing that he has two children at home while working a full-time job.

“I just had to close the pool, I just had to close the park events, I feel horrible for these seniors,” he said. “How can we possibly even run the risk of having some sort of large social gathering?”

As the back-and-forth became more contentious, mostly between Canfield and Brennan, Augello attempted to steer the meeting back on track, asking one of the councilors to make a motion either to approve the school’s request, or to contact the school for more information. Canfield and Augello both said that the school could use its own property to hold an event there. Mayor Sarah Canfield said that she also was opposed to potentially holding an event that—including the senior class, parents and teachers—she estimated could have upwards of 700 people involved. Robert Jennings said he was seeing “both sides of the story” and suggested forming a committee to meet with the school and come up with a solution “that would satisfy everyone.”

Brennan made a motion to get in contact with Wayne Highlands to “sit and down and discuss with the school district exactly what they want to do.”

After working through 20 minutes of confusion and emotional debate, the council eventually got around to voting on Brennan’s motion, passing 5-2; Canfield and Jim Jennings voted against the motion.

“Just to be clear to all council members, this is not our agreeing to [allow a ceremony on Main Street], this is just opening the door to a conversation [with Wayne Highlands],” Augello said. Brennan said he expects the school district will withdraw its request anyway, once it “finds out all the implications of having [the ceremony] on Main Street.”

Canfield said the council lacked “gumption” and announced he would be leaving the teleconference meeting early.

“Bill Canfield has left the meeting, God bless you, peace be with you, godspeed, you’re spineless,” were his parting words. He later came back on the phone to further decry the council’s decision.

Employee handbook

Unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic, Robert Jennings made two separate motions to modify the borough’s employee handbook; both motions involved the role of borough secretary/manager Judith Poltanis’s role. He first took issue with the handbook’s grievance policy, which stated that employees with complaints about their superiors should bring their grievances to the borough secretary/manager. Jennings moved that the policy should be changed so that employees bring issues directly to the grievance committee and not the secretary/manager.

“How can she [handle the complaint] if the complaint is against her?” he said.

Solicitor Henry advised tabling the motion, agreeing that the policy is worth revising for several reasons, but saying that you “can’t formulate it in five minutes.” Jennings agreed to table it for the time being but had another motion regarding the borough secretary/manager.

The employee handbook currently states that the borough police chief reports to the mayor, safety committee chair and borough secretary/manager. He moved to revise the policy so that the police chief would only report to the mayor and safety committee chair, not the borough secretary/manager.

Robert Jennings said, “This motion speaks for itself.” However, no councilor seconded it, so the motion died.

Top Notch sinkhole

Earlier in the meeting, public works (DPW) director Dan Brown reported that his department recently performed an emergency repair on a sinkhole that formed in the parking lot of Top Notch Distributors near Fourth Street. He said the hole measured six feet wide and six feet deep. DPW’s emergency repair was just a “band-aid” to make the “parking lot safe for the time being,” according to Brown.

Brown estimated that a portion of the pipe running beneath the parking lot was installed in the 1970s, and said that it was in very poor condition.

Canfield said that he has been on council for seven years, and that for every single one of those years, the borough has had to “soak thousands of dollars” into that parking lot. He asked Brown to find out why, to which Brown agreed.

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