Funny thing. There are people who attend Coatesville City Council meetings and say they can’t stand picking up the Daily Local News each morning. They say we do damage to the city without reason.
Now you may pick up the newspaper and find the reports of the shootings, stabbings, assaults and robberies too stressful to read. Those crimes or the shenanigans of City Council may upset you and cause you worry, anxiety – or worse.
And I can understand that it can’t be fun watching your hometown go down in flames like the Hindenburg. It sure would bother me.
But before you go blaming the media (the easy targets of course), perhaps the intelligent thing to do would be to examine history. For example, the City of Coatesville in recent years has…
— Tried to build a golf course no one wanted costing the city millions and millions of dollars.
— Hired a police chief who had absolutely no idea of what he was doing.
— Hired a city manager who was arrested for driving under the influence.
— Allegedly tried to hire a Philly cop to be police chief but only if he would play the political games.
— Had a member of City Council who called the police on a group of Girl Scouts.
— Currently has a police department that would make the Keystone Cops look like champs.
And now, in probably one of its biggest blunders in recent memory, failed to put the stamp of approval on a new police chief who may have had the answer to the city’s crime problems and to the internal strife that has hung over the department like the clouds that follow Ziggy around.
And exactly who would be to blame in this latest episode? The media? Not from what I can tell…
So what happened Monday night? Exactly?
Well, Pennsylvania State Police Maj. John Laufer III was rejected by City Council to be the permanent police chief. The rejection came on a single vote with Councilwoman Carrie “Villa” Hunt casting the deciding vote.
Of course, taking a vote was a tall task considering that only four council members were present at the time the vote was taken.
Council members Jeffrey LoPrinzi and Ed Simpson were absent. Now Simpson had previously announced his absence due to health reasons. LoPrinzi’s deal is different; it is the second time in less than a month that he has been absent when the council was set to vote on a police chief without explanation.
Councilwoman Ingrid Jones, meanwhile, as they say has “a lot of explaining to do.” She left the meeting about halfway through. She declined to comment on how she would vote on the chief, but she said the meeting was taking too long and she had “too much going on at home.”
Maybe it’s just me but unless the house is on fire there’s nothing going on at home that could be that important to take you away from such an important meeting. You ran for office knowing you would need to attend meetings. If you knew you couldn’t fulfill your obligations to the good citizens of Coatesville then one, you should not have run for office and two, knowing now it’s too tough to make meetings — you should quit. LoPrinzi and Jones should do their best Elvis imitations and leave the building immediately.
According to reporter Eric Smith’s story, the vote on the new chief was immediately preceded by a vote by council to not withdraw about $2 million from the city’s trust fund. Hunt and President David Collins voted against the withdrawal.
Councilman Jarrell Brazzle asked how many payrolls the city could continue to make without withdrawing money from the trust fund. Finance Director John Marcarelli said the city could make two to three payrolls with its current revenues.
When Hunt voted against the hiring of Laufer, she said she could not vote to bring someone into a position the city may not be able to afford beyond six weeks. Hunt said Friday that she would support whatever candidate City Manager Kirby Hudson presented to council.
“It wasn’t so much a vote against the candidate,” Hunt said following the meeting. “I just know the financial situation we are in.”
Both Laufer and Hudson declined comment following the meeting.
Now according to Eric’s report, solicitor John Carnes said the matter could be brought up to council again when more members are present. Collins said if some budgetary questions are answered he believes Laufer could be reconsidered.
“We want the confidence to tell him we can pay him for longer than three pay periods,” Collins said.
Uh, yeh, no. Anyone who thinks Laufer will stick around now and wait for City Council to get its stuff together is kidding themselves. Why would he? And honestly, who would blame him?
Eric’s story reported that Shawn Dowds, the president of the police union in Coatesville, said the vote was disappointing and he hoped more council members would have been present and made the vote on a new police chief a higher priority. He said Laufer was a highly qualified candidate and Hudson’s recommendation should have been more strongly considered.
Councilman Joseph Hamrick said before the vote that Laufer was a great candidate. As for budget concerns, he said Laufer would have to manage his department’s budget and Hamrick believed Laufer was capable of doing so.
Hunt said interim Chief Jim Bell will remain in place and has been doing a great job for the city. Bell makes about $15,000 less than Laufer would have been offered, she said. She said he has never shown interest in being the full-time chief, but would not answer if she wanted him to fill that role. Last week, Bell told the Daily Local News that he is planning to be chief for as long as the city needs him.
Laufer currently oversees the state police academy in Harrisburg and is responsible for recruiting new cadets into the program. He previously served as the commander of state police Troop J in Lancaster and oversaw the investigation of the Amish school shooting in Lancaster County. He also teaches criminal justice for various colleges.
And now, poof! As quickly as the light was there at the end of the tunnel, a giant boulder called City Council just rolled over him – and the good people of Coatesville.
Council, you had the chance to make this mess right. You had the chance to put your stamp on maybe the smartest and most important opportunity thus far in your tenures. But honestly, you blew it.
And now it’s business as usual. And if you haven’t read those “damaging” headlines lately, that business as usual ain’t good for the city…
Good luck folks. You’re gonna need it.
— Andy Hachadorian