Reading mayor walks out of meeting over marijuana resolution

'[Marijuana] is destroying America,' mayor says

READING, Pa. - Reading's mayor called it a sad day for the city as he walked out of Monday night's city council meeting.

Mayor Wally Scott left council chambers, taking Managing Director Glenn Steckman with him, after council members approved a resolution regarding penalties for marijuana possession.

The resolution urges Pennsylvania lawmakers to pass statewide legislation that would provide all police departments with the discretion to charge the possession of a small amount of marijuana as a summary offense, rather than a misdemeanor.

Before the vote, Scott gave an impassioned plea against the resolution. He said he's seen what marijuana has done to families and that it is not a victimless crime.

"[Marijuana] is destroying America, and this is something you shouldn't even be encouraging," he said.

Scott accused council members of being out of their element.

"This is something that somebody thinks is a popular vote. I think you're all going to get smacked in the end," he said.

Scott said the legislation sounds as if council members are supporting the use of marijuana.

Before voting, council members explained why they were in favor of or against the resolution.

Councilman John Slifko said the resolution does not decriminalize or condone the use of marijuana but makes the penalty proportionate to the offense.

"There is no reason that a young person's life should be compromised for years to come simply because they had a small amount of marijuana," he said.

Councilman Christopher Daubert agreed that people should not go to jail for a small amount of marijuana and said he did not think that incarcerating those offenders was an effective use of taxpayers' dollars.

Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz said as much as she understood "the nature and the rationale" behind the resolution, she could not support it because it includes misinformation, such as the statement that it will help decrease prosecuting costs.

Council President Jeffrey S. Waltman Sr. said he would not back the resolution because he doesn't support the use of marijuana. He added that the resolution does not call for strengthening penalties against individuals selling marijuana and making a profit from it.

The resolution passed four to two.

At the end of the meeting, Councilwoman Donna Reed apologized "as an officer of the city" for the mayor and managing director's behavior.

"If you want to be the people’s representative, you're here for the meeting. Many of us disagree with each other on issues, but to throw a temper tantrum – to take the managing director, to whom we need to ask questions and should be available to answer your questions," she said. "I am ashamed. I have many times disagreed with the actions this council has taken and never once have I – or any other person in a councilor's position – stormed out being accusatory to everyone else. It is a lack of respect to people making the decisions which they feel are proper, and it is a lack of respect for the office to which the person was elected."

Reed suggested censuring the mayor and sending a letter to the managing director expressing council's disappointment in his actions.

Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed. Addressing the audience, she said, "You had the respect to stay through the whole meeting," which was met by applause from the audience.

"I think [censuring] is an over-reaction to an over-reaction," Waltman said, adding they need to work together as a team.

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