Reading water lease discussion reaches boiling point

Things get heated at meeting over water authority

READING, Pa. - For the first time in a long time, the Reading City Council and the mayor sat down to discuss the city's water lease situation.

That sitting down was short lived, as Council President Francis Acosta and Council Vice President Jeffrey Waltman left the building approximately 20 minutes into the Committee of the Whole meeting after no progress was made.

Mayor Vaughn Spencer had a statement prepared that outlined his plan --which included an evaluation of an independent firm, with the cost of the evaluation being covered by RAWA, and a time frame of negotiations picking up as early as June and final decisions being made in August.

Rather than discussing the lease further, the rest of the mayor's comments were regarding verbiage of the advertisement and asking specifics as to the type of meeting that was being held.

"When you're ready, come talk to us," said Acosta as he picked up his belongings to leave the chamber.

Spencer called out that Acosta "can't stand the heat" as Acosta and Waltman left the room.

On the agenda set by council was a confirmation of the statement on water lease preferences and a review of items that the mayor and council can agree to work on together.

The stalemate was confirmed by words and actions, but agreements of any kind did not occur.

With a quorum of council members still present, the decision to adjourn or continue the meeting after a short recess was up to Council members Donna Reed, Christopher Daubert, Dennis Sterner, and Stratton Marmarou.

The decision was for the remaining council members and the Mayor to stick to an abbreviated agenda, which was followed by an informal meeting period where the public could comment.

Council members were the first to give their opinions, and focused comments on the process rather than the water lease.

Sterner said multiple times that his desire is to look at other systems, and questioned why only one offer would be considered for such a large asset.

Other members chose to speak to the quality of the meetings.

"I am so incredibly frustrated. I can't imagine how frustrated the public is watching this… We can do better," said Daubert.

Reed said she regretted the way the meeting began and that the "war of words" had to come to an end. She also commented on the condition of the city and how even minor improvements, such as beautification of the area, cannot be done because of focus on disagreements.

"The bottom line is you have five members that will conduct business in a fair and proper manner. We will go forward." said Reed.

The public also expressed their frustration with both the process and the behavior of their elected officials.

Johanny Cepeda, a local business owner and resident, said there is "too much time, money, and energy being wasted" on the water lease, and not enough focus on the city.

Cepeda said she knows of a petitioners committee that is willing to take matters into their own hands if a resolution cannot be made.

According to Reed, there will be a town hall meeting held by council to be scheduled at a later date.

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