An effort to initiate a GPS system that would allow Macungie officials to keep constant tabs on their police officers was defeated 4-3 by borough council Monday.
And, long after most of the public had gone home, council rejected a motion that would have limited public comment to the very beginning and very end of its meetings.
The debate about the GPS system was so intense that at one point council president Jean Nagle got into an argument with council critic Tom Romig, who accused Mayor Rickie Hoffman of being untruthful and said Hoffman just wanted to buy “spy toys.”
Nagle also called a five-minute recess after unsuccessfully pounding the gavel to silence council member David Boyko, who began to criticize council member Greg Hutchison and became very angry when Nagle told him he was out of order.
The mayor wanted GPS units in every police vehicle so he would know where police are “in real time.” He said he’s gotten complaints from residents about police not being where they are supposed to be or unnecessarily speeding through Macungie, but now has trouble tracking down those complaints.
Council member Debra Cope, who led the opposition to the proposal, was skeptical about the borough not being able to keep track of its police officers in the small community.
Said Cope: “We have issues between the police department and the mayor already. This is just adding fuel to the fire.”
Cope said she had not heard any complaints about police. Hoffman said they come to him, not council, and that people are afraid to come forward with complaints about police because they fear retribution.
Hoffman said: “It’s a management tool to check where they are, if they are doing their job and if the complaints I get are valid. If I got no complaints I never would have asked for it. If someone calls me and says police were sitting in the park for three hours, that’s a problem. Were they sitting in the park for three hours or not? I don’t know.”
Cope told the mayor: “If you have someone in the police department that is a bad apple then I think you and the chief need to go to that person. We haven’t even tried to do that. I don’t think we need this tool to solve that problem.”
She said it is unfair to penalize all police. “Do we really think our police department is corrupt?”
Hoffman collected money to pay for the first year of the GPS monitoring system from Advanced Tracking Technologies, Inc. But taxpayers would pick up the tab for the second two years of the contract – at a cost of nearly $1,200 a year. Boyko called it a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Voting against getting the GPS system were Cope, Boyko, Joseph Sikorski and Chris Becker. Voting for it were Nagle, Hutchison and Linn Walker.
“That’s the way government works,” said Hoffman after his proposal was defeated. “I put my best foot forward and I lost.”
Hutchison proposed limiting public input at meetings, because of name calling and some speaking out about every topic discussed by council.
“Several people have an ax to grind and they are going to have free potshots at us and I won’t put up with it,” said Hutchison. “If it’s not changed and I see some of this crap, I’m going to get up and leave until that individual is done talking. I will not listen to that crap.”
Becker said “if you want to walk out of this meeting because you don’t like something, that’s your prerogative, but you were elected to sit here.”
Hutchison made a motion to limit the public to making comments only at the beginning and end of a meeting, not throughout the meeting. His motion was defeated by Sikorski, Becker, Boyko and Cope. Nagle and Linn Walker voted with Hutchison.
Boyko called Hutchison’s proposal a step backward. He and others said someone may have an out-of-the-box viewpoint that might be worth exploring by council.
Sikorski wishes everyone who addresses council would be more professional but added there is no way council can mandate that. Cope said what the public says may change the way she feels about an issue.
Council voted 5-2 to modify its meeting guidelines to allow public comment after it discusses a subject but before it makes any decision on that subject. That motion was made by Sikorski. Nagle and Hutchison voted no.