Allentown City Council president Julio Guridy was admonished by two council members after getting into an intense shouting match with resident and businessman Rich Fegley during Wednesday night’s council meeting.
Guridy became very angry, repeatedly telling the equally angry Fegley to “please sit down” because his time to speak was up and “do not put words in my mouth.”
As Fegley refused to yield the podium and continued to argue back, Guridy finally told him to shut up, which produced some groans from the audience.
A city police officer escorted Fegley out of the meeting.
That wasn’t the only controversy during the meeting, which began with Guridy praying for the victims of Monday night’s shooting in the Ross Township Municipal Building in Monroe County.
A couple of people in the audience muttered “bull----“ after resident Ken Heffentrager called for more action against slum landlords and managing director Francis Dougherty dismissed his complaint by saying: “We’re used to hearing the same speech every two weeks.”
“It’s not just a speech, it’s people’s lives,” said council member Jeanette Eichenwald. “I commend Mr. Heffentrager. Is there nothing the administration will do to alleviate the situation? What is the plan for these people who live in blocks with these blighted homes?”
“We’re not idle here,” said Dougherty. “But these are not simple problems. I’m not committed to any timetable.”
Some less inflammatory news also came out of council’s meeting, as well as the committee meetings that preceded it:
• Dougherty reported the search for a new police chief has been narrowed to 44 candidates. A new chief should be appointed by October, after the last finalists are interviewed by the public at a town hall meeting in September.
• Plans by the Wildlands Conservancy to remove two dams in Lehigh Parkway this summer have been postponed until at least mid-September by the city. It’s possible one of those dams, which is on the Little Lehigh in the Robin Hood section of the parkway, will not be removed.
• Council unanimously approved a liquor license transfer for the well-known Shanty Restaurant at 617 N. 19th St., which will reopen under new ownership before the end of the year.
• Changes are being proposed that would allow the public to speak on new bills and resolutions being introduced at future council meetings, which has not been allowed in the past. And rather than standing in line to speak as residents do now – which council member Ray O’Connell called “a cattle chute” – people would sign in with their names, addresses and topics they want to address, then wait to be called on. Time limits may more strictly be observed and, unlike what happened Wednesday night, council members would not get into debates with people who speak.
Fegley vs. Guridy
Fegley, who owns Allentown Brew Works restaurant and brewery, gave the city a written right-to-know request on July 29. He received no response. He contacted the City Clerk’s office, which referred him to the City Solicitor’s office, which never got back to him.
Fegley noted the administration legally is required to get back to him within five days. “Why didn’t I get a response?” he asked council.
“That is the rule,” agreed Guridy.
Guridy asked Assistant City Solicitor John Marchetto if he could “shed some light on that.”
“No,” replied Marchetto. He then added: “I don’t handle the right-to-knows.”
Eichenwald said it is “absolutely unacceptable” that the administration did not get back to Fegley within five days. “The right-to-know says five days. I can’t believe my fellow council people don’t stand up and rebel.”
Marchetto said if any resident has a problem, “there is an appeal process.” He also suggested a response may have been mailed to Fegley within the five-day limit, but he just didn’t receive it yet.
The argument flared when Guridy told Fegley his five minutes to speak was up.
“Find out when they mailed it,” said Guridy. “We can’t do anything on council.” He also suggested Fegley appeal if he must.
Fegley accused Guridy of saying the city does not have to follow the rules.
“Mr. Fegley, do not put words in my mouth,” said Guridy. “Please sit down because your time is up.”
Fegley threatened council with a filibuster, saying if the city doesn’t follow the rules, he doesn’t have to follow them either. “I could stand here and talk all night.”