Boro files ethics complaint

BY STACI WILSON

Montrose Borough Council is drafting an ethics complaint against one of its own.

Following an executive session, council voted to pursue the complaint regarding Councilwoman Julanne Skinner’s actions in the borough’s litigation with Craig Stevens over the Jessup St. water hydrant.
Skinner abstained from the vote. All other council members voted in favor of the measure.

Skinner was employed by the law firm representing Stevens in the suit but did not disclose that information to the borough until May.

At the May 6 council meeting, Skinner was called out by fellow councilman Sean Granahan who said that she had been privy to legal strategy involving the case in executive sessions.

According to court documents, Skinner was terminated from her position with the Speers’ Law Firm on May 9.

The borough’s actions against Skinner are the result of her involvement in the Jessup St. water hydrant matter.

Stevens had the spigot installed on the Monica Marta property and used it to fill a water truck and deliver it to people who claim their water has been contaminated by the natural gas industry.

Susquehanna County President Judge Kenneth Seamans issued an order in the case on May 8 that upheld the Montrose Zoning Hearing Board’s December 2012 decision that the hydrant violated the borough’s zoning ordinance.

In the order, the judge gave 45 days to have the hydrant, piping and concrete barriers removed from the site.

At the July 3 meeting, Granahan reported that the hydrant had been removed but that the piping still remains at the site.

Solicitor Marion O’Malley said that Marta had not filed an appeal on the zoning violation ruling by Magisterial District Judge Jeffrey Hollister.

Marta was found to be in violation in two matters and was fined $100 per incident, per day.
O’Malley said she believed Marta owed about $6,000 and told council she would file for a judgment in the case.

The borough accumulated $11-$13,000 in legal fees in the zoning dispute.

Granahan, with the majority support of council, asked to have the solicitor interview personal injury attorneys and explore the possibility of filing a malicious prosecution suit against Stevens in an attempt to recover some of the legal fees.

Skinner opposed the motion.

Skinner also questioned who gave the order to have the hydrant padlocked on June 6.

Council President Tom LaMont said he didn’t think anyone gave an order to padlock the hydrant but it was “pointed out that it was still there.”

Skinner said she believed that council members met in a back room of the borough building and had a “meeting” following the regular June 3 council meeting.

“Anyone can walk back there and watch me sign checks,” LaMont countered.

In other business, Street Dept. manager Ken DiPhillips reported that and elevation permit had been received for the Coleman Road project.

The borough and engineers will meet with Carrizo to set a date for the work to be done.

DiPhillips also said he met with Joe Hunt who had drawn up a parking plan for the lower municipal lot.
Plans were presented to council to look at. DiPhillips said the street department could paint the lines if the borough gives its approval to the proposed layout.

Other parking lot issues were also discussed, including lighting and the direction of travel at the lot’s multiple entry and exit points.

Parking on Public Avenue was also discussed.

Several months ago, council was asked by a resident to look into the potential of adding a van accessible, handicap parking space.

That space will be added to the west side of the avenue, near the bump outs located in the center of the street.

The borough is also moving forward with its park improvements – revisiting the topic of building a new restroom facility.

A set of plans will be sent to the Council of Governments for its approval.

Councilman Craig Reimel indicated that the borough could then bid out the project in order to see if the cost to build is lower than installing a pre-fabricated unit.

Reimel said he hoped the cost of the build would come in at less than $35,000. A pre-fabricated building cost about $45,000, he reported.

Council members also voiced their displeasure over the Time Warner Cable franchise agreement asking for a 15-year commitment.

The franchise agreement with the borough lapses on Aug. 1.

Council is hoping to set up a meeting with Time Warner to discuss an alternative agreement.
A brief update was also given as to the status of the Community Center and the finding of mold in the building.

Testing is scheduled to begin next week, reported Secretary Erin Jenner.

Council also opted to discuss the lease agreement in executive session.