HONESDALE, PA — A widely-circulated and wholly inaccurate social media rumor about the disbandment of the Honesdale Borough Police made many residents eager to attend Honesdale council’s …
HONESDALE, PA — A widely-circulated and wholly inaccurate social media rumor about the disbandment of the Honesdale Borough Police made many residents eager to attend Honesdale council’s meeting on July 20, the first in-person meeting in months. But after Gov. Tom Wolf restricted indoor gatherings to 25 people, the borough reverted back to meeting via teleconference. Even though council has been meeting by phone since March, problems with the technology bogged the meeting down all night.
Anytime somebody spoke or made a noise, an echo reverberated through the phone lines, making it nearly impossible to follow what was being said. After borough secretary/manager Judy Poltanis manually muted all callers except president Mike Augello, the president addressed the police rumor, which is likely why most residents had joined that night.
Posted earlier in July, a Honesdale-area Facebook user announced on Facebook that the council had decided to disband the police department “in a closed-door session... following suit with the radicalized, left-wing, anarchist cities.” At best, the post is a misinterpretation of reality, which is that the borough is renegotiating its contract with the police. While these negotiations have been occurring, councilor Bob Jennings wrote a letter to Honesdale’s legal representation that expressed his opinion that, because the Honesdale police is an understaffed department, the state police should cover the borough. The councilors aren’t sure how the letter got leaked to the public, but that seems to be the source of the rumor.
“There were no secret meetings, there [was] no secret anything,” Augello said, adding that the borough’s firm Eckert Seamans is handling the negotiations, and no council members are involved. “People believe that a council member has power, people believe that the council president has power; that is not true... There is no authority by any council member to take action without the acceptance and agreement of a majority of council, and that is at public meetings.”
Working through continuing echo-problems during the public comment portion, some residents suggested that the borough work with surrounding municipalities to find a solution to Honesdale’s understaffed police department, such as forming a regional police force. Augello responded that they have tried this in the past, but that other municipalities, specifically Texas Township, have “absolutely, positively refused” to enter into any sort of shared police agreement with the borough.
“Most of the other townships around us feel that state police coverage is adequate, I personally don’t share that attitude,” Augello said.
With about an hour having passed by and very little getting accomplished due to the echoing phone lines, borough resident Jim Hamill spoke up and called the evening “a complete, abject failure of our borough to administer an open and public meeting... These [virtual] meetings are not very difficult; companies and businesses hold these meetings on the regular.”
Augello agreed that the meeting was a failure, ending the meeting with, “We have to do something different and something better.”