PENNSYLVANIA'S #1 WEEKLY NEWSPAPER • locally owned since 1854

Council Vice President Woodworth resigns after heated discussion between Lloyd, mayor over adding committees: WITH VIDEO

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 9/18/19

Middletown Borough Council Vice President Michael Woodworth resigned Tuesday night, following a heated discussion regarding Council President Angela Lloyd’s intention to create a new council …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Council Vice President Woodworth resigns after heated discussion between Lloyd, mayor over adding committees: WITH VIDEO

Mike Woodworth
Mike Woodworth
Posted

Middletown Borough Council Vice President Michael Woodworth resigned at the end of the Sept. 17 council meeting — following an emotionally charged exchange between Mayor James H. Curry III and Council President Angela Lloyd over Lloyd wanting to bring back a council public safety committee.

Woodworth — who was appointed to council in May 2018 and is on the November ballot seeking election to a four-year term — told the Press & Journal in a Sept. 18 email he had been thinking about resigning since July.

Up until the Sept. 17 meeting Woodworth said he had been reluctant to do so, for “numerous reasons.”

However, “Last night’s heated interactions between myself, President Lloyd, and Mayor Curry were enough to remove my remaining reservations,” he told the Press & Journal.

____________________________________________

Part of the discussion between Council President Angela Lloyd and Mayor James H. Curry III at the Sept. 17 Middletown Borough Council meeting

____________________________________________

Lloyd in a Sept. 18 phone interview with the Press & Journal said she was “surprised” by Woodworth’s resignation. “I am sorry he is leaving and I wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

Woodworth plans to continue serving as chairman of the Middletown Human Relations Commission, and on the Industrial and Commercial Development Authority to which Woodworth was appointed by council in August 2018.

Council did not act on Woodworth’s resignation but plans to do so during its next meeting Oct. 1, Lloyd told the Press & Journal in a text message.

It is too late for Woodworth, a Democrat, to remove his name from the November general election ballot — barring Woodworth seeking to do so by going to court, county Elections & Voter Registration Director Jerry Feaser told the Press & Journal.

Woodworth’s is one of four seats up on the seven-member council this year. Lloyd, also a Democrat appointed in 2018, is also on the ballot running for a four-year term.

If Woodworth gets enough votes on election day to win, he would have to decline being sworn in to reject the seat, Feaser said.

Council would then declare Woodworth’s seat vacant, and appoint someone to fill the seat until 2021, when the seat would be on the ballot for a two-year term, Feaser said.

Council could chose to appoint to the seat the next highest vote-getter after Woodworth, or someone else on the ballot, Feaser said.

However, that is a decision for council, not the county, Feaser said. Council also does not have to appoint someone else who is on the ballot.

Committees cause debate

Before Curry and Lloyd’s verbal sparring match, Woodworth had opposed creating the two committees Lloyd seeks to establish, one for public safety and the other for community development.

“I don’t think we should have the committees,” Woodworth said.

Woodworth went on to express several reservations, including whether borough residents will have to attend committee meetings before they come to a council meeting, and whether the borough had surveyed residents as to what are the best days and times for the committees to meet.

Curry — who as mayor under the state borough code is in charge of the police department — said having a public safety committee would be “redundant” when council already holds a monthly work session during which police and other department heads make public reports to council.

Curry also warned — as in August when Lloyd first brought up having a public safety committee — that it cannot be used as a forum by police to express their “grievances” and other concerns related to their employment.

“That is not permissible,” Curry said.

Lloyd said her intent with the committee is “to increase the communication between all the parties involved” including the police and fire departments and residents.

She compared the committee to a neighborhood crime watch meeting where residents bring up concerns related to crime.

Lloyd also said the public safety committee meeting will be a chance for residents to attend who are not able to attend regular council meetings on Tuesday nights.

Councilor Dawn Knull — who is to be on the public safety committee along with Lloyd — agreed that many residents are not able to attend council meetings on Tuesdays. Councilor Jenny Miller also agreed.

Curry was skeptical that residents will attend the public safety committee meetings, noting how few residents attend council meetings now. He pressed Lloyd on whether she will continue holding the public safety committee meetings, if only a few residents show up.

“You are projecting something that you don’t even know is going to happen,” she told Curry. “If we are six months in” and residents are not going to the committee meetings, “then we will evaluate (it) at that time.”

Curry kept pressing on with objections, challenging Lloyd on whether everyone on council was on board with forming the new committees. He also dismissed the public safety committee as “micromanaging.”

Lloyd, by now growing visibly exasperated over Curry’s repeated objections, said “we’re done” and sought to close the public portion of the council meeting to go into a closed-door executive session.

Curry continued with his objections as council moved into an adjacent room.

Shortly after council re-emerged from the executive session, Woodworth read a prepared statement announcing his resignation, saying, “I’m appalled by what transpired here this evening. Not only did we see a display reminiscent of past councils, that we’ve all been quick to vilify and illuminate the shortcomings of, we saw actions that mirrored theirs as well.”

“If I, as a council member and vice president of council, am going to be dismissed because I express concerns, questions, and criticisms of council president’s initiatives, then I don’t need to spend anymore of my or my family’s time at this table. That is why I am resigning from borough council, effective immediately.”

“I don’t support this president and I’m not going to spend any more time on a council that I’m going to be dismissed on,” Woodworth said while walking out of council chambers after Lloyd gaveled the meeting to an end. “Council has to accept it (his resigning), but I’m done.”

Elaborating on why he resigned, Woodworth in the follow up email said he had been “taken aback when (Lloyd’s) general response to my questions and concerns about the creation of additional committees was that it was OK, since I hadn’t expressed interest in involvement with them, and I was shocked at the combative tone and attitude she responded with when pressed with further questions by Mayor Curry. In my eyes, neither of those are conducive to the professional, collaborative effort that residents should expect their representatives to operate with, and I certainly don’t think they reflect the actions of someone truly in support of the progress we campaigned together on the promise of.”

“I understand and appreciate the value that authorities, boards, commissions, and committees can offer to a community,” Woodworth continued, referring to his own service on the HRC and ICDA.

“However, the manner in which these two (the new public safety and community development committees) were presented, established and discussion not welcomed on is unsettling to me. It is the type of bullyish behavior that I think I can safety say we’ve come to expect in our nation’s Capitol, but can affirm that it is not the kind of behavior I joined borough council to be a part of.”

Lloyd defended her handling of the issue during the meeting, and bristled at Woodworth’s suggestion that her leadership style was reminiscent of former Council President Chris McNamara.

McNamara’s tenure was known for contentious council meetings. During one meeting in April 2015, McNamara gaveled the meeting to a close and abruptly walked out while taking heat from residents during the public comment period at the start of the meeting.

The committees Lloyd now wants to bring back last existed under McNamara, before they were done any with in early 2016 by the new council president, Ben Kapenstein, after McNamara was defeated in his bid for re-election.

“Council is seven people, we all have different interests and opinions. You can be as involved or not as you choose,” Lloyd told the Press & Journal in the phone interview. “If he did not want to be on (the committees) or did not feel we should have (them) that is his prerogative. I did not feel resigning was necessary.”

“I will say that when the mayor and I were having our discussion I was emotional and frustrated,” she added. “It’s unfortunate if Mike is taking this personally or wants to connect (this) to the past council.”

“I don’t think we operate like the prior council at all. I have an open policy. At one point I considered Mike to be a friend of mine. He could have called me any time and talked. We could have certainly had a discussion about it.”

The Press & Journal reached out to Curry for comment. In a text, he responded, “I’ll allow Mike’s statement to speak for itself.”

“I would also add, I’ll allow the video of the incident to speak for itself, as well,” Curry said, referring to the video of the Sept. 17 council meeting posted on the borough website.

Lloyd said her track record since becoming president has been one of valuing all input, from fellow councilors and from residents.

However, she felt she had to draw the line when, to her, it seemed as though the mayor was doing nothing more than expressing the same reservations over and over.

“I don’t feel it’s necessary to hear the repeated statement of why someone doesn’t think it’s necessary or they don’t agree with it,” Lloyd said. “As the conversation intensified between (Curry) and I, I raised my voice as he did. People tend to stop listening and stop discussing things. I don’t want that to be the tone of our council meetings with us or with the residents. I don’t like how that transpired last night. We can only move forward from it and learn from it.”

Lloyd said she plans to move forward with publicly advertising and holding the new committee meetings.

She and Knull will be on the public safety committee, while Miller and council member Ellen Willenbecher plan to make up the community development committee.

Solicitor Jim Diamond said  he would check borough code to see if there is “a minimum” number of councilors who must be on a committee.

Woodworth’s committee work

Woodworth was appointed by council to the Human Relations Commission in 2016.

In May 2018 council appointed Woodworth to replace Ben Kapenstein, who had resigned.

Woodworth became council vice president in October 2018 and at that time nominated as the new council president Lloyd, who had been appointed to council in April 2018 to replace Diana McGlone, who had resigned.

Woodworth said he will keep working on the HRC toward getting council to pass an ordinance aimed at protecting from discrimination members of the LGBTQ communities in Middletown.

The proposal has been opposed by some on council who worry it will lead to costly litigation, but Woodworth said the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission has proposed modernizing the law in a way to address those concerns.