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Publisher's Voice: Is the borough going forward or backward?

Posted 2/12/13

The wheels go round and round.

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Publisher's Voice: Is the borough going forward or backward?


JoeViewpointsOver the past year, more and more information about the goings-on  in Borough Hall has been coming to me through various sources, causing doubts and raising questions about everything that has been happening and the people who are involved. Many of you also have those doubts – I hear it in your voices and read it in your comments.

Lawsuits. Widespread layoffs. Resignations of key personnel. Open hostility between Borough Council and anyone with an opposing point of view – including the mayor and at least one councilor. As the courier of all these grim headlines, we’re keenly aware how our town is being perceived. It is our job not to over-emphasize the negative. But we also cannot turn a blind eye to the obvious. The media is not and should not be beholden to politicians; our duty is to hold decision-makers to account.

Regretfully, too many encounters with the borough over the past year followed the same frustrating pattern: Spend inordinate amounts of effort and time and get cagey avoidance.

The naming of a new police chief calls attention to a particular case in point: the borough’s inability (or refusal) to provide public access to police reports. Our town’s last two chiefs failed miserably at this. But, frankly, the blame for this doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of former chiefs David Sweitzer and Mark Hovan.

Back in the fall, Chris Courogen, borough secretary and director of communications, explained the borough’s legal obligation to provide a police blotter was, in fact, being addressed and assured us a system to release police information was being devised. Additionally, corresponding with the 2012 clamp-down on communications involving anything related to the borough, Courogen decreed all police news could only come from him and not from the police department as is the standard, acceptable and logical practice with other municipalities.

Then, inexplicably in November, the borough did an abrupt about-face when Courogen told us the police chief’s authority to speak to the media had been reinstated. The chief (then Hovan) vehemently denied any knowledge that authority had been returned to him. Yes, the wheels of the borough’s bureaucracy go round and round.

We’ve been told by various borough sources that e-mail and voice mail (those modern and efficient communication tools) were denied to the two previous police chiefs. What will be administered to our new chief is anybody’s guess.

Given the announcement that the police department has moved to the Electric Building, and under the shadow of the hasty departures of three previous chiefs . . . well, we’re rooting for him.

So, what is clear? We have not officially seen a borough system that obeys the law requiring a police blotter to be available to the public.

What’s also clear? The wheels are furiously spinning in the borough. And depending who you speak to, it’s unclear if those wheels are moving the town forward or backward.