Tempers flare over Pittston rental inspections


First Posted: 9/12/2013

Tensions spilled over.

Pittston’s monthly Council meeting Wednesday night was dominated by parties upset over the recently beefed-up city rental inspection and safety ordinance.

Several landlords, a lawyer and former Congressional Candidate Laureen Cummings of Old Forge, who represents the Lackawanna, Luzerne and Monroe Counties Homeowner, Landlord and Tenant Association, raised concerns to council.

Council in June updated an ordinance requiring biennial safety and fire inspections of all rental units and businesses. The goal, officials have said, is to protect the health and safety of residents and to clean up dilapidated and neglected properties.

Cummings said the ordinance, similar to ones recently passed in Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and East Stroudsburg, is unconstitutional under the 4th amendment, which protects citizens against unreasonable search and seizure. She said a federal, class-action lawsuit could be filed against the city.

“This is a constitutional quandary,” Cummings said. “The people need to stand up and say ‘this is wrong, you cannot go into somebody’s home.’”

Solicitor Sam Falcone said he would be willing to review any case law that is brought before him, but he’s sure the city’s ordinance is on solid footing.

“We’re finding out the 10-day restriction may be too tight, we’re finding out that certain things have to be relaxed,” Falcone said. “But none of this is unconstitutional. If you have a federal or state case that says it’s unconstitutional, I’ll be happy to read it.”

Councilman Danny Argo, an opponent of the measure, said there is no difference between those who rent or those who own.

“I have two homes near me that are worse than any rental property,” Argo said. “But you can’t go in there any time you want.”

At one point a shouting match erupted.

Argo and Councilman Joe McLean walked out of the meeting and landlord and former mayoral candidate Don Yatko was removed from the meeting by police after the mayor referenced “slumlords” and Yatko responded aggressively.

“All of the sudden we come in and start enforcing a law what wasn’t enforced in the past,” Klush told Argo. “And, because we’re cleaning up, now we’re getting a fight from you and from people that are slumlords that don’t care about the city.”

McClean, a volunteer city firefighter, was injured in a fire at a meth lab operating in the city last year.

“My life has been on hold for a year because I went to an apartment that came in as a furnace fire and opened the Bilco door and I took in hazardous chemicals,” McLean told Argo. “It was a rental property in Oregon, two blocks away from your house.”

Argo shot back that was an isolated incident.

Meanwhile, council appointed former mayor Michael Lombardo to the city’s Housing Authority. He will replace Tony Guariglia, who’s term has expired.

Lombardo will join Chairman Frank Serino, Mike Augello, Charlie Dominick, and Infantino Tower resident Patricia Finley on the board.

The Klush administration is making the move as part of the Neighborhood Housing Stabilization and Development Initiative, announced last year.

“It terms of the administration’s strategy, there’s always been a disconnect with the Housing Authority,” Lombardo said. “To move the neighborhood initiative forward, we need the Housing Authority on board.”

Lombardo, a member of a the city’s Redevelopment Authority, said there’s a “required overlap” between the Housing and Redevelopment authorities and he welcomes the opportunity to bridge the gap.

Lombardo said Guariglia, who is on the Pittston Area School Board, shouldn’t technically be serving on the Housing Authority because he’s an elected official in an overlying municipal jurisdiction. Lombardo said Guarigila will be asked to serve as the Pittston Area liaison on the city’s new Parks and Recreation Committee and the review board for the neighborhood initiative.

In other business:

• A new traffic light, at the corner of Market and Main streets, is in the final stages of approval. Council passed seven resolutions, as required by PennDOT, to recalibrate all of the lights so they will be synced.

Officials have said the gap between the Columbus Street and the Broad Street lights is too large and people are speeding through the downtown. City officials and PennDOT agree that the new light will act as a “traffic calming mechanism.”

• Traffic Committee notified council a stop sign should be placed at the Tompkins and West Frothingham Street intersection.

• The city hired Stephen Nowroski of Swoyersville as a code officer with a yearly salary of $56,000. He is a fully licensed building code official and is able to issue permits and conduct inspections under the state’s Uniform Construction Code.

• City Administrator Joe Moskovitz said recycle bins are available at City Hall for all residents. Residents may pick one up during normal business hours and must show proof of residency.

• Council passed an employee manual, which includes such things as chain of command, a social media policy, harassment policies, and defines things such as employee workday, time off, vacation, holidays, leave and general work rules.

• Before the meeting, McLean introduced two members of the military on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

One man, David Oleader of Pittston, recently returned from a supply mission to Kuwait with the 109th Field Artillery. McLean called him a “hometown hero” and he received a standing ovation.

The other, Commander Al Seeman, is the head of the Naval Reserve Center in Avoca. The unit helped out in the cleanup last weekend of the Pittston City Cemetery. “I’ve never seen a more dedicated group,” McLean said.

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