Borough Council erupts over timing of vote

November 11, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Councilman-elect Scott Thomas was waiting to be sworn in and three councilmen walked out in protest before the remaining members of the Chambersburg Borough Council voted Wednesday to approve the King's Grant senior citizen housing project.

Councilmen Thomas L. Newcomer, Carl Helman and Harold Kennedy walked out of the meeting after the board voted 5 to 4 not to change the agenda to swear in Thomas before voting on the $5 million, 52-unit housing complex for low- to moderate-income senior citizens.

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Thomas, who won the election Nov. 2 to replace the Rev. W. Larry Johnson in January was sworn in early because Johnson resigned.

Johnson has been charged with fondling female inmates and bringing money into Franklin County Prison, where he served as chaplain.

"The borough tentatively agreed to move (the swearing-in) ahead of the apartment debate," Helman said before the vote on seating Thomas, the winner of the Third Ward election last Tuesday. He said the agenda was changed Wednesday afternoon to move the swearing-in back.


"I, as the leader of this body, have ... the right to set the agenda," Council President Bernard Washabaugh said.

"This is a blatant attempt by the leadership to control the vote on the issue," Helman said.

Newcomer and Helman said Washabaugh knew the council was split 5 to 4 on the apartment project and that seating Thomas could force a tie. In the case of a tie, the deciding vote would be cast by Mayor Robert Morris, who did not reveal how he would have voted.

"I do not intend to waste my time on an issue that has already been decided," Newcomer said before he, Helman and Kennedy left.

The debates on seating Thomas and the King's Grant project lasted more than three hours before the board voted 5 to 1 in favor of a lease agreement and its location at the intersection of West Queen Street and Black Avenue. Councilman James Goetz cast the dissenting vote.

Thomas, 36, did not say how he would have voted, but gave a hint. "If I was voting for the people, the people in the room have spoken," he said.

Only one person out of the more than 100 people attending the meeting spoke in favor of King's Grant. The project will be in what is now a borough parking lot and several downtown businesspeople and residents said it would consume too much public parking.

"This project is going to create the need for more additional parking," said Will Pananes, owner of the Olympia Candy Kitchen on South Main Street. Fifty-three metered parking spots would be eliminated, leaving 74, according to the site plan.

Pananes said service vehicles and visitors to the complex will want to use what's left of the public parking.

Downtown resident Russell Smith said the complex would worsen traffic safety problems along Black Avenue.

The council approved the concept for the plan in a 9-0 vote in December 1998. Leon Weiner & Associates of Wilmington, Del., proposed the project, which the borough has pledged $150,000 of public funds to support.

Executive Vice President David Curtis said the company wanted the building on Hood Street a block west, but had been persuaded to move it to accommodate the need for parking at another proposed project, the Village on the Falling Spring.

"It's a power struggle," Thomas said of the events Wednesday.

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