An uncharacteristically large turnout at wasn't exactly a surprise as a recent controversy had ignited debate over alleged ethics violations by Councilman-at-Large Marlon Millner.
Councilwoman Mary DeSouza of violating council ethics codes by revealing privileged information about the hiring process surrounding the appointment of Norristown's new director of public works, Robert Glisson.
DeSouza had , and Millner . Both camps encouraged supporters to attend tonight's meeting to weigh in on the matter. A number of residents did just that.
Amidst a spattering of other issues—kudos for a well-planned and executed Fourth of July celebration, and complaints about Sandy Street, poor street conditions and the municipality's new website—residents took turns voicing their opposition to and support of Millner.
Council limited comments to three minutes, and while most managed to fit their remarks into that time frame, at least one had prepared a statement he was not able to relate in its entirety. (The full text of Darren Sudman's comments can be found at the end of this post.)
One resident, Arlen Gordon, described a May 18 incident in which Millner allegedly kept her from leaving a restaurant against her will and demanded she give him information about a municipal employee.
“I had to tell the waitress I was being held against my will," Gordon said. "I ask for him to be removed. He only wants to intimidate the public for personal reasons.”
Residents were clearly divided on the issue, and council took no action at tonight's meeting regarding the issue.
Before the meeting ended, Millner asked for council to convene an executive session following adjournment. He gave no explanation as to purpose of his request or what he wished to discuss.
Norristown Patch will continue to follow this issue as events unfold. Further information and news from last night's meeting to come.
Statement by Darren Sudman
Hello. My name is Darren Sudman, and I am [a] business owner in Norristown. I am lifelong Democrat. I am here to comment about the forfeiture matter.
I’d like to start off with a story. I have two kids. My son, who’s 4, just started playing soccer. A few weekends ago, he got the ball. This was his big chance. He moved the ball down the field, took a shot and scored a goal. He was so excited. Unfortunately, he shot it in the wrong goal. In the midst of the chaos and excitement, he went the wrong way.
Of course, I was still happy for him because he engaged and tried, despite achieving the wrong outcome.
This illustrates my current view of council. I truly believe that you want to do the right thing. There is no doubt that you work hard. However, the end result regularly falls short.
I was impressed at the town hall meeting two weeks ago. For the first time that I can remember, council went out into the community to engage in a dialogue. I was doubly impressed when Mimi took the mic and began to share a very detailed account of the hiring of the public works officer.
I thought, "Wow, this is very refreshing. She is passionate and transparent. I hope this is a look into how council is going to start conducting business!"
But then, something ugly and very inappropriate happened. It turned into a public shaming of Marlon Millner. This was followed by a Letter to the Editor demanding that Marlon forfeit his seat for breaches of ethics, and a public lobbying effort to get citizens to attend this meeting to speak out against these accusations.
The tirade and the article didn’t identify specific breaches. They just suggested that Marlon violated confidentiality.
I think that breaches of ethics are very serious, so I emailed the council members listed in the Letter to the Editor, and left a voicemail for Mimi. I wanted more facts. I think that facts are VERY important. I wanted to know things like:
- What was the specific information that Marlon leaked?
- Was the information really confidential?
- How would someone know that the particular information is confidential?
I did not get a response from anyone.
So, I’ve come to the conclusion, that this forfeiture issue is (1) politically motivated; (2) a distraction from the real issues; and (3) a complete waste of time.
The same Ethics Code that Marlon is accused of violating states:
Section 21-7: It shall be unlawful for any elected or appointed officer, or for any employee, to give special consideration to any person or individual beyond that which is available to every other person or individual.
If our motives are pure, and we are really interested in the ethical makeup of our elected and appointed officials (for the record, I am), we should begin to compile a list of instances whereby someone on council, or an appointed official of council, got a family member, friend or business acquaintance a contract, an appointment or a job. That would be a worthwhile exercise.
Section 41.2-312 of the Charter governs forfeiture—the action currently being pursued against Millner. The provision states that a council member can lose her position if she
- “fails or neglects to perform the duties of a Council Member; or
- “misbehaves in office” – whatever that means
Again, if our motives are pure, and we are interested in assessing the conduct and behavior of council, I have a few observations.
I contend that failing to hold public hearings and investigations on 770 Sandy Street, and failing to terminate the employment of those responsible for that mess constitutes “neglecting to perform the duties of a Council Member.”
I suggest that running out of money on the Simmons Park Project and leaving the younger residents of Norristown without basketball courts for the summer constitutes “failing to perform the duties of a Council Member.”
I believe that having a list of over 200 blighted and condemned properties in your possession for six years and not using the enforcement powers given to you to take the properties away, not only deprives the municipality of much-needed tax revenue, but constitutes “neglecting to perform the duty of a Council Member.”
So, what OR WHOM should we be focusing on?
I started off by saying that I believe that the people serving on council are good, hard-working and well-intended. I believe that. But just like my son, Jaden, you are headed toward the wrong goal. The difference is that Jaden is 4, and he doesn’t understand the consequences of his actions.
It pains me that my political party has been in total control of this town for years, and this is the direction it is headed.
It sickens me that the current priority of this council is to remove Marlon Millner, a guy who asks tough questions, challenges authority and scrutinizes the actions of Council for things like Sandy Street and minority hiring.
It is no secret that council has already “put him in the corner.” He doesn’t have a chair position, and wasn’t on the agenda of the town hall meeting.
So, I urge you to put this forfeiture matter aside. Pour this energy and effort into matters that will improve this town. Hold public meetings, write editorials and get the base activated against the real public enemies—poverty, blight and crime. Start consulting with professionals, experts and people outside of the circle that have different views. This will help you make informed and strategic decisions.
This forfeiture issue is a distraction. It is an attempt to preserve the status quo and governing stronghold. We deserve better. As a Democrat, I deserve better.