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Reading water lease discussion reaches boiling point

By Leah Fleischel, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: May 21 2014 11:08:40 PM CDT
Updated On: May 22 2014 12:01:02 AM CDT

Things get heated at meeting over water authority

READING, Pa. -

For the first time in a long time, the City Council of Reading and the Mayor sat down in a Committee of the Whole, meeting specifically about the city’s water lease situation.

That sit-down was short-lived, as Council President Frances Acosta and Council Vice President Jeffrey Waltman left the building approximately 20 minutes into the meeting after no progress was made.

The Mayor prepared a statement that outlined his plan which included an evaluation of an independent firm, with the cost of the evaluation to be covered by RAWA, and a time frame of negotiations picking up as early as June with final decisions to be made in August.

The rest of the Mayor’s comments were about the council's wording of the advertisement which made the public aware of the meeting, and he also spent the time asking specifics as to the type of meeting being held.

“When you’re ready, come talk to us,” said Acosta as he picked up his belongings to leave the Chamber.

Mayor Vaughn Spencer called out that Acosta “can’t stand the heat” as Acosta and Waltman exited the room.

On the agenda set by Council was a confirmation of the statement on water lease preferences and a review of items that the mayor and Council could agree to work on together.

The stalemate between the camps was highlighted by words and actions, but agreements of any kind did not occur.

With a quorum of Council members still present, the decision to adjourn or continue the meeting after a short recess was up to Councilwoman Donna Reed and Councilmen Christopher Daubert, Dennis Sterner,  and Stratton Marmarou.

Council members and the Mayor decided to stick to an abbreviated agenda, which was followed by an informal meeting period where the public could comment.

Council members were the first to give their opinions, and their comments focused on the process rather than the water lease.

Sterner said multiple times that his desire is to look at other systems, and he questioned why only one offer would be considered for such a large asset.

Other members chose to speak to the quality of the meetings.

“I am so incredibly frustrated. I can’t imagine how frustrated the public is watching this… We can do better,” said Daubert.

Reed said she regretted the way the meeting began and that the “war of words” had to come to an end.

She also commented on the condition of the city and how even minor improvements, such as beautification of the area, cannot be done because of disagreements.

“The bottom line is you have five members that will conduct business in a fair and proper manner. We will go forward.” said Reed.

Members of the public also expressed their frustration with both the process and the behavior of their elected officials.

Johanny Cepeda, a local business owner and resident, said "there is too much time, money, and energy being wasted” on the water lease, and not enough focus on the city.

Cepeda said she knows of a petitioners' committee that is willing to take matters into their own hands if a resolution cannot be made.

According to Reed, Council will hold a Town Hall meeting to be scheduled at a later date.