August 5, 2008
Councilman Tenders Resignation on the Spot
By John E. Usalis, The News-Item, Shamokin, Pa.
Aug. 5--GORDON -- Monday's meeting of Gordon Borough Council ended unexpectedly with Councilman Randy Huber tendering his resignation and walking out of the meeting over the controversy involving the blocking of the access road to Gordon Municipal Park.However, at the advice of borough solicitor Mark Semanchik, action on the resignation was tabled until the September meeting.
The situation began during the public portion of the meeting when borough resident Barbara Ann Liem asked for an update on the access road, which Huber has blocked with several vehicles. Huber has consistently maintained that he owns the property in question and has the right to prevent its use by the public.
The borough's position is that part of the property has been a public road for more than 70 years and cannot be blocked. In order to enforce its claim, borough council had filed for eminent domain in the Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas, which would ensure access by the public to the road as a right of way, though Huber would retain ownership of the property in question. An initial decision by the court to open the road has been appealed by Huber. The road is currently closed, though Huber allowed its limited use for the annual Gordon Community Music and Arts Festival held in June.
Liem raised the issue by asking what the litigation process was costing the borough, directing the question to Semanchik and council President Lynn Korn.
"I'm a taxpayer. I think I should know what it's costing the borough," said Liem.
Semanchik said he did not have a total cost, but said it can be determined and reported at the next meeting.
Town 'in an uproar'
"Who right now owns that road?" asked Liem.
"Based on the action taken by council, the borough actually owns the road, subject to the objections by the property owner who's resisting it," said Semanchik. "Because these objections have been filed, there needs to be a judge to render a decision as to whether the borough or the property owner is right."
"If the borough wants to get rid of a council person, what is the legality?" asked Liem.
"I'm not prepared to answer that," Semanchik replied. "I know the borough code does contain a provision, but what the provisions are I would need to check into."
"I ask you, Madam President, by the next meeting to please find out what the borough code states," said Liem. "The town is getting in an uproar."
"I know. I know it," said Korn.
"The idea that we would have a person serving on this council that is causing us hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars," said Liem. "This is ridiculous."
Liem referred to the resignation letter from Code Enforcement Officer Carey Mullins read earlier in the meeting in which he stated that if people don't care, then what can a code enforcement officer do in a municipality. She then changed the subject of the statement for the situation.
"And if our council members don't care, then why are they on council?" Liem asked. "Something has to be done."
Council Vice President Kurt Lynch commented that an elected official in Lock Haven in Clinton County was removed from office by a county judge because of a litigation issue with the city.
"I think that should be looked into," said Lynch.
'Fine, I will' (resign)
Semanchik replied to a question by Councilwoman Suzanne O'Neill that the eminent domain procedures can take time depending on what is needed to collect the facts, adding that the judge is working on the case and had received an additional filing of documents within the last 10 days.
After listening to the comments, Huber responded in his defense, noting that just because he is on council does not abrogate his rights to his property and its use as he sees fit.
"I started this in August of last year. My survey stated that the road was mine," said Huber. "Consider it from my standpoint if it was your property and I came over and told you that even though you own the property, I can tell you who can go across it and who can't."
Huber plans to pave his section of the road and doesn't want all types of vehicles driving over it after spending his money on the improvement.
"If the people of the town are that upset with me over this and want me to resign my position on council, fine, I will," said Huber. "Is it going to stop me from fighting for my rights? No. I'm never going to stop fighting for my rights."
"Frankly, Randy, I don't think I would have much trouble getting a petition signed because people are upset," said Liem.
"OK, then I will put my resignation in," said Huber. "That way I'm off council and there isn't a conflict of interest."
"You can do it right now," said Liem.
"If I had a piece of paper, I would put my resignation in," said Huber.
At those words, Mayor Nick Troutman stood up, pulled a blank piece of paper from his legal pad, walked over to Huber, placed the paper on the table in front of him, and walked back to his chair silently.
With total silence in the room, Huber wrote a short resignation letter and handed it to Korn, saying, "But if you actually think that this is going to stop me from fighting for my rights, you're wrong."
Korn asked Semanchik about the next action, with Semanchik basically recommending a cool-down period.
"I would suggest that council and Mr. Huber step back," Semanchik advised. "Take the letter under advisement at the next meeting if that's the desire of council."
"I'm sick and tired of always being the brunt of everything," Huber said. "Everything involving this road is my fault because I'm fighting for my rights. I will always fight for my rights."
Huber then stood and walked out of the meeting room, followed by Korn adjourning the meeting.
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