— According to the borough secretary, trespass and other property rights violations appear to have become a habit for the Honesdale borough council in recent months, as has failing to follow the letter of the law in enforcing at least one of its ordinances.
In connection with recent stories involving enforcement of the borough’s property maintenance ordinance, TWI requested a number of documents Monday, including copies of four violation notices, bills to property owners for services rendered at those properties and any payments made to the borough for those services.
We also requested payment records dating back to the beginning of one contractor’s involvement with the borough.
Of the records requested, however, the only ones received were of payments to the contractor — Glynn Wood — for property maintenance services. For all the other documents, our requests were denied.
The reason? According to Borough Secretary Judith Poltanis, the other documents do not exist.
In the letter accompanying the documents we did receive, Poltanis, who doubles as the borough’s Open Records Officer, denies our request for copies of the violation notices and bills, citing section 705 of the PA Right To Know Law, which states, in part, “When responding to a request for access, an agency shall not be required to create a record which does not currently exist...”
Scott Smith, chairman of the council’s finance committee and the only councilman who signed the only two checks Wood appears to have received from the borough, says the reason there haven’t been any bills sent to the owners of the six properties Wood did work on is because he is about two months behind in sending them.
“It’s a timing thing,” Smith said Thursday, “We pay the contractor and then invoice the individual who owns the property. The truth is we are a month and a half to two months behind on sending them out.”
To date, Wood has been paid $1,680 for work he had done for the borough.
The fact that there are no violation notices for those project, Smith said, is not something he knows about, because he says after the firing of former Code Enforcement Officer Wayne Earley, they were all handled by former Councilman Nick Slish, who resigned recently over a scandal that erupted over one of these projects.
Smith says in the past violation notices were often not sent to property owners when approval to address their property maintenance issues was obtained verbally. This policy, he says, is no longer in effect.
Most property maintenance issues arise out of complaints from citizens, Smith said, but recently hired Zoning and Code Enforcement Officer Dan Hnatko has now begun driving around looking for violations of the borough’s property maintenance ordinance.
Information request difficulties
Although the information requested Monday — the part that was available — had been compiled by Wednesday morning, when we called to inquire about its status, Poltanis told us she needed authorization to release it. When asked whose authority she needed to release the information, she refused to give an answer.
We contacted council Vice-president Jim Brennan to request he authorize the release, who called our office later to tell us Poltanis had told him the matter was before Borough
Solicitor Richard Henry who would have to approve it before it could be sent.
“She told me as the Open Records Officer, she has five days to under the law to release anything and that the documents were being reviewed by the solicitor,” Brennan said, adding, “I told her I was going to call (The Wayne Independent) and tell you what she said, but she didn’t want me to. I don’t know what’s going on over there (at Borough Hall), but my suspicions have been raised and I’m very upset about it.”
When we called Henry to ask when he would be finished with the documents under review, he had no knowledge of them. He told us he would talk to Poltanis and get back to us, but that call never came.
We received the documents the next day.