Elected Council Woman Says She’s ‘Left Out’
as Appointed Members do Mayor’s Bidding
Council President Calls Meeting “A Real Circus”
MOUNT POCONO – “This is what the problem is,” Council member Stacy Stewart-Keeler said at the beginning of the unusual adjourned borough council meeting held August 24.
“You have three people that were elected council people (indicating herself and members Claudette Williams and Aida Montanez), against three people that are appointed council people (Michael Oser, Patricia Bucco, and Ron Emilie). You now have them and the president (Fran O’Boyle) to do your bidding, Mike. And that’s not the best for the borough.”
‘Deplorable” that Mayor & Majority Kept Neville Resignation Secret
Stewart-Keeler, looking at mayor Michael Penn the entire time, while he mostly shuffled papers and avoided looking at her, called out “all the gossiping, all the name-calling, all the disrespectful things that you do to people – it’s deplorable.”
She told Penn and the council majority he apparently controls, “we are being transparent, while we are being left out of the decisions made by everyone over there (indicating Penn, O’Boyle, Oser, Bucco, and Emilie).”
Stewart-Keeler was responding to Penn’s startling claim that he was transparent over the Neville resignation, despite the fact he had known about it since July 9 and did not reveal it to anyone except his “team” of O’Boyle, Bucco, Neville, Emilie, and Oser, until the night of the August 16 meeting when he engineered Oser’s immediate appointment to the open seat “thirty seconds after council was told of it,” in the words of the solicitor.
She said “I was left out. Left out! I didn’t get a single email, not a phone call. Nothing on any of the decisions that have been made by council and that’s what the problem is.”
O’Boyle gaveled her down saying she was “out of line here in discussing things.”
Montanez disagreed. She told O’Boyle that Penn “was just up there making a campaign speech in the ‘mayor’s report’. She has a right to rebuttal of what he was claiming in his speech and I’d like to add to what she was saying.”
Penn was upset that this newspaper had obtained and published the Neville resignation emails using the state right to know laws.
In those emails, Montanez pointed out, that Penn twice promised Neville to put his resignation on the agenda. “Yet, knowing that, you never notified the rest of council. Nobody else was notified.”
O’Boyle veered off topic and started listing people on council who he claimed never called him after his wife passed away. Montanez tried to bring the subject back when O’Boyle looked at his watch and raised his gavel. “Don’t time me, don’t be disrespectful to me,” Montanez told him. “I’ve never done anything to you or anyone else on this council to be treated the way you’ve been treating me lately. I have every right to speak the same way you gave the mayor the opportunity to have his speech.”
Irony in Emilie’s Comparison of His to Oser’s Appointment
Emilie objected to being labeled as an “appointed” member of council. “I put my name in to be appointed. Anybody else in the audience could have put their name in.”
He was apparently oblivious to the irony of that statement a week after he planned with the Mayor and the other majority to rush through Oser’s appointment before anybody else had the chance to put their names in. When Montanez tried to point that out, O’Boyle gaveled her as out of order.
The meeting went downhill from there.
The evening began with Oser wheeling a seriously ill Emilie, wearing pajamas, into the council meeting room in an apparent ploy to avoid the lack of an in-person quorum should the three minority members walk out again as they did on the 16th after Oser’s appointment was rushed through.
At that meeting, Emilie attended by phone, as he has nearly all year due to his compromised health situation. The reason his attendance was considered essential by the majority of the council would become apparent a few minutes later.
Oser’s First Act is Firing Walker
At about 8:15, immediately following the borough manager and zoning reports, in his very first substantive act since being appointed at the previous meeting, Oser departed from the printed agenda to make a motion to fire Joshua Walker as the borough manager.
He made this motion after shuttling between whispered talks with Penn and Bucco during the zoning report. He could also be seen texting on his cell phone at the same time Emilie was texting on his.
This was apparently the reason Penn wanted to rush the Oser appointment through, according to more than one source from inside the borough and familiar with the discussions.
Emilie seconded the motion.
Williams was the first council member to speak. She related a pre-meeting conversation between Oser & Penn in which Oser told Penn the motion would need to be decided before 8:30 because the ailing Emilie needed to leave at that time. Oser erupted, shouting over Williams, “this is a bunch of bulls**t!”
Williams ignored the outburst and listed the numerous actions taken by Walker since being named to replace Lori Noonan. Oser again interrupted Williams, leaning into the microphone and yelling, “Bull-S**t!”
Lori Noonan then asked to be heard. At the podium, in an emotional statement, she said, “if anyone would have told me nine months ago that after leaving the borough after 31 years of service, that I would be standing here prepared to defend one of the people that replaced me, I would not have believed them.”
“In my experience in working with Joshua and from everything I have observed since I left the borough, he has shown himself to be a person of integrity, smart, and capable. To the residents and business owners of the borough, I am telling you he IS the right person for the job. Especially now, in these very trying times here in the borough. We need someone trying to keep the ship on course and I believe Joshua is that person.”
Just as Noonan was wrapping up, Emilie’s cell phone rang, bringing hoots and objections from the council members across the room. It was Emilie who had made the motion at the prior meeting to require council members to turn off their cell phones during the meeting.
This caused Bucco to jump from her seat, shrieking at the objectors, “He’s talking to his wife (who was in the doorway not holding a cell phone).” She then headed towards the hallway, telling a reporter, “get the f**k out of my way!”
“This is getting to
be a Real Circus!”
Wildly banging his gavel, O’Boyle yelled, “This is getting to be a real circus!” Oser silently rocked in his chair smirking at the scene set off by his motion.
With Oser, Bucco, Emilie, Stewart-Keeler, and audience members yelling, Noonan tried to restore order by concluding her statement with a promise that, if this board removed Walker and she is elected in November, she would vote to re-hire him. (Noonan is running for council on a ticket called “SaveMountPocono.org”, along with Don Struckle and Norm Delano. Randy Altemose is running for mayor on that ticket, and Karen Struckle for tax collector.)
O’Boyle tried to call for a vote before Emilie needed to leave, but numerous audience and council members asked to speak on the motion. Emilie left in the middle of it, wheeled out by his family.
Montanez spoke in support of Walker and said the original plan was to have an executive session to discuss the issues, but O’Boyle and Penn changed that in light of Emilie’s limited availability.
Removal of Walker Would be Illegal says Solicitor
The solicitor asked for the floor. After praising the work that Walker has done for the borough, he pointed out that the motion was premature.
Under the ordinance creating the borough manager position, the council first had to give him thirty days written notice of an intent to break the contract. “If there was a removal tonight, it would be in violation of the ordinance,” the borough’s lawyer told the council. Oser than changed his motion to give the thirty day notice of intent to terminate.
Montanez asked, “Oser, what is your issue with Joshua? Why are making this motion?” he refused to answer, simply repeating, over and over, “the motion is made.” He then leaned back and laughed.
“I don’t know who you are anymore, Michael!”
Numerous members of the public spoke – all in support of Walker and against the motion. Resident Diane Schepp took the podium and first addressed the mayor. “Michael, I don’t know why you’re doing this. I don’t know who you are anymore, Michael,” she told the mayor. “Joshua is one of your best assets. Do not lose this man.”
Schepp concluded her remarks by again directly addressing the mayor, “Michael I’m sorry, but why? You never said why.” Penn looked away each time she addressed him and never answered.
Safety Commissioner Don Struckle spoke in support of Walker, outlining the numerous ways in which he has assisted the Safety Commission.
Pocono Rocks owner Jodi Bohdal, chair of the Safety Commission and president of the business association, told the council that “there isn’t a thing we have asked that this man has not done.”
She also asked council who they “have lined up to take his job, you must have someone lined up.”
Parks Commissioner Debra Fulton told the council that “not since Lori (Noonan) left has there been one person we can call at the borough who can take care of everything.” Local business owner Norman Delano spoke briefly about the sudden and precipitous way the council was moving, “this is not right. This is not how you treat people.”
When the time came to vote, the mayor instructed O’Boyle to make it a role call vote. Voting against the motion were Stewart-Keeler, Montanez, and Williams. O’Boyle then registered the votes of Emilie, Bucco, and Oser in favor.
Reserving his vote for last, O’Boyle said “I don’t think we can afford him, but we’ll find out in January. I am going to vote ‘No’ on the motion.” With that the audience erupted with many standing to applaud the move.
Following the meeting, an emotional Walker said he was gratified and surprised by the community support and particularly appreciative to have the endorsement of Noonan, especially given the circumstances of his hiring.
But Walker’s job security remains tenuous. The mayor put his termination on the agenda he prepared for the September 20 council meeting, which had to be canceled because the agenda was not published in time.