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  • Writer's pictureMichael Hays

In Pottstown: Public Comment Restricted, Mixed Message on Homeless Sweep Plans

“Another outsider.” 

Pottstown Borough Manager Justin Keller – eyebrows furrowed – could be heard with a muffled sigh from the public microphone about 10 feet away, as area taxpayers and citizens spoke out recently against the borough’s cruel aggressions against the homeless population. It was clear he did not like wasting his time with comments from Barto, Phoenixville, and Bridgeport. 

In a move that cannot be attributed to coincidence with a straight face, Council voted earlier this week (5-2) to restrict public comment during meetings to only residents of the borough. Councilman Andrew Monastra made the motion, stating that speech should be limited to “residents and taxpayers, translated, stakeholders in this borough. Taxpayers, residents should be speaking,” according to the Mercury

Council members Lisa Vanni and Joe Kirkland dissented on the vote. 

I recognize that this is the standard practice of some municipalities and school boards in Montgomery County. Meetings can run over three hours at times and you want to conduct business in an efficient manner. However, it should be noted that Norristown Council faced similar scrutiny over its response to rising homelessness this past summer and fall, yet did not respond by essentially shutting out voices from the area – people with stakes in the region, such as service providers, customers of Pottstown businesses, and advocates. 

I digress….In other Pottstown news, a recent Right-to-Know request filed by the Montco 30% Project revealed a ton of redacted pages (see below). 

What we asked for: Emails, memos and any other correspondence on the issues of Homelessness and Encampments in Pottstown Borough from 2022 to the present 

Who - Borough Manager Justin Keller; Council President Dan Weand; and Councilors Andrew Monastra, Don Lebedynsky, and Ryan Proscal

What we received:   97 pages of documents, mostly related to the ongoing lawsuit and largely blackened and redacted (allowed by law since it is the subject of active litigation). Noticeably absent was any correspondence from Council President Dan Weand. 

There was also a large cache of Tri-County Network minutes and correspondence related to their Pottstown Homelessness Taskforce. 

One noteworthy contradiction: 

Pottstown Borough is currently appealing a federal judge’s ruling which stipulates that the local government may not criminally punish individuals who camp on borough-owned property. This past autumn, Pottstown embarked on plans to post “no trespassing” signs in an effort to move unhoused people from an area off College Drive near the Schuylkill River Trail. 

Keller, the borough manager, said in a statement to MediaNews Group that “a number of tents, structures and other items of the unhoused” were found on borough-owned property “within the floodway near Keystone Boulevard.” Keller maintained borough officials have “taken steps to proactively address these concerns with a focus on compassion and understanding,” and cited “safety reasons” for the move.

Yet the documents provided in the RTK response make no mention of “floodway” safety, but rather discuss “vegetation work.” One redacted email mentions the “Encampment Response Plan” (Confidential) – Notice of Upcoming Vegetation Work – Dated Sept. 26, 2023. 

Council’s vote to limit public comment will likely ease some discomfort they faced from difficult questions. Nevertheless, it does nothing to help solve the challenges of housing affordability and homelessness. Both actions reflect sub-par public service.

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