WATSONTOWN MAYOR HONTZ-NON RESIDENT PETITION
MANY PEOPLE FROM OUTSIDE OF WATSONTOWN HAVE REQUESTED TO SIGN OUR PETITION. NOW YOU CAN REGARDLESS OF WHERE YOU LIVE! You must be 18 or older to sign this petition. If you support our right to petition our local government and agree with us, please sign to support this cause. You do not have to be a registered voter to sign this petition. For the first time in the recorded history of Watsontown over 400 citizens have called for the mayor’s voluntary resignation. The residents that have signed do not dispute the 2013 election results although a negative campaign was used by the mayor. More importantly, we are not satisfied with the performance of the mayor since he won re-election in 2013. We choose to exercise our 1st amendment rights to petition the government. We are non-partisan and demand cooperation and want our elected officials to work together for the good of the community. This petition is about public accountability. Regardless of the election results, the mayor should represent all of the citizens of Watsontown, and many are speaking out. It is our opinion that Mayor Hontz should resign for the reasons below.
The first reason for this petition to request the resignation of Mayor David Hontz is the mayor’s groundless suspension of our past police chief Dennis Derr that resulted in the loss of a 33 year veteran police chief, and we paid a $23,875 settlement for it. Chief Derr served the community honorably. After he was suspended according to the mayor for, “a code of conduct issue between he and the chief,” Chief Derr was reinstated by the borough council after they disagreed with the mayor’s reason for the suspension, which was discussed in executive session. The only reason given to the public was a code of conduct issue between the chief and the mayor. The reinstatement of the chief led to a lawsuit by Chief Derr and rightly so. The chief was highly respected and did not deserve this treatment. Regardless of the mayor’s defense of his decision and his attempt to minimize this incident, the $23,875 settlement of this lawsuit will have a negative impact on the boroughs future liability insurance rates, and more importantly it calls into question the mayors ability to lead and his judgment. He had the opportunity to admit the mistake and he refused to do so. Chief Derr was a Marine Corps veteran with an impeccable record of service to Watsontown. Because of this insult, Chief Derr subsequently retired and we do not want our new Chief to be treated the same way. It is our observation that this issue has divided the community and it was wrong of the mayor to do this and it demonstrates poor judgment by the mayor.
Posted: Friday, June 13, 2014 11:45 pm from the Daily Item
Top cop's lawsuit to cost Watsontown $23G By Ashley Wislock
WATSONTOWN — Police Chief Dennis Derr’s federal lawsuit against Watsontown was settled for $23,875.20, according to agreement terms obtained through a right-to-know request.
The settlement will be paid by the borough’s insurance company, Summit Risk Services/Selective insurance Group.
Derr filed the lawsuit against the borough, Mayor David Hontz and a former employee, Scott Winters, who has since filed his own lawsuit against the borough and Derr.
The settlement stipulates that parties will not discuss the settlement publicly.
As of Friday morning, Borough Council President Harriet Miller had signed the agreement on behalf of the borough. Winters had signed but Hontz had not.
However, Hontz said Friday he did plan to sign the agreement, though he wished the suit played out in the public rather than behind closed doors and hashed out by the borough’s insurance company.
The borough voted to accept a settlement in the lawsuit, filed in February, after its June 2 meeting.
Derr claimed that his constitutional rights of free speech without fear of retaliation and freedom of association were violated when he was suspended without pay by Hontz on Feb. 17. Derr alleged his suspension was in retaliation for raising concerns that Winters, then public works supervisor, had the potential for workplace violence.
Derr was unanimously reinstated by the Borough Council after two weeks.
Meanwhile, Winters’ lawsuits continue against Watsontown and Derr, alleging the police chief defamed him and the borough terminated his employment unjustly, violated his free speech rights and caused him “significant mental anguish, embarrassment (and) humiliation.”
The suit against Watsontown was moved to federal court last week, while the suit against Derr remains in Lycoming County Court.
Winters is seeking at least $50,000 plus court costs. Why does our mayor and his wife support a person that is suing the borough?
The second reason for the petition is that the mayor demonstrates a pattern of behavior that is in our opinion, not appropriate for a mayor or any elected official. The controversy began with a negative election campaign in 2013 where the mayor referred to our council in the newspaper as “despicable” and it is our opinion that the borough has had controversy ever since. You only need to read the newspapers to see there is ongoing consternation in our town. The people that signed the petition do not want our town to be represented in this way, so they have chosen to exercise their constitutional right. Some specific examples of this pattern of behavior, all taken from the borough meeting minutes are:
At the 12-16-13 meeting on page 18 of 25 on the subject of the position of the EMA director The mayor said “now, I’ll respond; why don’t you stick around or don’t you have the guts for it”. He then told the person to have a seat. Later in the conversation, the mayor pointed at President Miller. We do not feel that this behavior is appropriate. In our opinion, this is not appropriate conduct by the mayor in a public meeting, or at anytime for that matter.
At the 2-11-14 meeting on page 1 of 12 after a vote was made by the borough council to terminate an employee the mayor shouted “No” at his disapproval of the decision. The mayor does not have the authority, and it is not his role to vote on this kind of issue, so it is our opinion, that this was not an appropriate way to conduct himself.
At the 5-5-14 meeting on page 11 of 13 the mayor talks about getting even. The mayor said, “I am under a lot of emotional stress over this; I’m to the point that I’m not going to get angry anymore, I’m going to go by the old saying “get even” and that’s not a course I want to take”. We would hope that the mayor would not get even with anyone. We don’t feel this would be appropriate if he would do this. It is our feeling, that this behavior is not acceptable and just the suggestion of this by a mayor at a public meeting is not appropriate behavior.
At the 8-4-14 meeting on page 8 of 11 the mayor became upset at a council meeting over damage to a dumptruck. President Miller said it was reported….. Mayor Hontz interrupted President Miller and said “this is your insurance money; a well kept Secret!” It is our opinion that this was not an appropriate response by the mayor and it was accusatory in nature and very disrespectful of the council president.
In our view, Mayor Hontz exhibits a pattern of behavior that has cast our leadership in a negative light, causing division and embarrassment to Watsontown. The Daily Item asked the mayor for comments about the petition in early August, when we first tried to present it to him but he was on vacation. He commented “I don’t give it the time of day”. “The whole thing is worthless” He went on to say, “that those circulating the petition have nothing better to do than to pick at scabs.” We don’t feel that 413 voices are insignificant and we don’t believe tearing up a petition at a public meeting is a pattern of behavior that is acceptable, or that our right to speak out is worthless. In our view the mayor should listen to the residents of Watsontown.
The third reason for the petition is that the mayor has not acted within his role as defined by the PA Borough Code. Other than the power to direct the police force, there are no provisions in the borough code authorizing the mayor to supervise other employees. In our opinion, Mayor Hontz has not acted within his authority as mayor. The mayor on his own Facebook page on February 6th references the borough council and states that he is “simply the watchdog.” In our view, this statement by the mayor calls into question his understanding of the role he is supposed to play. The citizens are the watchdogs of this borough, not the mayor. In our opinion, this attitude by the mayor has led to more conflict. The 413 people who signed this petition do not want our town to be led by a mayor who does not understand his job. Some recent examples of the mayor not understanding his role taken directly from the meeting minutes are:
On 8/7/15, The Daily Item asked the mayor for a comment about the stress our boro manager, Edie Moser, had been under. He responded “Its true. I was quick to point out her shortcomings of her performance on a month to month basis.” Nobody, I repeat NOBODY from the Resign Now petition group has said or implied in any way that the mayor killed Edie Moser. In our view, it is the mayors own admission in the Daily Item about her performance that should concern us all, because it simply is not his role to point out the shortcomings of any borough employee, because he does not have the authority to supervise them. He did not have the authority to supervise Ms. Moser.
At the 9/29/14 meeting, page 6 of 10, the mayor asked Ms. Moser why some weeds were not sprayed? She gave an explanation that other things had to be taken care of first and the mayor interrupted “this is the second year in a row that nothing has been sprayed.” It is our belief that supervising the boro manager was not the job of the mayor and that a good leader praises in public and criticizes in private. In our opinion, it was simply not his role to do this and he did not have this authority.
At the 3/2/15 meeting, page 4 of 6, The mayor had a lengthy heated discussion about plowing the alleys and overtime. It was reported by The Standard Journal on 3/3/15 that Mayor Hontz yelled at Councilman Folk “You are about the rudest person I have ever met.” In our view, a good leader shows respect for those he works with, nor is it the mayor’s job to manage boro workers and it is not his role to scream at a member of the council. In our opinion it was very disrespectful and unprofessional.
During a recent borough committee meeting on 9/28/15 the mayor had a couple of angry outbursts. First he claimed he was excluded from a meeting. It was explained several times by the borough secretary and a council member that only one council person was present (not 3 which would constitute a meeting) and further explained that the purpose was to learn a computer system to order parts. In our view, a good leader learns the relevant facts before speaking. Furthermore, it is not the mayor’s role to learn to order computer parts. It has been said that one of the qualities we need in our new boro manager is that they will stand up to the mayor. Why should a boro manager have to stand up to the mayor in the first place, since it is not his responsibility to manage or supervise the borough manager, or any other borough employee?
We are speaking out about important issues that are dividing our town and we have the right to seek new leadership. The citizens of Watsontown are responsible for holding all public officials accountable. We will continue to do so until the mayor resigns. The one person that can end this process is Mayor Hontz. The mayor should do the right thing and put an end to the division, that we feel has existed in our town for most of his current term. He should resign and allow new leadership to assume the role of mayor, so we truly can get on with the business of the borough, instead of dealing with issues that have divided us since 2013.
The fourth reason is that the mayor shared confidential information with the public, which is against policy. It had been brought to the attention of council that a regular boro employee had made decisions on their own without consulting management. Council disagreed with the decisions of the employee and remedied the situation in a private session. After the situation was resolved between the employee and council, the mayor shared confidential information about the private meeting with the public because he disagreed with council's decision. It was a personnel matter. A confidential letter written by a borough employee to borough council was e-mailed by the mayor's wife to a citizen after the mayor shared it. In our view, the mayor acted unethically when he violated the employee’s right of privacy. He had no business overstepping his authority and undermining council's decision.
The fifth reason is that in our opinion the mayor has contributed to high legal costs for the borough by creating a mistrusting, divisive environment from the time he took office in 2013 to present, in our opinion.
Some specific examples from the public record are:
On 11/16/13 the Standard Journal reported that the mayor said “I have been rather controversial and pushing the ethical issues and pointing out things that really aren’t kosher in my mind of thinking.” “A lot of people in this town are fed up with the way members of council have performed. I think they are encouraging further investigation of issues, as far as how our elected officials approach things.” The council has done nothing wrong. We challenge the mayor to produce evidence of wrongdoing by the borough council. The mayor accuses people without proof of wrongdoing and in our view this is highly confrontational and irrational. In our view it is wrong!
At the 11/24/14 meeting, p. 5 of 11, the mayor was asked about what conflict between the council and the mayor precipitated the use of a $4,000 stipend for attorney fees? The mayor said, “that he’s been told that he’s opposed council in their handling of a former employees dismissal but he thinks the conflict goes back further than that.” The mayor did not have a say in the dismissal of the former employee and should not have needed independent council to represent him then or now. It is our observation that the mayor cannot even get along with the borough solicitor and this situation contributes to our high legal fees. From August 2014 to August 2015 we the taxpayer have had to incur $3,255 of this $4,000 stipend. From August 2015 to present we have incurred $1,410 of the allowable $4,000 stipend. We have not been able to find any mayor in the history of Watsontown that has needed his own legal representation. Why does our mayor need to do this? In our opinion, it is because he cannot get along with anyone in the long term.
Police Chief Dennis Derr was suspended without cause by the mayor resulting in a $23,875 settlement. Taking an unnecessary risk or making a reckless decision because you have insurance to pay for it is called a “moral hazard”. Underwriters cancel insurance policies for such reasons. In our opinion this lawsuit calls into question the judgment of the mayor. He had the ability to change his mind and refused to do so.
We are a small community of 2,200 residents and our legal costs are out-of-control. Our budget for legal fees in 2013 and 2014 was $34,000. The cost of legal fees in 2013 was $65,089 and in 2014 was $71,784 and in 2015 from January to October 2015, the cost is $30,040.07. The 2015 budget had to be increased to $66,000. Hughesville, a town approximately the same size as Watsontown, uses the same boro solicitor. Their boro solicitor fees cost $12,000 a year. Watsontown borough must have a solicitor present at every committee meeting and regular council meeting because of the constant conflict and mistrust. This drives up the cost of legal fees and the borough could be spending this money on many other projects to improve the community. Last year the question was asked why our boro solicitor fees were so high? Attorney Ben Landon representing the solicitor, said that there was a lot of strife in Watsontown. In our opinion, we need new leadership that will put an end to this strife! The borough council needs legal representation at both meetings because the mayor has been known to threaten to sue the borough if he does not get his way.
How much has the mayor cost us? The number below is very conservative.
2014/2015 stipend of $4,000 from the mayors attorney was $3,255
2015 to present of $4,000 stipend from the mayors attorney is $1,410
Deductable paid by the borough for Chief Derr lawsuit was $2,500
Cost to have our borough solicitor present at working committee meetings for the last 24 months. The solicitors hourly rate is $135 per hour X a conservative 3 hours for each meeting X 24 months was $9,720.
Grand total is $16,885
This does not include all of the hours the solicitor has had to spend researching legal items related to the mayor because of the constant conflicts he has with council. Why does it cost $12,000 per year for legal fees in a town similar in size to ours? Hughesville pays the same solicitor $12,000 per year. Hughesville does not have the solicitor present at most of the working committee meetings because their mayor gets along with the council. In our opinion, this has to stop. Think of what we could do with the extra money if we spent only $12,000 per year in legal fees.
The sixth reason for the petition is that the mayor has demonstrated an inability to get along with council and the solicitor at a level never seen before. Three council members have signed the petition and in our opinion this is also a further indication of the division that exists. These three council members demonstrate courage and they recognize the need for a new direction. This began with a 2013 re-election campaign where the mayor was quoted in the Daily Item as referring to the council as “despicable.” The mayor, by law is allowed to retain his own legal counsel when a dispute arises, but the taxpayers of Watsontown are on the hook for the $4,000 he is allowed to spend every year. For the reasons stated above, it is our opinion that the mayor is not capable of compromise, and the citizens of Watsontown are paying for it. The mayor can’t even get along with the borough solicitor and in our opinion this is unacceptable.
POINT 7 WAS JUST ADDED ON 10-28-15
The seventh reason is that the mayor still publicly supports a former employee that has filed a lawsuit on the borough and in our opinion this is divisive to our community. The lawsuit will be heard in January 2017. It is no secret that the mayor was close friends with the former public works supervisor. In the public meeting minutes on 5-5-14, page 10 of 13 the mayor refers to him as “his friend and very confident working ally.” On 11-24-14 of the meeting minutes on pages 5-6 of 11, Solicitor Tira said there is some attorney/client privilege but the conflict is there is a pending lawsuit by Mr. Winters versus Council against this Borough; the mayor has made it well known his position is adverse to the Council on that issue. Solicitor Tira said he is not able to advise him on that if he has a different position than this Council; he has told the Mayor publicly and privately in the interest of the Council and the interest of the Mayor that it would be a conflict to advise him. Viola Ranck asked at the same meeting on page 6 again if that was the Mayor’s answer; “are you publicly siding with Mr. Winters”; to which the Mayor said “what difference does it make?” She asked “are you publicly siding with Scott Winters against the Borough”? The Mayor continued “against the Borough”; “I’m an associate of Mr. Winters, I believed in Mr. Winters from the time he came here and still do”; “the conflict, the degree of that conflict exists right here.” Viola Ranck asked the same question of the mayor at the public meeting on 10-26-15. As reported in the Standard Journal the mayor would not answer the question as to why he is supporting a former employee that is suing the borough. It is our observation and opinion that the division and conflict will continue until the mayor resigns.
For the reasons stated above the undersigned citizens of the borough of Watsontown, are respectfully requesting the voluntary resignation of Mayor David Hontz. We have lost confidence in his ability to lead and are not satisfied with a community that is divided! We believe the mayor’s role should be one of leadership, and working with all people and with the Watsontown borough council, for the betterment of the Borough and its citizens. We desire new leadership in the role of the Mayor of Watsontown.
Mr. Mayor, there are 413 Watsontown Borough residents that want their voice to be heard and we respectfully request your resignation. The mayor should do what is best for this community and Resign Now!
We will continue to add reasons to this petition as new items develop.
Note: Borough meeting minutes can be accessed online at http://www.watsontownpa.info/