At least one critic calls it unconstitutional, but city solicitor says ordinance ‘on solid footing’

Last updated: September 12. 2013 11:21PM - 1274 Views
JOE HEALEY jhealey@psdispatch.com

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PITTSTON — Housing issues were the primary focus of the City Council meeting Wednesday night.

The meeting was dominated by parties upset about the recently beefed-up city rental inspection and safety ordinance. Also, council appointed former Mayor Michael Lombardo to the city’s Housing Authority.

Several landlords, a lawyer and former congressional candidate Laureen Cummings, of Old Forge, who represents the Lackawanna, Luzerne and Monroe Counties Homeowner, Landlord and Tenant Association, raised concerns to council about the law.

Council in June updated an ordinance requiring biennial safety and fire inspections of all rental units and businesses. The goal, officials have said, is to protect the health and safety of residents and to clean dilapidated and neglected properties.

Cummings said the ordinance, similar to ones recently passed in Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and East Stroudsburg, is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens against unreasonable search and seizure. She said a federal, class-action lawsuit could be filed against the city.

“This is a constitutional quandary,” said Cummings. “The people need to stand up and say ‘This is wrong, you cannot go into somebody’s home.’ ”

Solicitor Sam Falcone said he would be willing to review any case law that is brought before him, but he’s sure the city’s ordinance is on solid footing.

“We’re finding out the 10-day restriction may be too tight, we’re finding out that certain things have to be relaxed,” Falcone said. “But none of this is unconstitutional. If you have a federal or state case that says it’s unconstitutional, I’ll be happy to read it.”

Meanwhile, Lombardo was appointed to the Housing Authority. He will replace Tony Guariglia, whose term has expired.

The Klush administration is making the move as part of the Neighborhood Housing Stabilization and Development Initiative, announced last year.

Lombardo, a member of a the city’s Redevelopment Authority, said there’s a “required overlap” between the Housing and Redevelopment authorities and he welcomes the opportunity to bridge the gap.

In other business:

• A new traffic light, at the corner of Market and Main streets, is in the final stages of approval. Council passed seven resolutions, as required by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, to recalibrate all of the lights so they will be synchronized.

Officials have said the gap between the Columbus Street and the Broad Street lights is too large and people are speeding through the downtown. City officials and PennDOT agree the new light will act as a “traffic-calming mechanism.”

• The Traffic Committee notified council a stop sign should be placed at the Thompkins and West Frothingham street intersection.

• The city hired Stephen Nowroski, of Swoyersville, as a building code officer with a yearly salary of $56,000.

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