As City Council takes up Mayor Gabriel J. Campana's proposed tenant registration law, issues of security and privacy will be closely scrutinized, starting with council's public safety committee.
But, to date, council members say they have not seen the mayor's proposal.
"I haven't seen a single word," Council President Bill Hall said, adding it didn't seem right to subject tenants to registering their names if they are open for everyone to view.
Campana said Friday his intention isn't to allow tenants' names to be made public.
Gut reaction: 'I am opposed to it'
Still, Hall has reservations about the proposed legislation.
"My gut reaction is, I am opposed to it," Hall said. "We have laws on the books, at the state and federal level, regarding child sex offenders, and I would think twice about putting renters into that category.
"It's modeled after an ordinance in Berwick, a borough of 10,000-plus people without colleges," he said. "It's probably easier to maintain the comings and goings there. Here, we're in a city of 30,000 and we get another 10,000 students with Pennsylvania College of Technology and Lycoming College. Just the bureaucracy involved of it seems to be overwhelming."
People's security, privacy
"My first concern is people's security and privacy," said Councilman Don Noviello, who agrees with the premise but seeks more review to be "fair and equitable."
Meanwhile, Councilman Jonathan Williamson wants to protect individual rights.
"My No. 1 priority is to protect citizens' rights, regardless of whether they own or rent the property," Williamson said. "I think any time government intrudes on people's individual rights, it goes too far ... I plan to carefully review whatever gets proposed ... and make sure it's in the best interest of the city and protects our city citizens in all of their rights."
"The law needs to be narrowly written to address specific city problems rather than those of a smaller community such as Berwick, which the mayor says it's patterned after," said Councilman Randall J. Allison.
"I think it's a good idea to give us more tools to deal with problem areas, without targeting any specific class of people. We're looking to address absentee landlord issues and the criminal element that resides in their properties."
More tools for problem areas
"I don't know what our's will be like," Councilwoman Bonnie Katz said after looking at a first reading of a similar ordinance that Sunbury is reviewing. "That's why we have to be careful where we go."
"As a landlord, I don't have a basic problem in looking at something like that," Councilman N. Clifford "Skip" Smith said. "I'm in agreement with some sort of landlord-tenant registration process because I am tired of those landlords who don't pay taxes and out of town 'slumlords' who don't have any idea who is in their buildings.
"Without invading privacy, I want it to be enforced," Smith continued. "I want them to go after those not up to codes and renting to drug dealers. The basic idea of him wanting to know where people are and how many are living in a building - that's public safety."
'Premature to get excited'
Smith said he was informed the city is on its second draft of the proposed ordinance. It would be heading to public safety committee, which he chairs.
"I think it is premature to get excited and up in arms until we have a public work session at the committee level."
Attempts to reach Councilwoman Liz Miele on the issue were not successful.
Campana has stated the law will help prevent "obnoxious behavior" among tenants and hold landlords accountable for their own actions and those of the renters. He also believes registration can provide more accurate population figures for the next Census in 2020.
The mayor has gone so far as to suggest the 2010 Census has not properly counted the city's total population and that Marcellus Shale growth and people living in hotels were not accounted for.
Census data 'key' to tax aid
The last Census listed the city's population at 29,381, a drop from 30,706 people accounted for 10 years ago.
"Census information is a key component for what the city receives in federal and state aid," Noviello said.
City solicitor Norm Lubin told the Sun-Gazette he would be willing to listen to any proposed changes, such as eliminating any requirement of tenants' identities to be public.
Williamson said such discussion and possible revision can be anticipated.
"It's up to us to also have discussions with solicitors because we may ask different questions," Williamson said.
"Legal review is only one part of the decision-making and it doesn't always mean it's a good idea, but our responsibility is to pass laws that are legal."