Council President Bill Hall has asked Mayor Gabriel J. Campana to stop using police as a "political arm of his administration" after city Police Chief Gregory A. Foresman began posting comments on the Internet to counter the councilman's concerns about the cost and value of security cameras.
Hall expressed those concerns after the mayor ordered the basketball hoops permanently removed from Memorial Park last week.
Foresman also used the posting to defend Campana's decision to remove the hoops as a way to stop a potential shooting and to drive away a drug sale and gang recruitment culture at the courts.
"I call this the politics of personal destruction," Hall said of Foresman's use of the Internet. "Nowhere in the job description do I find that a police officer, on the taxpayers' dime, should be issuing public statements intimidating and questioning the people (Hall) that the voters have elected to represent them," Hall said.
Foresman, meanwhile, contends it's his constitutional right to say what he wants in whatever manner necessary.
"No," Hall said. "He's a cop 24-7."
"If you don't think that being verbally attacked in newspapers by people with the authority to arrest you is intimidating, then stand in my shoes," Hall said. "My main job is to safeguard the taxpayers' money. I will continue to focus on that. I would suggest the chief re-focus his efforts on the job he is paid to do keeping us safe and catching drug dealers and criminals."
Foresman said he did not want to go back and forth with Hall, adding that Hall has been the one who has been soft on crime and has offered little feedback to police about solutions to the city's heroin and drug problem.
"All I was doing was repeating some statements he (Hall) made and qualified them with my own answers," Foresman said.
Hall, however, said he remains worried about the city's battle against heroin use and drug overdoses and wants to work closely with police but has a right to question the efficency of the camera system meant to provide evidence leading to the arrest and conviction of criminals.
"We received almost $500,000 (from a U.S. Department of Justice grant) for a system that involved seven cameras, and took almost four years to implement," Hall said. "By comparison, I am told that State College managed to buy 71 cameras and the supporting infrastructure for the same amount of money."
Hall said the city leaders wanted to see whether the cameras worked and could lead to more drug arrests and convictions. Of the 10 cameras now operating, four are in Memorial Park, he said.
Campana also went on the offensive after Hall questioned his methods, and took it a step further by claiming Hall's voting record proves a "lack of" or "no leadership."
"Hall's questions are from a councilman who voted for a reduction in the number of police officers patrolling our streets, not to mention that he was extremely critical of the city rental ordinance and only voted in favor after essential components had to be removed," Campana said.
"I made none of those modifications (to the rental ordinance)," Hall said in response. "I managed the debate and the motions.
"All of the modifications presented by six different council people were agreed to by Assistant Chief Timothy Miller, who was in charge of putting the ordinance together. I voted in favor of it at Miller and Foresman's recommendation," Hall said.
As for members of the new Team Williamsport, a citizens advocacy group, wanting to learn more about police and codes activities, Foresman said the group has the right to attend court appearances, as anyone can, and to go on walks with codes and police when they close down rental properties.
The Team Williamsport concept was designed by Miller.
In reference to allegations that Hall reduced police staffing, Hall said he was presented with a police budget from Campana, written by Foresman, and it requested council trim the police staff by two officers.
"I was not aware that my vote would be taken out of context and twisted in a political statement issued by a police officer," Hall said.
"And, quite frankly, I find it offensive. I had full confidence in the mayor and chief's ability to assess the number of officers required by the city."
Hall said he also voted for a request from Foresman and Campana to secure more than $350,000 in a COPS grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to add three additional officers, as did six other council members.
To date, the administration has opted out of accepting the grant approved by council.
Also, with this year's budget, Hall said he voted for hiring additional codes officers and advocated salary increases for them so that the city could hire more effective staff to enforce the new rental properties ordinance.
Hall said he also has supported the Lycoming County heroin task force in its goal to eradicate the killer drug.