Lycoming Street residents air more complaints in Canton
CANTON - At its regular monthly meeting this week, Canton Borough Council fielded more concerns and complaints from some residents on Lycoming Street.
The remarks were made during the public comment period at the beginning of council's meeting.
Opening up the public comments, council president Ken Robertson welcomed everyone, and pointed out the long running time of the public comment period at last month's meeting, which he said went on for about 50 minutes.
"What I'm trying to say is we do have a lot of things that have to be taken care of, and we can't let things go extensively like that," he said, noting that council was going to limit speakers to five minutes in addressing council this month.
Robertson asked who would like to speak first, and Lycoming Street resident Mary Saunders volunteered.
"I have no problem speaking first," she said.
She had addressed council last month about the situation on Lycoming Street, in which rambunctious teenagers have been causing problems. At that time, she was also critical of part-time police officer Josh Heckman.
At this week's meeting, Saunders spoke to council about part-time police officer Steven Vanderpool, whom she has supported.
Later in the meeting, following an executive session, council voted to not retain Vanderpool, however. When asked for comment by The Daily Review, neither Robertson nor Police Chief Doug Seeley would discuss the reasons in letting him go, due to it being a personnel matter.
This week, Saunders told council that "after the last month's meeting, myself and a couple residents were outside waiting, and Ken (Robertson) came out after the meeting, and we had a conversation for quite a while about things that were going on."
Saunders continued by saying that "when we were actually talking, Officer Vanderpool had called Ken, and was worried about what was going to happen to him after what had happened at this meeting. And Ken proceeded to tell Officer Vanderpool on the phone that he would not be reprimanded at all, and if he wasâ¦"
Robertson then interrupted Saunders to make a clarification.
He denied that he had told Vanderpool that he wouldn't be reprimanded at all.
"You did say it, Ken," Saunders countered. "And another gentleman that was over there is shaking his head, that was right there with me."
After some further discussion, Saunders continued. "What I'm talking about is you told Officer Vanderpool that he would not be reprimanded."
Robertson then stated, "as of that night, he wasn't."
Saunders claimed that Robertson said that, "if he (Vanderpool) was (reprimanded), that Heckman would receive the same, if not worse for what he did to us residents on Lycoming Street. That was out of your mouth that night, outside."
The residents had met with council in private earlier this year about their concerns regarding the activity on Lycoming Street, and they were alarmed because they claimed that Heckman mentioned the meeting to the people who have been causing problems on the street.
During the September council meeting, when this was discussed, Heckman had been present, and responded to those attending the meeting.
"Don't you think they have a right to know when you're bashing them behind their backs?" he said at the time.
At that meeting, Robertson had said that the purpose of the executive session was to protect the residents from retribution from the troublemakers by allowing anonymity.
Then, Heckman said, "I apologize. I just asked them why they weren't at that meeting, that's all. I figured since the meeting was all about them, they'd be here to defend any actions that they might have had, that's all."
At this week's meeting, Heckman wasn't present.
But responding to Saunders, Robertson told her, "Officer Heckman did not do what he did maliciously. He thought it was a meeting of all the people from the street and wanted to know why people were left out of itâ¦"
He also told Saunders that council members are bound by a rule to not divulge things from executive session, but apparently the public is not. "All of you have done it already," he said.
Robertson said that, as a police officer, Heckman is "not bound under that rule."
"He (Heckman) hasn't violated anything, as far as that goes," Robertson said. "Bad judgment call? Yes, perhaps. But that's about it. That's a little bit different than something that requires a reprimand."
Council member Kurt Bastion also defended Heckman.
"Officer Heckman honestly was not aware that we were in executive session," he said.
This drew a response from Lycoming Street resident Rich Bardo.
"Excuse me, Kurt," he said. "I sat in that chair, and he's the one that excused all of us, pushing us out the door for executive session, so that's not true at all, because I argued with him that I should be in here, I'm part of Lycoming Street. That's not true, that's absolutely not true."
Saunders also brought up another issue regarding the two officers and statements that were reportedly made, which prompted Robertson to comment that it was a "he said, he said thing."
"What has happened to us didn't have to happen," Saunders told Robertson. "You can take almost all of us on Lycoming Street. We've all volunteered with our kids in school. Many of them are in volunteer fire companies doing different things, have spent years devoting our lives to giving back to the community. We're not bad people, and I've said this to you a hundred times, Ken, 'if you guys would do what's right, and you know what's right, you would have this whole community behind you.' All they want is the change that needs to go forward so we can move forward together."
Robertson told her, "that can't be done the way you want it done, not without some major legal problems, and I mean major. And it doesn't matter if you back me up or not. It wouldn't work. You have to know that."
Saunders countered, "but the community needs to know that you guys are making changes. Nobody knows anything. Nobody hears anything. All they see is the negative."
Saunders also claimed that Robertson had at one time told her that Vanderpool was "a good cop."
"What has changed, what do we not know?" she asked.
"Well, maybe we have some things that we're privy to that the general public cannot be privy to," Robertson said. "And we'll just have to let it go at that."
Saunders ended her comments with some further criticism of Heckman. She thought he was "divulging information about everybody."
Earlier in the meeting, she claimed there was an incident in which an adult stated that after Heckman left, a 15-year-old "hollered over to her aunt and said that the cops are not the ones that's calling CYS, it's the neighbors."
But after consulting with Amy Seeley, borough administrator, Robertson said there was hearsay involved.
Robertson asked if there were any other comments.
Bardo said he had something to say.
"When all of you ran for council positions, did you run for council to represent the citizens, or something else?" asked Bardo. "Because it seems to me we have valid complaints."
Bardo said it appeared to him that no matter what the residents have said to council, Heckman's actions just seemed "OK" to council.
Bardo told council members they weren't doing their jobs, and not "watching out for the best interests of our citizens." He said it seemed like nothing had been done on Lycoming Street, and he feels threatened.
He said things are not "OK."
On Tuesday, a Facebook page critical of Canton Borough had posts regarding the decision to not retain Vanderpool.
"This is so sad," one anonymous post read. "How many police officers are we going to go through before someone steps up and speaks out for the residents of Canton?"
A post attributed to Saunders read, "Well I hope the Borough Council and Chief Seeley are happy and can sleep well tonight now that they had their way and let Vanderpool go."
On the other end of the spectrum, one visitor, who didn't identify herself, objected to what she described as the "bashing" of Heckman at the meeting.
"Officer Heckman went out of his call of duty to go to the hospital to visit a kid I have guardianship of," she said. She commended Heckman, Police Chief Seeley, and council.
She complained that Vanderpool "overstepped his boundaries by telling me something I didn't need to know also."
Eric Hrin can be reached at (570) 297-5251; email: email@example.com.