Whitehall-Coplay Press

Monday, March 25, 2019

Commissioner announces resignation

Wednesday, March 13, 2019 by KATHY LAUER-WILLIAMS Special to The Press in Local News

Board thanks Dutt for service, approves township fireworks ordinance

Commissioner Jeffrey Dutt announced at the board meeting March 11 he was stepping down as commissioner, effective March 30. Dutt told the board he had to resign because he and his wife are moving to Emmaus to be near his mother-in-law.

“This is not the end of my political career,” Dutt said. “I will still be here.”

He said he would continue to be president of the board for the Whitehall Active Community Center and would still lead walking tours for the Whitehall Historical Preservation Society.

Board Vice President Philip Ginder praised Dutt for his hard work and dedication to the township.

“We thank you for your honorable service,” Ginder said.

Dutt thanked the board for all its help.

“Four years ago, I came in as a newbie, and you guys really mentored me,” he said.

Deputy Mayor John Meyers said a new commissioner will be appointed to finish out Dutt’s term. It is a requirement, per a referendum vote, that an appointee be of the same political party as the individual who vacated the seat. Dutt is a Republican.

In other business, the board passed an ordinance that prohibits setting off fireworks after 10:30 p.m. in the township.

Resident Joni Tedesco asked that the board consider making the time limit earlier.

“This past year is like living in a war zone,” she said. “I suspect it’s only going to get worse.”

She said the constant fireworks have forced her family to sedate their service dog, Major, and have aggravated the post-traumatic stress disorder of her husband, a Vietnam veteran.

“This is a starting point,” Ginder said. “At least, the police will have something to enforce. If we still get a lot of complaints, we can push it back.”

The ordinance also follows the state law on fireworks, which prohibits setting off fireworks within 150 feet of an occupied structure, in a vehicle or on public or private property, without the express permission of the property owner.

Township solicitor Sarah Murray said the law will go into effect in five days.

The board also passed a bill that would allow military service as an alternative to an associate degree or its equivalent (60 credit hours) from an accredited college or university required for candidates for the police department. The change was recommended by police Chief Michael Marks and the Civil Service Commission to enlarge the pool of police officer applicants.

“Military members deserve some type of break when they get out of the military,” Commissioner Joseph J. Marx Jr. said. “This is beneficial to the community. It is hard to find police officers.”

Commissioner Jeffrey Warren said the bill is consistent with Pennsylvania State Police procedure as well.

Candidates would still have to pass the civil service exam.

Commissioners set the Whitehall mayor’s salary for 2020-23, approving a yearly 2.75-percent raise. The mayoral salary is $96,745.15 for 2020; $99,405.63 for 2021; $102,139.28 for 2022; and $104,948.11 for 2023.

In other business, the board approved the purchase of two 2019 Dodge Charger vehicles for the police patrol division at $27,000 each.

Lee Rackus, bureau chief of planning, told the board the formal dedication of the Fort Deshler interpretive sign on the Ironton Rail Trail will be 11 a.m. March 29. Fort Deshler was a frontier fort established in 1760 to protect settlers during the French and Indian War.

Mayor Michael Harakal Jr. reported there had been significant interest in the past couple months in the building that once housed Lehigh Valley Dairy.

“We are very optimistic,” Harakal said.

The dairy closed in 1989 and the 275,000-square-foot concrete building has fallen into disrepair over the years.