Monday, May 16, 2011

Vice-Mayor Elinor Warner, City Council Candidate for Re-Election, Talks Environment and Ethics

Vice-Mayor Elinor Warner

Posted by: Noël Jones

Dr. Elinor Warner pulls up to the Cosmic Cup cafe for our interview on a cream and blue-colored scooter and parks it on the corner. A Vespa? I ask. "No--a Honda--it's great, I've had it for nine years. It looks like a Vespa, but for a third of the price." She had had a scooter in grad school, when she was finishing her doctorate in English at University of Virginia, she explains, and then when she moved back to Easton, she missed having one so much that she got another. "It's a great way to get around the city."

I am meeting with Easton's Vice-Mayor to interview her about her run for re-election to city council. After we get our coffees and sit outside, I brush her protests  asideand convince her to let me snap a picture of her. So what the is a Vice-Mayor anyway, and how is one chosen? 

"The Vice Mayor is elected by the other members of council. It means

you are the VP of Council, so if the Mayor is out of town or ill you run the meetings, set the agenda, etc. And do whatever ceremonial duties are needed in the Mayor's place. Otherwise it's the same as other council positions."

What would she like people to know about being a city councilperson? I ask.

"What gets lost when people are campaigning is what city council actually is--we're not the administration and we're not the mayor. First, we are a legislative body that proposes legislation, and second, legislation and budgets proposed by the administration must be passed through us. So essentially, we are a check-and-balance."

What is she proudest of, with regard to the term she has served so far on council? Warner laughs, "Well, I'm proud to have introduced the 'john ordinance.'" The "john ordinance" was an ordinance through which the cars of men caught soliciting prostitutes on the streets of Easton could be confiscated. "It was a terrific week," she laughs. "It's too bad that it was overturned--it had been reviewed by our solicitor and Morganelli's office, but..." she shrugs.

Anything else?

"For 3½ years now I've been an independent voice on council and I've taken seriously my responsibility to consider administrative initiatives that come before us to protect our residents, and taxpayer money. It's very important with our relatively new  [Home Rule] charter--where the mayor is also Council President--that the council not be a rubber stamp."

One legislative initiative Warner proposed was to create an Environmental Action Committee (EAC) soon after being elected. The EAC is a body, separate from council, empowered to provide opinions on anything that goes before the planning commission, and on anything environmental on which city council requests an opinion. For example, as covered by the Express-Times last month, there was an item on the agenda asking for a waiver from the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulation against building a residual waste recycling plant within 300 yards of a park or recreation area, because Chrin wanted to build a facility next to Island Park, on a small island in the Lehigh River. The waste would include food and construction waste. Warner was able to have the item removed from the agenda and referred to the EAC for review, to determine why and whether DEP regulations should be waived at all.

One of the accomplishments she is most proud of, is having drafted the Code of Ethics and the ordinance for the Board of Ethics, as required by the charter, to ensure that if someone is found guilty of an ethical violation, he or she can be heavily fined. "For example," Warner explains, "the mayor and city council members are not allowed to accept any gifts over $25 in value, promise favoritism in hiring, or favoritism in awarding contracts."

[I respect Warner's enthusiasm about establishing a code and board of ethics, but have to wonder about its efficacy. The Board of Ethics is supposed to meet annually, according to the ordinance, but Mayor Panto has yet to appoint board members or hold a meeting of the board since the inception of the ordinance in 2008. Another potential conflict to address with this ordinance is that the mayor is a former employee of both Strausser and I'm not sure how that works with regard to development projects, especially when Chrin is trying to get a variance from DEP regulations to build a dump near a park--I mean, how did the resolution for a waiver get on the agenda? As far as I understand the process, the president of council sets the agenda, and under Home Rule Charter, the mayor is president of city council.]

Warner is also happy about issues on which she has worked personally with residents to achieve resolution, like when she worked together with College Hill residents for six months to resolve parking issues around March Elementary school. The parking issue around March had been pretty contentious, because residents often couldn't park near their homes due to so many school employees parking on the blocks immediately around the school. "There were a lot of unhappy people there," remembers Warner, "but we got it resolved."

Personally, I also appreciate the Vice-Mayor's help on getting the street-cleaning program implemented in the West Ward, when residents' repeated requests seemed to be hitting a brick wall for several months.

What are people's thoughts on the city council race? Warner is the only candidate that I've had the opportunity to interview in advance of the primary, but I hope to get to other candidates before the general election, and am interested to hear readers' thoughts...


tunsie said...

El is the bestest one in the whole wide world.....Tunsie

tunsie said...

I love U noel.....Tunsie

tunsie said...

If there is somebody that doesnt vote for EL,I am going to beat them up.....Tunsie

noel jones said...

you crack me up. just make sure you're not standing at the polling doors with that lingo!

tunsie said...

I always work at the Jewish temple on Northampton st.because they have apple cake at thier bake sale.tunsie

noel jones said...

Looks like Ken Brown, Jeff Warren and El Warner were the top 3...

Anonymous said...

I was a little dissapointed that
all the city council candidates didn't get some coverage on your blog before the election.
All the best
Reno Pesaersi

noel jones said...

Hi Reno--sorry about that--there were a lot of candidates that I didn't have a chance to talk to in several races, so I just put out an invitation on one of my posts with my email address inviting any candidates that would like to meet with me to contact me.

I wish that there had been a candidates forum for city council members to attend for this primary--that's how I was able to cover most of the candidates for school board--I only did two actual interviews there.

As you know, because you took part at the time, I organized a small candidates forum for 5 candidates running to represent parts of the West Ward in our last city council race, but had too much going on this time to be able to take that on. I might be able to swing something for the general, but we'll see. I am all about giving everyone the opportunity to know all candidates running, but this time around I was too swamped to run a forum or get to everyone. Alas, there is only one of me, but I am still holding out hope for advances in cloning.

Thanks so much for running. The more citizens we have engaged in our Democracy to the extent of running, the more choices voters have, and the better those choices will be. Of course, making an informed choice also has a lot to do with getting to know all candidates, and that's why I really hope that there are more and more forums going forward.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading about the recycling center in Willams Township and I am not sure as to why anyone would have a problem. Isn't that what elected officials should be promoting. I mean the way I read this is that grass clippings, yard waste and food waste will be turned into compost. I realize it is a boat ride across to the park but what about composting is it that's bad. Here is something we should be encouraging the Chrins to do more of.

El Warner said...

Anonymous -

I don't think anyone has an issue with the composting of yard waste. And I think composting is a great thing in general. There are concerns about the composting of commercial food waste in the open air so close to a recreational facility, though. Hopefully the City can work with Chrin to address those concerns. The Planning Commission will be reviewing Chrin's proposal at their June 15 meeting; I hope all interested will attend.

Anonymous said...

Dear El Warner and City Council,

There is lots that can sneak in under the guise of food waste. And food waste that has meat products and cooked products is not easy compost - it attracts rodents and other unsavory characters. It also smells if not handled correctly. What does Chrin know about composting? Not specified. What kind of impact will the transporting of garbage in and out around the vicinity have on the park? Is this to be in the flood zone? The rule about not being around a park is for a reason. The rules about flood zones are for a reason. Why should they get an exception is the question? How can we trust they are not just trying to get the site and once they have it they will "branch out" the way they seem to do. The article mentioned there was going to be some other type of recycling - what's that about?

By the way, why is PA the dump capital of the US? Companies like Chrin promote this and make money from it. The public suffers. Easton - clean and green - this park is an asset we should cherish.


Lowly citizen in fear of corporate retribution

Anonymous said...

Noel sorry I missed your invitation. When did you post it?

noel jones said...

Reno--It was at the beginning of the post about Bill Rider: