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Disabled Afro-American Woman Threatened at City Meeting

March 15th, 2014

“We’ll take away your parking space and have you arrested!” – Reichner

Sunbury PA senior citizen Ms. Regina Russell, despite her disabilities, is a regular attendee at meetings of the city council. She is actively concerned about public safety issues and has volunteered to be the voice of people in her local community – people who are themselves afraid to speak up, attend meetings and file lawful complaints because of the ever present threat of retaliation.

Regina Russell needs to use a Walker to get to and from her vehicle.

Regina with her Car and Walker

Issues raised by Regina are regularly stonewalled by an administration who regard city code enforcement as discretionary and not mandatory – that they can pick and choose which regulations to enforce, and when, depending on whom the complaint is made against and their influence and standing within the community.

Code Office Intimidatory Tactics

She herself became a victim of intimidatory tactics at the meeting of March 10th 2014. Following her complaints of neighborhood code violations, code office director Ric Reichner ominously told her that if she really wanted him to follow the letter of the code book, then he should take away her disabled parking space because she already had “off street parking”, and give it instead to one of her neighbors, a neighbor whose sidewalk parking violations Regina had complained about.

Ms. Russell was shocked by the threatening undertones contained within this statement and challenged Reichner, telling him that because of her disabilities she had trouble walking and moving around, and her garage was much too narrow to allow her to use her walker to get in and out of her vehicle.

Far from withdrawing, Reichner then drew her attention to a previous speaker who had been threatened with arrest for filing false complaints and told her the same thing could happen to her, were she to persist.

Possibly even more shocking than the statement itself was the unquestioning acceptance of its sentiments by other members of the Council. Neither Mayor Persing nor Councilmen Eister, Shipman and Henry said a word. No sign of concern or remorse from any of them. The neutral observer was left with a clear impression of complicity.

Could this be a sign that he (Persing) is now making good on the threats made during his infamous victory speech on November 5th, to “take out the garbage pretty soon” and to quash any and all opposition to his reign of terror in City Hall by those whom he labeled “truly evil people”.

Fears and Frustrations

Speaking after the meeting, a visibly shaken Ms. Russell expressed her fears and frustrations, describing her emotions as those of shock and disheartenment at the very suggestion that they should consider taking away her parking space and giving it to someone whom she had reported numerous times for blocking the local sidewalk with their vehicles.

“I have been giving a voice to long-standing problems of city code enforcement. That the code office inspectors should be prevented from enforcing city ordinances, against those people who have influence and flaunt it, is awful and insulting to the voters. Whatever the reason, it must not be allowed to endanger public safety, especially for those with disabilities such as wheelchair pedestrians, people using walkers, blind persons using walking canes, all of whom live in my community and should have the right to unobstructed access to public sidewalks anywhere.”

“Reporting these public safety problems and other vital issues leads to this over-the-top bullying. I do not know what else to call it. If this can be done by the City without fear of consequence to a resident, tax payer, homeowner and voter, just imagine the day to day horror and work conditions a city employee must endure.”

Freedom of Speech?

Politicians will only do what the people allow them to get away with. A disinterested and apathetic populace is manna from heaven for people like Mayor Persing, who seems to have a mistaken belief that the fundamental right to freedom of speech, as enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution, does not apply to Sunbury. It is not too long ago that he regularly told complainants at city meetings to “sit down and shut up”. Thanks to Joe Bartello and the YouTube video recordings of these meetings, such behavior has been curtailed, but there is still a very long way to go.

All our city council members swore an oath of office – to uphold the law and protect the citizenry. This oath applies equally to every inhabitant of Sunbury, regardless of age, sex, color, circumstance or political affiliation. Real leadership entails working with people, not suppressing them!

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