Below is a summary of responses from the council-at-large candidates at last Thursday's forum, with my comments in parentheses. One announcement first: our new police chief will be officially hired at the November 6th council meeting.
MARLON MILLNER said he's running for his 2nd and final term so he can finish the work he started. He repeated "final term" more than once during the forum. Not sure why. He was the only candidate to RSVP at the last minute, and the only one to arrive late, after the forum had begun. Also said more than once that Norristown was "urban" and "majority/minority." No explanation as to what the latter meant. He called for comprehensive parking reform--in fact, he said he's been calling for it the last 3 years, though did not elaborate what reforms he tried to make. He said the residents want "zoned parking." Again, no definition. He seemed to think all our problems are cause by our "high density." (Norristown actually had a more dense population in the late 1960s, without the problems, and has had 30,000+ people since the 1910 census.)
When asked if he could remain optimistic about Norristown through his term, he said he wasn't pessimistic, then went on to say, "Government is hard. You can get discouraged." He proceeded to blame the community for miscommunication. (Ironically, Millner tweeted yesterday, "Special #Norristown council meeting Tuesday, Oct 29 at 7 pm." It wasn't on the town calendar, but a bunch of us showed up. We found the door locked. He tweeted his apology around 11:30 pm, blaming the Times Herald. Though, council did have one of their secret "executive session" meetings last night.) Back to the forum: Millner said that the perception that Norristown is only collecting a portion of taxes owed is false. He wants comprehensive immigration reform so we can tax illegal workers. When asked about diversity in hiring, he said it was illegal to use demographic percentages for hiring, but that he thought we should recruit and hire minorities and women.
DERRICK PERRY said he would like to strengthen public safety. He said council should encourage home ownership, youth involvement and smart development. He grew up in Norristown and loves the community diversity. He said he has a passion for Norristown and wants to give back to the community, adding that everyone seems to want to do something great for the borough; we just have to come together. He said lack of communication leaves a bad perception of council and recommended using social media and even a digital billboard for town meeting announcements.
OLIVIA BRADY said she's been a resident for 30 years and wants to make a difference. She has a vision for Norristown--a vibrant Main St. and good schools. She wants people to WANT to come to Norristown. She'd like to see a comprehensive study of parking, not by a big company, but by the residents themselves--something where everyone can have input as to how many spaces we have and where the parking issues are. As for optimism, she said it's sometimes a challenge not to get frustrated by the apathy and negativity, but that we need to develop a sense of town pride. Communication: also recommended social media like Facebook, but added that the Times Herald should list council meetings. (They're supposed to, by law, and they very well might, but for those of us who read the Herald mostly online, these notices are impossible to find, and the Times Herald website loads slower than Healthcare.gov.) Ultimately, though, Brady said communication is council's responsibility. She wants the Norristown.org website updated. She stated that the contract process is open to women and minorities, but wanted to see language in the ordinance regarding discrimination.
MARY ELLEN EARLY-DIGREGORIO said she's a 3rd generation Norristown native. She became interested in council when she tried to find out where her taxes are going. She wants more than one-party representation in Norristown. She asked why the borough can't meet its basic needs: cleanliness, safety and good schools. She said that in a parking study done on Marshall in 2006 or 07, the finding was that it would cost more to put the meters back. (I could only find one study, from 2009 . It didn't have this finding though it did highlight other problems with meters.) She said more studies are too expensive and won't address problems like loss of business due to insufficient parking. She said we need to fight apathy and get more community involvement, and that sometimes we need conflict for people to get along (didn't explain further), that it was difficult to have a positive attitude. She said we needed better communication and wanted an open question period at the end of council sessions so the audience could ask questions or comment on what was said in the meeting. (As it is, you have to sign your name at beginning in order to have a chance to talk and then public comment is taken BEFORE issues are discussed.) She said we're not collecting all the taxes we should. She wants to see the borough website updated so it's easier to navigate.
SUE SORIANO was out of town and couldn't appear at the forum. I would have liked to hear her answers to the questions. It's not too late, Sue, if you want to leave a statement in the comments below, I'll publish it.
So there you have it, your candidates for council. Remember, next Tuesday, November 5th, is election day. If you want a better Norristown, get out and VOTE.