Monday, May 8, 2017

Candidates for Norristown Council

This year’s primary election is next Tuesday, May 16. The primary is super-important this year because here’s where you get a choice. By November, you might only have one candidate per office running under one or both parties.

I went to the candidate’s forum at the Carver Center last week and heard most of the candidates for council and school board speak. Today’s Diary is about council, especially council-at-large candidates, who are on Democratic party ballots at every Norristown polling place. (Republicans, you can still cast a write-in vote.)

I’ve heard more than the usual complaining about council this year. I’m not sure if there’s more discontent with this council or if it’s because it’s just that more people have public platforms like where they can complain. But, here’s how I measure my council reps:

1. If I have a problem in my neighborhood, can I get hold of my council rep or one of the council-at-large reps? Does action follow my communication or do I just get unreasonable excuses? (I’m willing to consider reasonable explanations, but I can also recognize a run-around when I hear it.)

2. Does my council rep or any of the others make any kind of effort to communicate or get to know their constituents even when we don’t have a specific complaint? (ie, well-publicized Town Hall meetings, social media communications, televised meetings, etc.) Do they show up at town events? Do they make an effort to update us on big projects? (And personally, I prefer honest updates from the reps themselves, not dog-and-pony shows from developers where questions and concerns are never addressed.)

3. Do my council reps ask questions at their meetings? Do they make an effort to educate the public about what they’re voting on each month? I want council reps who don’t simply allow non-elected municipal employees to dictate policy and tell them how to vote, but who understand the issues themselves and make up their own minds.

That said, here are the Democratic candidates for Council-at-Large (In alphabetical order, to be fair) and what they said at the forum. Voters will choose up to 2 reps from a field of 5, who’ll go on to November’s election. Anyone, Republican or Democrat, can write in candidates. Just make sure you spell the names right.

SUANNE GARDINER: Suanne is already on council ~ she was appointed to take Marlon Millner’s place last September. She wants to work at keeping residents and businesses here in town, shaping our youth to be leaders (and encouraging them to stay and raise their own families here), and a strong police force because “safety is important.” I wish she had defined just what she meant by strong. I couldn’t tell if she supports the current community policing policies, or if she means what most people mean by strong police force ~ that is, stop-and-frisk tactics. I personally didn’t like the implication that Norristown as a whole isn’t currently safe. We have enough problems with our reputation.

THOMAS LEPERA: His major priorities would be to keep work for the municipality local, to have apprenticeship programs, to provide healthcare for those in our community who don’t have it (he didn’t explain how council could do this) and to fix up the Carver Center. My impression of Mr. Lepera was that he perhaps doesn’t understand the functions of our council. Possibly they might be able to encourage local labor for municipal jobs, but there is a bidding process and I’m not sure of all the legalities involved. As for the rest, council may provide some minimal help and support, but I don't think council is the place to get this done.

DERRICK PERRY: Derrick is the current Vice President of Council. He would like to change the attitudes about Norristown, work on economic development, keep our AA Bond Rating, and get residents to be involved more, both in voting and in “showing up” (I think he meant for meetings). One thing I will say for Derrick, he’s one of the only council reps I can consistently get hold of. When I had 2 separate Public Works problems in my neighborhood the last 2 years, I let Derrick know and the problems were each addressed within 24 hours. He’s on and lets residents there know he can help if they have a council-related problem. And I’ve frequently seen him (and his son) around town at events.

REBECCA SMITH:  She would focus on development of vacant properties. She talked about creating a sustainable tax base and encourage homeownership by shifting taxes from residents to businesses, but then said she’d support small businesses (not sure how you can support them, yet raise their taxes at the same time). She said she supported safe neighborhoods through community policing, but then went on to quote crime stats that didn’t sound right, saying Norristown was one of the most dangerous communities in the country. So I fact-checked her. One erroneous Patch article made this claim a few years ago, quoting questionable sources that didn’t cite their own sources. It’s fake news, but unfortunately it's the first result if you google Norristown crime statistics. Ms. Smith apparently read only that and never checked with Crime-Mapping (actually statistics, not heresay) nor did she check which now lists real trends in our crime statistics based on Crime-Mapping, nor did she talk to Chief Talbot. We have enough trouble with our image without a potential council member repeating false rumors.

SUE SORIANO: Sue couldn’t attend the forum because she was out of town on business, but she at least sent a letter that was read at the forum and she asked Buck Jones to speak for her. He stated that her priorities would be to make our government more open and honest, and that she’d like to see better and cleaner gateways into town. In other words, she’d like those places where people enter town - the Dannehower Bridge, either end of Main St, Johnson Highway, etc. - to be kept cleaner and be more inviting, to help change the attitudes of surrounding communities and our own residents about our town.

There you have it. Remember that Council members-at-Large represent you as much as your ward representative. Sometimes the at-large reps may even be easier to get hold of. So choose carefully.

Just a quick note about other council seats. Sondra Fisher Sanders, Ward 1 rep, is running on the Democratic ticket unopposed (she didn’t come to the forum). Valerie Scott Cooper, the current Ward 3 rep, is being challenged by Leigh Peoples. Leigh didn’t come to the forum and I couldn’t find any info about her online.

I'll post about the School Board candidates in a few days.

Please share this information with other residents. To see your sample ballot for next Tuesday go to this link.


  1. Your list says "Here are the Democratic candidates." Are you sure about Suanne Gardner? I'm doing my candidate research, and on a web search, I found information that says she's a Republican. (I'm still looking into it, and I don't know how old the information was.) I haven't checked the Republican ballot to see if she cross-filed. Or perhaps you didn't mean "Democratic candidates," but rather "candidates on the Democratic ballot"?

  2. Suanne is only listed on the Democratic side, not on the Republican side, on the sample ballot. You only need to click on the sample ballot link on the blog above to view your ballot.