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Lackawanna lawmakers decline to pay final installment of legal fees in probe of police chief

Lackawanna lawmakers Monday night unanimously declined to pay the final installment of legal fees for outside counsel hired in the investigation of Police Chief James L. Michel.

“I think it’s inflated. I can’t support payment,” 2nd Ward Councilwoman Annette Iafallo told her colleagues. “Who’s talking to (the attorney) when we terminated them?”

The final invoice of $8,071 submitted by Barclay Damon boosted the total bill to an estimated $73,000. The firm was hired last year to investigate $36,000 to $45,000 in payments made to Michel.

Michel subsequently sued the city and former City Council President Henry R. Pirowski Jr.

In tabling the measure, the Council agreed to seek a detailed explanation of the fees from Barclay Damon.

In other business, the Council registered concern over the lack of applicants for seats on the city’s ethics panel.

“We asked for two weeks, and we only got one applicant,” said Council President Keith E. Lewis. “I am disappointed.”

Lackawanna resident Faith K. Gordon questioned the Council on the possible conflict of interest in approving applicants who are related to city workers.

“There has to be another reservoir to tap other than those who are already politically connected,” said Gordon, who frequently attends the Council meetings.

In other business, the Council greenlighted the cost analysis of a proposed traffic study targeting three of the city’s main intersections: Ridge and Abbott roads, Ridge and South Park Avenue and Martin Road and South Park.

The last traffic study conducted in 2011 cost $20,000, said Anthony DeSantis, commissioner of public works. The traffic study could affect a crosswalk requested Monday by Iafallo for Ridge in front of the Lackawanna Library. Iafallo’s request was based on complaints from residents who have a difficult time crossing the street safely to enter the library.

“You can’t just put a crosswalk in the middle of the road,” DeSantis said. “I caution you on liability.”

“I would hate to see a senior citizen get hurt,” Iafallo responded. “I actually parked my car and watched the difficulty pedestrians encountered when trying to cross Ridge to enter the library. A person crossing doesn’t have a chance.”

During the public comment portion of the meeting, many residents spoke out in favor of the crosswalk. One 2nd Ward resident who frequently uses the library said that it has become impossible to cross the street safely.

Meanwhile, 1st Ward Councilman Abdulsalam K. Noman enlisted the support of his colleagues to dismantle the “pedestrian walkway/bridge” in Bethlehem Park.

“Basically it’s a conduit for bad activity,” 3rd Ward Councilman Joseph L. Jerge said.

Finally, the Council approved a resolution extending the contract for lobbyists Masiello, Martucci, Calabrese & Associates by a year, ending Feb. 23, 2017, for a total cost of $36,000. In doing so, the Council added a stipulation requiring a quarterly report on work done by the firm for the city.

“Here we are paying them $3,000 a month,” Noman said, “and we don’t know what they’re doing.”