New Freedom council members, mayor face challengers after police debate
A debate over a potential departure from the Southern Regional Police Department remains a central issue in the upcoming election.
The New Freedom Borough Council voted last year to remain in the department, but a public outcry led a group of first-time candidates to challenge sitting members.
"We have no hidden agenda. Our only agenda is to give the people of New Freedom a stronger voice on council," said council candidate Andy Bobby.
But New Freedom Mayor Eric Paules, also challenged by a newcomer, said the key debate isn't over transparency but rather fiscal responsibility.
"That's the decision people will have to make. Do we want leadership on council and a mayor who will question expenditures ... in an effort to keep departments local and sustainable? Or we do we want leadership that will simply rubber-stamp requests because it feels good and is less controversial," Paules said in an interview with The York Dispatch.
Challengers: At a Saturday, April 13, event, five Republicans, four running for council and one for mayor, urged voters to elect as many of them as possible in the May 21 primary. If successful, the candidates could create an entirely new board.
Three of the candidates, Bobby, Ryan Ross and Inga Andrews, are seeking three available four-year terms. They also face incumbents Larry O'Brien and Dave Reisdorf. The three candidates with the most votes will win the primary.
Candidate Burnell Wildasin is seeking to fill the remaining two years of an open seat. He is unopposed, according to a list of nomination petitions filed for 2019 municipal elections provided by the county department of elections.
Kim Butcher, a lifelong New Freedom resident, faces Paules, who was appointed mayor in 2018 after serving eight years on the council.
No Democrats are running for office in the borough.
Platform: The challengers are running on a self-described platform of "transparency, accountability and public safety."
The potential to leave the regional police department last year came out of nowhere for many residents. Although the council ultimately entered into a five-year service contract to remain in the regional department, the way the situation was handled "left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths," Bobby said.
The council was conducting "more of a closed-door" system, said resident Wayne Wurzbacher.
"We want to see a change," he said.
But council member O'Brien said he's consistently been supportive of police and the department.
"The issue I have with the people running right now, if I do have an issue, is they want to paint the council as being anti-police. That is not the case with me, and I don’t want to be painted with a brush that the entire council was against the police because that was not the case with me," he said.
Several voters at the event said they hadn't been aware the borough council was considering leaving the department until some residents spread the word. Bobby said he'd like to put council meetings on TV and notify the public of important decisions on the borough website.
"We'll never tell citizens to sit down and shut up behind a desk you paid for," he said.
Joanie Mason, a New Freedom resident, said a council member told her to do just that last year after she asked if the council was making a profit on the police department.
"If you can't even ask a question of your council members, what's the point of attending?" she said.
Andrews, who is running to finish her late husband's work, said the borough "can and should respect each one of you."
Andrews' husband, Gene, died before finishing his term on council. After not getting appointed to fill the remainder of his term, she decided to run for a full term herself when the time came around.
"A new wave is coming," she said.
Council member Reisdorf agrees with his opponents and said the borough needs to do a better job at informing residents. One suggestion he offered during an interview with the Dispatch was tweeting out information and updating the municipality's website more quickly.
Reisdorf said issues arose last year because of misinformation circulating.
O'Brien said that he's been fighting for better communication during his seven years on borough council. Poor communication was one of the issues that initially pushed him to run for his first term, he said during an interview with the Dispatch.
O'Brien said he's been pushing for a borough Facebook page to notify residents of important upcoming votes.
Paules said it's always encouraging when more candidates run. There have been years when nobody was running for borough office, he said.
The difference between candidates, however, lies in fiscal responsibility, he said.
"I think that's the central difference between these factions, as you will, saying yes to everything because 'They’re our police,' (and) making a tough choice and saying, 'Yes, we want to get you what you need, but can't get you everything you want,'" he said.
Paules said "wants" include new vehicles, new department positions and other labor contract issues.
Reisdorf had not yet been named to council at the time of the police debates.
The council member who was the single vote against staying in the regional department during the final vote, Bruce Merrill, is not seeking reelection.
"I feel like maybe the council member they really wanted out is not running for reelection," O'Brien said.
Beyond party lines: Andrews, along with her fellow candidates who spoke Saturday, urged Democrats in the borough to vote for them, too, with write-ins.
The issues presented to the community aren't Republican or Democrat — they're small-town issues, Ross said.
New Freedom residents have a right to know the truth, even when it isn't "rosy," Wildasin said.
Oftentimes with busy schedules, residents can't make it to council meetings, Butcher said. If elected, he wants to make the mayor's job more visible in the community and on council.
He would make himself available to residents as a full-time mayor, he said.
Regardless of who wins the council spots, Butcher is confident he can work well with the legislative body.
"I can get along with anybody," he said.
— Rebecca Klar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RebeccaKlar_.