Case law created Zerbe dilemma
To the editor: In response to James Bronokoski's letter to the editor of May 21 concerning Zerbe Township's ruling "opening a can of worms," first let me state this is not a personal attack, but a lot of facts were lacking. Wanting to be fair and treat everyone as being equal, I want to justify and clarify my actions and position as chief of police.
In September, Bronokoski made a complaint to me about a pontoon boat that was parked, as he put it, in front of his house. The boat was on a trailer and was parked across the street, not in front of his house. I read our RV ordinance and then advised Jim that I couldn't make the owner move the boat because it was "legally parked."
While discussing the issue with Jim, I brought to his attention that if I forced the boat trailer to be moved, I would have to make the other camper owners move who were parked in various locations throughout the township. In fact, I brought to Jim's attention a similar rather large camper parked about 150 feet away from his house - parked just like the trailer he was complaining about. Jim said he didn't care about that one; he was only worried about the pontoon boat. I told him I had to treat everyone equally.
Jim came to the township supervisors' meeting in September and made them aware of his concerns of what he thought was a parking problem. Because of prior commitments, one supervisor was unable to make the meeting, so the other two tabled the issue until the next month. Another discussion was held in October. I spoke to Jim several times over the trailer ordinance validity, to his complete dissatisfaction. The supervisors made a decision at the November meeting to have me contact the owners of various campers/trailers and tell them to remove them. I prepared several ordinance violation notices and made contact with the owners, saying they would be cited per the ordinance if they didn't comply. Everyone complied with my request and moved their campers/trailers except for one - the pontoon boat owner.
While at a preliminary hearing on Nov. 13, I produced our RV ordinance and pictures of the street layout detailing the parked position of the pontoon. Not wanting to challenge things that I believe I'll lose, and because a citation was going to be issued to the pontoon boat owner for failing to remove the boat within the allotted time frame, I asked Magisterial District Justice John Gembic III to advise me if he thought it was in violation of the ordinance. He agreed with me that it was parked legally and not in violation. The same day but separately, I asked Michael Toomey, a Northumberland County assistant district attorney, for his legal opinion. He agreed with Gembic.
Shortly thereafter, the pontoon boat owner removed it from the street.
Jim made reference in his letter that we had an ordinance in effect for many years and people complied with it. "This was the norm." That's true, but over time people took similar parking ordinances to task and went to court challenging their legal standing, some of them all the way up to the higher appellant court. The appellant court ruled that ordinances that are too broad, and that a blanket response to show what is or isn't permitted cannot be upheld and is invalid. In essence, police cannot obtain a successful prosecution. Our RV ordinance, along with many other community ordinances, falls within that spectrum.
Jim also wrote, "Chief John found a loophole, which led to the township supervisors suspending this ordinance until a new ordinance would take its place with 'teeth in it.'" Jim might call it a loophole, but I have another description for it: case law, which all policemen must follow. We in law enforcement are used to changes in the law that are brought on by people challenging "the norm." Like it or not, we all have to live by such decisions.
Jim also made reference to the fact that other communities have RV ordinances. I'm sure if they are challenged they, too, will be in the same boat as Trevorton.
If I could have made the owner of the pontoon boat and trailer move right away, I would have. It would have saved everyone a lot of extra research, work and aggravation.
Jim also states that I don't live in Trevorton. I take exception to that and told him before that I was born and raised here for a short time. I have family here and visited them throughout my teenage years. A lot of them are buried here, and I visit those gravesites periodically. I do have a vested interest in Zerbe Township, and I think I qualify to call Trevorton my home.
Chief of police