The long-awaited rental inspection ordinance is now law in Quakertown. The borough's 1700 residential rental properties will be checked for basic health, safety, and fire compliance every three years. Simple items like working toilets and windows, functioning smoke detectors, and handrails on staircases. As with any new law, it doesn't please everyone. Especially one councilman with an apparent bias against the poor.
People who argued against it cited civil liberties, cost ($40 per year, paid by the landlords), and the disparate treatment given to private homes. Those points of view lost out, but it is fair to say that each had some validity. Despite the passionate rhetoric, the upgrades necessary to comply with the ordinance should far outweigh the grumbling over what-if, worst-case scenarios. And it could actually be easier for landlords to advertise for, and obtain, tenants, since prospective renters will now have some confidence that the town - not just their landlord - is overseeing the quality of their lives. If this makes Qtown's apartments better and safer places to live, we have achieved our objective.
The ordinance, which council passed by a 6-1 vote last week, could actually have become law in early July, but was held up for 30 days because of the requirement that first-time votes be unanimous. Councilman Dan Williams was opposed. No problem - conflicting viewpoints are part of government, and part of society. But narrow-minded, discriminatory thinking should not be a part of either. Shame on Dan Williams for injecting them into the debate...
Williams rhetorically asked what will happen if commuter train service to Quakertown is restarted, as many people expect. He believes that the result will be a drastic increase in the cost of apartments, eventually making us a smaller version of Doylestown. That's pretty far-fetched, but more affluency would mean more money to be spent in local shops and restaurants, and more reason for landlords to improve their properties - just as the inspection ordinance's proponents envisioned.
But Williams followed that up with his unconscionably-insensitive conclusion: "many of the things we perceive as problems will go away". In other words, it is the economically-disadvantaged people, who can only afford the cheapest of accommodations, who are responsible for Qtown's problems!! Like single mothers struggling to raise a family without deadbeat dad? Or innocent victims of a downsized company? Or senior citizens trying to get by on a social security check that falls farther and farther behind QCSD's tax increases? According to the Williams Theory, if you are poor, you are the problem here. That's as disgraceful as it is incorrect.
Dan is not the brightest light on the street, but this is a new low, even for a guy who has been hounded by his own self-induced controversy. "Special Favors" Williams is a living Triple Crown of ethics problems. In early 2005, he was caught accepting a free delivery of stone for his alley from his close buddy, now-former Borough Manager Dave Woglom, at taxpayer expense. Then, Woglom was found to have improperly purchased over $5000 worth of drinks for the borough from Williams' employer, Rosenberger's Dairy.
In 2006, Williams' daughter, Deb (who herself is blameless here) also received preferential treatment from Woglom. Despite being a full-time teacher, she was hired in the highway department, one of about fifty borough summer employees. Aside from the pool administrator, she was the only one who was not a student. At least four other Qtown employees reported that they were told by Woglom that town policy forbid their kids from being hired for summer work. Borough solicitor Charles Fonzone confirmed that the town had no such written policy.
Months later, Williams voted (unsuccessfully) to keep the Keystone investigation of Woglom's improper and illegal activities secret from the public. And, after Woglom was barred from all council discussions about the investigation, three members stated that they were greatly concerned that Special Favors was leaking the details to him. One referred to the investigation as being by "6/7ths of council".
Not surprisingly, William's brethren on the dais are distancing themselves from his opinions on the rental ordinance, and his characterization of the town's renters. Council President Jim Roberts was rather blunt: "However he came up with that rationale, I haven't a clue. I surely don't agree with it. The argument doesn't make sense from the beginning. Quakertown will never be another Doylestown - the architecture is historically so different. Quakertown wasn't a county seat - we built around clothing factories and a train line serving blue collar and farming folks."
"There are some really bad apartments with poorer people in them because the supply and demand economically worked out that way. Some of them would be too scared to ever complain about their conditions. Remember, we are instituting a program that is designed to really flush out a few lousy landlords. In a way, its too bad that everyone ends up being caught up in this process, but that is just the way laws work out lots of times. What we will end up doing is really a very light burden on the majority of landlords and tenants."
Councilman Ed Scholl added "I grew up in a family that rented in Quakertown, and I have been a renter as well. I do not believe that renters are second-class citizens". Dave Zaiser, who sees the rental inspection ordinance as a strong tool to enforce tenants' rights, summed up what most of us are probably thinking: "You just don't say that. It's an insult to people living in low rent apartments." And coming from a councilman, no less!!
So, the question now becomes, exactly who is Councilman Dan Williams representing when he suggests that many of our problems will go away if the cost of rental properties increases? Who will step forward and say "Dan's right, we will all live better when low-income people are out of our town"? The answer may well come next year, when he is up for re-election. When voters finally have the opportunity to voice their opinions about his opinions.