Lehighton borough has a new chief of police.
Veteran police officer Neal Ebbert assumed the duties effective Jan. 8.
He succeeds Matthew Bender as the chief. Bender stepped down from the position on March 1, 2010. He remains a patrolman with the police department.
Since Bender left the position, Sgt. Joseph Lawrence had been serving as acting chief of police.
The borough council opened applications up to the Lehighton Police Department for the chief's position. Several officers applied, along with Ebbert.
Ebbert was actually hired a few months ago, but he didn't assume the position until Jan. 8.
He was introduced during last night's meeting of the borough council.
He has been a police officer for Lehighton borough since 1989 and was named corporal of the department 12 years ago.
His father, Robert Ebbert, was a former chief of police in Mahoning Township.
Also last night, the borough council named George Kogut to fill a council vacancy.
The empty seat was created because in last November's election, Grant R. Hunsicker sought both a four year term and a two year term on the council and won both. He resigned the two-year term.
Kogut is employed at First Energy Corp., Reading.
Two individuals applied to fill the seat. Besides Kogut, former councilman Robert Moser also sought the position.
Kogut was the unanimous choice of the council.
There were two other appointments made last night.
Attorney Greg Mousseau was named solicitor for the Lehighton Planning Commission.
Alton Steigerwalt, secretary of the planning commission, was appointed Lehighton's representative on the Central Carbon County Regional Comprehensive Plan Joint Planning Commission.
Ebbert's first meeting had him on the hot seat, with four issues thrown before him.
Ÿ One was a councilman complaining about problems with traffic at the Lehighton Middle School and neighboring Shull-David Elementary School. While the discussion on this occurred, there also was mention of additional traffic flow problems at the nearby Lehighton Area High School.
Ÿ A borough resident complained about repeated vandalism to her vehicles, noting her neighbors also have experienced such problems. She said she lives close to a barroom.
Ÿ Borough Manager Nicole Beckett mentioned that there are state funds available for a school resource officer. While Ebbert indicated he was in favor of having Beckett apply for the funding and told council that such an individual would take some of the workload from the police department, some council members were apprehensive. The council informally gave Beckett permission to submit a concept to the state as a pre-application for the funding, providing the Lehighton Area School District also favors the proposal.
Ÿ The owner of a new barroom on North First Street in Lehighton asked the council if he could rent parking spaces for loading and unloading in front of his business. He was directed by the council to meet with Ebbert and Mayor Donald Rehrig to discuss the matter. Any recommendations the police chief and mayor have would then be presented to the council for further discussion.
Regarding the traffic problems at school buildings in the borough, councilman Scott Rehrig said streets are being blocked by backed-up vehicles.
Ebbert said too many parents are driving their children to school instead of using public transportation and the streets aren't designed for such heavy traffic volume. It was noted the problem is so bad that vehicles are blocking streets and even buses can't get to their designated pick-up and drop-off zones.
The new police chief said he will meet today with the principal of the middle school and possibly other school officials to discuss the matter.
The vandalism complaint was brought up by Jennifer Benninger, who lives on the Heights Section and a short distance from a barroom. She said that on Jan. 14, both her vehicles were damaged as well as the vehicles of three neighbors. Damage to one vehicle cost over $1,000 to repair, while the other vehicle had $250 worth of damage.
It's not the first time her property had damage. One time a screen door knob was ripped off. About a year ago, her SUV sustained a large dent while it was parked, with damages totaling $700. A key scratch happened to another vehicle.
"Put yourselves in our shoes," she appealed to council members.
She said that numerous times, beer bottles and beer cans were discarded in her yard.
Ebbert was instructed by councilman Rehrig to make more frequent patrols of the Heights area, especially at about the time the bars close.
Rehrig also urged Benninger to sit down with Ebbert to discuss the matter.
Ebbert suggested that an additional street light on the block where Benninger lives might help the situation.
He was instructed to talk to Lonnie Armbruster, superintendent of the Light and Power Department, to determine if an additional street light can be added.
Of the school resource officer, Beckett said the Lehighton Area School Board had on its agenda to name a committee to look into the matter. She said application for state funding had to be made by the borough.
Ebbert said such a position would free police officers from responses to the school, and doing the subsequent paperwork, for fighting, harassment, drug complaints, and other student issues.
"Also," he said, "it's a trustworthy person students can talk to." He said a student resource officer would walk the halls and provide security at some school events such as basketball games.
The borough would get use of the officer in the summer when school was not in session.
Beckett said the maximum grant available is $250,000, with 10 percent matching funds from the municipality. This would cover a two-year period.
Rehrig was concerned about where funds would originate after those two years, stating, "I don't see that the borough can absorb that cost."
He also was concerned that borough taxpayers might be helping to pay the salary for such an officer whose duties would include working in outlying schools, including elementary schools in Franklin, Mahoning, and East Penn Township.
John Bird, a member of council interjected that if a school resource officer is hired, "the school district should pay for it."