Bloomsburg mayor resigns after prostitute charges filed
BLOOMSBURG — Eric Bower resigned Thursday as both mayor of Bloomsburg and as a state constable as he prepares to fight charges of patronizing a prostitute.
“Due to the circus environment that this has caused, it detracts, obviously, from the Town of Bloomsburg’s ability to function and to work as it needs to,” said Bower’s lawyer, Pat O’Connell, explaining Bower’s decision to resign.
“They’ve got a lot of work they need to do, and this is too much of a distraction.”
Town Council’s remaining six members will next vote on formally accepting Bower’s resignation at their June 11 meeting before considering a replacement.
A vote on a new mayor likely won’t be cast until at least June 25, said Town Manager Lauren Martz.
“I think it’s better for the town. It’s a smart decision for him to do this,” council Vice President Bill Kreisher said of Bower’s decision to step down.
“We have a lot of important things going on, including the floodwall. It’s been a distraction. Now we’ll avoid some of these distractions.”
O’Connell said Bower considered stepping down as mayor in the weeks since Town Council members pressed him to resign at a public meeting and voted to transfer Bower’s supervisory role over the police department to Councilwoman Bonnie Crawford.
‘Mayor flouted the law’
Bower submitted his formal resignation letter as mayor to Martz Thursday, shortly after he appeared in court for a preliminary hearing before Danville District Judge Marv Shrawder.
Bower, 36, waived his right to the preliminary hearing and will face charges in county court.
Bower remains free after posting $500 bail weeks ago.
Bail conditions prevent Bower from contacting ex-girlfriend Bonnie Fulop and witnesses involved in the case against him.
Bower must also “refrain from inflammatory statements about witnesses,” Anthony Forray, a prosecutor from the state attorney general’s office, noted in Danville court yesterday.
“This mayor flouted the law and solicited sex from a prostitute on multiple occasions,” state Attorney General Josh Shapiro said yesterday in his own announcement about Bower stepping down.
“No one is above the law. As attorney general, I will not allow individuals in power to abuse the trust the public has placed in them. I’m rooting out public corruption wherever we find it, without fear or favor.”
‘Absolutely not’ an admission of guilt
O’Connell stressed that Bower’s resignation is “absolutely not” an admission that Bower is guilty of agreeing to pay for sex at the Hampton Inn in Lightstreet April 20.
Officers took Bower into custody at the hotel that day after a series of alleged text messages and phone calls between Bower and a State Police confidential informant.
During his communications with the woman, Bower agreed to meet her at the Hampton Inn, where he would arrive with $200 cash, lubricant and condoms, according to police.
Police say Bower arrived at the hotel that evening with the money, lubricant and condoms. He was taken into custody by
State Police troopers.
Elected mayor in 2017, Bower allegedly paid the woman for sex multiple times and faces four misdemeanor counts related to patronizing a prostitute.
The day after his arrest, Bower suggested the prostitution sting was politically motivated, adding that the woman he met at the hotel was not a stranger.
Bower said he had known her for months.
“He really tried hard for the Town of Bloomsburg for a lot of years and helped the police on a lot of investigations,” O’Connell said of his client.
O’Connell was referring to Bower’s business, Bower Media, whose security cameras installed throughout town have helped police in some investigations.
“I don’t think his good acts of the past should be overlooked,” added O’Connell, who vowed to continue fighting Bower’s charges.
New Town Hall leadership
Bower was serving in his second year of a six-year term as a state constable, but was suspended from that job last month.
Bower, 350 East 3rd St., submitted his written resignation as a constable to Columbia County court officials yesterday, O’Connell said.
Prior to defeating Carey Howell for the mayor’s seat in November 2017, Bower, a Democrat, had served about five years on council. In 2016, Bower stepped down during the first year of a second, 4-year council term to focus on business interests.
Kreisher, who retained his council seat in November — thanks to a luck of a draw of numbered balls — could be next in line to become town council’s new leader as mayor.
Kreisher and Democratic opponent Vince DeMelfi finished November’s election in a 577-577 deadlock. A tiebreaker was necessary to determine the winner.
Kreisher was later voted in by fellow council members as the board’s vice president.
At Town Council’s most recent meeting, where council members asked Bower to resign, town lawyer Cleve Hummel suggested Kreisher, as council vice president, could be next in line to serve as mayor if Bower resigned.
A tough decision
Council will have to formally vote to appoint a new mayor.
Bower’s replacement doesn’t necessarily have to come from the ranks of the current council, Martz said.
The town will advertise for applicants seeking to replace Bower as mayor.
Regardless of who is appointed mayor, that appointee will only serve through 2019.
The position of Bloomsburg mayor will again be up for grabs during the 2019 election cycle, and voters will decide who will lead the town in 2020 and 2021.
If council deadlocks on appointing a mayor, the decision on an appointment would fall to a county judge, Kreisher said.
Kreisher acknowledged that if council were to vote to promote him as interim mayor, he would have a difficult decision to make. If he were voted to become mayor and accepted the position, he would have to forfeit the remaining three-plus years of the term he was elected to serve on council.
Likewise, if a current council member is promoted to become mayor, that appointee would serve only through 2019. And that council seat would become open to candidates during the 2019 election cycle to begin serving in 2020.
It’s not the first time Town Council has faced the task of replacing an elected mayor mid-term.
In 2006, council promoted its vice president, Claude Renninger, to replace late Mayor Chip Coffman, who died while in office.
Council later appointed Don Pursel to fill Renninger’s vacated council seat.