The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

September 8, 2012

Who watches code cops?

Daily Item

---- — Anyone visiting Cheri DeSiena's jewelry store in Selinsgrove must pass caution tape and warning signs.

What is the dread peril which threatens any who dare seek jewelry, watches and all that glitters at M. Heintzelman Jewelers?

The two-year-old sidewalk.

DiSiena's sidewalk, installed in 2010, does not meet standards for handicapped-accessibility. It is the latest installment in a months-long struggle for a handful of business owners in the area of Walnut and Water streets in Selinsgrove. For most of the summer, any would-be consumer interested in visiting the area had to ignore or detour around "road closed" signs as the borough replaced sidewalks and curbing and repaved the streets. Business owners responded by lobbying for more effective use of signs to help visitors understand that there was access to the area. DeSiena said she was unable to hold annual sales and events during the summer as a result of that work. Then, she was informed the borough planned to bill her about $8,000 to repair her sidewalk, the same one she'd rebuilt in 2010 for a fraction of that cost. DeSiena maintains that no other business in the area was required to repair a sidewalk. Any governmental edict that would determine a two-year-old sidewalk needs to be removed ought to be accompanied by convincing evidence that the sidewalk is uniquely inadequate.

DeSiena has obtained a court injunction to prevent the borough from embarking on its $8,000 sidewalk repair adventure.

Contacted about DeSiena's concerns, Selinsgrove Borough Manager Paul Williams argued that her complaints were misplaced. It has not been the borough hassling DeSiena, but rather a third-party hired by Selinsgrove officials to conduct code inspections.

Government officials at all levels have begun looking for outside private alternatives to perform public functions. The hope is that by doing so, they will provide service at better value because the public does not have to directly absorb benefit costs of workers. The shift does not eliminate public accountability.

Members of Selinsgrove Borough Council may not feel that it is wise to speak publicly about DeSiena's situation since she has recourse from the courts. We hope they carefully review the situation.

Lawsuit or not, borough officials ought to explain what protections are in place to ensure that over-vigorous code enforcement is not undermining efforts of small business owners trying to share in and contribute to the economic vitality of Selinsgrove's downtown.

The first question they might try to answer could be: "Warning signs for a sidewalk? Really?"