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City began new year with a new form of government, a new mayor, and a police department recently accredited by the Pa. Chiefs of Police Association

The City of Easton began the new year with a new form of government, a new mayor, and a police department recently accredited by the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association.

In November, citizens voted for a radical change in government, passing a referendum to adopt a new Home Rule Charter, and elected Sal Panto Jr. as mayor. Panto took office Jan. 2, succeeding Phil Mitman, who did not seek re-election after serving one term and is now chief executive officer of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. For Panto, this is the second stint as Easton’s mayor. He previously served two terms from 1984 to 1991.

Under the new charter, the mayor is both the city’s chief executive and president of City Council, which has expanded from five to seven members. Panto is the only elected official in Pennsylvania to simultaneously hold the offices of mayor and council president.

A city administrator, to be appointed, will be responsible for the day-to-day operation of the city, and a new director of finance will assume many of the duties of the former business administrator’s position as well as those of the city treasurer, whose position will be phased out after four years.

The charter provides for citizens’ increased participation in enacting ordinances and amending the charter. It also sets forth enhanced public reporting requirements and professional and ethical standards and guidelines.

State Representative Robert Freeman, an Eastonian, chaired the commission that drafted the charter. It provides for “increased professionalism, accountability, efficiency, and cooperation in the administration of the city, as well as expanded representation and empowerment for the citizens,” he said. Another advantage is sounder fiscal and planning management, with multi-year capital budget planning and two-year operating-budget forecasting.

“This organization model is new to the entire state, and all eyes will be on us as we bring about this new form of government for the 21st century,” Panto said.

Roger Ruggles, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Lafayette, who served on the 11-member Home Rule Charter Study Commission, was appointed in January to fill out a two-year term on the City Council. He had finished fourth in a race for three open council seats in November.

The Easton Police Department reported in January that overall crime in the city decreased by 4.4 percent in 2007, and serious crimes, which include arson, assault, burglary, homicide, rape, robbery, and theft, dropped by 22 percent.

The department’s accreditation by the police chiefs’ association reflects major positive changes in the force since a grand jury in March 2006 criticized its lack of written standards, policies, and regulations following an investigation of an accidental shooting of one officer by another in police headquarters.

Departments seeking accreditation must comply with up to 123 standards that clearly state professional objectives relative to policies and training. The number of standards varies depending on a department’s size and circumstances, with Easton’s numbering 110. Easton is one of 48 departments in Pennsylvania to earn accreditation since the program began in 2001.

The College is working with a citizens group and the Northampton County government to develop plans for the next phase of operation of the Bachmann Publick House, Easton’s oldest building – an important historic site. The county recently took over ownership of the property from the Easton Heritage Alliance, which had operated it as a museum from 2002 until it was forced to close its doors for financial reasons in 2006. Located at Second and Northampton Streets, the building was the first tavern licensed in Northampton County and was used as Easton’s first courthouse.

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