Wilson Council Clashes With Lions Club
Arguments between Wilson borough council members, Lions Club members, highlight Monday meeting.
It all sounds straightforward: a local service organization chapter wants to expand its designated closet space at the borough community center.
But when that organization is the Lions Club, and the municipality is Wilson Borough, nothing is simple these days.
Wilson's regular borough council meeting Monday was relatively short on official business, but long on stormy exchanges between Lions Club’s representatives and council members.
The blustery discussions took place in the backdrop of a Lions chapter struggling to cope with the decimation of its budget.
In June 2011, Wilson council asked Lions Club to move its annual summer fair out of Meuser Park due to concerns about fees, crime, garbage clean-up, and safety. After months of wrangling with council over the issue, Lions in February abandoned efforts to hold the fair.
But with the fair gone, the club lost the main source of its funding – a $10,000-a-year budget infusion club members say was spread across the community in a wave of goodwill, funding such things as local scholarships.
Things remained tense Monday, when Lions Club President Jack Barr and Lions board member Al Perruso asked council for permission to expand a closed-off storage closet at the Strausser Community Center on Northampton Street, at the club’s own expense, to better accommodate club needs.
But they first wanted to find out who had cut off a lock on the Lions’ storage space.
"We would like to know why that lock was cut off without any of us knowing about it," said Perruso.
Club members contend that destroying the lock left their belongings open to “walking away,” as one club member put it. The club holds its regular meetings at the center, and shares storage space with Boy Scouts.
Councilwoman Joan Lilly-Kemmerer said she was behind the lock’s removal, adding she did not know whose materials were being locked up on borough property.
But the borough’s Superintendent of Operations Greg Drake later said he had told her, a fact she disputed. Lilly-Kemmerer said the Lions club never actually asked the borough council for permission to store materials at the center.
"I’ve served on this council for eighteen years, and at no time was anything ever brought before this council," said Lilly-Kemmerer.
But Perruso said the borough's previous manager, the late Walt Boran, had given the club permission.
“It’s not for the borough manager to make that kind of decision,” responded Lilly-Kemmerer.
The discussion over permission at times grew agitated.
“Do you have something against the Lions Club?” Perruso shouted at Councilwoman Joan Lilly-Kemmerer, prompting Councilman Ryan Woodring to scold him: “You’re yelling at a council person and a woman!”
“Alright, alright,” said council President Leonard Feinberg, banging his gavel. “One person at a time.”
In the end, the Lions Club officials got what they wanted – a seemingly simple matter of permission to expand a closet.
A motion to allow the expansion passed eight to one, with Councilman James McGowan voting no.
Later in the meeting, Wilson Lions member Bill Keck asked council to consider how messy Northampton Street has looked lately. Keck said in the past that the fair was often blamed for the messes.
“Has anyone driven down Northampton Street lately? It’s ridiculous. It’s full of garbage,” said Keck. “You said it was our [the Lions fair’s] fault because of our littering. Whose fault is it now?”