Harrisburg officially has a new mayor. Eric Papenfuse was sworn into office on Monday with a low-key ceremony followed by an eye-opening tour of the working conditions many city employees battle.
Prompt not pomp. Inauguration ceremonies for Eric Papenfuse were scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Monday morning inside the Harrisburg City Government Center on Second Street. At 9:59 a.m., the program began with Communications Director Joyce Davis kicking off what was a short and sweet ceremony.
Roughly 200 people packed inside the main lobby to witness a new era. Harrisburg Police and American Legion Post 733 were on the color guard as Eric Papenfuse, his wife and their three children took part in the ceremony by leading everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance. Following a welcome prayer, Harrisburg's newest officials were sworn into office.
Incoming City Controller Charles DeBrunner and City Councilwoman Shamaine Daniels took the oath for the first time. Returning City Council members Ben Allatt, Eugenia Smith and Wanda Williams were also sworn in to refill their respective seats.
Eric Papenfuse spoke a few moments later and set the tone for the day and his administration.
"Today is not a day for speeches," he said. "Today was a day for rolling up our sleeves and getting to work."
Honorable District Justice Marsha Stewart led Papenfuse to take the oath to officially become Harrisburg's mayor.
All in all, the ceremony was less than 30 minutes. Following the inauguration, Papenfuse invited the media to tour several of the offices inside City Hall. Papenfuse and Police Chief Tom Carter led reporters through the city's Public Safety Department in what could only be described as deplorable.
At every turn there was a nest of exposed wires hanging from missing ceiling tiles with varying colors yellow stains from previous and fresh water damage. Many lights were out, hallways were dark, and the police department's break-room looked more like a prison cell. Chief Carter pointed out the mildew-drenched green carpet that he said was at least 30 to 35 years old.
Chief Carter said requests for repairs were ignored. When asked why police put up with two decades worth of disregard from past administrations, he replied, "We realize the greater of our good is to serve the citizens of the city. We put up with it because we're police officers, and some things you have to just put up with."
Papenfuse said he was stunned when he toured the police department on his own last week. The new mayor said it was unacceptable to have police officers work in such horrid conditions. More importantly, Papenfuse pointed out there is a direct correlation with officers' working conditions and the reason why recruitment is down and good officers often leave.
"We do have a morale issue in the police department," he said." We can change it. But we want to send the message that we're going to give them the support they need. They're not going to be in a second-rate back closet office space coping with a leaking ceiling."
Papenfuse vowed not to use public or tax dollars to fund the repairs, but is seeking sponsorship from individuals and companies. The tour also led media through various offices that showed outdated filing systems, a lack of organization and an overall need for efficiency, according to Papenfuse.
The tour concluded with a showing of the mayor's office. A photo of Papenfuse shaking President Obama's hand sat proudly on his desk following a recent visit to our nation's capital.
"There will be no money spent on any renovation here," Papenfuse strongly stated. "I may bring a bookcase from home and some prints and things. But this is not a problem. This was renovated four years ago.. If I would've been doing my own office, this would've been last after I fixed up some of the conditions for the police officers."
Besides a clean office, Papenfuse said former Mayor Linda Thompson left him a letter on the desk, one he preferred to keep private at the moment.
Along with the long list of structural repairs to city hall, Papenfuse also plans to mend relationships between departments and City Council.
"We're looking forward to doing new things; he has some great ideas," said City Council President Wanda Williams. "There are some things a full body council has to decide on. So, I can't make a decision for six other members."
On day one of the administration, Eric Papenfuse began to tally a running list of improvements that need to be made for a city on the road to recovery. One change that may seem minor to most, but shows a true mark of a new administration, was the removal of the metal detectors and armed police officer at the front desk. Papenfuse said he wanted that task done before the inauguration to make people feel welcome inside City Hall. He explained the officer could be used more appropriately in the police department. A hired city worker will manage the 'help desk' when people first walk into the main lobby.
Another change in practice is Papenfuse's decision not to have security detail or use a city vehicle for traveling in the immediate area. The new mayor is bogged down with a laundry list of issues and problems that outweigh the manpower and money at his disposal. But, according to Papenfuse, that is why he ran for mayor.
"I feel the weight and the importance and the magnitude of all that needs to get done," he said. "And I'm up to the task and I'm ready for the job."
Papenfuse said he will begin to announce his administration positions over the next week. On Tuesday, Papenfuse is scheduled to officially name Tom Carter to Chief of Police. The new mayor also has a meeting with Attorney General Kathleen Kane this week to discuss several investigations into past dealings involving the school district, incinerator and artifacts purchased by former Mayor Steve Reed.