NORRISTOWN — The Municipality of Norristown is abuzz after a news report published last week put Norristown Municipal Council President Thomas Lepera in the hot seat.
Remarks attributed to Lepera generated a fierce social media response among Norristown and Main Line residents. A since-deleted post on Nextdoor generated around 70 comments from people in both areas, centering around the reported remarks.
Villanova University alumni expressed concerns about a post of the University’s emblem on Lepera’s Facebook page, alongside stating he’s “very much looking forward to the Villanova/Norristown partnership. More news to come shortly.” That post amassed 135 reactions, 80 comments and three shares as of Monday afternoon.
Lepera took to social media again Sunday, posting on his Facebook page to explain his position and assert that he was “misrepresented.”
“I never said I wanted to bus homeless people to Villanova. I said I wanted to bus people, including myself, to the Villanova campus to make a point: a wealthy institution like Villanova University — with ample grounds, empty dorms all summer long and strong Catholic values to offer help to the underprivileged — could very well ease Norristown’s immediate homelessness crisis, especially since Stephanie Sena is an anti-poverty fellow at Villanova’s law school,” Lepera said in a Facebook post.
Sena was the source quoted by the Inquirer for Lepera’s alleged comments.
“Basically, put your money where your mouth is,” Lepera continued. “Rather than stand on the sidelines and criticize Norristown’s handling of this crisis, come up with ideas and possible resolutions of your own.”
That post garnered 93 reactions, 57 comments and four shares as of Monday afternoon.
“I appreciate (your) advocacy,” a commenter said. “Working with the homeless in this county is a challenge and we need all the support we can get!”
“Very well put, Thomas. This is everyone’s problem. Thanks for caring and starting a conversation,” said another commenter.
“If you didn’t talk about bussing (sic) homeless people to Villanova and meant a rally or protest of some sort, I’m not sure why a private university campus would be your target instead of municipal buildings or other public space,” a commenter said.
“If you were being hyperbolic, it seems more honorable to admit you poorly worded. Homelessness is a serious and complicated issue,” the comment continued. “It’s understandably frustrating to homeowners and business owners affected by it, but we can’t ever forget we’re talking about vulnerable people.”
When asked Monday about his reaction to the level of public interest, Lepera said, “The reaction that I got from the community has been mostly positive.”
“The constituents, the same constituents that give me their concerns about the encampments have given me full support in trying to get things cleaned up,” Lepera said in a phone interview Monday with MediaNews Group. “A lot of the negative comments are from people who do not live in Norristown, who do not want social services or homeless encampments in their backyards, which hey I get it, but (at) the same time Norristown cannot be shouldering the weight of this problem for the entire county. It’s just not fair.”
Officials are anticipating high level of attendance at a council meeting Tuesday. Lepera told MediaNews Group he plans to speak on the matter, “explaining the position and the frustration that not only myself, but the council has had.”
“We’ve been asking for help on this for eight years,” Lepera said. “I’ve been on council for four years. I’ve been involved for longer than that. Eight years they’ve been asking for assistance with this issue and nobody cares.”
“Now all of a sudden I’ve got politicians calling me; I’ve got business owners calling me. Everyone wants to get involved now,” he continued. So I’m happy about the attention it’s getting, and I look forward to seeing everybody Tuesday.”
The Norristown Municipal Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 6, at 6:30 p.m. at the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit, 2 W. Lafayette St. Visit norristown.org for more information.