Sinkhole tour draws criticism from Papenfuse; some residents fire back

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HARRISBURG, Pa. - The announcement of potentially millions of dollars in state funding to provide a solution to homeowners on South 14th Street, a neighborhood ravaged by sinkholes, hit a sour note with Mayor Eric Papenfuse, who said having the event on short notice was disrespectful to residents.

Instead, some of those residents, as well as City Council President Wanda Williams, who attended the event, fired back at Papenfuse at a council meeting Tuesday night.

The state Department of Community and Economic Development, or DCED, held a news conference and walking tour of the neighborhood Tuesday, announcing that it would be eligible for a piece of up to $8.5 million in state money.

The money would go toward buying out dozens of distressed homeowners whose properties were rendered practically worthless after sinkholes ravaged the neighborhood in 2014, demolishing the homes and converting the land into a green space of some sort.

Papenfuse says he only heard about the event late Monday, and sent out a press release shortly after the event's completion Tuesday, demanding respect from visitors and the media for the residents.

"Our office got a lot of complaints today about people who felt their privacy was invaded," he told FOX43 Tuesday.

Papenfuse says he requested that DCED delay the event, and when the department refused to do so, he refused to attend.

"We've got a lot of work to do to make sure that the money that's available gets in the hands of those that need it and that's what we should be doing, not having photo ops," he said.

Williams, who helped lead the tour, had some choice words for Papenfuse at Tuesday's council meeting.

"For you to put out a press release to say that we were not treating those residents with respect was utterly terrible," she said.

Some residents who attended the meeting were critical of city officials not being on the same page.

"[The] city doesn't [sic] pay our taxes, city wasn't helping reduce none of our taxes, city has not been out there," Sheena Mosley, a homeowner on South 14th Street, said.

Papenfuse suggested the rift between his administration and DCED stems from an ongoing dispute he has with DCED Secretary Dennis Davin over his role on the Pennsylvania Economic Development Financing Authority. Papenfuse argues that board owes the city thousands in revenues over the privatization of city parking venues.

"Organizing an event today with the city council president was probably payback for being so outspoken on parking, and that's the type of political games that our residents don't need," Papenfuse said.

When FOX43 asked DCED for a response to the mayor's press release, a written statement did not acknowledge Papenfuse.

"Today was about the residents who are affected by this unsafe situation, and DCED’s work with the city and federal government to ensure we have the resources necessary to complete this project and allow the residents to finally move on," the statement read.

The parking explanation rang hollow with some residents.

"You have issues with these people on the outside," Maria Garcia, a resident, said. "Whatever your issues on the back line, keep it on the back line. Don't bring it to South 14th Street."