All four Harrisburg mayoral candidates debate for first time

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Though there already have been a handful of debates in the fall campaign season, Thursday’s forum was the first to feature all four candidates in the race for Harrisburg mayor.

City Controller Dan Miller was quick to criticize the current administration, revealing a major error he says he caught earlier in the day related to the payroll.

Miller said an employee submitted a time sheet seeking to be paid for 396 hours of work in a two-week period. There are 336 hours in two weeks.

“And, that paycheck was $19,000. And, that’s the kind of incompetence, that’s the kind of bad management that we have in the city. No wonder we’re struggling financially,” said Miller, adding he stopped payment.

After the debate, the city’s chief operating officer, Bob Philbin, said the issue pertained to an employee in the city’s fire bureau. Philbin said he did not know how the error occurred. He said he has a meeting scheduled Friday to learn more.

Miller is on the ballot as a Republican even though he’s a registered Democrat. He won the most write-in votes on the GOP side during the May primary.

The Greater Harrisburg NAACP hosted the event at the community center in Allison Hill, which is where several teens were shot earlier this month following a youth party.

With people in the neighborhood concerned about what happened, many of the audience-submitted questions focused on crime.

Democrat Eric Papenfuse, who won his party’s primary in May, advocated for more community engagement and vowed changes in police management.

“We need to go back to block captains, and they need to be involved in neighborhood watches. And, we need to have a community actively playing a role,” said Papenfuse. “(Officers) don’t want to be just reacting from crime to crime, and racing to stop the bleeding.”

Miller added, “We need to get illegal guns off the street. We need a unit that focuses just on that.” He also said tackling crime, like many other issues in the city, ultimately relies on getting the city’s finances in order.

Write-in candidates Lewis Butts and Aaron Johnson also took part in the debate. They expressed their concerns about lifting the residency requirement for officers.

As part of negotiations with the police union, officers no longer will be required to live in the city.

“If you don’t live here, you’re not culturally competent to reflect what our society and our community is,” said Butts.

Johnson said, “If a white police officer, they got to have a talk with a black young man or a Latino young man, they’ve got to be able to talk to them.”

Election Day is November 5.