LaFontaine says 'Enough,' won't run again for mayor
After eight memorable years in office, East Carbon City Mayor Orlando LaFontaine has chosen not to seek re-election in this November's municipal election. One of the most outspoken personalities in Castle Country, LaFontaine's actions as an administrator highlighted East Carbon policy and procedure for the better part of a decade.
But it has not all been sweetness and light.
"You know how many government agencies I've had to deal with as a suspect during my two terms? As mayor, I was accused of misuse of funds, they called DCFS [the Division of Child and Family Services] on my family. The politics here are just too dirty," said LaFontaine, describing his reasons for not running this year. "I'm so proud of what I have done with my time as mayor, but it's just the dirty politics."
While he did express regret about certain issues, he would like to continue to be involved in moving forward, specifically the possible merging of East Carbon and Sunnyside. LaFontaine stated that from the new year on he will have to do so as a private citizen.
"You know, I didn't mind being accused of the misuse of public funds, because the charge was a joke. Everybody saw that nothing came of that." he said. "But DCFS, the FBI, the DEA. It took a toll on me. When you get a call from the FBI, that's serious. When politics lead to your kids being taken out of school and questioned about whether you're a good father, what's that? My little girl was in Kindergarten."
LaFontaine's run as mayor began when he defeated incumbent Dale Andrews in 2005 and immediately set to making changes within the city.
"He had such a vision for turning our community around," said East Carbon City Recorder Liz Holt, a 20-year municipal employee. "He was so energetic after he was elected and he was determined to make things more positive for our city."
The mayor's record is largely a story of two terms, as issues with family illness and political infighting significantly marginalized the mayor's time with the council during his second term.
Early on, LaFontaine, a transplant from New York City, aggressively sought grant money to help develop new attractions and bring outdated city infrastructure up to snuff.
During his first four years, LaFontaine and various members of the city's council oversaw projects including:
.The upgrade and revitalization of both the Viking and Columbia parks.
. Making East Carbon a larger part of the county's economic development plan.
. Completion of the city's water system overhaul.
. Restructuring of city bonds to meet issues with fluctuating tippage fees from ECDC Landfill.
. Completion of the city's Wellness Center.
. Planning, funding and completion of the city's walking trail.
. Procurement grant money to upgrade East Carbon Police Department equipment.
. Obtaining Custom Hummers for the city police force.
. The re-zoning and sale of surplus city property.
. The use of Americorps VISTA workers for the purpose of increased grant writing.
"When I started as mayor, things got rolling fast and we were able to accomplish a great deal," said LaFontaine. "But there was always this tug of war going on to limit my success."
For council member Andy Urbanik, the tug was being used to limit what he felt were abusive and potentially illegal practices. Urbanik vacated his council seat in 2011, after deciding not to run for a third term.
"I think Orlando started with good intentions," he said on Wednesday. "But his absenteeism from the council chamber over the past five years left a leadership void in the city.
As LaFontaine's first term wound down, the mayor began missing a significant number of council meetings, attributing his absence to family illness and the need to spend some time with his wife and kids. While several council members took issue with how much time the mayor was gone, no formal action was ever taken by the city. For Urbanik, the chronic absenteeism was only one of the issues he took with LaFontaine's administrative decisions.
"His failure to communicate with the council and his constant acting out as a loose canon cast the city in a bad light, in both Carbon County and within the state as a whole," he said. "Additionally, his failure to oversee the budget has left the city in perpetual financial turmoil."
As his most outspoken critic, Urbanik also took the mayor's discretionary spending of city funds to task and reported being "shocked" when neither county or state officials decided to prosecute based on the evidence he knew was provided to them.
While LaFontaine and Urbanik mix like water and oil, other members of the council slide more to the middle where the mayor is concerned, taking issue with certain behaviors but defending others.
"We've had our issues," said council member David Avery. "But overall, me and Orlando have gotten along well and we have worked together on some great projects. I have always been willing to work on something he was behind."
His office staff has described the mayor as "hot-blooded" but settle on that blood's pump when describing LaFontaine's overall personality.
"He's got a really good heart, and he listens to his employees," said Holt. "I have never had a problem that he wasn't willing to sit down and work through."
In addition to his administrative accomplishments, LaFontaine has also overseen the revitalization of East Carbon's de facto Main Street on upper Geneva Drive. He plans to have his "New Yorker" restaurant open in some capacity for the upcoming Community Daze celebration on July 13 and hopes to begin working in earnest to get the rest of the street doing business soon.
"I'm excited to bring the kind of food I like to this area," said LaFontaine. "And as a private citizens I can't wait to have the time to get back to doing community walks and fund-raising for city organizations like the ABC Learning Center. I'm going to stay here. This is where my family is."