Political Brawl Over Police, Schools Causes Election Day Fallout in Montgomery County - NBC 10 Philadelphia
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Political Brawl Over Police, Schools Causes Election Day Fallout in Montgomery County

A longtime mayor lost his re-election bid in a Montgomery County borough after a tumultuous battle to start his own police department while school construction threatened the status quo in quiet Perkiomen Valley.

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    Political Brawl Over Police, Schools Causes Election Day Fallout in Montgomery County
    NBC10
    Ryan Sloyer, mayor of East Greenville, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania outside the borough senior center on Election Day, May 16, 2017. He was seeking his fourth term amid a yearlong battle to create a borough police department.

    Editor's note: This story has been corrected. Three incumbents for the Perkiomen Valley Regional District school board remain in the running for re-election in the November general election despite receiving among the lowest vote totals in the cross-ballot primary on Tuesday.

    Mayor Ryan Sloyer's ego got the best of him -- and left his political career in tatters.

    That's what some of his longtime neighbors in the tiny borough of East Greenville, Montgomery County, believed led to a landslide loss for the incumbent in the Republican primary Tuesday.

    In a place as small as East Greenville, about 50 miles from Philadelphia, a landslide can amount to 100 votes -- 114 to be exact.

    Sloyer lost to challenger Keith Gerhart, 188 votes to 74. He wasn't alone. All three incumbents on East Greenville's Council who were up for re-election also suffered defeat by wide margins, including two Republicans who closely aligned themselves with Sloyer.

    And the political upheaval in this rural northwest part of the county wasn't limited to the borough boundaries.

    Four challengers for the regional school district's governing body received more votes than the four incumbents up for election. The results in the cross-ballot primary eliminated one of the incumbents from the general election in November while the other three face an uphill battle after low-primary vote totals. Contentious debate in the Upper Perkiomen School District simmered for months over the school board's approval of a $58 million elementary school.

    A revolt, led by the mother-and-son duo of Melanie and Stephen Cunningham, cost the incumbents in the primary. The two Cunninghams were in turn the top vote getters among four newcomers.

    A board shakeup will likely be too late to stop the momentum of the school. A $10 million bond was recently issued to begin construction of the new school in Upper Hanover Township.

    Voters stand outside the Upper Perkiomen School District administration building in Upper Hanover, Montgomery County, on Tuesday, May 16, 2017.
    Photo credit: NBC10

    In East Greenville, the sweeping change of power in borough government may also be too late to stop what led to the downfall of Sloyer and his Council allies.

    The now-lame duck mayor battled a wave of opposition from residents and business owners for more than a year to tear apart the decades-old regional police force that patrols East Greenville and neighboring Pennsburg.

    His plan to create a new department serving only East Greenville became so acrimonious in recent months that one opponent told Sloyer "you can't go in the Halloween parade in this borough because you would be stoned."

    On June 1, East Greenville is set to pull out of the commission and use state police coverage until Sloyer's plan for a free-standing department rounds into form. Currently, East Greenville has an interim police chief that it pays $45 an hour, Gerhart said. The chief, however, has no office, no holding cells and no vehicle.

    The borough did recently purchase a $38,000 sports utility vehicle, Gerhart said.

    Gerhart, a former borough councilman who served a partial term as mayor in 1999-2000, ran on a platform that opposes Sloyer's plan to end the Upper Perkiomen Police Commission. He said Sloyer's defense of ending the partnership with Pennsburg was rising costs for the borough. But Gerhart said it was actually Sloyer's inability to work with his Pennsburg neighbors

    "They keep saying it’s financial, it’s financial. No, it’s not," Gerhart said of the plan to dissolve the commission. "We went back and found problems between the two boroughs and Sloyer’s name was mentioned each time."

    Now, Gerhart said, he would push Sloyer to resign -- a pledge Gerhart said the mayor made late last year if he lost re-election -- and allow incoming elected officials to re-examine the unpopular move for a separate department.

    "if I beat him, I’m going to hold his pants to the fire on that one," Gerhart said earlier in the day Tuesday. 

    All of the fresh faces in East Greenville and, potentially, on the regional school board won't officially take office until January, if their momentum does carry over into November.

    Sloyer won't be the only lame duck local official who faces a long, hot summer in the Perkiomen Valley.

    Ryan Sloyer, mayor of East Greenville, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania outside the borough senior center on Election Day, May 16, 2017. He was seeking his fourth term amid a yearlong battle to create a borough police department.
    Photo credit: NBC10