State College

A ‘small insane moment’: State College councilwoman draws attention over shooting quip

State College borough council member Theresa Lafer, pictured in 2013, recently made comments that have raised concern for residents.
State College borough council member Theresa Lafer, pictured in 2013, recently made comments that have raised concern for residents. Centre Daily Times, file

State College councilwoman Theresa Lafer cracked a slight smile last month when she said she might be inclined to “shoot somebody,” but top borough leaders aren’t offering any punchlines over her public quip.

Lafer made the remark at a televised meeting Feb. 11, when a contractor working at 131 Hiester St. went before council about a noise waiver. The councilwoman waved her hands to illustrate the path she preferred the concrete trucks follow.

After referring to the trucks as “ka-chunk ka-chunk” machines, Lafer said she “might have a small insane moment where I shoot somebody” if the trucks running near her home become too loud. About 25 concrete pours at the Hiester Street mixed-use project are scheduled to begin at 3 a.m. in March and continue through the next six months.

Reached by the Centre Daily Times, Lafer declined to discuss her comment, which came about two weeks after shootings in the borough left four people dead and another badly hurt. But the statement drew somber responses from officials including Mayor Don Hahn, while some constituents vented shock.

Hahn called suggestions of violence “always inappropriate.”

“I have found that Councilwoman Lafer enjoys using hyperbole. However, when she does, she runs the risk of being taken too seriously by some and not being taken seriously enough by others,” Hahn wrote in an email. It’s “generally a good policy to think before we speak, email or tweet.”

A representative for the contractor declined comment. But Chris and Shannon Jones, both of State College, said Lafer’s approach reflected poorly on the community. The councilwoman was first elected in 2007.

“The council should be ashamed and embarrassed by in her comments, especially in light of those senseless murders we had in our community not too long ago,” Chris Jones said. “It’s quite shocking to hear that. Her behavior, in my opinion, is beneath the dignity of an elected official.”

His wife, Shannon Jones, said the remark was unconscionable, unprofessional and insensitive.

“Everybody had a look on their face like, ‘What did she just say? Are you kidding me?’ ” Jones said. “This was not a casual conversation over a cup of coffee. This was a public council meeting. ... This is not some silly backyard barbecue conversation. ...

“If it was a casual conversation between some friends and over a glass of wine, sure, go ahead, say that,” she said. “But you’re representing the community.”

Lafer deferred to Borough Council President Evan Myers.

“I believe that all of us, and especially those that are public officials, need to understand and be sensitive that any and all comments we make can have impact,” Myers wrote in an email. “Context is also important, so being aware of current events needs to inform what we say as well.”

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State College borough council President Evan Myers speaks during a State College borough council meeting Jan. 2, 2017. Abby Drey Centre Daily Times, file

At CeaseFirePA, a Philadelphia-based advocacy group, executive director Shira Goodman said Lafer’s words should open a wider discussion about mental health and gun violence.

Goodman noted a shooting at a Monroe County township office that left the municipality’s sewage enforcement and building code official dead.

“We have to say that words do matter. We should have a discussion about that kind of language and what’s OK to use even in a heated discussion about loud trucks on a residential driveway,” Goodman said. “Our words have effects and consequences, and we need to think about ways to deal with these tough issues in a productive, respectful manner. And I think that does start with the language that we use.”

State College police chief John Gardner talks about it being a safe town to life in, but not immune to tragedies like the shooting that occurred Thursday evening.

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.