Delay in School Board Appointment
It may be months before Harrisburg residents learn who will be the newest member of the district’s school board, as a court hearing in the matter isn’t slated to take place until late April.
Court of Common Pleas Judge John McNally has scheduled an April 23 court date to hear a citizen’s group response to a petition supporting Ralph Rodriguez, a city resident who wants to fill the vacant seat.
The group known as Concerned about the Children of Harrisburg (CATCH) responded to the petition filed on Jan. 24 on behalf of Rodriguez. As part of its response, CATCH asked the court to appoint its own preferred candidate, Cornelius Chachere.
This petition response appears to have triggered a series of events that will take several months to resolve.
The parties now have until mid-March to finish their discovery processes, followed by the April 23 court hearing.
Jayne Buchwach, a member of CATCH, said that her group opted to respond to Rodriguez’s petition, as opposed to filing an original petition in support of Chachere, after they saw that Rodriguez’s supporters had filed first.
“The response states our objections,” she said. “It also tells the court—this is who we think should be on it.”
The response touts Chachere’s qualifications and, like an original petition would, asks the court to appoint him.
To add further complexity to this issue, former school board Director James Thompson also has filed a petition with the court for the seat. Technically, this makes four candidates for the seat: Rodriguez, Chachere, Thompson and Marva Brown. In their petition, Rodriguez’s supporters mention that appointing Brown also would be acceptable to them.
The board seat became empty following the Dec. 16 death of school board Director Melvin Wilson. The remaining board members, split between Rodriguez and Chachere, failed to muster a majority of five votes to replace Wilson within a 30-day time period, throwing the matter to the court.
Buchwach said that she wasn’t concerned about having only eight members on the board for an extended period.
“The board is contentious,” she said. “So, having eight there or nine there—it really doesn’t matter.”
Meanwhile, five of the nine school board seats will be up this election year. CATCH has vowed to put up its own slate of candidates for the board seats.
Fetterman Starts Listening Tour
A packed room and dozens of speakers greeted Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in Harrisburg last month, as he kicked off a statewide listening tour on the proposed legalization of recreational marijuana.
Some 300 people filed into the auditorium of the Harrisburg Jewish Community Center for the first of 67 such events, as Fetterman began to wind his way through every county in the commonwealth.
For about two hours, Fetterman listened patiently and respectfully as speaker after speaker rose either in support of or in opposition to the proposal, often sharing with him emotional stories from their lives.
One young man named Darryl said that he was arrested and jailed for possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia and now can’t find a full-time job because of those convictions.
“That’s why I’m struggling so badly, because of a stupid possession charge,” he said. “It’s time to end this.”
To that end, a few speakers recommended not only legalization but expungement of criminal records for those previously convicted.
Les Stark, executive director of Reading-based Keystone Cannabis Coalition, a pro-legalization advocacy group, said that, in Pennsylvania, about 25,000 people a year are arrested for marijuana possession.
“How many lives have been ruined in Harrisburg alone?” he asked. “Over the next 10 years, will we ruin the lives of 250,000 more Pennsylvania citizens?”
Several speakers identified themselves as users of medical marijuana, which is legal, and testified to the effectiveness of cannabis for treating their conditions.
While most attendees spoke in favor of legalization, some did not.
Several speakers said they feared that legalizing recreational marijuana would lead to greater threats to public safety—from the potential of more car accidents to the possible greater use of harsher drugs.
“My main concern is that I have a grandchild turning 16,” said one man. “My concern is that I believe recreational marijuana is a mind-controlling substance. I’m afraid for her to be driving out on the highway when some other driver’s mind is being controlled by marijuana.”
Other speakers accused the state of wanting to legalize recreational marijuana as a revenue-raising tool.
“I’m not against medical marijuana, but I am against use of recreational marijuana,” said one man. “I believe the administration just wants to create a new revenue source to tax and spend.”
Throughout the lengthy event, Fetterman said little from his seat on the stage, listening attentively as people spoke their minds.
At one point, he asked would-be speakers to allow a woman, who was holding an infant, to move to the front of the long line. The woman, who said she drove in from Hummelstown, offered a moving story about surviving AIDS then, relatively late in life, giving birth to her baby.
“Medical cannabis helped me survive by the skin of my teeth,” she said. “It can’t be denied to others.”
Illegal Guns Seized
Harrisburg police have seized hundreds of firearms over the past few years, following a department-wide push to take illegal guns off of city streets.
At a press conference last month, police lined three long tables with handguns, rifles and shotguns, which they said was a small sample of the 646 illegal weapons confiscated from 2016-18.
Capt. Gabriel Olivera said that, in 2016, city police Commissioner Thomas Carter instructed officers to focus on the epidemic of illegal weapons in the city.
“All these guns were seized mostly without officers engaging these individuals with gunfire,” Olivera said. “Our officers have shown great restraint.”
According to Olivera, 196 guns were seized in 2016, 252 in 2017, and 198 in 2018. The far majority of these weapons have been handguns.
Carter said that, even before 2016, his officers routinely seized illegal firearms. But he wanted them to be more mindful of illegally owned guns, most of which have been stolen, as they patrolled and made arrests.
“I work with these amazing men and women on a day-in and day-out basis, and I know their capabilities,” he said, referring to his officers. “It’s something the entire agency bought into.”
Olivera mentioned that, for 2018, Harrisburg had about a 10-percent drop in “Part 1” offenses, which include the most serious crimes like murder, robbery and aggravated assault, compared to 2017. He also cited a 5- to 6-percent reduction in “Part 2” crimes, such as simple assault, disorderly conduct and most drug possession offenses, which are generally considered to be less serious.
“I can’t tell you that the number of guns has reduced the homicide rate,” Carter said. “But I can tell you that it has reduced violent crime.”
Olivera said that, after police seize a stolen gun, officers try to determine the rightful owner, so it can be returned. If no owner is identified, the gun eventually is destroyed, he said.
ICA Board Complete
A Harrisburg resident and former media executive has secured the final seat on Harrisburg’s new financial oversight board.
David Schankweiler, former publisher of the Central Penn Business Journal, was appointed to the five-member Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (ICA) by state Senate Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati.
Schankweiler joins UPMC Pinnacle executive Tina Nixon, nonprofit professional Audry Carter, attorney Kathy Speaker-MacNett, and property developer Ralph Vartan on the newly created ICA, which will oversee Harrisburg’s finances for five years.
Until 2016, Schankweiler was the CEO and owner of Journal Multimedia, which published the Central Penn Business Journal and other publications. Since his retirement from the publishing industry, he has served on numerous nonprofit boards.
The board met for the first time last month for an organizational meeting.
New Police Gear
Harrisburg police last month showed off a pile of new protective gear, equipment it purchased with a grant from UPMC Pinnacle.
At a press conference, the city’s police bureau shared samples of new vests, helmets and steel plates, part of about 120 pieces of protective gear that will help protect officers from lethal, high-caliber weapons, according to police Commissioner Thomas Carter.
In total, UPMC Pinnacle donated more than $40,000 for the equipment purchase. That figure includes about $20,000 raised last June from the “3.2 to Protect the Blue” race, which was organized by UPMC Pinnacle emergency room nurses, with the UPMC Pinnacle Foundation donating much of the remainder.
“I had no idea of the dedication and love that these people showed our officers,” said Carter, flanked by UPMC nurses and Harrisburg police officers.
The new gear includes 60 helmets, 40 “body armor level 3 ballistic” protective vests with steel plates and 20 additional steel plates. The vendor, Royersford, Pa.-based Body Armor Megastore, contributed another 10 armor body vest sets.
Carter said that the need for the equipment arose last year following the death of U.S. Deputy Marshal Christopher Hill during a raid on a house in Allison Hill. The bureau realized that its helmets and vests were not adequate to protect against today’s powerful firearms, he said.
Deputy Police Chief Deric Moody said that his officers will not wear the equipment regularly, but will keep it nearby in case it’s needed.
After the press conference, Mayor Eric Papenfuse stressed that the equipment was not the full body armor “riot gear” that the bureau requested in 2017 after high-profile clashes throughout the city between “anti-Sharia” protestors and “antifa” counter-protestors. That gear was already purchased following a $68,000 allocation from City Council, he said.
Teachers Protest Pay
A sea of teachers dressed in red and carried homemade signs at a Harrisburg school board meeting last month, protesting what they perceive as unfair pay.
Hundreds of teachers flanked the standing-room-only gymnasium and wore “Red for Ed,” demanding to know why the school board denied a grievance settlement that would have raised the pay of veteran teachers.
In response, the district claimed that the pay raises would be prohibitively expensive for the struggling district, saying, in a prepared statement that “the settlement costs would run into the millions of dollars because of its continuing impact on salary costs in the district.”
At the heart of this fight is a set of intersecting problems: the Harrisburg school district’s budget issues, complaints of low pay and high teacher turnover rate. Veteran teachers demand that their pay reflect the time they’ve invested in Harrisburg schools, but the district asserts that veteran teachers are already being paid competitive wages.
“The more veteran the teacher is at Harrisburg, the more competitively they are paid under the negotiated salary schedule,” the statement read. “The board also believes that if the [Harrisburg Education] association was so concerned about the turnover problem in the district, it would have recommended that this be addressed in our ongoing labor contract negotiations where the teachers have refused to make a salary proposal after 14 months of negotiations.”
“We haven’t refused anything,” Barksdale responded. “We have to settle this before we agree on anything.”
The events culminating in the protest began in August when the Harrisburg Education Association filed a grievance against the board, claiming that veteran teachers were underpaid.
In it, they stated that the district had hired new teachers at rates higher than veteran teachers with equivalent experience, violating their contract. In January, the union reached a verbal agreement to raise the salaries of some of the lowest paid veteran teachers, but the board voted down that contract.
2019 Arts Awards Announced
Theatre Harrisburg has announced the recipients of the 2019 Awards for Distinguished Service to the Arts in the Capital Region (“Arts Awards”).
Ronnie Waters, a jazz musician, arranger, composer and educator, will receive the “Award to an Individual,” and The State Museum of Pennsylvania will receive the “Award to an Organization, Company or Group.”
The awards will be presented on Sunday, June 2, in a theatrical gala at Whitaker Center in downtown Harrisburg. The event is open to the public, and proceeds benefit Theatre Harrisburg.
For more information about the awards, including banquet reservations, visit www.theatreharrisbug.com/artsawards.
Mural Fest Returns
The Harrisburg Mural Festival is returning for another round, as Sprocket Mural Works last month announced a 2019 festival.
Co-organizer Megan Caruso said that Sprocket will oversee the creation of 10 murals over 10 days, from Aug. 30 to Sept. 8. The purpose, she said, is to add density to Harrisburg’s existing “mural trail,” which runs mostly along 3rd Street in downtown and Midtown.
“We want Harrisburg to be a mural-dense city,” she said. “So, they have to be concentrated.”
Sprocket also plans to mount a mural in Allison Hill, Caruso said. The organization created 18 murals during its first mural festival, which was held in 2017.
Lobbying Contract on Hold
Maverick Strategies will need to wait until mid-month to find out if its lobbying contract with Harrisburg will be renewed.
City Council was expected to vote on a one-year, $60,000 contract with the city-based lobbying shop last month, but pulled the resolution at the start of a council legislative session.
Earlier, council had asked Maverick for detailed billing statements for their prior contract, which ended Dec. 31. That information was received just before February’s legislative session, and council needed time to review the bills, said President Wanda Williams.
“We need clarification on these invoices,” Williams said. “City Council has additional questions they want to ask.”
Williams said that they’ll request that Maverick appear at the next council work session, which is slated for March 5, with a contract vote likely at the following legislative session on March 12.
Brooks R. Foland of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman and Goggin has been named president of the Dauphin County Bar Association for 2019. The rest of the 2019 executive committee includes Lisa M. Benzie of Navitsky, Olson & Wisneski LLP; Paula J. McDermott of Post & Shell P.C.; Scott B. Cooper of Schmidt Kramer Harrisburg; and Thomas P. Gacki of Eckert Seamans.
D&H Distributing plans to move its headquarters from Harrisburg to Lower Paxton Township later this year, it was announced last month. The century-old company will relocate from the 2500-block of N. 7th Street to a 50-acre campus near I-81.
Harrisburg University has named former professional player Alex Chu to coach its “League of Legends” e-sports team. Chu joined Giuseppe Gramano and Chad Smeltz to round out the e-sports coaching staff at the university.
Joyce Davis has left her position as Harrisburg’s communications director to take a post as the new opinion editor at PennLive. At press time, her replacement in the city had not been named.
National Association of Collegiate Esports last month announced that it had selected Harrisburg for its 2019 annual conference. The July 17-19 convention will attract 300 to 400 attendees, with most events taking place at Harrisburg University and Whitaker Center.
Wildheart Ministries is seeking skilled artists to do small art installations for its third annual Summer Project in Allison Hill, June 9 to Aug. 3. For more information, contact Serena Viera at email@example.com.
Berryhill St., 2156: M. & J. Rider to V. Marsico, $42,500
Bigelow Dr., 37: BSR Rental Trust to L. Pate, $67,500
Briggs St., 2018: D. Patterson to Cohen Altman Properties LLC, $40,000
Brookwood St., 2202: D. McCahan to Z. Hess, $80,000
Calder St., 517: R. Godshall to PA Deals LLC, $80,000
Crescent St., 332: Dynaspek Holdings to K. Stoute, $55,000
Croyden Rd., 2963: M. Thomas to D. Jamison, $49,900
Emerald Ct., 2450: S. Manly & J. Ebenezer to J. Gilliam, $80,000
Emerald St., 235: R. Valentine & C. Frater to R. Liddick, $35,000
Green St., 1022: Dilks Properaties of Harrisburg LLC to S. & J. Toole, $100,000
Green St., 1605: C. Frater to Fratelli Property Investments LLC, $110,000
Green St., 1609: C. Frater to Fratelli Property Investments LLC, $110,000
Green St., 2035: G. Neff & City Limits Realty to Heinly Homes LLC & W. Hoover, $55,000
Green St., 2037: WCI Partners LP to D. Ranson, $219,000
Green St., 3224: Wilmington Savings Fund Society FSB & Selene Finance LP to C. Wise, $51,500
Greenwood St., 2516: W. & C. Davenport to R9 Holdings LLC, $33,000
Hoffman St., 3010: Innovative Devices Inc. to R. Wiley, $122,000
Hummel St., 250: Y. Martinus to M. Fragoso, $150,000
Kensington St., 2135: A. Segin to L. Scott, $61,000
Lenox St., 2011: R. Volcy to N. Burrell, $162,000
Logan St., 2303: M. Arnold to S. & S. Stridiron, $30,000
North St., 251: Peleton Investments to Trip Aces 251 LLC, $135,000
N. 2nd St., 719: J&S Estate LLC to Hasan Properties LLC, $265,000
N. 2nd St., 1937: M. Horgan to B. & A. Klinger, $201,000
N. 2nd St., 2449: L. Lee to J. Reed & M. DePhilip, $120,000
N. 2nd St., 2739: S. Staub & E. Adler to K. Werner & D. Neyman, $242,000
N. 2nd St., 2953: PI Capital LLC to V. Edwards, $272,000
N. 3rd St., 1931 & 1933: C. Frater & R. Valentine to GMG Harrisburg A LLC, $350,000
N. 4th St., 1729: J. & E. Lonon to C. & E. Little, $142,000
N. 4th St., 1924: Equity Trust Co. Custodian Julie Burns IRA to C. Williams, $117,500
N. 4th St., 2030: I. Alderton to B. Russ, $87,000
N. 4th St., 2448: A. Barber to S. Lewis, $84,000
N. 6th St., 1002: A. Antoun to N&R Group LLC, $31,000
N. 6th St., 2933: C. Wise to J. Ryan, $134,900
N. 6th St., 3105: M&T Bank to K. Kissam, $52,000
N. 18th St., 59, 61& 63: MSP Associates Inc. to Shutter Real Estate LLC, $85,000
N. Front St., 1525, Unit 314: D. Forney to A. Winch, $90,000
Paxton St., 1626: S. Reed to D. & B. Chisolm, $55,000
Penn St., 1933: D. Ranson to J. Hunter, $149,900
Race St., 600: D. Korlewitz to K. Douglas, $135,000
Randolph St., 1416: A. Campbell to N. Tran, $74,000
Reel St., 2742: L. Polite to W. Edgerton, $58,900
S. 13th St., 401: N. & A. James to C., A., F. & S. Weaver, $59,000
S. 17th St., 1112: Wells Fargo National Association to HT Properties LLC, $35,920
S. 18th St., 1039: Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to T. Bilbo & J. Seay, $42,200
S. 19th St., 1141: Z. Robinson to PA Deals LLC, $42,000
S. 20th St., 512: GKT Enterprises LLC to Equity Trust Co., $34,000
S. 25th St., 448: J. & J. Nuhfer to K. & M. Stone, $100,000
S. 26th St., 737: S. Wedemeyer to W. Quezada, $33,000
S. 27th St., 728: E. Patterson to H. Alcantara, $33,621
S. Front St., 577: M. Kuhns to E. Stover, $138,000
State St., 1816: M. Ochoa to H. Plaza, $50,000
State St., 1900 , 1902 & 1904: D. Kapp & W. Cupp to Cassiano Properties LLC, $175,000
Wiconisco St., 523: N. McCoy & M. Gordon to Equity Trust Co., $42,000
Wiconisco St., 623: V. Rivas to L. Cruz & I. Perez, $55,000
Wyeth St., 1405: J. & M. Reis to L. Stamm, $115,000
Harrisburg property sales for January 2019, greater than $30,000. Source: Dauphin County. Data is assumed to be accurate.