HARRISBURG — Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, ordered a special election to coincide with Pennsylvania’s primary election on Tuesday, May 18, to fill the vacant seat in the 59th Legislative District in Westmoreland and Somerset counties.
The vacancy was created by the sudden passing of Rep. Mike Reese, R-Westmoreland/Somerset, who died earlier this month of an apparent brain aneurysm.
Reese, 42, of Mount Pleasant Township, was elected to his seventh term in the House of Representatives in November. He ran unopposed. He represented the 59th District, which encompasses portions of Somerset and Westmoreland counties, including Cook, Donegal, Fairfield, Ligonier, Mount Pleasant and St. Clair townships, along with parts of Hempfield and Unity townships and Bolivar, Donegal, Laurel Mountain, Ligonier, New Florence and Seward boroughs.
In early December, Reese was diagnosed with coronavirus (COVID-19) and had quarantined for several weeks. He had been on the mend when he recently fell ill.
Reese was considered a rising star in legislative circles. He served the Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus as caucus secretary in the 2019-20 session and was elected to serve as Republican caucus chairman in the 2020-21 session.
“Rep. Reese set an example for every legislator to follow, and he is greatly missed in the chamber by members and close friends on both sides of the aisle,” Cutler said. “His commitment to his family and his constituents could never be questioned, and he leaves enormous shoes to fill on our House Republican leadership team.”
In an unscripted tribute to Reese, supporters across his district displayed his campaign signs and put out new signs thanking Reese for his service to the district.
Candidates for the office will be selected by a process designated by their respective political parties, and the winner of the special election will take office after the results are confirmed.
The district office will remain open, under supervision of the House, to assist constituents with issues or problems and to continue constituent inquiries already in progress. The office will remain open until a new representative takes office and decides how to manage the district.
The 59th Legislative District office at 2230 Mount Pleasant Road, Mount Pleasant, can be reached by phone at 724-423-6503 and the district office at Ligonier Town Hall, 120 E. Main St., Ligonier, can be reached at 724-238-2155.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has currently put a hold on most flight offerings at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport.
Several Westmoreland County Airport Authority board members expressed concerns at Tuesday’s virtual meeting about the lack of availability of flights from Unity Township to Fort Myers, Florida.
Flights to Fort Myers — one of the airport’s regular Sunshine State destinations, along with Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, before the pandemic — haven’t occurred at the airport since Jan. 4, airport authority executive director Gabe Monzo said.
“We were sending airplanes to Fort Myers with 30 people on them, but coming back, they were full,” Monzo said, with Smarto adding that a Fort Myers-bound flight she was recently on had just 18 passengers. “I just keep calling them and letting them know we’re available.”
According to the Spirit Airlines website, flights from Unity Township to Fort Myers won’t be available until March 10. The airport is also expected to resume its popular flights to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Feb. 12.
Currently, the Arnold Palmer airport is only offering flights to Orlando. According to the Spirit Airlines website, the Orlando flights are available four days per week — Monday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday — before expanding to a daily schedule next month.
Monzo said the Orlando flights are doing well, noting than more than 130 passengers are slated to fly from Unity Township to the popular family winter destination on Thursday.
Monzo said previously that many flyers aren’t scheduling flights more than a week in advance because of uncertainty tied to the pandemic.
Spirit, per its website, is offering flights from Pittsburgh International Airport to Fort Myers four days per week. Authority board member Janice Smarto wondered if flyers would have chosen to fly out of Unity Township instead of Pittsburgh had local Fort Myers offerings been available recently.
Like the rest of the airline industry, Arnold Palmer Regional Airport was hit hard by the pandemic in 2020. The airport’s annual report showed just 62,670 outgoing passengers this past year, compared to 155,905 in 2019; total passengers, traveling in and out of the terminal, fell to 123,511 from 309,817 in 2019.
In other business, the authority board named officers for 2021, appointing Paul Puleo as chairman, Janice Smarto as vice chairman, Vince Finoli as secretary, Don Rossi as treasurer and Gary Beck as assistant treasurer.
Also Tuesday, the authority board approved several change orders: $20,390.00 to ABS Building Systems Integrators LLC, for additional door hardware, café area modifications and gate ceiling tile replacements as part of an ongoing holding room expansion, rental office relocation and parking lot reconstruction project; $9,850 to Darr Construction Inc. for assorted terminal light fixture replacements, and to $13,900 Combustion Service & Equipment Co. for modifications to the baggage carousel area and existing hold room ductwork as part of HVAC system upgrades in the terminal.
A public hearing for a Unity Township couple seeking a zoning variance allowing them to continue raising backyard chickens will continue 6 p.m. Thursday.
Kristin and Jeff Kuhns will appear before the Unity Township Zoning Hearing Board to appeal a zoning violation they received in July regarding the 20 chickens they raise on a 0.46-acre lot along Range Street in Lawson Heights.
The couple is seeking a zoning variance to a township ordinance that restricts residents from keeping fowl on properties smaller than two acres.
The hearing will take place in the meeting room of the Unity Township Municipal Building, 154 Beatty County Rd., Latrobe.
The zoning hearing board previously heard two hours of testimony on Sept. 22 before township solicitor Gary Falatovich was forced to leave to tend to a family emergency.
Those interested in attending the public hearing may participate in-person, or remotely via Zoom, email or other remote methods. Anyone interested in participating must contact Building Department Secretary Gail Rause at (724) 539-2546, ext. 4023, with their name, address, email address and cell phone number, at least 24 hours in advance of the hearing so appropriate arrangements for in-person or remote participation can be made.
The zoning hearing board is following all Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and state Department of Health coronavirus (COVID-19) safety protocols for the public hearings. Participants and others attending in-person are required to wear appropriate face masks. Social distancing requirements will be followed, and seating will be limited.
A complete copy of the Kuhnses’ application is available for review in the Unity Township Zoning/Code Enforcement Office during normal business hours.
Anyone requiring special accommodations to attend should contact the Unity Township Zoning Officer, Harry Hosack, at least 24 hours in advance so that appropriate arrangements can be made.
Helen Peterson Thomas McClarren of Torrance turns 100 years old today, Jan. 13.
Born Jan. 13, 1921, in Lloydsville, Blair County, she is the widow of the late J. Quentin Thomas and Milton McClarren.
Her children include Robert Thomas of Millwood, Arlene Jones of Torrance, Richard Thomas of Derry, and the late Kenneth Thomas and Debby Simko. She is the mother-in-law of Sandy Thomas of West Mifflin, Norman Simko of Torrance and the late Jane Thomas.
Helen also has eight grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and several great-great-grandchildren.
After the death of Helen’s first husband, she worked at the Pizza Barn, Blairsville Police Department and Torrance State Hospital. With her second marriage, she once again became a homemaker.
She held many positions in the Torrance United Methodist Church, during her 85 years of membership, before its closure. She is now affiliated with the First United Methodist Church in Derry.
Because of the current pandemic, Helen will celebrate quietly at home with immediate family.
Members of the Greater Latrobe School Board are expected to decide next week on the district’s instructional model.
Greater Latrobe superintendent Dr. Georgia Teppert said during Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting that the district’s health and safety committee met on Jan. 7 to discuss the best instructional model to implement for students while navigating the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
It was decided at the Jan. 7 meeting that the district’s newly-formed health and safety committee, which includes board members, administrators and local medical advisors, opted to reconvene Monday, Jan. 18, and further discuss the most appropriate instructional model moving forward. The school board is scheduled to hold its regular meeting the following day, Tuesday, Jan. 19, prior to the health and safety committee’s next meeting.
“(Meeting again) will allow the committee to have a full two weeks of post-holiday COVID-related data to assess in order to determine the extent, if any, of the post-holiday surge of COVID-related illnesses,” Teppert said, adding that Friday marks the second week after the New Year’s Day holiday.
“The board of education will review the health and safety committee’s recommendation from the Jan. 18 meeting at the regular board meeting next Tuesday and determine at that time if our instructional model should be modified to include time in a brick-and-mortar setting for our students.”
Teppert said that any change in Greater Latrobe’s instructional model at next Tuesday’s meeting will go into effect beginning Monday, Jan. 25, giving parents time to plan accordingly. All students will currently remain in Greater Latrobe’s full online instructional model through Friday, Jan. 22. Teppert said that there is currently a letter posted on the district’s website outlining the timeline.
“As we continue to navigate this global pandemic, we are aware that students greatly benefit from face-to-face instruction and social interaction while continuing to build positive relationships with their teachers,” Teppert said. “The Greater Latrobe School District will continue to do the very best to provide the opportunity for brick-and-mortar instruction while keeping the health, safety and welfare of our entire school community as a priority.”
The school board, on Dec. 1, decided to switch district students to a full remote instructional model until Jan. 18. District officials said at the time that the move allowed for the best continuity of education for students, while maintaining health and safety of the entire school community and also adhering to state guidelines for travel during the holiday season.
Last month, the board approved the addition of the health and safety committee to the list of school board committees. Board member Dr. Michael Zorch, a retired emergency room physician, chairs the health and safety committee, while directors Steven LoCascio, Paul McCommons and Merle Musick also serve. Members of the medical team include Christina Armanious, Thomas Maroon, William Jenkins and Steven Mills.
Teppert noted that during the meeting on Jan. 7, all members agreed that in-person instruction is “by far” the best instructional model for students, however, concerns were raised by the medical team and the health and safety committee regarding rapidly increasing rates of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations within the county.
“The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) came out recommending all children go back to school,” Zorch said. “We are, however, in a substantial rate of transmission in our county, which has overwhelmed our hospital system and caused a lot of crises with taking care of sick patients.
“I think the kids need to be back in school, but right now we’re concerned about the whole community, which is why the recommendation was made the way it was.”
Zorch added that a committee concern centered around community virus transmission and what he termed “yo-yoing” students back and forth between opening and closing schools.
“We don’t want to get kids in a situation where we put them in school and then a few days later, we shut it down again,” Zorch said. “That’s our concern right now.”
Derry Borough officials are looking for a new voice on the Derry Borough Municipal Authority (DBMA) board, and borough council made it happen at Tuesday’s virtual meeting by voting to appoint Barbara Phillips to fill the board vacancy.
Councilwoman Sara Cowan nominated Phillips to assume the authority board post for a five-year term expiring Dec. 31, 2025. Council tabbed Phillips over Richard Thomas via a 4-2 vote, with Cowan, Matthew Clever, Jim Ritenour and Jeremy Stein voting yes, and Grant Nicely and Al Checca each casting dissenting votes.
Thomas, a former authority manager who recently served as board chairman, saw his term expire in 2020. Phillips, a Fourth Ward resident who dealt with another major flooding incident last summer, also currently serves on council.
During the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, authority manager Amy Forsha pushed for Thomas to remain on the board.
“Rich has gone above and beyond the call of duty,” Forsha said.
“His main motive for being on the board is community service ... he knows about the history of the water authority, and is really helpful when it comes to equipment breakdowns and diagnosing things.”
Before council’s vote to fill the vacancy, Cowan read a pointed letter regarding Thomas, which noted his experience but also questioned his true role in the authority’s day-to-day operations.
“I have no doubt Rich Thomas is an encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to matters of the authority, every question asked could be answered and explained by him — on paper, he checks every box. It has now become a pro and con situation and I can’t with good conscience move past the cons.”
“... We have a manager who relies on him so completely that he has been, to a degree, running the authority behind the scenes. There are real problems that have been talked around for more than a decade,” a portion of the letter read.
“The easy solution here is to appoint Rich Thomas for another five years because he knows what he’s doing. It would be easy to appoint him for another term and continue to have a board that takes no real responsibility and lets him handle the situations that come our way, or we could appoint someone new, who has already shown so much initiative in this council.
“The municipal authority board and management, myself included, should step it up and be more involved and work together as a board to make things right rather than it being a one-man show,” Cowan read.
“I have the utmost respect for Rich Thomas — he has served the board well for 30 years — but I think the time has come to start holding board members and management accountable. By having him on the board, I don’t see that being a real possibility.”
This past fall, Thomas was presented with an Extended Service Award from the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association, recognizing his 30 years of service with the authority. Thomas was appointed to the authority board in 1991 and eventually became authority manager, serving for 14 years until retiring in 2015. He later rejoined the board and served as chairman.
Nicely suggested last week that council consider Thomas for another term on the board, given his knowledge of the authority and the borough’s infrastructure.
“He’s an encyclopedia when it comes to the water authority,” Nicely said. “I think it would behoove the community to keep him on the board at this time.”
Checca said previously that authority, ideally, would have a more even representation of board members who reside in Derry Borough and Derry Township. With Phillips’ appointment, the authority board boasts five borough residents.
Phillips said last week she would place an emphasis on residents who have dealt with flooding issues in the recent past.
“I want our entire community served, but most specifically the Fourth Ward residents that are dealing with flooding — not just flooding, but sewer water flooding,” she said.
Borough solicitor Lee Demosky said last week that Phillips, as an authority board member, would only be excluded from any executive sessions discussing litigation related to her personal flooding issues.
Also discussed at Tuesday’s meeting:
In other business, council approved:
Rebecca Salandro of Latrobe has announced her candidacy for magisterial district judge in the Unity Township area.
Salandro worked her way through college, earning a master’s degree in education from Seton Hill University in Greensburg and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh.
She has dedicated more than 14 years of her career in human services helping some of the most vulnerable members of the community. For almost 10 years she has worked as a criminal justice liaison throughout Westmoreland County in the district court offices.
“My duties include encouraging individuals in their recovery while helping them regain their place in the community,” she said. “As a criminal justice liaison, I have experienced first hand the workings of the district justice system.”
She has been a member of Westmoreland County’s Criminal Justice Advisory Board for the past several years.
If elected, Salandro said she will devote herself to the “pursuit of fair justice for all.”
“It is an honor to serve as district judge and this position deserves my complete dedication,” she said.
With the retirement of the current Magisterial District Judge Michael Mahady, Salando believes her “background and work experience would qualify me for this position.”
“I will work hard to fill the void left by a well-respected judge who has filled this position for many years,” she added.
Rebecca Salandro and her husband, Rick, are the parents of two young children, and they have built their home in Unity Township for over a decade.
“I would be honored to serve as your next district judge for Magisterial District 10-02-08,” Salandro said.