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Sorting fact from fiction: Errors would be funny if they weren’t harmful


By Editorial Board

Without a doubt, Allegheny County’s unpredictable patchwork of municipalities and ZIP codes is hard to get to grips with. No newcomer should be shamed if they’re uncertain at first why their municipality, school district don’t conform to intuition or any repeatable logic.

But in each of the following cases, well-paid professionals who should have known better clearly didn’t. And ordinary people got hurt instead.

Where in the Sto-Ken-Rox?

News articles announcing the grand opening of a GetGo Cafe + Market franchise in Kennedy prompted well-deserved sniggers when they recently circulated on local Facebook pages.

The irony of the new gas station’s positioning directly behind a bright blue “Welcome to McKees Rocks” (the town it is actually located in) sign was not lost on those who know the area.

We shouldn’t be too hard on City Paper for this mistake. In fact, the editor working on the story “corrected” the press release, which listed the new facility’s address under the company’s existing Kennedy location, while naming the town as McKees Rocks.

Yes, Giant Eagle pushed the address of its longtime GetGo Gas Station in the

Kennedy Center while promoting the new multi-million dollar facility in McKees Rocks. So why then should the community trust a company whose leaders are so ignorant of the places they claim to be investing in as to completely confuse two different sites in two different municipalities?

Perhaps because of touching gestures like the $2,500 donation made to the neighboring VFW post, or the $5,000 check cut to the struggling Sto-Rox School District during the opening ceremony. Perhaps, or perhaps these are relatively cheap public relations gestures that cover up for gaps in true commitment?

McKees Rocks residents have had precious few opportunities to celebrate of late, so it feels cruel even to deprive them of the small satisfaction offered by a new gas station.

Meanwhile, Kennedy already boasts a solid reputation and has no real need for a helping hand.

Giant Eagle is one of the region’s largest and best-recognized corporations. Whenever necessary, it sends top-flight lawyers to boroughs and townships to smooth over zoning processes and offer assurances it’s working for the community.

But how can you be for the community when you don’t even know which community?

Homicide here?

The grocery giant isn’t the only purveyor of geographical mishaps around these parts. After publishing a short report on rising homicide rates last week, our staff was contacted by anxious Ingram officials pointing out that a homicide had not in fact been recorded within the borders of the tiny borough for nearly 20 years. The police chief investigated the case number and found that it took place in Pittsburgh’s city limits, a solid mile from the nearest edge of Ingram.

Allegheny County officials who distributed the data widely to local media have not disclosed the cause of the error or confirmed whether other mistakes could exist in the database.

Of all entities, Allegheny County should be most familiar with the quirky municipal arrangements it encompasses. Distributing errant homicide data intended for reporters can have harmful consequences and should be guarded against by careful fact-checking.

Small towns like Ingram can suffer reputational losses that are hard to correct when falsely represented as incubators of homicide. On the other hand, when a crime is wrongly attributed to a neighboring municipality, residents monitoring criminal behavior in their community are deprived of the hard truths they may rely on to stay safe.

Sue who?

Another example would be frankly amusing if it didn’t involve an injured woman whose initial suffering has since been compounded by a lawyer with a cranium seemingly as shallow as his pockets are deep. That might sound harsh, but what could justify anyone with 20 years of education thinking the 1.06 square-mile Borough of McKees Rocks ought to take responsibility for poorly maintained sidewalks five miles away in suburban Robinson Township?

I’m sure the judge will ask the same question when it comes time to rule on the personal injury claim.

Two months and several filings later – at the client’s expense – and public court records suggest he still hasn’t noticed he’s pursuing the wrong municipality.

Lawyers, whose triumphs often rest on subtle distinctions, should at least establish basic facts when drafting civil complaints for clients they say they care about. Whenever the esquire in question finally determines his mistake, will he take responsibility or tell his client they were snagged by a technicality, file new charges against Robinson and bill her for them all?

Let’s hope if he offers a no-win-no-fee agreement, there’s no voiding clause for suing the wrong party.

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