-YEAR IN REVIEW PART II-
We bring you part two of the year in review, a look back at the past six months in local Gazette 2.0 news coverage. In our last edition, we selected the best stories in local news from the first half of 2022 as part of our two-part year-in-review series. This week we’re bringing you the highlights from July through December as we cap off 2022 and look ahead to the new year.
As we reflect on 2022, the Gazette 2.0 team at hyperLOCAL Media LLC is extremely proud of our consistent delivery of honest and thoughtful reporting throughout the communities we serve. We work hard to improve with each subsequent edition.
As always, we are looking for readers to partner with us as citizen journalists. If you are invested in your community and have a good eye for a story, you may be able to help us in our mission of delivering high-quality, community-centered journalism throughout our western suburban coverage area. Please call us at (412) 652-5875 if you are interested in joining the team.
The Sto-Rox School board unanimously voted to appoint Andrew Lisiecki to head up the district’s police force. The Sto-Rox school district looked to address escalating safety concerns by hiring new security specialists for all three buildings. School directors approved the positions and authorized the beginning of the hiring process during their April 28 business meeting. The move was mandated by the state-mandated recovery plan.
An investigation revealed Lisiecki had a long history of suing former employers, settling with the City of Pittsburgh for $95,000 and winning a suit against the North Huntingdon Police force for unlawful firing. For that suit, Lisiecki was awarded $600,000.
Lisiecki was a central figure in the 1998 Jeffrey Cooperstein murder trial which was notorious at the time for involving accusations of racial bias against Cooperstein who was white, was accused of shooting a Black motorist named Deron S. Grimmitt Sr. following a car chase through the Hill District. Lisiecki initiated the chase that resulted in Grimmitt’s death and testified on Cooperstein’s behalf. Cooperstein was acquitted, but the trial became a flashpoint about race and policing. Lisiecki later sued Pittsburgh, saying he was demoted because of his support of Cooperstein.
During a 2010 prostitution sting in Green Tree, where he was Police Chief for three years, he was accused of taking his clothes off and allowing a sex worker to initiate a sexual act before arresting her. The woman filed a criminal complaint against him. The incident was widely reported at the time in a variety of news outlets and he admitted to it in the press. However, Lisiecki was not disciplined. Stephen Zappala Jr., district attorney for Allegheny County declined to prosecute and Green Tree council members did not reprimand him.
During their August 11th meeting, the district rescinded Lisiecki’s hiring and brought on private security firm The Commission, LLC.
Ingram said goodbye to its volunteer ambulance services and welcomed NorthWest EMS as its sole provider on July 1. Before this, Ingram’s volunteer ambulance had been the primary provider for 49 years.
Pet food bank
To combat increasing need, the Focus on Renewal Pet Food Pantry opened July 19 at 500 Chartiers Ave., McKees Rocks. Thanks to a partnership with Animal Friends, a no-kill animal shelter, residents who visit the food pantry can pick up chow for their cats and dogs.
Robbie Boyer, a woman accused of exposing her grandchildren to street drugs leading to the overdose of a 10-month-old-baby, had long been the subject of consternation to her neighbors before the July 31 incident. Neighbors had complained of drug dealing and other criminal behavior centered on the Fair Oaks residence Boyer rented. She fled the scene and was not apprehended until the end of August, when she returned to her home. Boyer was charged with an additional warrant stating the two other children Boyer babysat, a 3-year-old boy and 9-year-old girl identified as her other two grandchildren, tested positive for exposure to drugs.
The Sto-Rox Teacher Union ratified a one-year contract extension after working the previous year without. School directors unanimously voted in favor of the contract.
The teachers union ratified the agreement July 31, avoiding a strike.
Negotiations on a successive agreement will begin in early January 2023, according to a press release from the district.
Teachers received a 4% raise.
With the help of $3.5 million in Commonwealth Financing Authority funding, a 25-acre parcel in Pittsburgh’s Fairywood neighborhood is set to become the home of two new 150,000-square-foot single-user warehouses. Ferguson Enterprise LLC, plumbing, HVAC and industrial product distributor, in June, signed a lease for one of the warehouse spots. Construction was scheduled to begin at the site of the former Broadhead Manor public housing development located near Thornburg, Crafton and Ingram in October.
An overflowing dumpster on Sarah Street which had been causing consternation to neighbors for several years was finally removed after an article in Gazette 2.0 detailed the problem.
McKees Rocks has been dealing with landlords who are delinquent in paying tax and sewage bills and maintaining properties. The landlord in question had unpaid tax bills across Allegheny County, not just in McKees Rocks, and did not have a permit to own rental property in McKees Rocks. The council met with the offending landlord, which caused him to act.
As of late, borough officials have been discussing ways to crack down on similarly offending landlords.
Drug overdose deaths increased again in 2021 in Allegheny County. However, most local police chiefs saw decreases in calls which resulted in deaths. Most chiefs credited the increased availability of Narcan, a drug designed to halt the impact of a drug overdose, with fewer calls.
“Sometimes with the availability of Narcan, people aren't even calling the police or EMS like they used to, because they administer Narcan, their friend comes back, so we're never really going to know how many overdoses are occurring year by year,” McKees Rocks Police Chief Rick Deliman said.
Dr. Karl Williams, chief medical examiner for Allegheny County, reported July 7 a total of 719 overdose deaths occurred during 2021, accounting for 25% of all deaths under the jurisdiction of the medical examiner’s office. The deaths reflected an increase of 30 deaths over the final 2020 number of 689, or 5%. There were 564 overdose deaths in 2019 and 492 overdose deaths in 2018. Overall, Pennsylvania had a 3% rise in deaths, which means Allegheny County fell above the state average. The death toll of overdoses statewide in 2021 was 5,319.
Carnegie Borough Council adopted a Climate Action Plan in a unanimous vote. The plan should help the borough prevent catastrophic flooding events which have plagued the area in the past through building retention ponds on tributaries to hold back water and money to build up the banks of the creek. The plan suggests a number of ways to lessen the impact of potential flooding by installing more rain gardens and planting more trees, all to absorb and retain stormwater before it reaches Chartiers Creek which cuts through the center of town.
McKees Rocks agreed to participate in a county pilot program designed to reduce arrests and
create better outcomes for people with mental health issues. As part of this program, mental health professionals would respond to certain kinds of calls initially placed to police in order to deal with people who would be better served by a social worker than a police officer.
The Allegheny County Department of Human Services Crisis Response and Prevention Pilot Program would allow McKees Rocks police to determine if a mental health professional would be better to respond to a call than a police officer. A similar program has been successful in New York City.
Greg Clarke became manager of Kennedy Township, ending Mel Weinstein’s three-year tenure as interim manager. Weinstein, who had been filling the manager position since 2019, is still treasurer and tax collector of the township. Clarke’s hiring was introduced at an Aug. 22 council meeting and finalized at the township’s Sept.8 meeting.
“He brings a wealth of knowledge,” said Weinstein, before inviting Clarke to move from the audience to sit in his chair after the unanimous vote.
In the same week, McKees Rocks was informed they were losing the only drug store within the borough limits, Rite Aid, and the McDermott Funeral Home, which had been a staple in the community for more than a hundred years.
The McDermott funeral business originated in Carnegie in 1886 and moved to McKees Rocks in 1915.
The former McKees Rocks home had been on Chartiers Avenue near where Dietz Floral used to be.
More than $3,000 worth of checks earmarked for the launch of an NAACP Chapter in McKees
Rocks were cashed in June of 2021 even though chartering committee members were told their application for branch status is still under consideration. Gina Beavers, president of the NAACP Chartering Committee in McKees Rocks, suspects the membership packet she assembled, and the membership checks it contained, never reached NAACP headquarters. In June 2021, Beavers gave the packet to Ken Huston, then-president of the NAACP East Chapter, and Pennsylvania State Conference President. Huston was arraigned before Judge Jeffrey Herbst for two counts of theft and four counts of fraud. Allegheny County Police conducted an 11-month investigation into Huston, which was tipped off by an anonymous letter. He’s charged with theft not connected to the McKees Rocks Chartering Committee. The organization still awaits word on the chartering committee’s status.
School board drama
Sto-Rox School Board President Cameron Culliver recommended board member Ken Hohman resign after he was publicly censured for the fourth time.
Hohman was in trouble for openly discussing matters which had occurred within an executive session regarding an employee who had been fired. Hohman has said he would not resign.
McKees Rocks Bridge
Public safety officials from Stowe and McKees Rocks have met with PennDOT representatives twice about safety concerns on the McKees Rocks Bridge and are largely dissatisfied with the state agency’s response. The emergency responders’ concerns are focused on worries that emergency vehicles will not be able to reach people in time should further accidents occur on the bridge.
PennDOT responded by installing sensors to control lights on either side of the bridge to control traffic in the event of an accident.
Crafton investigated whether consumer fireworks should be banned in the borough because of a new state law forbidding fireworks from being lit within 150 feet of a structure. Council members agreed to investigate whether there were any areas in the borough that would permit legal use of consumer fireworks within the borough’s limits.
On Nov. 8, residents went to the polls, overwhelmingly electing Josh Shapiro as Pennsylvania Governor. John Fetterman defeated Mehmet Oz for Pat Toomey’s United States senate seat.
Incumbent Anita Kulik held onto her seat in the 45th District of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. In the 44th district, incumbent Valerie Gaydos won her seat.
In the 27th District, Dan Deasy won reelection. Thornburg resident Chris DeLuzio won Conor Lamb’s former seat in the 17th District.
In the United States Senate, Fetterman’s win contributed to the slight Democratic majority. For the first time in a decade, Democrats have a majority in the Pennsylvania House.
The Coraopolis Memorial Library considered cutting ties with the borough, which currently controls the library, to become a separate nonprofit entity.
Amy Gilligan, finance director for the Allegheny County Library Association, presented to council on Nov. 2 about the prospect of separating.
Gilligan discussed what the benefits and drawbacks would be in transforming the library into a nonprofit.
The county’s library association is a federated system of libraries and a conduit for funding from the state which provides consulting services as well as accounting services on an opt-in basis. Coraopolis already participates in ACLA.
Separating and becoming an independent nonprofit could also open up new funding opportunities for the entity. The Penn Hills Library separated from the local government after they were closed down at the beginning of the pandemic. Gilligan said libraries that are independent entities had protection from such closures in the event that a municipality would no longer be able to fund them.
Montour School Board members plan to renovate the Thomas J. Birko Memorial Stadium on the district’s hilltop campus in Robinson at a cost of between $2 and $2.6 million.
The proposed start of the project would be in March 2023 and is subject to the district making a bid approval in February.
It’s estimated to take 20 weeks to complete.
Mall at Robinson
The Mall at Robinson sold on Nov 29 for $46 million, far below its assessed $88 million value leading, city officials to worry about a shrinking tax base.
Kohan Retail Investment Group, based in Great Neck, New York, bought the mall at a low price. The company has been embroiled in numerous lawsuits over the way it has run other malls, had some unpaid property tax issues and seen multiple foreclosures of some of its other properties. The organization owns 66 malls around the country.
The Sto-Rox School District hired two new assistant principals for the Jr./Sr. high school and a new assistant principal for the primary/upper elementary school, all outside hires, replacing teachers who had been promoted from within and entering leadership positions for the first time.
Commissioners in Stowe Township say they do not intend to remove Matt Chapman from his role as fire chief following the Dec. 4 incident where he was charged with assault.Police say he physically attacked a Presston firefighter at a residential fire call in McKees Rock.
A verbal disagreement broke out between Chapman and Presston Firefighter Joe DeFazio at the Olivia Street blaze. Chapman sat in his vehicle while he and DeFazio argued. When DeFazio walked away, police said Chapman jumped out of his vehicle, followed the other man and struck him. Police subdued him immediately. There is a hearing scheduled for Jan. 31, 2023. An acting chief was appointed in the meanwhile.
Stowe resident Jeffrey Paul says the township owes him at least $8,500 of the $25,485 he paid to fix a sewer backup caused when the township repaved Palace Street and crushed his sewer main.
Even though the repairs – which Paul paid for out of pocket – were approved by Public Works Director Dan Burkhardt at the time of the dig, they only offered him $2,500.
When Paul balked, Commissioner’s President Robin Parilla said they’d “see him in court.”
Editor’s note: Writers Lori Altmeyer, Sam Bigham, Alice Crow, Elizabeth Perry, Bob Podurgiel and Garret Roberts contributed to this report.