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WINNERS AND LOSERS: What happened in Tuesday's primary election, and what to expect next

 

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Voters in Middletown, Royalton and Lower Swatara Twp. leaned toward change in Tuesday's primary election, ousting three incumbents in the race for Middletown Borough Council and giving three challengers a significant victory in the race for Middletown Area School Board.

In Middletown, council President Chris McNamara and incumbents John Brubaker and Sue Sullivan lost their bids to get on the ballot in November's general election – and will get a second chance only if they acquired enough write-in votes.

In the school board race, one incumbent, Patricia Price, lost her bid for re-election, as three challengers – Linda Mehaffie, Jennifer Scott and Chris Lupp – claimed a major victory by winning both the Republican and Democratic nominations for board seats.

Both Republican and Democratic voters in Lower Swatara and Royalton opted for Mehaffie and Scott over five incumbent school board members in nearly every precinct, according to unofficial returns. The two-party victory by the duo and Lupp give the three challengers an advantage over four incumbents still in the race – board President Barbara Layne and board members Gordon Einhorn, Michael Richards and Terry Gilman – in November's general election.

"I'm humbled, I'm speechless – I'm like, really? It's exciting,'' said Mehaffie, who added she is cautious not to take the advantage she won on Tuesday for granted in November. "I really want to be helpful in the whole scheme of things – working with current directors and the administration. I fell there's something more we can do for the children.''

Here are the results of Tuesday's primary, according to unofficial returns, and what voters can expect in November's general election:

MIDDLETOWN BOROUGH COUNCIL – THIRD WARD

Challengers Damon Suglia (173 votes) and Diana McGlone (133) defeated Brubaker (123) and Sullivan (92) for the two Republican nominations for council seats. Suglia and McGlone could essentially clinch a victory in November's general election by earning the most write-in votes cast by Democrats, who had no candidates on their ballot Tuesday. Dauphin County has yet to count write-in votes.

There were 120 write-in votes cast, and based on discussions with poll workers, "we swept the nominations,'' McGlone said.
"I think people were looking for a new direction, new leadership,'' she said. "The tide of the town and the people have finally recognized the professionalism and openness and honesty of individuals we need to be governing.''

Suglia said the outcome did not surprise him: "I knew our town was ready for a change,'' he said.

MIDDLETOWN BOROUGH COUNCIL – SECOND WARD

Chris McNamara lost to challenger Gregory Wilsbach, the borough's former electric department supervisor, 217-47 in the race for the Republican nomination.

With no candidate running on their ballot, Democrats cast 99 write-in votes, and the highest vote getter will face Wilsbach in November's general election for a council seat. One resident, Travis Arndt, waged a write-in campaign at the polls.
 
MIDDLETOWN BOROUGH COUNCIL – FIRST WARD

Dawn Knull defeated David Scully, 86-36 for the Democratic nomination for a two-year term on council in Tuesday's primary, according to unofficial returns. The seat was formerly held by Tom Handley, who resigned in the middle of his term.

Knull will face Republican Dana Ward, who was unopposed for her party's nomination, in November's general election.

Former councilor David Rhen (68 votes) beat two other former councilors, Barry Goodling (60) and Rachelle Reid (32) and a political newcomer, Sean Vaccarino (22), to win the Republican nomination for a four-year term on council representing the First Ward.

Rhen will face Scully, who was unopposed for the Democratic nomination in Tuesday's primary, in the November general election.

MIDDLETOWN AREA SCHOOL BOARD

In Tuesday's primary, Republicans nominated Linda Mehaffie (835 votes), Chris Lupp (832) Jennifer Scott (779), Terry Gilman (705) and Michael Richards (704) over Dustin Green (698), Barbara Layne (646), Gordon Einhorn (576) and Patricia Price (433).

Democrats nominated Scott (406), Mehaffie (388), Layne (373) Einhorn (356) and Lupp (350) over Gilman (348), Richards (325), Green (320) and Price (304), according to unofficial returns.

In November, the seven nominees will vie for five seats, with Mehaffie, Scott and Lupp holding the advantage of appearing on both sides of the ballot and Gilman, Richards, Layne and Einhorn appearing only on one side.

LOWER SWATARA TWP. COMMISSIONERS

Republicans Todd Truntz (522 votes), Michael Davies (515) and Jon Wilt (504) were unopposed for their party's three nominations, while Democrat Danielle Prokopchak (218 votes) was unopposed for her party's nomination, and all four face one another in November's general election for three commission seats.

The field could grow if others win the two remaining unclaimed Democratic nominations from Democratic write-in votes cast Tuesday. There were 39 write-ins cast by Democrats. Any of the three Republicans could claim spots on both parties' ballots in November if they were among the top two vote-getters among Democratic write-ins.

LONDONDERRY TWP. SUPERVISORS

Incumbent Melvin Hershey defeated challenger Paul Geyer, a farmer and excavator and former supervisor, 283-50 on Tuesday for the Republican nomination for a four-year term.

In November's general election, Hershey could face the top vote getter among write-in votes by Democratic voters, who had no candidate on their ballot. There were 28 Democratic write-in votes cast. If the top vote getter is Hershey, he would essentially clinch victory in November.

LOWER DAUPHIN SCHOOL BOARD – REGION 3

A Lower Dauphin School Board incumbent, Keith Oellig, remained in the race to retain his seat by winning one of two Republican nominations in Region 3, which represents East Hanover Twp. and part of South Hanover Twp.

Two others who ran in the primary, Jeffrey Neely and Robert Goduto, also secured nominations – Neely won both parties' nominations, while Goduto won one of two Democratic nominations – to gain spots on the ballot in November's general election as well, according to unofficial returns.

STEELTON-HIGHSPIRE SCHOOL BOARD

Incumbent Mary Carricato and newcomer Natashia Woods won both the Republican and Democratic nominations, while incumbent Rachel Slade won the Democratic nomination for five seats on Tuesday.

The field could grow in November's general election if others were the top write-in vote-getters. There were 31 Democratic write-in votes cast and six Republican write-in votes cast.

STEELTON BOROUGH COUNCIL

Four candidates won the Republican nomination for four seats on Steelton Borough Council – Mike Albert (136 votes), Dennis Heefner (130), Stephen Shaver (125) and Chris Hughes (118). Republican William H. Jones (71 votes) was eliminated.

The four Republicans will face Democrats Keontay Hodge, Sharon Salov, Michael Segina and Kelly Kratzer in November's general election. The Democrats were unopposed in Tuesday's primary.

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 May 2015 17:44

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State court rejects Wholaver assault appeal

 

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has rejected an appeal by convicted murderer Ernest R. Wholaver regarding an assault that Wholaver alleged was committed against him in Dauphin County Prison by inmates at the direction of prison officials.

The court, in its order issued on May 1, noted that Dauphin County Deputy District Attorney Kristyne Sharpe investigated the alleged assault, which Wholaver claimed had occurred on or about Sept. 2, 2013, and concluded that the allegations did not merit further action. Dauphin County Judge John F. Cherry upheld Sharpe’s findings.

In his appeal, Wholaver contended that Cherry should have recused himself because he has a “bias” against Wholaver. The appeals court said that Wholaver should have raised this issue at the county court level, and that it could not be reviewed by the appeals court.

Wholaver is on death row for the shooting death of his wife Jean and the couple’s two daughters, Victoria and Elizabeth, in their Middletown home on Christmas Eve Day in 2002.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 May 2015 15:52

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Lower Swatara man loses $29,000 in computer scam

 

A Lower Swatara Twp. man lost more than $29,000 in a scam involving computer security, township police said.

The unidentified man told police he received a telephone call on May 6 from the scammer who told him his computer had been hacked. The scammer offered to repair the computer if the victim would send funds via Western Union to addresses in China and Saudi Arabia to cover costs, police said.

The victim sent money, then discovered his computer was locked, police said. Several fraudulent withdrawals totaling more than $29,000 were then made from his checking account and a line of credit, police said.

The victim called the police after the scammer called again requesting an additional $1,000, police said.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 May 2015 15:50

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Consultant offers ways to improve boro police force

 

Middletown Police Chief John Bey knew coming in that the borough’s police department faced challenges. Last July, when he was interviewed for the chief’s job, Bey spoke about a need for a “180-degree turnaround” and “a change of culture” in the department.

“I understand that it is a beehive I would be coming into,’’ he told members of Middletown Borough Council in his interviews – and when he was hired, he was catapulted into the challenge.

Bey, a retired State Police captain and senior master sergeant in the Air Force Reserve, began his new job in October, and found himself in a sea of paperwork amid a department that was stretched thin and never had time to get itself properly organized after a move from its old headquarters at borough hall to its new headquarters on Emaus Street.

Bey approached council for permission to engage Transparency Matters, a consulting firm led by retired State Police Lt. Col. John “Rick” Brown, to conduct an independent audit of the department, and council agreed.

When Middletown’s officers heard about the study, “they were scared,” Bey said. Many officers, already stressed and stretched thin by vacant positions, said, “They want to get rid of us,” Bey said.

But when the Middletown officers met the former state troopers who conducted the study, they quickly built a rapport, and the borough cops cooperated, Bey said. Bey believes his force is ready for the improvements that have now been recommended in the completed study.

“I am hoping by this time next year, we will have addressed these issues,” Bey said. “We are slowly turning the ship, pointed in the right direction.”

The recommendations include significant changes, including the addition of a police lieutenant, improvement in the control of weapons and ammunition, organization of files and filing procedures and professional training for officers. These steps are needed if the borough wants to improve the department enough to earn professional accreditation, a standard achieved by police departments in nearby Swatara Twp. and Derry Twp., Bey said.

“It’s not doom and gloom,” Bey said. “We have a solid core of police officers.”

Council President Chris McNamara bemoaned the state of Middletown police as the report was unveiled on Wednesday, May 13 at a meeting of council’s public safety committee, which he chairs. He also made repeated references to the absence of Mayor James H. Curry III, who oversees the police department, at the committee meeting. “That’s what chaps me in the ass,” McNamara said. “He knew this was going on, and he’s not here.”

Curry balked at McNamara’s decision to schedule the meeting on May 13 to dissect the report, which members only received on May 5. Curry said McNamara ignored his requests to delay the meeting by a week or more, time that Curry said he and Bey needed to thoroughly review it.

“There’s no way I am reading a 90-page report in five days,” Curry said. “It deserves more time.” Bey declined to comment on the meeting.
Inside the report Brown found a host of problems in many areas detailed in the 49-page report and its 47 pages of attachments with new and updated “directives,” or standing orders for the police officers.

“Status quo is not an option for the [Middletown Police Department], nor does it seem to be the desired path of its chief, members or borough officials,” Brown wrote. “Positive change is needed, and therefore, its associated costs appear necessary.”

Bey asked for the independent assessment to review several areas of the department’s operations, something he said he could not handle himself while serving as chief. When Bey saw the report, he stressed it “absolutely” reflected the challenges he has faced since October. “I found the report to be accurate and objective,” he said.

One of the more expensive recommendations adds to the borough’s personnel costs for police, which already account for a big slice of the department’s budget: The report recommends the addition of a police lieutenant, a commissioned officer between the chief and the sergeants in the chain of command. The lieutenant would enable the department to address some of its administrative problems and the reform efforts, and would be an at-will employee, not a member of the police’s union.

Bey said he would seek a highly skilled person for this role, with a strong background in management and organizational skills. He said the candidate must be a “proven leader” with the proper years of police supervisory experience.

Curry and Bey both also support creating a full-time secretary for the department, expanding the part-time job. “I would love to have her here full-time,” Bey said. “It’s in the best interests of the police department and the public.”

Transparency Matters criticized Middletown for dragging out the process of filling the ranks of the force. The report suggested prioritizing hiring officers to a full staff in the future. Since 2013, the department lost manpower and clerical services, as positions went unfilled under the borough’s budget constraints. This led to more overtime for the existing officers and “associated job dissatisfaction,’’ the report states.

Officers also have had problems with their Glock handguns jamming during firing range practices, the report notes. Remington 870 shotguns and Bushmaster AR-15 rifles were dirty, and a few showed rust, the report noted. Bey said that the armory for the department has functional weapons despite the reported need for thorough cleaning or maintenance. Bey also said Middletown recently purchased shotguns that are used in routine patrol work, not the ones discussed in the report as dirty or rusty.

Middletown’s officers are not under any specific orders when it comes to the use of Tasers, which are electroshock weapons used to subdue a person if the need arises. “There’s no training, but they all have Tasers,” noted McNamara.

Training with a Taser should include the proper use and handling of a Taser, the medical treatment of a person struck with an electroshock, the gathering and processing of evidence and documentation of Taser use, the report suggests. Officers are required to complete a use of force report, but “this is not being accomplished or enforced,” the report noted.

In contrast, all State Police troopers must complete a certification to carry a Taser, and they must be rectified every year, said Trooper Adam Reed, the public information officer for the State Police. He said a supervisor must file a report about the use of force, including a Taser, by a trooper.

While Middletown’s officers have the ammunition they need for weapons used in typical patrol work, they may not be able to get what they need in an emergency.

Police Sgt. Richard Hiester, the department’s firearms instructor and armorer, maintained the only key to the armory that could be found during the assessment, which meant Middletown officers could not return to the station and restock their ammunition in an emergency unless Hiester was on duty and present at the time. Additionally, assessors said the armory itself is in “disarray” and “supplemental ammo was stored in a flimsy cabinet outside the secured armory.”

Transparency Matters also took issue with the department’s record-keeping and organization. Assessors found files in various rooms of the police building that were repeatedly described as having “no semblance of order.” In other areas, packs of citation blanks were not kept securely and paid parking tickets were found “splayed across a desk.”

Bey said the files were transferred from the old station and were personal files officers kept for themselves – not the departmental investigative files kept electronically. At this point, these disorganized paper files have not been addressed, Bey said.

Other files, including investigative reports, may receive inadequate attention, the report said. Bey said he would like to implement a system where supervisors have adequate time to review reports to make sure they are completed and officers follow-up as needed in a timely manner.

The police headquarters building itself has some shortcomings, the report notes. The borough remodeled the building, formerly a car dealership, for the police, but some issues remain. Bey said one of the challenges was the omission of a locker room for women. The department has made arrangements for its recently hired female officer, Curry said.

“It’s a nice facility,” Bey said. “I don’t think this building was constructed with police department in mind.”

Many of the problems Transparency Matters identified result from a lack of training and oversight, Brown said. “There was a glaring lack of administrative infrastructure,” he said when discussing the report with the public safety committee.

The operations of a department are dependent on keeping policies consistent and clear, Brown said. With officers confused by old and new directives and lacking in regular training, the department places the borough at risk for lawsuits.

Juvenile matters, departmental organization and missing persons are among many of the areas in which Transparency Matters found department policies deficient or missing. Brown said that any incoming chief would face a substantial problem of developing and implementing an entire set of policies when inheriting a department with gaping holes in its written blueprint of operations.

Bey said former Police Chief Steven Wheeler had recently updated a policy manual to cover many issues for day-to-day police activities. “The policy manual just needs to be tweaked for Middletown,” he said.

“Failure to enact a strong directive system that delineates clear and unambiguous standards is a fundamental failing for any organization, particularly a paramilitary organization such a police department,” Brown said in the report. “Without standards, or with weak standards, an agency abdicates its need and right to expect specific behavior and actions from its employees. It also exposes the organization and its personnel to civil and criminal liability. As important, the agency’s employees lack the written guidance to perform at an exceptional level.”

Bey said he would like to form an advisory group to meet with the police, a group that reflects the diversity of Middletown’s residents and business community. The borough’s new Web site, which debuted last month, includes links to a “complaint statement form” regarding any citizen’s report about an officer acting inappropriately, but that link is broken and leads to no such form.


Committee discusses report McNamara, who named himself to take over as chairman of the public safety committee earlier this year, said he did not blame officers themselves for the problems in the report. But now that he has the report, McNamara said he intends to use it as a “boot in the ass” for officers, who were failed by former borough councils and former Mayor Robert Reid.

“They were footloose and fancy free,” McNamara said of the officers. While he faulted their behavior he said it’s unfair to blame officers who were not managed.

“My predecessors did nothing, “ he said.

McNamara and fellow Councilor Robert Louer, who also serves on the committee, stressed the department history that led to the problems. “You don’t have any idea what we went through as a council to get police in the shape they are in now,” Louer told Brown at the meeting. He credited Wheeler, who served one year before resigning, and Bey for their work. “With this new mayor, we still don’t have management,” Louer said.

Curry said council votes on the police department’s budget, but council is not involved in its management. “Chief Bey is the day-to-day supervisor,” he said. “I am there for bigger issues.” Curry holds monthly meetings at the police department where he discusses many issues with the force.

“I am pleased with the progress under Chief Bey,” Curry said. “We are doing our best to professionalize the force.” Curry said this year, police have increased foot patrols and are working toward re-starting a bike patrol. Curry said he has yet to closely examine the report in its entirety and will meet with Bey after they have both had an opportunity for careful review.

Curry balked at notions of a need for his closer management of the police. “Day-to-day micromanagement is destructive,” he said. “It’s poison to everyone.”

Councilor John Brubaker, who is also a committee member, said he expects hearty resistance to reform and improvement from the department’s officers. “They will fight all changes you suggested,” he said. “They fight everything.”

“They claim they are covered under the collective bargaining agreement for everything,” Brubaker said, suggesting that the union will step in to prevent new policies. He cited what he said were ongoing problems in the department, including unchecked heavy absenteeism with abuses of overtime and sick leave.

McNamara promised to present the report to the all members of council and push for prioritization of implementing needed changes. Council is scheduled to meet next on June 1.

Eric Wise: 717-944-4628, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 May 2015 15:43

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School board approves 2015-16 budget with 1.6 percent tax increase

 

The Middletown Area School Board voted 5-0 on Monday, May 18 to give preliminary approval to a $41.9 million budget that includes a 1.6 percent increase in the real-estate tax.

The change would mean an increase of $35.30 a year in the property tax bill for a residence in the school district with an assessed value of $100,000, said David Franklin, assistant superintendent for finance and operations.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 May 2015 15:38

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