Written by Jason Maddux
Middletown’s new interim police chief was on the New York Police Department on 9/11.
How the country came together that day and in the following days still gives him goosebumps.
“The night before 9/11, I was out doing a narcotics operation,” said George A. Mouchette, sworn in Thursday afternoon as the interim chief. “I arrested eight people. I was sitting in court in Brooklyn when the first plane hit the towers. Everybody in the courthouse ran out and went across the Brooklyn Bridge in a caravan. When I got there, the second plane hit. I didn’t leave Ground Zero for around three days. I was covered in gray. Everybody out there was covered in gray.
What struck him then — and still does — is the unity that the country showed.
“It made me proud to be an American. Everybody came together. Construction workers brought their equipment down. Firemen, EMS, regular citizens, everybody was helping each other. I would have to say that was my proudest moment.
“There were no Republicans, there were no Democrats. There were no white officers or black officers. There was just Americans — gray Americans. Everybody was covered in gray, and everybody was just trying to do what they could to help. We saw people eventually over the next couple of weeks come from Florida and California, search and rescue, Red Cross workers from middle America, and just how everybody just came together and pitched in to help. I still feel goosebumps when I think about it.”
Mayor James H. Curry III swore in Mouchette (pronounced moo-CHAY) on Thursday afternoon in the council chambers as his 4-year-old daughter, Samantha, watched. Mouchette is a retired New York Police Department lead detective who retired from the force after more than 20 years when his wife took a job with The Hershey Co. several years ago.
He said he wasn’t planning on retiring when he left the NYPD, but financially it made sense because of his wife’s opportunities with Hershey.
“When I got down here, I was just trying to find different ways to make myself useful,” he said, including working as a substitute teacher and a personal trainer. “When I heard about this position, it just fit with my skill set.”
On Dec. 6, Chief John Bey resigned effective Dec. 30. Curry has been in charge of the day-to-day operations of the department since then. He said the mayor can appoint an interim chief without council approval.
“I’m told that the borough has a bit of a narcotics problem. I’ll focus a little on that and see what can be done about that,” Mouchette said after being sworn in. “Like the mayor said, I’m just going to hold the fort down and make improvements where I can.”
Mouchette will be an interim chief until a final decision is made on regionalization of police forces with Lower Swatara Township or potentially a contract for services with that department. Curry said there was no time frame on that decision, but it is something he said the borough should not rush into.
“People have been trying to do this for 25 years. I have no idea what the correct answer to that question is. All I can say is, if an agreement is reached that gives this community and the community we are hopefully partnering with the same or better level of service and it cuts costs, we’ll do it. If it’s not, then I’m not even touching it,” Curry said.
Mouchette said he learned a lot about Middletown from its most famous eatery — Kuppy’s, which he says has the best bacon he’s ever had in his life.
The first time he was there, he said, he ordered bacon and eggs, no potatoes, with extra toast.
“I went back there a couple of days later because I had to get some more of that bacon. (Owner Greg Kupp) actually remembered what I ordered the first time. And I said, ‘I guess this is my regular.’ He said, ‘This is your regular.’ So now when I go in there, he’s like, ‘Do you want your regular?’ ‘I want my regular.’ I’ve never been in a place where I had a regular. In New York, everything is so impersonal. Nobody knows you. I walk into a restaurant, I can go there every day, nobody really knows what I want. I walk into Kuppy’s twice and he knows exactly what I want. That’s what this place is all about.”
Mouchette was a first-grade detective for the NYPD. He said the department has about 8,500 detectives, and only about 300 make it up to first-grade detective.
He said he did not have supervisory authority in that job.
“But you don’t have to have the authority to be a leader. Detectives in my unit all followed me, and I was given a lot of latitude because of my leadership skills to design operations and assign people to what they should be doing,” he said.
Curry said he interviewed four internal candidates and three external candidates for the interim job. The position was offered to Sgt. Richard Hiester, a 26-year veteran of the force, Curry said, but an agreement could not be reached. Hiester last week officially notified the borough that he would be retiring — effective Friday, Dec. 30, the same day as Bey.
Curry said he asked Bey for recommendations on an interim chief. Bey recommended Hiester as an internal candidate and Mouchette as an external one. With input from council, he said, he pursued Hiester, but when it was clear he couldn’t reach an agreement with him, he pursued Mouchette, who Bey had considered a year ago for a deputy chief position that never materialized.
From NYC to Middletown
Mouchette said moving from the largest city in the United States to Middletown’s force will be a smooth transition.
“Being here two years, I’ve realized that everything that happens in New York happens in rural America. It just happens a lot more in New York. So if you have a population of 50,000, you might get one domestic dispute. In New York, there’s 8 million, so you’d get 20 of them. But it’s the same. A domestic dispute in New York is the same as a domestic dispute in Middletown. So I think my skill set is just having the volume of experience that some other officers in rural America might not,” he said.
The focus in his career has been Internal Affairs and narcotics, so he has done all types of investigations, including state and federal.
Curry said talks about regionalization will move forward with public meetings.
Council President Ben Kapenstein and Curry recently met with Lower Swatara Township officials, including Commission President Jon Wilt and Frank Williamson, the township’s public safety director/assistant manager. Kapenstein described the meeting as “positive” but that “nothing detailed” was discussed.
“Our goal was to pick the best candidate for what we need right now. We need an interim chief right now to man the ship as we look at the regionalization effort,” Curry said. “Do I think George would make a great full-time chief? Absolutely. But that’s not what we’re looking for right now. So if the regionalization efforts for some reason are not fruitful, then we would have to go through the proper process of hiring a full-time chief. That would include advertising, that would include the Civil Service Commission, that would include all those protocols that are necessary to make a permanent employment.”
Nothing of significant substance was discussed with Lower Swatara officials, Curry said, other than whether discussions should continue.
“For the public’s sake, there is nothing set in stone at all,” Curry said. “I know there’s been a lot of chatter about this. There has been one meeting where we said, ‘Hi, how are you. Would you be interested in talking about this.’ ‘Yes we are.’”
Mouchette has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
He also is a blackbelt in shotokan karate, chang shou kung fu and muy thai kickboxing, and is proficient in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, Japanese jiu-jitsu, aki jiu-jitsu and kali.
“Being in Internal Affairs I think is a huge benefit,” Curry said. “I’m not saying that our officers are doing anything wrong or inappropriate. But I’m just saying in terms of his experience, he knows what to expect of a professional police force and people who have the utmost standards of professionalism.”
He will make $28.85 an hour, which would be $60,000 a year. He will not receive benefits or a pension or be eligible for 401(k). Curry said Bey made more than $80,000 at the time he left.
For now, Mouchette is ready to get started.
“I want to thank the mayor for giving me this opportunity,” he said. “I’ll do the best I can.”
Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 January 2017 15:15
Written by Jason Maddux
The Lower Swatara Township Board of Commissioners began the new year on Jan. 4 by filling several positions on township committees and boards.
The board also discussed the township’s ongoing trash service transition and a planned installation of public water service along Strites Road.
In a way, the meeting was a continuation of a reorganization process that commissioners began last month when appointing Ben Hall to fill the seat vacated by the resignation of commissioner president Tom Mehaffie. At that time, members appointed Tom Wilt as president, with Laddie Springer replacing Wilt as vice president.
On Jan. 4, township commissioners appointed these individuals to municipal boards:
• Planning commission: four-year term, Dennis Fausey.
• Zoning hearing board: five-year term, Jason Wagner; four-year term, Steven Artman; three-year term, Jon Strite.
• Municipal authority: five-year term, Dan Magaro.
A vacant five-year term for the township’s civil service commission will be filled on Jan. 18, township commissioners said. Officials also are considering leaving two code hearing board positions vacant and instead using the county board for township code matters, but no final decision has been made on this matter.
Commissioners also appointed these municipal representatives for 2017:
• Public safety committee chairman, vice chairman — Springer, Wilt.
• Public works committee chairman, vice chairman — Commissioner Todd Truntz, Hall.
• Budget and finance chairman, vice chairman — Commissioner Michael Davies, Springer.
• Community development chairman, vice chairman — Hall, Springer.
• Personnel chairman, vice chairman — Wilt, Springer.
• Building committee chairman, vice chairman — Truntz, Springer.
• Commissioner liaison, EMS — Wilt.
• Commissioner liaison, EMA, fire department — Davies.
• Commissioner liaisons, Olmsted Recreation Board — Springer, Hall.
• Commissioner liaisons, Middletown Area School Board — Davies, Truntz.
• Commissioner liaison, municipal authority — Truntz.
• Commissioner liaison, Dauphin County Agency on Aging — Hall.
• Delegate, alternate, Capital Region Council of Governments — Public Safety Director/Assistant Township Manager Frank Williamson, Public Works Superintendent Daniel Wagner.
• Commissioner liaison to MS4/water quality — Hall.
• Commissioner representative to Penn State Advisory Board — Wilt.
No major issues reported with township change in trash hauler
Interim township manager Terry Kauffman noted Jan. 4 that Lower Swatara’s ongoing transition to a new trash hauler has made for “an eventful two weeks.”
“Really, there’s been no surprises. When you’re changing 2,000 people with pickup dates and times and haulers, there is some confusion. Overall, though, I think it went well,” Kauffman said.
On Dec. 7, township commissioners approved a new five-year contract with Lebanon Farms Disposal that began on Jan. 1, 2017. On Dec. 31, 2016, the township’s five-year trash disposal contract with Penn Waste expired.
Under the new contract, Lebanon Farms Disposal will bill township trash customers a set quarterly price of $62.48 that won’t change for the length of the five-year contract. Although this is more than Penn Waste’s previous quarterly fee of $51.91, the Lebanon Farms contract still will save residents money, Kauffman said. If the township had renewed a contract with Penn Waste, the new price would have been $70.70 per quarter, he said.
Customers with unused Penn Waste trash bags are advised to turn these in to the township. Municipal officials will submit these for fiscal reimbursement from Penn Waste on customers’ behalf.
Suez planning to put in 12-inch water main along Strites Road
Suez Water is planning to install a 12-inch water main along the entire length of Strites Road from Chambers Hill Road to Longview Drive later this year, making public water available in this area for the first time, Public Works Superintendent Daniel Wagner reported on Jan. 4.
“(Suez) wants to get this rolling by spring,” Wagner said.
For now, however, the water company is awaiting necessary clearances for the project.
Suez also plans to install a connection point at Powderhorn Road and state Route 441 near Kreider Drive, but this won’t make new service available for anyone in this area, Wagner said. Instead, the water company is installing a retainer for existing service in the Fulling Mill Road area.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 January 2017 17:03
Written by Dan Miller
Parking fines in downtown Middletown would double under a proposed ordinance being considered by borough council.
The proposal — approved by council for advertisement by a 6-0 vote during its Jan. 3 meeting — would increase from $15 to a $30 fine when a ticket is paid for within 48 hours.
After 48 hours but before a summons is issued, the fine would increase from the current $30 to $60, while the maximum fine for any parking violation in the downtown would go from the present $75 up to $150.
The proposal would also establish new time limits and restrictions covering a number of parking spaces and areas throughout the downtown.
In addition, the proposal would repeal some parking restrictions that are considered outdated, as they pertain to schools or businesses that no longer exist.
Finally, the proposal would establish a way by which residents who live in the downtown, and people who work at businesses in the downtown, can apply for and obtain permits from the borough that would exempt them from the new parking restrictions.
The borough would not charge a fee for such a permit. However, a “limited number” of the parking permits would be available.
Right now, most parking tickets in the downtown come from parking in spaces during times designated for street sweeping, or parking too long in areas that have a time limit, usually 30 minutes, said Public Works Director Greg Wilsbach.
The proposed ordinance would add new restrictions and limits. In other cases, time limits already on the books are being shortened to make them “more business friendly” to increase turnover in the spaces, Wilsbach said. The ordinance chiefly targets what is referred to as the downtown parking district, an area that includes the following:
• The south side of Brown Street just east of South Union Street to Pine Street.
• The north side of Brown from Pine to Union.
• Both sides of Poplar Street from Brown to Mill Street.
• Both sides of Mill Street from Union to Poplar.
Several downtown business owners long have complained to council to take some kind of action regarding parking. Councilor Robert Reid has taken the lead role on council in pushing for the changes.
The complaints have focused on commuters whom business owners say use the Amtrak train station on Mill Street and leave their vehicle in the same spot for days at a time.
Instead, these spots should be turning over on a regular basis for customers of downtown businesses, these owners say.
The downtown permits will be similar to the permit parking program that the borough established in the Grandview neighborhood several years ago, said borough Public Works Director Greg Wilsbach.
Council established the Grandview program in response to complaints from residents that they could not find on-street parking due to the spaces being taken up by the rising number of students attending nearby Penn State Harrisburg.
Wilsbach said he expects that downtown residents and businesses can start applying to the borough for the parking permits as soon as council gives final approval to the ordinance.
The borough will need to put up new signs in order to enforce the ordinance. The new signs should be up within about a month of final passage of the ordinance, Wilsbach said.
Come warmer weather, the borough also hopes to get to work on repainting the yellow curbing in the downtown that can also aid in enforcement.
However, Wilsbach said that the new provisions will become enforceable once the new signs are up.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 January 2017 13:56
Written by Dan Miller
A proposed ordinance that says where a medical marijuana dispensary can be located in Middletown was approved for advertisement by borough council by a 6-0 vote on Jan. 3.
The ordinance would allow a medical marijuana dispensary in commercial zoning districts. A medical marijuana dispensary and a medical marijuana growers/processors operation would also be allowed in the manufacturing zoning district.
The ordinance would not supersede a provision in the state’s new medical marijuana law that a dispensary cannot be within 1,000 feet of a public or private school, or within 1,000 feet of a day care center.
However, the provisions in the proposed ordinance limiting a dispensary to a commercial or manufacturing district would effectively prevent a dispensary from locating within 1,000 feet of a school or day care center in the borough, said Councilor Diana McGlone, an advocate of having a medical marijuana dispensary in Middletown.
The provisions would also prevent a dispensary from being in a residential area, she added.
Having an ordinance in place is considered key to the borough positioning itself to being able to land one of the medical marijuana dispensaries that will be allowed to locate throughout Pennsylvania under the medical marijuana act that was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2016.
The state — through the Department of Health — will issue permits for no more than 50 medical marijuana dispensaries throughout Pennsylvania, according to the DOH website.
Each dispensary may have up to three separate locations.
Just four dispensary permits will be granted by the DOH for the entire south central Region 3 of Pennsylvania, of which Dauphin is one of 13 counties. The others are Lebanon, York, Juniata, Perry, Cumberland, Adams, Mifflin, Franklin, Huntingdon, Fulton, Blair and Bedford, according to the DOH website.
In December, Borough Solicitor Adam Santucci had indicated that council should hold off on approving a proposed medical marijuana ordinance, to work out possible conflicts with the state law.
However, the borough may not have the luxury of waiting. The DOH will start accepting applications for medical marijuana dispensaries on Jan. 17, and the applications will only be accepted until March 20, according to an update posted on the DOH website on Dec. 21 by Secretary of Health Dr. Karen Murphy.
It is likely that persons or organizations wanting to locate a medical marijuana dispensary in Pennsylvania will target those municipalities that have established by ordinance where such a dispensary can locate within their borders, Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter told council on Jan. 3.
“If you want to be in the game,” council may not have time to take a “wait-and-see” approach, Klinepeter said.
“There is some stiff competition out there” for the permits to have a medical marijuana dispensary, McGlone said. “It’s critical with the transformation that the town is coming to — we’re all focused on economic development — of what this will do from a revenue standpoint for our borough, not to mention the humanitarian effect that this has upon people who are suffering.”
Janet Vastine Kirchner, a borough resident, said that the windfall that towns in Colorado have received since marijuana was legalized in that state could provide an indication of the revenue potential that the borough could realize from having a medical marijuana dispensary.
“One very small town in Colorado saw $800 thousand (in) marijuana tax revenue in their first and second year,” Kirchner said. “It is imperative that Middletown act on this. Our town has been coming so far in getting notoriety on the news … we’re getting on the map. This can really put us on the map.”
Carlisle and Steelton have both approved ordinances regulating medical marijuana within their borders.
The proposed ordinance in Middletown is based upon a model medical marijuana ordinance that was developed by the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission.
Besides Middletown and Steelton, the commission has received for review proposed medical marijuana ordinances from Swatara Township and from Penbrook, said Tim Reardon, executive director of the TCRPC.
The commission knows of three other municipalities in Dauphin County that are considering a medical marijuana ordinance, but “nothing official” has yet transpired, Reardon said.
On June 7, Middletown Borough Council received a public presentation from Alexander Fox Person regarding Person’s intent to locate a medical marijuana dispensary in the town.
McGlone told Council President Ben Kapenstein that she believes Person is still interested. However, Person did not respond to several requests for comment for this article that were emailed to him by the Press And Journal.
To date no interest in locating a grower/processor medical marijuana facility within Middletown has become evident.
Last Updated on Thursday, 12 January 2017 11:53
Written by Dan Miller
Council President Ben Kapenstein’s announcement of plans to hold a public meeting on police regionalization sparked a mini-debate at borough council’s Jan. 3 meeting.
The discussion was among Rachelle Reid, a former borough councilor, Kapenstein and Mayor James H. Curry III.
CLICK HERE FOR MORE: Interim police chief was NYPD detective, was at Ground Zero on 9/11
CLICK HERE FOR MORE: Lower Swatara officials: Early talks are about contracting for police by Middletown
Reid said that police regionalization has been explored many times in the past, but it “never goes through.”
The reasons mostly have to do with the differences between boroughs and townships, and unequal rates of pay among the police officers of the municipalities involved, Reid contended.
However, Curry and Kapenstein both said that the level of discussion so far between Middletown and Lower Swatara has gotten nowhere near the degree of detail necessary to address the issues being raised by Reid.
“There are a million details, but big-picture wise if we can find a way to keep the same or better level of service for the same or a discounted cost — if we can save money and keep the same or get a better level of service — then it is something that we have a fiduciary responsibility to explore, in my opinion,” Kapenstein said.
Curry said that the recent discussions with Lower Swatara have been nothing more than to see if the township is interested in pursuing the idea.
“It would be irresponsible not to explore, I don’t care how many times it has been talked about in the past,” Curry said. “It is something that can be beneficial if it is done the right way. Obviously, I would never sign off or agree to something if the level of service was not going to be what we have now or better, and there has to be a benefit in terms of financial.”
The mayor said he thinks the reason why regionalization efforts have failed in the past is that officials bite off more than they can chew.
“When you are trying to take six municipalities and shove them together in a region, that has never seemed to work,” Curry said. “I don’t think it’s going to be feasible with so many municipalities at the same time. You have to start on a small basis, in my opinion.”
Reid asked her uncle — longtime Middletown mayor and now borough Councilor Robert Reid — for his views on police regionalization.
Robert Reid acknowledged that he had opposed past police regionalization efforts involving Middletown, but that “I think we are in a different era today than when I was mayor.”
First of all, Reid wanted Middletown’s chief to be the regional chief. Second, Reid said it seemed to him at the time that Lower Swatara would get more police coverage under regionalization than Middletown.
Now he’s not so sure, Reid said, pointing to how coverage has worked under a regional police force in York County.
“Evidently, all the communities involved are getting the same amount of patrolling, so that is out of the question. That is one of the reasons why today I look at regionalization from a different viewpoint,” Reid said.
That answer did not satisfy Rachelle, who contended that Middletown residents would not have “adequate” coverage under a regional police arrangement.
Curry wondered how it is possible for Reid to reach such a conclusion at this early stage of the game.
“That’s something that we didn’t even get into,” the mayor said. “To say that you don’t think there is going to be adequate (coverage), I’m not sure how you can come up with that. I can’t come up with that because we haven’t even gotten to that point.”
Kapenstein said that the issues Reid was raising are all good questions, and he encouraged her to bring them up again at the upcoming public meeting.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 January 2017 14:31