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New Pennsylvania attorney general must put an end to Hershey Trust scandals

Now that Pennsylvania is about to get a new attorney general, perhaps the state will finally take responsibility for curbing abuses at the $12.3 billion Hershey Trust. 

The resignation last week of Kathleen Kane, hours after she was convicted of perjury, means that in November the state will elect a new top law-enforcement officer. He or she will inherit the long-running scandal at the trust, which has become a symbol of the broken state and federal systems for regulating charities. 

One of Ms. Kane's final acts was to announce a settlement with the Hershey Trust. It came after Mark Pacella, who oversees nonprofit regulation in the attorney general's office, demanded that the trust dismiss all board members who have served more than ten years and reduce trustee compensation. 

The settlement also came after regulators learned about the latest troubles at the trust, which oversees the Milton Hershey School, a boarding school for needy students. Internal board disputes grew so serious that Hershey spent $4.2 million to conduct legal investigations. The U.S. Justice Department was reviewing a claim of discrimination against disabled youngsters, and the school faced allegations of inappropriate conduct toward students by staff members. 

Even with such serious difficulties, a total overhaul of the school's governance structure was not in the cards. The agreement with the state essentially leaves that structure intact, does nothing to ensure improved school policies and programs, and doesn't require a change in school administrators. 

The latest problems are hardly the first at the Hershey School, which for more than 20 years has been plagued by poor administration, political patronage, board pay that exceeded $100,000 annually for each member, conflicts of interest involving trustees, and questionable real-estate deals. 

In all that time, local, state, and federal regulators have repeatedly failed to hold the trust and school officials accountable. They have been incapable, or, more likely, unwilling, to stop school policies and practices that have been harmful to students, preferring instead to support the political and financial interests of board members and administrators. 

They have tolerated board excesses and actions that are rarely seen in the nonprofit world. 

A series of Pennsylvania attorneys general sought to curb the school's problems, but they never went as far as they should have. 

In 1994, responding to state pressure, the Hershey Trust announced some changes, including limits on board tenure (to two five-year terms) and new criteria for membership, such as experience working in education and child development. But today there still are no board members with such qualifications. 

Another round of regulation was touched off in October 2010 when then-attorney general (and future governor) Tom Corbett launched an investigation into Hershey's purchase of a failing golf course for $12 million, way above the actual value of the property. 

Two-and-a-half years later, Ms. Kane, who had inherited the case, closed the investigation, absolving the board members of any criminal wrongdoing but adding some mild requirements to improve governance at Hershey. She sought to tamp down excessive board pay, take steps to avoid conflicts of interest, limit trustees' ability to serve on multiple boards at the same time, and bring in new members with education backgrounds. 

But the agreement had no teeth and failed to attack Hershey's substantial governance issues. 

The 2016 deal is probably worse. It doesn't require any repayment of the $4.2 million wasted on internal investigations. It permits board members to step down at their own convenience and name their successors. It doesn't require new trustees to possess experience in education or youth development. And it permits board compensation to be as much as $110,000 annually per person — a sum higher than that in the 2013 agreement, which was supposed to curb excessive pay. It also allows three board members to double-dip by sitting on subsidiary boards of the trust and collecting additional lucrative stipends. The agreement is shameful in the way it protects the board at the expense of the students. 

But it's not just the state that is at fault here. The federal government has been slow to take action. 

Three years ago, as a result of the suicide of Abbie Bartels, an outstanding Hershey School student and athlete who suffered from moderate depression, the Justice Department started an investigation of the school's policies toward students with mental-health problems — policies that may have denied students like Abbie the possibility of getting suitable treatment. 

The school denies any wrongdoing. The Justice Department is still investigating. Why is it taking Justice so long to act? 

The Internal Revenue Service has been even less attentive. 

Seven years ago, I called the significant problems that had been uncovered at the trust to the attention of Lois Lerner, then the head of the agency's tax-exempt division. She told me the IRS was well aware of the serious nature of the school's troubles but said only that she had a colleague in Texas following the case. The IRS has yet to take any visible action to investigate. (The IRS is typically forbidden from commenting on pending investigations, and when I asked last week whether there was an update on the Hershey Trust, a spokesman declined to provide any details.) 

Regulators' ineptitude and cowardice have been reinforced by a widely shared conspiracy of silence throughout Pennsylvania. 

With the exception of Bob Fernandez, a reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer, the state's journalists have done little. 

Not even the local paper, The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, has had the courage to cover a major institution less than 20 miles from the capital. The Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations has refused to get involved or make any public comment, even though the school undermines the reputation of all nonprofits. Academics, youth-development specialists, and school educators throughout the state are well aware of what is happening at Hershey but have chosen to remain silent.

Protect the Hersheys' Children — a dissident group of alumni headed by a tough lawyer, Ric Fouad — is the only organization that has continually fought to overhaul the school's policies and practices. Thanks to its persistence and courage — and in spite of harsh criticism and attacks on its integrity by school officials — the Hershey pot has been kept boiling. 

It's time the Hershey School scandal was put to rest. The school needs a totally new board with some education and youth-development experts. It needs a change in board-compensation policies. It needs a new set of administrators who have the interests of the students at heart and know how to run an effective educational institution. 

It's one thing for the elected state attorney general, buffeted by political pressure, to do little. But why, across years of scandal, haven't the career civil servants in the attorney general's office done more to demand serious reforms? 

Given the lack of action, a Pennsylvania citizens' board of inquiry should be established to advise the regulators on developing a new school structure. When a new attorney general takes office in January, I hope he or she will finally help ensure the Hershey School becomes an institution that focuses solely on doing its best to meet the academic and health needs of its students and no longer gets involved in financial shenanigans. 

The public can no longer tolerate what has happened at the Hershey School. It must demand a drastic change. 

Pablo Eisenberg is a senior fellow at the Center for Public & Nonprofit Leadership at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy. His email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 August 2016 16:07

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House leaders seek special session to fight opioid crisis

The opioid addiction crisis is a problem that has no geographic, religious, racial, socio-economic or partisan boundaries. 

It has claimed thousands of lives statewide in the last few years, including many lives of our friends and loved ones in the 106th District. Opioid and heroin addiction destroys families, finances and lives at a rate that is truly heartbreaking.  

In an effort to continue proactively and effectively combatting the crisis, House leaders encouraged Gov. Tom Wolf to call a special session of the General Assembly. I joined leaders and a majority of my House colleagues at this important bipartisan event.

This call followed House passage of five measures recommended by the House Task Force and Advisory Committee on Opioid Prescription Drug Proliferation.

That legislative package, now with the Senate, addresses opioid addiction by improving insurance coverage of abuse-deterrent opioids; setting a limit on opioid prescriptions in emergency rooms; requiring prescribers and dispensers to undergo continuing education in pain management, addiction and prescribing practices; mandating that publicly funded recovery houses have the opioid overdose antidote on hand; and directing the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs to find ways to increase access to addiction treatment through health plans.

Last session, two new laws were enacted to prevent drug addiction, encourage others to call for help in the event of a drug or alcohol emergency and help reverse opioid-based overdoses.

 

Increase school bus safety 

As children head back to the classrooms for the start of the new school year, I would like to provide parents and students with a list of important school bus safety tips to remember when traveling to and from school this fall.

Please take a moment to review the following safety tips, offered by PennDOT, to help ensure children arrive to and from school safely each day: 

• Get to the school bus stop five minutes early, so you won’t have to run across the road to catch the bus.

• When waiting for the bus, stay away from traffic. Line up at least five giant steps away from the curb or the road to wait for the bus. 

• Never run after the school bus if it has already left the bus stop.

• Always walk at least 10 feet in front of the bus when crossing so that the school bus driver can see you. 

• Be aware — cross with care! Wait until the school bus has stopped all traffic before stepping out onto the road.

• When the school bus is moving, always stay in your seat. Never put head, arms or hands out the window.

• Talk quietly; do not distract the school bus driver. 

• Never play with the emergency exits. Backpacks, band instruments, or sports equipment may not block the aisle or emergency exits. If there is an emergency, listen to the driver and follow instructions.

• Never cross the street behind the school bus. 

• If you leave something on the bus or drop something outside of the bus, never go back for it. The driver may not see you and begin moving the bus. 

• Never speak to strangers at the bus stop and never get into a car with a stranger. 

Pennsylvania’s Motor Vehicle Code states that drivers who approach a school bus with its red lights flashing and its stop arm extended must stop at least 10 feet away from the bus whether the driver is behind the bus or coming toward the bus on the same road or approaching an intersection at which the school bus is stopped. 

Drivers must remain stopped until the red lights stop flashing, the stop arm has been withdrawn and the children have reached a safe place. 

Failure to stop for a school bus with a flashing red light and extended stop arm can result in a 60-day driver’s license suspension, five points on an individual’s driving record and a fine.

For more school bus safety resources, visit the PA At Your Service section of RepPayne.com.

 

John D. Payne is a Republican member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives whose 106th District includes Middletown. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . His Capitol office telephone number is 717-787-2684.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 August 2016 16:35

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Middletown’s future: Tolerating differences and moving forward

“Why can’t we all just get along?” I know I used this quote in a previous blog or column that I wrote awhile back and I really didn’t want to use it again, but Rodney King’s plaintive question is still the best comment on divisiveness that I have heard. 

Simple and stark, these words get to the heart of the matter. At the time they were said, racism was strikingly obvious, especially in certain areas of the country, social media was more than 10 years away, and the highly publicized Trial of the Century (the O.J. Simpson murder trial) wasn’t even on the radar because the crime hadn’t been committed yet. 

These events contributed to a society that makes those words more relevant and poignant than ever. The Trial of the Century in 1995 changed the way the media cover events. Despite the horror of the crime, the trial became 24- hour entertainment, covered by all the major networks and exploited by cable news in a way that shaped modern media coverage. 

Anyone can watch “the news” 24 hours a day in formats that present it the way they want to hear it. Traditional news stations and cable channels offer many shows that are clearly slanted and geared to a certain audience, conservatives and liberals alike. Facebook, born in 2004, opened the door for people to communicate, share, pontificate, gossip and rant whenever they wanted to an audience far larger than any of us had ever experienced in the past. 

This is both good and bad — good because we can now express ourselves and communicate more broadly even we have greater access to information; bad because much of the information is shaped and slanted, and social media has made it much easier to express our hatred and disgust as freely as we share family news, happy slogans, and favorite recipes. 

So how does this contribute to why we all can’t get along? I have some thoughts, most of which are opinion, based on what I observe and hear and how I evaluate it. The only possible criteria I might have is that I have worked as a social worker and therapist for many years and my field of study and career choice has given me access to solid facts via research as well as the peculiar and sometimes inexplicable workings of the human mind. 

What I have been observing more and more, particularly in politics and government, both nationally and locally, is a kind of intolerance for ideas, opinions and beliefs that do not reflect our own. 

Discussion is good, debate is good, arguments are good and differences are good, but disparaging people who don’t agree with you is bad, character attacks on people because of their political affiliations and choices are bad, and mean spirited judgments are bad. 

I stated above that much of what I am writing is based on opinion. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but I hope they don’t personally attack me because even though it has become very common for people to do this to each other, it’s just plain wrong. It is eroding our society, our communities, our country. It is destroying friendships, professional relationships, civil discourse, and most of all, the respect that every person deserves at face value as a fellow human being no matter how flawed or damaged they may be. 

I have never seen so much hatred and anger in social and other forms of media as I see every day when I read Facebook or watch a “relevant” political discussion. At one time I loved to watch, listen and take part in a fiery political debate, I enjoyed exchanging opinions and engaging in arguments and discussion, trying out my ideas and sharing my thoughts. Now, I analyze myself endlessly, envisioning every possible response I may get, how I might be misinterpreted, how some will judge me, what insults and hostile comments will be coming my way and how many people will witness my humiliation in the face of these possibilities. 

It’s easy to say we shouldn’t care, we shouldn’t be afraid to express our beliefs, what other people think isn’t important and that it shouldn’t matter, but it does, and it hurts, and it takes away our willingness to share and eventually we become very narrow people with narrow views and narrow beliefs. People become discouraged, disparaged, disengaged, and dismissed and how can we all get along in the face of that? 

I don’t know. I do know that our country was founded on the people’s right to express their ideas and opinions without being belittled or bullied, support political leaders without repercussions, worship without judgment, experience equal opportunity, and live with dignity and respect. 

Our country is very divisive right now and so are our communities. We seem to be in a place where being right is more important than being tolerant, making a point is more important than doing the right thing, being in control is more important than being democratic, and speaking loudly is more important than listening. I think it is appalling that personal attacks on candidates are considered more important than their policies and history of service or private sector achievements and leadership. Personal attacks on the character, intelligence, and integrity of those who support those candidates is insufferable. We support candidates for many reasons and no one should be judged personally on the basis of their political affiliation. 

It is not news to anyone that Middletown has experienced its share of divisiveness and duplicity, character attacks and bullying. There are some Facebook pages that are particularly harmful and toxic and there is clearly a propensity for arguing over petty topics. 

I think council is trying to move away from this, trying to listen to the community, trying to be more open, trying to do the right thing. It is human nature to quarrel, vie for power, shift allegiances, and attempt to manipulate the thoughts and actions of others. It is our duty as elected officials to be cautious, careful, self-aware, and ever mindful of how easy it is to fall into these patterns, how quickly we can become short-sighted, and how disciplined we must be in our words, actions, communications and advocacy. 

It is your duty as our constituents to hold us to the highest standards and keep us focused on how we can best serve you. My greatest hope for this town, for the residents, the elected officials, the business people, and those with whom we share our ideas is that we answer Rodney King’s question not by blindly agreeing with each other or being fearful of expressing ourselves but rather by engaging in vigorous debate, balanced arguments, respectful opinions, and civil behaviors. 

We can agree to disagree, present our points of view, tolerate differences, work together and move forward with regard, if not endorsement, of personal beliefs, feelings and thoughts. That is the answer to the question; that is the solution to the problem. Hopefully, that is the future of Middletown. 

 

Anne Einhorn represents the Second Ward on the Middletown Borough Council.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 August 2016 16:32

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It was a whale of time on our travels to the coast of Ecuador

“Thar she blows, Cap’n.” 

If that sounds like something from “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville, your thoughts are headed in the right direction. Of course, if you were “educated” in today’s public school system you probably don’t have a clue as to what I refer — the reference is to whales. 

Olga and I saw a posting for a three-day, two-night weekend trip to the coast of Ecuador for a whale watching tour and decided to go see those behemoths up close. We left Cuenca at 7 a.m. on a Friday morning in a 15-passenger minibus along with 12 others — eight Americans, one young German, an Englishman, the tour guide and the driver. Just as the bus pulled out I remembered that I had forgotten my bathing suit. 

The trip took a little over eight hours — seven for travelling and the remaining time for rest stops and lunch. Remember, we are headed to the coast where there is a plethora of fresh seafood with restaurant after restaurant specializing in that cuisine. We stopped at a nifty restaurant on the beach and one American woman immediately starts to whine that she is allergic to shrimp. So the tour guide runs into the restaurant to make sure that there is something on the menu other than shrimp — and naturally there is. 

We go into the restaurant and who do Olga and I get stuck with at our table? You got it — Miss Allergy, 1962. She starts whining again about her shrimp allergy. She orders grilled chicken, but first has to confer with the waiter, chef and guide and let all involved know that, “If a shrimp even just touches my chicken, I will vomit for two hours.” At that point I was nauseous. What do you think I ordered? You got it — a shrimp dish. 

At 3:30 p.m., we arrived at our destination, the coastal town of Puerto Lopez, and had the rest of the day to ourselves. We could see the fishing boats bobbing in the water having returned from the sea with the day’s catch. Exiting the bus, we found the weather hot and humid. When we left Cuenca, it was cool and dry, so the weather change was quite profound. Keep in mind that it is winter here. I don’t think I would want to be at the coast in summer. 

Our accommodations were at the Hotel Nantu, which is on the beach and fortunately the room was air-conditioned. As an aside: I understand that you have been having quite the heat this summer. I saw that the heat index was triple digits. I can’t imagine the electric cost to cool your homes. MEM (Middletown Electric Monopoly) must have been grinning from ear to ear. 

Oh, sure I can imagine — I lived there. I can empathize with your plight. I had to trudge through a heat index of 71 to go pay the combined electric and trash bill which totaled $10.66 for the month. But I digress.

The next day we had to be at the bus at 8:30 a.m. for the short hop to the pier where we would board the boat for Isla de la Plata (Island of Silver), which is referred to as “The Poor Man’s Galapagos.” The island is a national park and in the surrounding ocean waters are large green sea turtles, manta rays and brightly colored fish. The island is uninhabited except for nesting blue-footed boobies and frigate birds. 

On the way there and back is when we would be watching for humpback whales, which migrate along the coast from June to September. You boaters can probably appreciate this — our boat held 16 people and was powered by two Suzuki 150 horsepower outboard motors. Before we started on the journey, our boat was listing to the port side. The captain asked for one person to move to the starboard side — nobody obliged. So he pointed at one woman to make the change. She reluctantly came and sat next to (who else?) me. She started to whine to me, “I don’t understand why I had to move. It was equal. There were eight people on each side.” I asked her if she thought it just might be to equally distribute the weight. Well, that ended that conversation. 

So the captain started the engines and left the pier. Did that baby ever fly! I don’t know how fast we were moving, but the rooster tail was almost as high as the boat! We were out about 20 minutes when we spotted the first whale, then another and another and more. I haven’t see that many whales since the last time I was at the Harrisburg Walmart. 

Out came the cameras. We got some good pictures of the whales. It took about an hour and 20 minutes to arrive at the island and then we disembarked. Our group got an English-speaking island guide who explained the hiking route we would be taking from one side of the island to the other. We got one of the shorter, less intense trails. 

The others, except the Englishman and his wife, kept falling behind and their breathing sounded like vacuum cleaners sucking air. We constantly had to wait for them to catch up. 

We saw the nesting blue-footed boobies, some of which were incubating eggs while others were tending to chicks. The guide told us not to get any closer than 4 meters to the birds. That’s about 13 feet for the metrically challenged. Of course, he had to keep reiterating that to the Americans. 

We reached the other side of the island, where the sheer cliffs dropped into a vast expanse of aqua colored water as far as one could see until it merged into the azure sky. 

We hiked back, boarded the boat and had lunch. After lunch anyone who wanted to go snorkeling could and equipment was available. The musical theme from “Jaws” kept playing in my head, so I opted to stay onboard. I figured with my luck I would wind up as an hors d’oeuvres for some ravenous shark. On the way back to terra firma we were treated to a “whale of a show.” We saw them breaching and slapping their flukes on the water.

On our last day we visited Los Frailes Beach Park, a beautiful horseshoe-shaped beach. It is interesting to go to a beach and see it almost empty. Nothing like going to one of the New Jersey or Maryland shore points where one has to fight for a spot to sit. Next we stopped at the settlement of Agua Blanca where we saw remnants of one of the oldest civilizations in South America. We went to the museum and also saw large urns in which they buried their dead in a fetal position. Then it was back on the bus for the return trip to Cuenca. We arrived home at 7 p.m. Sunday with many good memories and photos of an interesting and memorable weekend.

If you ever get the opportunity, I would highly recommend a whale watching trip to Puerto Lopez, Ecuador! If not, there’s always Walmart.

Until later from beautiful Cuenca ...

Eddy the Expat

 

Ed O’Connor, a former resident of Middletown and Lower Swatara Township, is an expatriate living in Cuenca, Ecuador.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 August 2016 15:40

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Press And Journal editorial on wards was far off the mark

Dear Editor:

Maybe it’s because you’re fairly new to Middletown.

Maybe it’s because you didn’t personally witness the silencing of Middletown’s residents by the prior dictatorial regime. 

Or maybe it’s because, without the flare of controversy, the topic of altering the structure of Middletown’s government wouldn’t be exciting enough to sell a paper.

But, something doesn’t feel quite right about your unwarranted attack on my character in the Aug. 3, 2016, “Editor’s Voice” editorial.

The insinuation I am anything similar to the tyrants fired by Middletown’s voters during the last election is disgusting and, frankly, I believe I’m owed an apology.

Would the prior regime ever have posted online informational videos in an effort to spark conversation and deliberation on a topic?

Would the prior regime ever have created online polls in an attempt to gauge public support or lack thereof for an ordinance?

Would the prior regime ever have walked door-to-door during a heat wave to speak face-to-face with constituents?

Would the prior regime ever have delayed something they wished to pursue in order to allow more time for public involvement?

The answers are never, never, never, and never.

The current government, however, has provided every available avenue to allow the people to raise their collective voices. There have been two informational videos, requests for input, online polls, a door-to-door petition, weeks of news coverage, a special Borough Council meeting, and, by the time a final vote takes place, a month of deliberation and three regularly scheduled Borough Council meetings. Cleary, the description of the process as “ram-rodding without proper vetting” is pure fallacy.

In a representative republic, it is the responsibility of each elected official to stay involved enough to know the wishes of the people and implement their will. That’s exactly what we are attempting to do, despite your assertion to the contrary. Even if council had taken action during the July 19 meeting, which it didn’t, the most that could have occurred was the advertisement of an ordinance. Any change to the structure of our local government is not binding until said ordinance is voted on following advertisement.

My vision/goal for Middletown can be succinctly summarized. I have clawed and scraped at every opportunity to unify our citizens, boost morale, support local business, maintain financial responsibility, and restore the voice of our citizenry. It is something I will continue to fight for because Middletown and its people are worth it.

Despite never interviewing me on this topic, you indicate “It’s obvious that Curry has had this on his mind for awhile. The problem is, it’s new to the public. So while it might be fully thought out to him, it’s not for us.”

Do you know the pulse of the town or is the foregoing the opinion of a few close friends of the Press And Journal who happen to oppose the proposed change? Have you walked door to door? How do you, a newcomer, have any idea whether this idea is “new” to the public? 

I have discussed this topic with fellow elected officials and members of the public for the past two and a half years. During my recent door-to-door conversations, many of the citizens have asked why this change wasn’t implemented years ago. Others have noted they never understood the purpose or need for wards. In fact, an overwhelming majority of the individuals I’ve spoken with do not know who their ward representatives are or what ward they live in for that matter.

Now is the perfect time to implement a change. You’re correct. I did broach this topic on July 19, a night where individuals were to interview for one of the current vacancies. You have insinuated that was a slight at the applicants. It was not. I noted my admiration for the applicants’ willingness to serve and apologized for needing to discuss eliminating the very seat they were seeking to fill. You conveniently left this out of your editorial. 

I reiterated this same apology at the Aug. 3 meeting. It must be noted, of the six people who applied to fill the First Ward vacancy, four have signed the petition to eliminate the wards and move to at large elections. Why? I submit it’s because they are willing to forego their personal ambition of obtaining a seat on council now in order to allow the people the opportunity to vote at large in November 2017. My hat goes off to these individuals. They are putting the people first. Their selflessness will be remembered.

Our government is far too big for a town of 8,900 people. I will not reiterate the facts and figures concerning surrounding areas, as the Press And Journal has confirmed other localities govern with smaller bodies, despite far bigger populations. As for wards, they are problem creators. They are the epitome of boundaries and divide. 

There are two current vacancies on Borough Council. If these seats are filled, three of the nine individuals serving will have been appointed, rather than elected. This is problematic. Also, not one person applied for the Third Ward vacancy. Do you see the issue? What are we going to do, beg someone who truly isn’t interested and/or dedicated until they finally give in? 

More importantly, there should never be a situation where candidates truly desired by the public are not elected due to limited seats per ward, but a candidate not popular with the public is elected because he/she ran unopposed due to limited choices in another ward. Give the power to the people. Allow them the opportunity to pick candidates townwide. Those with the most votes win.

The Press And Journal is owned and operated by good people, who I consider friends. The business cares about the community and has given and sacrificed to see it succeed. As a friend, I feel comfortable voicing my strong disagreement with your Aug. 3 editorial. I’m glad I took the opportunity to respond. At most, it will allow the public to hear the other side of the story. At least, it will stir some controversy and help sell a few papers. After all, everyone knows I support local business.

James H. Curry III is mayor of Middletown.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 August 2016 11:46

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