MONONGAHELA – Monongahela was fascinated with the 1969 moon landing, based on the initial contents of a time capsule that was buried the same year when the city marked its bicentennial.
A musty Time magazine and small stack of Pittsburgh newspapers all bearing photos and headlines celebrating the first humans on the moon were atop items that were sealed 50 years ago in a copper box and buried in the city’s Chess Park.
“This is sacred ground here,” Monongahela businessman Don DeVore said before the capsule was unearthed Thursday to kick off the city’s four-day, 250th birthday celebration.
“I think it’s fantastic. Everything is preserved,” said DeVore, whose father, George, was among those who sealed the capsule 50 years ago. The DeVore family was among the first settlers in the Monongahela area.
The box was sealed inside a steel drum and buried under a thick slab of concrete, and the site was topped with a tombstone-like marker.
It took four Monongahela street department workers using shovels, heavy equipment and a grinder to free the capsule in front of a large, eager crowd.
The unsealing of the capsule was among the “most-anticipated” events of the birthday celebration, said Laura Magone, who was among the organizers of the party.
“We are so excited about the next four days,” said Magone, president of Monongahela Area Historical Society.
Among the other items pulled from the box were a sign promoting Monongahela’s community day at Kennywood and a 1968 Boy Scout membership card.
The society was still inventorying the items in the box Thursday afternoon. They will be on display through the weekend at the society’s new headquarters in the Longwell House at 711 W. Main St.
There is a jam-packed schedule of events in Monongahela that includes a performance by the Washington Symphony Orchestra with a laser light show at 7 p.m. today at the Noble J. Dick Aquatorium at the Second Street ramp to the Monongahela River.
The grand parade begins at 11 a.m. Saturday on West Main Street, and a lighted parade and fireworks will be held at the aquatorium following a 7 p.m. performance by the Gary Racan & Studio E. Band.
The society at 1 p.m. Sunday will attempt to establish a Guinness World Record by creating the world’s largest wedding cookie table, with actual weddings in Chess Park.
Coinciding with the cookie table event, the Carnegie Science Center of Pittsburgh will provide fun science decorations with dry ice, and staff members will talk about the chemistry behind creating a cookie table.
For the complete list of events, visit moncity250.org
Officials from North Franklin Township and Columbia Gas are planning a public meeting two weeks after the company took responsibility for causing an explosion that obliterated one house and damaged others.
The Aug. 13 meeting will allow people to speak directly to representatives of the company and get help with filing claims over damage from the July 31 explosion of a house at 100 Park Lane, off the 200 block of Park Avenue.
It will be held at 5:30 p.m. at the township volunteer fire company, 565 Sylvan Drive, following the regular township meeting.
Columbia Gas took responsibility for the explosion, in which five people – the homeowner, a neighbor and three firefighters – were treated for nonlife-threatening injuries or medical conditions. Firefighters were at the house before the explosion, when the owner, Deborah Braden, reported that she smelled gas.
“At this meeting on the 13th, we’ll provide an update related to the July 31 event and address some of the changes that are being made to enhance safety of the system and address plans that we have to maintain and restore local roads and property that are there,” said company spokesman Lee Gierczynski.
The company previously said it was suspending nonemergency work in the township the day after the explosion, when supervisors also issued a cease and desist order.
The incident occurred during routine modernization work of its system. The utility said houses along the main line needed to have regulators installed to control the pressure of gas entering them, but Braden’s was overlooked because of its location, which was farther off Park Avenue than others on the street. It said it would improve its survey procedures.
“The residents and the supervisors took the position that (Columbia Gas) can’t do work unless they show us how it happened, why it happened, and that it’ll never happen again,” Supervisor Bob Sabot said.
He added there’s “every indication” since the utility accepted responsibility for the incident “that they are moving in the right direction on those fronts.”
Gierczynski said representatives for the company will be on hand during the meeting to help people with claims and provide other information, and the company is already working with people whose property was affected.
“We’ve had claim agents who have been working with many of the affected residents there,” he said. “I don’t have an updated number, but they’re been trying to address many of the residents’ needs and concerns.”
An audit of prothonotary’s office financial records completed this month by the Washington County controller revealed a backlog in processing filing fees for judgment liens, money that should have made its way more quickly to both the county and the state.
The backlog, related to liens filed with the prothonotary by the clerk of courts office against criminal defendants who were assessed fines and costs, reached $101,588 as of Dec. 31 of last year.
Prothonotary Joy Schury Ranko said as of Thursday, the backlog has shrunk to $40,679. The controller’s most recent records showed the amount in the clerk of courts escrow account at $76,000 as of June 30.
According to the audit finding and recommendation, the clerk of courts is permitted by law to file for the judgment, the cost of which is $29.75 per case, unless a defendant pays all fines and costs immediately upon sentencing. Most defendants set up payment plans, many of which could last for years.
The clerk of courts is required to file the judgment for the costs and fees owed, said Kathy Tarr, audit manager for the controller’s office, and provide the prothonotary with a listing of fees paid.
The clerk of courts then must wait for the prothonotary to verify the amounts due toward the judgments filed.
Then-Prothonotary Phyllis Ranko Matheny last invoiced the clerk of courts in May 2015. Schury Ranko was elected prothonotary that year, and she took office in January 2016.
Deputy Controller Cathy Sams stressed that the money is not missing. It has gone into a clerk of courts bank account since May 2015, accumulating $101,588 at the close of the 2018 audit.
“It is all accounted for,” Sams said.
Schury Ranko said she began handling reports for criminal defendants’ judgment liens as a clerk in the prothonotary’s office in 2003, and continued with the task when she became deputy prothonotary.
Her taking office as the elected official coincided with the retirement of two staff members, and she said in response to the audit that she prioritized the training of new employees in the daily operations of the office, a clearinghouse for Common Pleas Court handling a variety of civil litigation, including lawsuits, divorces, child custody and protection-from-abuse petitions.
“Every elected official has the right to hire, fire and supervise their staff in their office, essentially, to the extent the law provides,” said Joshua Hatfield, Washington County finance director.
Schury Ranko said she recently streamlined the process related to the $29.75 judgment filing fees through a new coding system to reduce the backlog.
“The prior administration did not have an effective way to assess these fees” and track installment payments of fines and costs, Schury Ranko wrote in her formal response to the audit finding. Her new method will allow for the assessment of all clerk of court judgment fees at the time the judgment is filed.
“Prior to these developments, the previous process was very time intensive,” she wrote.
Both Controller Michael Namie and Hatfield want to see the movement of funds expedited so the money can be included in the fees the prothonotary turns over to the county as well as the state.
“Because of the backlog at the prothonotary’s office, moneys in the clerk of courts are not being realized at the state level or at the county level,” Hatfield said Thursday.
“The prothonotary has to receive it on her end, and she’s the one who sends it to us.”
Hatfield said the prothonotary and clerk of courts offices “have to work together,” as Schury Ranko indicated in her streamlining of the process.
Also included in each $29.75 filing fee is $5 for the prothonotary’s automation fund, which, according to the audit, contained $59,599 at the end of last year.
“My goal in my next term is to begin electronic filing,” said Schury Ranko, a Democrat who is running for a second, four-year term against Republican Laura Hough in the Nov. 5 general election. Even with the introduction of e-filing, the public and attorneys can use paper documents if they prefer.
The prothonotary’s office took in a total of $1.8 million in 2018, disbursing nearly $647,300 to the county and $142,226 to the state.