WAYNESBURG – Economic development of Greene County was at center stage Tuesday evening. Literally.
The day after Labor Day, organizers of a new branding and marketing campaign unveiled the fruits of their labors related to development. It’s titled “Greene County – a Powerful Place,” complete with a logo emphasizing “powerful.”
Energy – natural gas and other bountiful forms – is the impetus behind the marketing, which was on display during a program at Waynesburg University. An energetic audience of about 80 attended the event inside the auditorium in Goodwin Performing Arts Center, which included elected officials, energy executives and development officials.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald was on hand, as well.
They listened to a half-dozen speakers, watched a two-minute film and picked up a spiffy brochure – both titled “There’s More to These Hills Than Meets the Eye” and produced by Canonsburg-based Melone Advertising Group.
Greene County, of course, is a prolific source of natural gas, a circumstance that probably hasn’t been as celebrated as it has been in neighboring Washington County.
Since the shale boom began in Pennsylvania about a dozen years ago, Greene and Washington have been among the top producers statewide. Greene also is a longtime coal producer – and still is, despite the industry’s precipitous decline.
Jamie Protin, project director for Mackin Engineering, ran the event at an efficient pace. One of the first speakers he introduced praised Greene for “being in a unique position to power the region.”
That was Denise Brinley, executive director of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office of Energy. She said the state “has played a role in every form of energy in the nation. Now it’s natural gas from the third-largest basin (Marcellus) on the planet, which positions the United States for the future.
“Pennsylvania is well positioned, and with everything Greene County has, you will emerge as a leader in home-grown energy.”
Brinley was one of two speakers who touted the Tri-State Shale Coalition, an agreement among Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio that was forged in 2015 for the mutual benefit of communities in all three.
Jerry Tompson of Pittsburgh-based MARC USA said there is a proposal to form “a major university resources network” in the states comprising the coalition. “We have the resources, all of the ingredients to make this go.”
Coal was a focal point when Zach Smith, manager of external affairs for CONSOL Energy, stepped to the podium. His company operates the Pennsylvania Mining Complex, the largest underground coal mine complex in North America. It spans Greene and Washington counties and consists of the Bailey, Enlow Fork and Harvey mines.
Smith began by lamenting the death of a miner at Enlow Fork last Thursday night, following a wall collapse. He said CONSOL is committed to coal, adding “It will be part of our future.”
“Everyone knows the challenges,” he said. “But we will continue to pursue all aspects of the coal-life process. We want the people we hire today to retire from our company.”
Before introducing the brief film and closing the program, Protin spoke briefly about “the most important piece of infrastructure we have.” That would be the Monongahela River, which separates Greene from Fayette County, Washington from Westmoreland.
“It runs from Cheat Lake to Pittsburgh,” he said. “There’s more to these hills than meets the eye in Greene County.”
Washington City council members sent a letter to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, petitioning for the removal of Councilman Matthew Staniszewski, who was recently arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.
“Everybody deserves a second chance, but this is the fourth time,” Councilman Joe Manning said Wednesday. “I’ve been getting a lot of push back from the public wanting to know if we were doing anything about this.”
He said asking the governor to remove Staniszewski from office is all they can do.
“I wanted the public to be aware that we are actively doing what we can,” he said. “We can’t force him to resign. He has given no indication that he’ll resign or change his lifestyle.”
Manning, along with Councilman Ken Westcott and Mayor Scott Putnam, signed and sent the letter Tuesday to the governor, state Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Carroll Township, and state Rep. Timothy O’Neal, R-South Strabane. Manning said Councilmember Monda Williams was also supportive of the letter, though her name was not on it.
“Councilman Staniszewski has shown absolutely no remorse for his wreck-less (sic) and embarrassing behavior, and to allow him to continue to serve in office will further erode public confidence given the multiple violations of the law,” they wrote in the letter.
They asked Staniszewski be removed from his position “in accordance with Third Class City Code.”
“We have to put the public’s best interest first and right now Matt does not possess the judgement to act on matters that affect public policy,” Putnam said in a news release. “We just hope that he gets the help he needs.”
Staniszewski, 42, of 23 Buttonwood Ave., Washington, was unconscious in his vehicle on East Wheeling Street, near Shaffer Avenue, about 1:10 p.m. Aug. 27, according to a city police report. His car was blocking traffic, police said, and there were four empty airplane-sized bottles of liquor on its floor.
When police asked Staniszewski for his driver’s license, he gave them his American Express card and his councilmember badge before handing them his entire wallet, police said. Police said Staniszewski refused to submit to a blood test and demanded to speak to city police Chief Robert Wilson. He was eventually released into the custody of his father.
“He could have very easily killed someone that afternoon,” Manning said. “He couldn’t tell the difference between an American Express card and a driver’s license. At this point, I don’t have a lot of faith in his judgement to deal with public policy and make decisions that affect the public. You’re governing a city and making decisions that affect people lives.”
Staniszewski did not respond to requests for comment, but his attorney, Sean Logue of Pittsburgh, called the letter to the governor “unconstitutional.”
“There is a mechanism for removing a councilman and it’s called an election,” Logue said.
Politics was the purpose of the letter “pure and simple,” Logue said.
“The gentlemen that signed that letter have raised taxes three times in the last three years,” he said. “They’re now making a story out of a simple DUI as a way of covering for their failed leadership. I will defend Matt and we will prevent the disenfranchisement of the voters who have made him a councilman for over a decade.”
Manning said politics had nothing to do with the letter and Staniszewski isn’t “a political opponent.” Manning said when residents and taxpayers found out about Staniszewski’s DUI, they were suspicious of his possibly getting special treatment for being a member of council.
“He’s still getting paid and getting benefits,” Manning said.
Westcott said signing the letter wasn’t political or personal, but he was acting with the “best interest of the city” in mind.
“Matt’s a friend of mine – it’s about his well-being,” Westcott said. “He needs to move on and get the help he needs. Matt had three DUIs before and chose to not step down from council. I think it’s going to be tough for the city to be able to conduct business with this hanging over our heads.”
Staniszewski’s first arrest for DUI was in 2004 and he served a period of probation. He became a member of council in 2006. During his first term on council, he was charged twice with DUI – once for marijuana in December 2006, and once in October 2007 when he crashed a vehicle in North Strabane Township with a blood-alcohol content of 0.29%.
He was sentenced to six to 18 months in jail with work release and permission to attend council meetings and daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Staniszewski has another two years to his third nonconsecutive term. In February 2018, North Strabane Township police cited Staniszewski for summary public drunkenness after he became aggressive with employees at a local pizza restaurant while appearing to be intoxicated.
Manning also said Staniszewski’s appearing intoxicated became an issue “during at least one council meeting and at least one agenda meeting.”
“That’s why we thought it was important to take this next step,” Manning said.
Three years ago, North Strabane voters waited in long lines during the presidential election, attracting a CNN reporter, cameraman and drone broadcasting live reports of the queue that formed at the township building.
With yet another presidential contest looming in 2020, changes are afoot for some voters in Washington County.
A plan formulated a few years ago aimed at getting Washington County voters in fast-growing municipalities in and out of polling places more quickly will take effect this November. The rollout is being done in advance of the presidential race, which garners the highest turnout, in an attempt to cut down on confusion next year.
The county also faced a constraint in that redistricting of polling places can’t be initiated during a year that coincides with the decennial census.
New voting district maps apply to those who live in Amwell, Cecil, Donegal, North Strabane and South Strabane townships.
“We used roads, rather than imaginary lines, to make boundaries,” said Melanie Ostrander, Washington County elections director.
Increasing North Strabane Township’s six precincts to nine was just one of the challenges the elections office undertook.
Although boundaries were realigned to create the nine voting districts, not everyone will be going to a new polling place come Nov. 5. Voters within the five municipalities will, however, be getting a new voter identification card. While identification cards have been mailed to Amwell, Donegal and South Strabane voters, the details are still being worked out for Cecil and North Strabane.
Waterdam Church, 208 Galley Road, is the only site in North Strabane that’s not already a polling place.
Redrawn precincts 1 and 4 will be voting at the North Strabane municipal building, Route 519, while new precincts 2 and 8 will be voting at the fire hall at 2550 Washington Road.
The former Precinct No. 1 had 3,013 voters, but this is being reduced to approximately 1,300.
“The state rule is there is not to be more than 1,200, so we’re a lot closer now,” Ostrander said. “We chose not to run boundary lines through housing developments, so we are slightly over the 1,200 maximum because of that.”
The threshold is aimed at keeping people from waiting in long lines or possibly forsaking their civic duty because they can’t spend an inordinate amount of time in line.
Populations have grown as former farmland has given way to housing developments.
Often, however, new housing subdivisions contain no public buildings that are suitable polling places.
Cecil Township, formerly home to six voting districts, will now have eight.
Its largest district had 3,383 registered voters. Now, the goal is that the largest precinct will have no more than 1,325 voters.
New voting sites include the Cecil Intermediate school at 3676 Miller’s Run Road, St. Mary Roman Catholic Church at 10 St. Mary’s Lane, and the Hilton Garden Inn, ballroom entrance around the back of the building, Parlor A, 1000 Corporate Drive.
Although the Hilton Garden Inn has an indoor pool and the registration desk offers chocolate chip cookies, Ostrander said, “You can’t use all their amenities, you can just go vote.”
Cecil Supervisor Eric Sivavec contacted the inn’s owners because “it’s easy to get into and everyone knows where it’s at. We’re going to have signs with arrows,” Ostrander said.
In South Strabane, there will be six voting districts, an increase from the previous five.
New polling places in South Strabane are Abundant Life Baptist Church, 269 Cameron Road, and Faith Presbyterian Church, 900 E. Beau St.
Amwell and Donegal will have two precincts apiece, and the townships have been bisected differently.
Replacing the previous imaginary line drawn from west to east across Amwell will be a boundary formed by Vankirk, Amity Ridge, Weaver Run and Pump Station roads. On a map, they appear to be a single road, but the by-way goes by different names.
The polling places remain the same – Lone Pine Volunteer Fire Department and Amwell VFD in Amity, “but different people will be going,” Ostrander said. “The Washington portion of Amwell is growing. while the Amity portion, not as much. We’re trying to prevent a future problem.”
The northern precinct will have 1,346 voters while the southern precinct will have 1,059.
Under previous elections director Larry Spahr, the county entered into a $12,000 contract with geodemographic consulting firm BonData, based in Hummelstown, Dauphin County, to determine voter registration by census block with roads as boundary lines and then draw new voting districts using computer software more sophisticated than what was available in the elections office.