Thursday, April 19, 2007

Local News-Thursday, April 19th

The Schuylkill County Commissioners approved the hiring of a Berks County attorney to serve as special counsel to the county board of elections for matters related to the County Controller's race. Terry Weiler of Reading will serve at a rate of $125-dollars per hour, pending court appointment. Weiler will advise the board on a matter dealing with a complaint filed by Democratic Controller Candidate Melinda Kantner against Republican Candidate Jason Gherghel. Kantner maintains that Gherghel violated the Pennsylvania Election Code by purchasing internet addresses using variations of her name, making it impossible for her to establish a campaign web site. Weiler was selected by the county Elections Board, that includes former County Commissioner Jerome Knowles, former county tax claims director Susan Koch and Pottsville attorney Lynne Bressi. The County Commissioners usually serve as the board of elections, except during the years like this one, when they are running for re-election. The County Solicitor's office, which normally advises the Election Board, removed itself from the case involving the Controller's race. When asked by County Commissioner Mantura Gallagher about the recusal, Assistant Jay Jones indicated that anything that would come from the County Solicitor's office would be questioned by Kantner. Kantner has been persistently critical of county Solicitor Paul Datte stemming from his roles as former solicitor for the North Manheim Township Zoning Hearing Board and current solicitor for the North Manheim Township Sewer Authority. Kantner serves as a member of North Manheim's Planning Commission.

There will be plenty of teaching opportunities next school year in the Pottsville School District.
At Wednesday's meeting, 17 more faculty members, and a special education supervisor, submitted retirement letters, bringing the total for the year to 40. Superintendent Dr. James Gallagher said that the dedicated employees would be quote "very difficult, if not impossible to replace". Lori Bendetti, a parent of a special needs student, addressed the board about concerns for her son, who will be a freshman at Pottsville High School in September. Dr. Gallagher was to meet with Mrs. Bendetti and the special ed staff today to discuss the matter in further detail. Board member Dr. Bill Davidson announced to the board that 71 percent of the senior class have received acceptance letters to colleges all across the country, a testament to the quality of education at Pottsville High. Superintendent Gallagher noted one change to the school calendar. Friday, June 1st has been changed from an in-service day to an Act 80 day. Students will still finish classes on Thursday, May 31st, with commencement that evening.

The massacre at Virginia Tech on Monday is affecting college students locally. WPPA/T-102 News spoke with Matthew Swatchick, director of Student Affairs at Penn State Schuylkill about the mood on campus since the murder of 32 students by Cho Seung-Hui in Blacksburg, Virginia on Monday morning. He said that there has been some discussion among students about the events at Virginia Tech, but for most, its business as usual. Swatchick also said that some students are worried about such an incident could happen here. He said that while no formal observance is planned at this point, student groups were planning to discuss the incident during their regular meetings. University President Graham Spanier has addressed the matter with faculty and staff, and reiterated that the University is committed to keeping all Penn State campuses a safe place to learn.

A Tremont man is in jail on numerous theft charges. Twenty-one year old Brandon Merwine was arrested by Schuylkill Haven State Police Tuesday night for thefts at the R&D Coal Company and a home, both in Tremont Township, in March. Burglary, theft, conspiracy and other offenses are among the charges Merwine faces. He was arraigned via video conference by District Judge David Plachko. His combined bail was set at $35-thousand-dollars, 10 percent bail.

The Schuylkill County Commissioners lifted a disaster declaration at noon Wednesday that they declared Monday because of severe weather across the region. Monday’s spring storm, with its heavy snow and high winds, caused dangerous road conditions and power outages in various sections of the county, which they said threatened the health and welfare of county residents.
The declaration directed the County Emergency Management Coordinator to take any and all appropriate action needed to alleviate the effects of the disaster and to aid in the restoration of essential public services. The declaration was officially adopted during Wednesday’s Commissioners work session.

A non-jury trial will be held in Schuylkill County Court for an Orwigsburg man who is charged with killing his wife. Jeffrey Zimmerman’s trial will begin on May 1st, and heard by President Judge William Baldwin. Zimmerman faces a possible life sentence in prison for murdering his wife Cindy in her parents home in Orwigsburg in July, 2006. The Pottsville Republican reports that DA Jim Goodman will not seek the death penalty for Zimmerman. The defendant’s attorney said that Zimmerman will likely testify on his own behalf during the trial, which is expected to last 3 days. Several photos of the deceased that were introduced as evidence were deemed inadmissible by Baldwin. Other evidence presented by the DA’s office will be allowed.
Zimmerman is charged with criminal homicide, aggravated and simple assault and other offenses. He is currently in Schuylkill County Prison without bail.

Schuylkill County is pitching in for the Great Pennsylvania Cleanup. The Office of Solid Waste has announced that the trash collected between April 21st and 28th by cleanup participants can be taken to the CES Landfill for free. Groups or individuals who would like to register for the Great Pennsylvania Cleanup can do so online at, or by calling Schuylkill Keep It Pretty at 628-3758. The waste collected can either be dropped off at the landfill, or stack it along the road for PennDOT to pick it up.

The first round of the Smooth Operator program was successful in cracking down on aggressive drivers. Statewide, law enforcement issued more than 20-thousand citations and arrests during the week of March 25th to 31st. Over 16-thousand of the citations were for speeding, tailgating and other unsafe driving practices. Others were for seat belt and other traffic violations. In Schuylkill County, citations and arrests totaled over 11-hundred. PennDOT is investing $2-million-dollars statewide. Smooth Operator enforcement will resume during Fourth of July week, as well as in August and September.

The appointment of former County Commissioner Jerome Knowles to the Schuylkill County Board of Elections is being challenged by a West Penn Township man. William Mackey Jr., who was unsuccessful in a bid to unseat David Argall in the 124th legislative district race last year, attended Wednesday’s Commissioners work session and said Knowles appointment to the election board violates the state constitution. According to Mackey, state election laws prohibit anyone employed by government from serving on the board of elections and Knowles’ hiring by Representative Argall for special projects violates that law. Knowles was one of three people appointed by the County Commissioners to serve as the board of elections. Normally, the Commissioners serve as the board except during the years when they are candidates for election.


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