On and Off The Mountain

Stephanie Grubert

The Mountaintop Eagle embarks on a new publishing year with this week’s edition. Volume 31, No. 1. I am amazed that we are marking our 30th Anniversary in business as an independent newspaper in Mountaintop. I was a young woman of 39 with three young children embarking on an entrepreneurial journey, which I could not have envisioned in those first days, weeks and months. My solid partner in business from day one is our steady Managing Editor Kathy Flower. Kathy too was a young mother with two young children. We had the enthusiasm and stamina to work hard at our jobs and keep the home fires burning. Our husbands often filled in at home if the workload went late, which it did often in those first months, when we were literally learning on the job.

I knew this day was coming, the Big 30 as they say, usually referring to age and not anniversaries, and I would think about how we would mark the milestone. When newspapers started closing, compacting, and going totally digital after the 2008 recession I never gave a thought to that happening to the Mountaintop Eagle. We manage our costs daily and have never spent more than we’ve taken in. I am proud to say that I am a fiscal Conservative. It’s a shame our government can’t understand that simple concept.

The Mountaintop Eagle has had competitors over the years. Sometimes they came and went within months and others lasted longer. We don’t compete against other news publications in the way sports teams try to win a game with the best score. We compete by striving to have the best and most complete editorial content in our community. Each new edition is a testament to that commitment.

I have been active in the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association for most of the last 30 years. I learned a lot by attending workshops with my weekly newspaper colleagues about circulation, advertising and the most important editorial, back in the 1980’s and 90’s. We all got older and most of them sold their publications, when valuations were high before the big recession. Many of those publications do not exist now or are of diminished size and importance in their communities.

Publishing a weekly newspaper has always been about commitment to the hometown values we all cherish. We are the go to place to find community events in the calendar, review the weekly church and worship offerings, read about the achievements of school children and their families, and to learn about our neighbors.

The Mountaintop business community is our core advertising support. It is a newsworthy event when a new business opens and we strive to establish a relationship that works for our mutual success. I am always thrilled to tell the town of a local business success, whether it is an anniversary or something more. We have advertisers who were on our pages in that first edition Volume 1, No. 1 on November 5, 1985 thirty years ago, and we have them still supporting their businesses with us today.

I’ve seen businesses born and businesses die. Sometimes the transformation is gentler. They are taken over by a new owner. A location may be home to a business and then down the road another. I look at businesses like our own life journeys. There is a time for everything.

I have been hearing a question now and then as the Mountaintop Eagle marks its years in Mountaintop. “When are you going to retire?” While we continue to enjoy solid support from our readers and advertisers I won’t be leaving. The truth is that newspapers in 2015 and beyond are challenged on many fronts, even the small ones. Kathy Flower and I enjoy putting together our weekly edition. Long-term salesperson Denise O’Connor Manosky works hard at maintaining the relationships she needs to do her job well. Our newest staff member Sam Laskowski brings energy, enthusiasm and imagination to every task she is given. Sam maintains the subscriber mailing list, handles the customer billing, and designs the most innovative display ads we have ever had. Sam can read my mind and get things done before I have time to verbalize. Ahh, the vigor of youth.

The Eagle has a solid team of correspondents. John Wengrzynek regularly attends community events including games and provides us with beautiful photos. Sometimes John has to dig deep to get the special front-page photo we need every week and for most of our 30 year history has carried the ball across the goal line.

Marcia Thomas has been covering municipal and school board meetings for more than 25 years.

We first met Andrea O’Neill when we attended a WVIA-44 program on the horrible Kids for Cash corruption scandal in 2008. Andrea approached us about writing and our feature pages have been alive with her contributions ever since.

While she is not currently an active correspondent, Anneliese Moghul gave us many years of solid writing. She started with commentary about the fall of the Berlin Wall in her native Germany and eventually participated in every event from Mountaintop’s community organizations, including the Marian Sutherland Kirby Library, the Mountaintop Fire and Ambulance, municipal meetings, and school board. Anneliese was a prolific editorialist.

Our newest correspondent Nicole Fay Barr has covered public meetings, written business and personal feature stories, and continues to answer the assignment call each week.

I have always felt we were writing the history of Mountaintop with each new edition. That 30-year legacy will continue as long as our energetic staff embraces our goal “Dedicated to Quality Community Journalism”.

Contract Signed Congratulations to the Crestwood

School District and the Crestwood Education Association on signing their new five-year contract this week. Chief board negotiator Gene Mancini was satisfied that both sides had come away with compromises that they could agree on.

My first Crestwood contract negotiation was in 1984 and as a fairly new reporter I had my hands full trying to underside the district and union positions. The Crestwood teachers went on strike that year, which would be the beginning of 30 years of contract negotiation locally and state wide. The union grew stronger with each new contract and salaries and benefits escalated. The union always came out on top, sometimes years after contracts expired.

The 2015 story was simple and ended “not with a bang, but with a whimper” to quote T. S. Eliot. The bangs are gone and the taxpayers can look forward to five years of tranquility.

A new board was elected this week. Many have close ties to Crestwood employees. The Crestwood Support Staff negotiations are ongoing. New board members with a spouse on the Crestwood payroll cannot vote on a future Support Staff contract.

Election Week We have just enjoyed our beautiful

October and most of the color has fallen from the trees. The Gypsy Moth infestation in May stripped most of the trees in my yard and in the nearby forests. The second growth leaves were never as hearty and robust as the first. Aerial spraying plans for the 2016 Gypsy Moth infestation have not been announced by Luzerne County.

Election Day this week was expected to be a low turnout. Municipal and school board races, many unopposed, filled out the local ballot. 12 candidates were on the ballot for Luzerne County Council, 6 Democrats and 6 Republicans. The County Council moves very slowly, as does the rest of the county government. We called and emailed the Luzerne County Bureau of Elections for contact information, addresses and possibly phone numbers and emails for the county candidates, and we are still waiting. It would be so easy to put that information on the Bureau of Elections website. But then the county does not do things the easy way.

I took an absentee ballot down to the Bureau of Elections because I could not trust that the US mail service would deliver in a timely manner. I should have sent in my ballot request 30 days prior to the election. My request was delivered 4 days after mailing, and I received my ballot three days later. The ballot was due the next day on Friday October 30, four days before the election. Why can’t we have online voting? Dealing with tedious outmoded procedures is ridiculous. Online voting would be a lot more cost effective too.

I was amazed to see activity in the Bureau of Elections offices. There appeared to be dozens of employees engaged in activity. What they were doing I could not determine.

I believe the Luzerne County Courthouse payroll could be trimmed a minimum of 25% and the county could start to live within its income.