On and Off The Mountain/Stephanie Grubert

The winter weather has been the topic of many a conversation for the past week. The television weather people love it. There are super frigid below zero temperatures, wind chill factors, snow accumulation and so much more. I usually look out my window, check my outdoor weather station and compare that to what is reported on the news. My iPhone gives me specific conditions for each Mountaintop Township, depending on where I am travelling at the moment. It is all information that amuses or worries us. We can’t do a thing about it other than to have a choice of outerwear.

The deer are hungry now and I still see lots of deer running through yards and crossing roads in front of me as I cautiously travel the icy roads. They don’t hibernate like the bears. Go slow and if one pops up in front of you, you have a better chance of stopping and avoiding a collision.

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Reorganization Meetings

According to the PA Second Class Township Code, municipalities reorganize on the first Monday in January. Newly elected officials are formally seated and welcomed and the business of local government can have a completely different tone in the New Year.

In Rice Township Mark Taney joins Marcia Thomas and Miller Stella to round out the three-person board. Thomas is expected to take the Chairman’s seat and Taney will most likely be the Roadmaster. I don’t think Attorney Bill Higgs will represent Rice residents any longer. There will no doubt be changes in the secretary-treasurer’s position and also some appointments including zoning. There is a new administration in Rice and hopefully it is a transparent one that tells the public what is really on the agenda.

As a newspaper person I can attest that Open Meetings and Open Records are the foundation of reporting local government business. There is no place for secrecy and closed door plotting. There have been no public work sessions in Rice and the public had only a few minutes to study the monthly agenda before they could comment within a 5-minute window. and adjourn. Most Mountaintop municipalities and the Crestwood School Board hold public work sessions. The work session is often held an hour or so before the voting meeting. Details are outlined in the Open Meetings Act.

The old Stella/Venesky/Armstrong team scripted their actions at “executive sessions” The old guard had no idea what the Open Meetings Law was or how to implement it. I look forward to a lot more sunshine in Rice in 2014.

Fire Company Asset Dissolution

The petition filed by the Pennsylvania State Attorney General’s Office to dissolve and distribute the assets of the former Rice Township Volunteer Fire Company had a date in court last week. The petition was filed on November 20 and in just 6 weeks the parties were called to court. That has to be some type of record for court responsiveness, especially as the petition hearing was scheduled for January 3. The filing was news to minority Marcia Thomas and the public at the December 17 public meeting. The Eagle had full documentation about that action in our last edition.

The Rice Township Volunteer Fire Company was decertified even faster. That deed took less than a month last June on a warm summer night with nearly a hundred interested citizens in attendance. Actually only 60 were allowed in the municipal building for the discussion with the overflow relegated to the yard. The public escorted out of the building by the police force (all five members in attendance) and doors locked and the vote taken without the public in attendance at all. Ridiculous.

Questionable Agendas

As I look over the various questionable things that the former Rice majority, Miller Stella and George Venesky tried to and sometimes managed to push through I am glad we will not have to deal with that again.

Take the infamous Rice Township

Easter Egg Hunts with price tags ranging from $1200 to $1600 with prizes of bicycles and fishing polls. Every other Mountaintop township spends between $200 and $400.

Then we had the Ice Pond sediment removal proposal. It turned out that the person writing the grant tailored it to his for profit business and gave himself a job maintaining the ponds for the next 20 years at $400,000 taxpayer expense. The Ice Ponds are nearly 100 years old and they don’t need any artificial maintenance.

One of my favorite issues was the gating and abandonment of Heslop Road. Venesky, a former PA Game Commissioner who was fired by Governor Tom Ridge about 15 years ago, cooked up that little scheme with adjacent property owners. The rest of us would just have to lump it.

I have written many times about hiking on the Heslop Road extension into the public PA State Gamelands and the gate issue was important to me. The old gate that was installed near the end of the swamp looked just like the one that had previously been used by the Sugarnotch Conservation Club, when they enjoyed use of the Boyle Pond. Eventually that land was sold and the old gate was probably abandoned on the property. We don’t need any gates down there and I hope the Rice Township road crew gets up there to dig out the cement-footed posts that mar the property as soon as the weather permits. Public roads are for the public.

And let’s not forget the ridiculous legal services and bills that Stella and Venesky solicited and paid for in 2013. My unofficial total $54,062, a whopping $46,062 over the $8,000 budget. That money could have paved Wilderness Drive, the street where I live that has been ignored for years. There are a number of other Rice Township roads that need upgrading too. The budget for legal services in 2013 was $8,000.

At this writing the Monday reorganization meetings are in the future. My sincere best wishes go out to all the newly elected board members and the citizen taxpayers who elected them.

Downton Abbey Continues My favorite international drama

“Downton Abbey” came to life once again with their new season Sunday January 5. It is season 4 for the Crawley family and all of their servants in the great house. The tantalizing British period drama chronicling the lives of its wealthy, or maybe not, upstairs family and their equally interesting servants on the downstairs level of the gorgeous Downton Abbey castle. The story began in 1912 with the sinking of the Titanic and now we are now into the 1920’s and the family has to find a way to survive financially.

I have seen every episode of seasons 1, 2 and 3 numerous times. I love watching it as much as I love watching endless episodes of The Office. Large ensemble casts make for lots of interesting story lines and character development. Dame Maggie Smith sets the tone for all the interactions in the story. I am never disappointed, except for last year when Matthew was killed off in the Christmas special. Oh well, it is really only fantasy and that’s what entertainment is.