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A way to build community

Middletowners seem to yearn for a greater feeling of community – unity and the desire to work together were popular themes among speakers during the public comment period of the latest Middletown Borough Council meeting. How do we go about achieving it?

One way is to get to know each other. So the Press And Journal has agreed to host the first Middletown Meet & Greet event, the first of what we hope are many. It’s a great idea to get townspeople together to get to know their neighbors and plant the seeds of community spirit.

A series of get-togethers, first proposed online, would be unique for a community. Let’s give it a chance, and not politicize its origins. That happens too frequently in Middletown, and manages simply to polarize the town, not bring it together.

A free glass of wine, free Hors d’oeuvres and sweets? What do you have to lose by attending?

The first one will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 25 at our office, 20 S. Union St. Hope to see you there.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 February 2015 14:57

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The Elks is our anchor

 

There’s no doubt that the Elks Building plays a crucial role in restoring vitality to Middletown’s downtown business district. It’s been an anchor to the district since it was built almost 104 years ago – and its current state of emptiness, with businesses gone while its leaking roof is repaired, has dropped a rather ghostly shroud over the major business section of Dauphin County’s oldest borough.

Nothing that money couldn’t undo, but it would take a lot of money to bring the Elks Building back to life – more than $1 million, estimates borough spokesman Chris Courogen.

The borough is searching for capital to restore the Elks, and has discovered a possible source: a grant program administered by Pennsylvania’s Office of the Budget for acquisition and construction of regional economic, cultural, civic, recreational and historical improvement projects. Middletown Borough Council voted 8-0 on Monday, Feb. 2 to apply for a $645,000 grant, which must be matched with borough funds. Middletown proposes as its match the $500,000 its development arm, the Middletown Industrial and Commercial Development Authority, paid to acquire the property from the Greater Middletown Economic Development Corp., a private nonprofit that, for reasons political or economic, depending on your point of view, is no longer a major player in borough development, and $145,000 the new owner has spent to repair the roof.

The Elks Building, which includes the Elks Theatre, the borough’s old movie house, would seem to be a prime candidate for a grant if economic need and historical, cultural and civic value are measured. While the borough would need other sources of money to restore the Elks, this state grant would go a long way to helping Middletown in so many ways. We hope the state recognizes its importance, and is willing to play an important role in Middletown's future.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 February 2015 16:01

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A "code of conduct" is unnecessary, restrictive

 

Are there more volatile subjects for public debate than politics and religion? People seem to feel most passionately about them. Disagree on your favorite movie, or music, or book, but disagree on political parties, or religious beliefs, and the conversation escalates to a more personal level.

Politics is a very personal thing. There will always be different views. How we deal with them – with one another – is what’s important.

Middletown Borough Council has drastically changed the way it handles public opinion of its politics over the past five years. Used to be citizens could talk as long as the council president believed they needed to talk to express their views and concerns. Citizens even could question department heads at council committee-of-the-whole meetings. The interaction between the public and the officials who serve them was rather amazing.

Over time, the rules in Middletown changed. Time limits were strictly enforced when a citizen stood up to speak at a council meeting. Department heads did not provide regular reports at public meetings, hindered by a new communications policy that attempts to control speech – and succeeds.

Perhaps it’s not practical to have absolutely no rules about our freedom of speech. Some rules, such as time limits, indeed are reasonable.

Council considered a move on Feb. 2 to advertise a new ordinance that would create a “code of conduct’’ for the public who attend and speak at council meetings. Its main supporter, Councilor Suzanne Sullivan, said it was necessary to create “standards’’ for public speech and preserve decorum by giving the council president greater power in controlling speech at meetings.

Sullivan cited two recent meetings – a Jan. 20 council meeting that saw a big crowd disturbed by recent actions by borough government, particularly the borough’s failure to sign a snow plowing agreement with PennDOT that was approved by council in December, and a committee meeting in January. The crowd at the Jan. 20 meeting was so big that residents were forced to stand in the hallway outside council’s chambers. Some citizens were angry, politics being the subject that it is.

It was not ugly. Indeed, Roberts Rules of Order were applied, and order prevailed. Even without a new code of conduct, the council president has some power to maintain order and civility. Some citizens, newbies to government meetings, seemed to expect to engage in a back-and-forth with councilors and administrators, something that rarely happens at any municipal meeting, and were peeved that their questions and comments weren’t directly addressed. There were differences of opinion, but nothing you’d be embarrassed to have your mother hear.

Indeed, it was a healthy exercise of freedom of speech. It’s the most effective way to let elected officials know what you want. In fact, at least two councilors have stated they do not use computers often – they’re not on Facebook, and they’re not tweeting. Speaking up at public meetings of our government officials is the American way.

Sullivan’s proposal for a code of conduct failed by a 5-4 vote, with Mayor James H. Curry III casting the tie-breaking vote.

It’s interesting that both Sullivan and Curry pointed to council’s Feb. 2 meeting as a good example of how it should be. “This is perfect,’’ Sullivan said, admiring the decorum. “They can behave themselves and we can behave ourselves,’’ Curry observed, asking, “Why pay the solicitor money for something we can accomplish as human beings?’’ Good question.

Taking heat is part of a politician’s existence. As Councilor John Brubaker pointed out during the debate over Sullivan’s proposal, codes of conduct have been discussed, though not imposed, by council before – in 2011, in fact. But we can agree to disagree without getting brutal. And we can accept others’ opinions without trying to limit them.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 February 2015 17:01

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Editor's Voice: Christmas arrived early for the Elks and Middletown

By Jim Lewis

Perhaps it was the Christmas spirit that moved a record number of people – 200! –  to buy tickets for the Middletown Holiday Candlelight Tour of Homes on Dec. 8 and 9. And maybe the 224 people who paid to see the

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 17:53

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Editor's Voice: At Steel-High, an unusual and inspiring civics lesson

If you’re an American, and value your right to vote, you probably remember the first time you voted – the thrill of walking into the voting booth, the excitement of casting a ballot. The candidate for whom you voted.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 November 2012 13:25

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