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No charges filed in argument between mayor, communications director, DA says

The Dauphin County District Attorney's office has decided it will not file charges in the confrontation between Middletown Mayor James H. Curry III and Chris Courogen, the borough's director of communications, that happened after a Borough Council meeting on Monday, July 7.

Charges will not be filed because "alleged physical contact'' during the confrontation was "minimal,'' District Attorney Ed Marsico said on Thursday, July 10, and because Curry "indicated that his purpose in reporting'' the incident "was not so much to have charges filed, but to have (it) on the record.''

"We felt a prosecution was not in the public interest," Marsico said.

Curry told The Press And Journal that Courogen touched him "in a threatening manner" during an argument between the two officials that broke out shortly after the conclusion of the meeting.

"He did not punch me or slap me. I felt it was a physical manifestation of intimidation,'' Curry said. "I did not think it was appropriate and this is why it was documented."

Courogen repeatedly denied that there had been any physical contact between himself and the mayor.

"There was no physical contact. He said, 'Go ahead, hit me, go ahead, hit me,' " Courogen said of Curry. "He is the one who escalated it. He started raising his voice, he called me a waste, a waste of borough resources, worthless. I wished that I had the patience of Job and could just stand there and take that abuse."

Courogen accused Curry of exploiting the incident for the mayor's own "political gain," noting that Curry contacted the Press and Journal regarding what had happened the morning after while the situation was still under investigation.

"If the mayor really cared about this town he would have resolved this thing internally. Instead his first thing was to call the media and give the town a black eye,'' Courogen said. "That's not how you do things in a civilized society."

One of two other people who witnessed the argument said there was physical contact during the confrontation. Rachelle Reid, a former borough councilor who was at Monday night's council meeting, said she saw Courogen bump the mayor with his chest and with an arm that was in a sling. Reid said Curry at that point backed up, threw up his hands, and told Courogen, "I'm done."

According to Reid, Courogen continued after Curry and began pointing his other hand – the one not in a sling – in the mayor's face.

"At several times I thought he was going to punch Jim in the face, because of the way he held his hand,'' Reid said. "He was very irate and, in my opinion, out of control."

The incident was also witnessed by Borough Secretary Amy Friday. Friday refused to comment when contacted Thursday by the Press And Journal, and said any media inquiries would have to go through Courogen.

Curry said Thursday that his intent in having the incident reported to police was not to have charges filed against Courogen, but to ensure that the incident "is memorialized on paper."

The incident was initially reported to Middletown police Monday night. After taking statements from those involved, police passed the investigation to Marsico's office on Tuesday, July 8 to avoid a conflict of interest. Curry said he knew that Middletown police would not be able to investigate the incident because part of Curry's duties as mayor is to supervise the police department.

The incident is not over despite the District Attorney's finding.

Courogen said he has filed an internal administrative complaint against the mayor, based upon procedures spelled out in a borough policy regarding the harassment of employees. Courogen also said he is discussing the situation with his lawyer "regarding any action outside of the internal harassment policy" that should be taken against the mayor regarding the incident.

"He abused his power as head of the police department for political purposes," Courogen said. "All he was trying to do was create an incident to stain my reputation, to defame me and to tarnish me for his political gain."

Curry said Thursday that he knew nothing of Courogen's administrative complaint against him, other than what the mayor had read on Pennlive. "If an internal investigation will be conducted I will cooperate with it, and I look forward to doing so,'' Curry said.

Regardless of the outcome, can the mayor and borough communications director have an effective working relationship going forward, given what happened?

"Absolutely," Curry said. "Anybody can disagree with anybody. That happens day in and day out. The problem is when it becomes physical. That's when there is an issue. I certainly can do my job and Mr. Courogen can do his job. So long as that line is not crossed I see no issue."

Said Courogen, "I think we can have a working relationship, but the mayor needs to know his role in borough government. He's not Frank Rizzo, and this is not the City of Philadelphia."

"I was a big supporter of him when he was running," Courogen said of Curry. "I'm willing to accept that he's new to government and he is still learning how things work."

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 July 2014 21:27

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Middletown ICDA approves agreement to buy the Elks Building

The Middletown Industrial and Commercial Development Authority tonight approved an agreement of sale to acquire the Elks Building from the Greater Middletown Economic Development Corporation.

As described by authority Solicitor Salvatore Bauccio, the acquisition is to be a cashless transaction in which the authority takes title to the historic building, and assumes responsibility for the $500,000 mortgage on the property.

However, much more needs to take place before the deal is final. Bauccio said approval of the agreement of sale begins a 90-day "due diligence" period. What that basically means is that the authority has up to 90 days to assess the physical condition of the building, analyze the building's existing lease obligations, and uncover anything else that could increase or impact the overall cost of owning the property.

If, for example, the physical issues with the building are much more expensive than what the authority believes to be the case, the 90-day period gives the authority a way out of the deal. At the same time, Bauccio said the authority could be ready to close on the sale before expiration of the 90 days.

Besides the physical issues - which Bauccio said include needed repairs to portions of both the ceiling and roof - at least another $50,000 is needed to buy digital conversion equipment for the Elks Theatre. 

Even if the authority decides to move forward, the agreement still needs final approval from Middletown Borough Council, and from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

DCED is the source of the $500,000 mortgage. Bauccio said the $500,000 is to be repaid to DCED in five annual installments of $500,000, the first one due in 2015. Bauccio said that the authority wants to refinance terms of the mortgage with DCED, in such a way as to allow the authority to move quickly toward fixing the building and improving it, while also meeting its repayment obligations.

The hope is that these improvements will eventually increase the building's cash flow so the property can be more self-sustaining, he said.

The authority in the same meeting gave tentative approval to obtaining a $3 million line of credit from PNC Bank. Bauccio said the line of credit would give the authority funds while awaiting release of government grant money. He said that the authority is in the process of applying for a $500,000 state grant. The PNC line of credit also requires borough council approval, besides final approval from the authority.

Bauccio would not release a copy of the sales agreement until after he can review the agreement with the borough solicitor, which could occur Thursday. He said the agreement provides for the Elks Theatre to be operated not by GMEDC but by a yet-to-be-formed local nonprofit organization. 

Borough Council President Chris McNamara, an authority member, said the new organization is to be put together by two Middletown businesswomen; Robin Pellegrini and Dana Ward. Pellegrini is also on the authority and serves as its community liaison, McNamara said.

McNamara said authority ownership of the building is essential to preservation of the historic structure and the Elks Theatre itself. 

"The theater is not closing as a result of this. Just the opposite" is the case, McNamara said.

The GMEDC board had already approved the sales agreement with the authority. GMEDC board Vice Chairman Gordon Einhorn was at the meeting at the start, but left while the authority was holding a closed-door executive session on real estate and personnel matters, before the authority reconvened to vote on the sales agreement.


Last Updated on Thursday, 10 July 2014 01:14

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Three finalists remain for police chief post

Middletown residents could meet the borough’s new police chief during council’s next meeting on Monday, July 21.

Council narrowed the field of candidates for the job from five to three after a closed-door round of phone interviews during a meeting of council’s public safety committee on Monday, July 7, said committee chairman Scott Sites.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 July 2014 19:20

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Borough police investigating argument between mayor, spokesman


[Editor's note: This story was updated on Tuesday, July 8 with additional information obtained from the Middletown police department after the July 9 edition of the Press And Journal went to press.]

Middletown police have asked the Dauphin County District Attorney's office to investigate an alleged incident involving a heated argument between Mayor James H. Curry III and Chris Courogen, the borough’s director of communications, after a Middletown Borough Council meeting on Monday, July 7.

Police responded to borough hall when called about the incident. Middletown's acting police chief, Sgt. James Bennett, said his department eventually referred it to the District Attorney's office to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Several minutes after the council meeting ended around 10 p.m., a shouting match broke out between the mayor and Courogen that could easily be heard by everyone still left in council chambers, including several councilors and a handful of residents who had attended the meeting . . .

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 July 2014 22:02

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Borough supervisor resigns, levels charge against councilor

Greg Wilsbach, the supervisor of Middletown Borough’s electric department, made public his resignation during a statement before Middletown Borough Council on Monday, July 7 in which he accused council President Christopher McNamara of authoritzing the payment of a neighbor’s tree pruning with borough funds.

Wilsbach alleged that a year ago McNamara authorized the borough pay $850 worth of work done by a private contractor involving the pruning of trees at a neighbor’s house on Pine Street. Wilsbach said that McNamara, who lives across the street, authorized payment for the work, performed on
July 2, 2013, because “he was tired of the leaves blowing on his property” from the neighbor’s yard.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 July 2014 19:12

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