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Olmsted Rec board faces funding questions

The Olmsted Regional Recreation Board, organized as an intermunicipal body, operated in 2014 without support from local municipalities and the Middletown Area School District – but it will not reach its potential without more money, one board member said.


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Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 December 2014 21:27

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Woodland Hills developer proposes substation, luxury apartments

The long-anticipated development of the largest remaining tract of vacant land in Middletown, dubbed “Woodland Hills,’’ took another twist during a Middletown Borough Council meeting on Monday, Dec. 15.


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Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 December 2014 21:05

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Borough newsletter to publish quarterly, not monthly

Middletown Borough Council voted 6-0 on Monday, Dec. 15, to reduce the publication of Middletown Matters, the borough newsletter, from monthly to once per quarter.

The newsletter’s content will be reviewed by council’s administration/personnel committee before it is published. The committee includes councilors Suzanne Sullivan, Vicki Malone and Ann Einhorn.

Einhorn is among a group of four councilors, joined by Mayor James H. Curry III, who had asked that their names be stricken from Middletown Matters until procedures are adopted that would allow council to review the newsletter before it is published. The three other councilors are Ben Kapenstein, Tom Handley and Scott Sites.

Each edition of Middletown Matters costs an estimated $4,000, according to borough communications director Chris Courogen, who is the newsletter’s editor.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 December 2014 20:56

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No increases in electric rates, taxes in 2015


There will be no tax or electric rate increase in Middletown in 2015, Middletown Borough Council decided on Monday, Dec. 15.

Council voted 5-1 in favor of a 2015 budget that relies upon a $1.9 million transfer from the borough’s electric trust fund to close a spending gap.

About $1.6 million will be transferred from the electric trust to the general fund. The remainder will be used to help plug a deficit in the borough’s electric budget of about $400,000, said Mark Morgan of Susquehanna Group Advisors, the borough’s financial consultant.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 December 2014 20:47

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FIVE BLANK SPACES: They didn’t want their names in borough newsletter, and their request was granted

As you open the latest edition of Middletown Matters, the borough’s newsletter, close your eyes and imagine the voice of Rod Serling:


“Picture if you will the Borough of Middletown, a town ruled by five borough councilors. Strangely absent are four borough councilors and the mayor, whose images have been mysteriously deleted …”


Surrealistic? Yes, but it’s the impression residents may get from seeing the masthead that appears in the lower left corner on Page 2. Whited out are the names of Mayor James H. Curry III and council members Anne Einhorn, Tom Handley, Benjamin Kapenstein and Scott Sites.


Following publication of the newsletter’s “The Truth Issue” in October, the four councilors and Curry requested the borough remove their names from Middletown Matters. They objected to what they contended was the borough using the taxpayer-funded newsletter to influence public opinion by waging personal attacks upon selected residents.


The five requested that the borough put in place procedures to “control and review the information” in the newsletter before it is published. Until then, the five asked that their names be removed from the masthead.


The borough’s position is that “The Truth Issue” wasn’t personal attacks, but an attempt to counter what council President Chris McNamara has labelled a campaign of “misinformation” waged by individuals who disagree with many actions taken by the council majority.


The November edition continues the “Fact Check” section started with The Truth Issue. But this time, in looking to correct the record regarding how much money the borough has spent on police overtime, the newsletter did so without identifying the source of the alleged misinformation.


However, the November edition did not include a retraction that Schuylkill Haven Borough Administrator Scott Graver had asked for, regarding the use of his quotes in The Truth Issue.


In addition, former Middletown Borough Council President Diana McGlone said during council’s Dec. 1 meeting that she and her lawyer are still seeking a retraction of information published in The Truth Issue regarding posts that McGlone made on Facebook that were critical of the borough.


What happens in this periodical power struggle from this point on isn’t clear. Chris Courogen, the borough’s communications director and editor of Middletown Matters, said the newsletter already gets reviewed by Borough Manager Tim Konek before going to print.


Middletown Matters as it currently exists apparently has the support of a majority on council, including McNamara, the president.


Said Councilor John Brubaker, “I don’t care that my name is on there.”


As for the five officials who wanted their names removed from the newsletter, none say they are ready to have their names added back to the masthead.


Einhorn contended the borough has carried the dispute “to an extreme” by cutting Curry out of a front page photo of state Rep. John Payne presenting a flag to the borough during a Nov. 17 council meeting. Curry is in the version of the photo that the borough sent out in a press release, and in the one that is prominent on the home page of the borough Web site, but missing from the newsletter’s photo.


Courogen said he cropped Curry out of the newsletter photo out of respect to the mayor’s request that his name not appear in Middletown Matters.


In other respects, Einhorn said the November edition is an improvement in that most of the publication is devoted to information like Dauphin County’s new flood impact tool, snow emergency parking restrictions and upcoming community events.


The problem is so many borough residents have grown so disgusted with Middletown Matters that they throw it in the trash without reading it, she said.


“They don’t even see the part that is purposeful,” she said.


But Sites, in an e-mailed response to the Press And Journal, saw no signs of progress in the latest issue.


“McNamara, it appears, still did not learn that the newsletter is not a place for petty behaviors, such as Photoshopping (sic) and discussing individual Facebook posts,” Sites said. “Why does McNamara believe that the official newsletter of this town should dissect comments on Facebook? Facebook is not a news source.”


McNamara did not respond to a request for comment on Sites’ statement. He forwarded the request to Courogen, who responded on McNamara’s behalf.


The council president “does not exercise editorial control over the newsletter,” Courogen said. He added that Sites’ contention that Facebook is not a news source “shows that the councilman just has a complete lack of knowledge or understanding of modern day communications and the world of social media.”


“Facebook, Twitter and other social media may not be traditional news sources, but they are very prominent news sources, and in this community, Facebook is being used to spread misinformation,” Courogen said.


He contended that Curry and the four councilors have aided the campaign of distortion by allowing the misleading Facebook posts to stand – evidence, Courogen suggests, that they, not he, are the ones trying to use the town newsletter as “a political football.”


“The newsletter is nonpartisan,” Courogen said. “It is the borough staff’s responsibility to the public to make sure that they have truthful, fair, accurate and honest information about what their borough government is doing and how their tax dollars are being spent. I’m puzzled why any member of council would feel that it is better for the borough to allow misinformation to rule the discussion.”


Kapenstein, chairman of council’s finance committee, said that if the borough has to consider raising taxes or electric rates to close a 2015 spending gap, spending $4,500 to publish a newsletter each month is a luxury the town cannot afford.


“It’s the taxpayers that should be upset by this. That’s $54,000 a year” to publish Middletown Matters,’’ he said. “There’s no way we can justify that.”


Courogen said the borough hopes to sell more ads in the newsletter to reduce the cost to taxpayers.


Handley said the dispute over the newsletter can be worked out, if those on council can “come to terms with one another” over the issue.


“That can certainly be done,’’ he said. “It’s just a question of whether everyone is willing to cooperate.”


Curry could not be reached for comment.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 December 2014 21:45

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