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Vote is Sept. 6 on reducing council members, not electing them by ward

A final vote to change how Middletown voters elect councilors will be on the agenda of council’s next meeting Sept. 6.

Council on Aug. 3 voted 5-2 to advertise an ordinance to replace the current practice of electing councilors by ward with at-large elections — meaning all councilors would be elected by voters throughout all of Middletown. 

The ordinance would also reduce the size of council from nine members to seven.

Council did not act on the ordinance during its Aug. 16 meeting because the proposal had not been advertised long enough, Council President Ben Kapenstein told the Press And Journal.

Currently, three councilors are elected by voters from each of the three wards. The First Ward covers voters in the lower third of the town, the Second Ward covers the middle of the borough and the Third Ward covers the northern third.

The wards have been in place since 1971. However, supporters of at-large elections led by Mayor James H. Curry III contend that given the ease of communication brought on by cellphones and social media, it should no longer matter where a member of council lives.

Supporters on the present council also say that they respond to the needs of all residents throughout Middletown, regardless of what ward they live in.

The advertised ordinance also says that the nine-member council “has become unwieldy and has experienced regular and recurring vacancies.” Reducing the size of council to seven “will result in expediency, efficiency, and a reduction in expenditures,” the proposal says.

Council has two vacant seats due to prior resignations, one in the First Ward and the other in the Third Ward.

Curry has said now is the time to reduce the size of council, as the vacancies would not have to be filled and none of the current seven councilors would be affected.

Six residents applied to fill the First Ward vacancy. However, the borough received no applicants for the Third Ward seat.

First Ward council member Robert Reid, the borough’s longtime former mayor, has been most outspoken in opposing the change. He has said there is no compelling reason for getting rid of the wards, and that not all residents will feel adequately represented on council under at-large elections.

If Middletown goes through with the change it would join most of the rest of the county in electing representatives at-large. 

All but five of the 16 boroughs in Dauphin County elect councilors at large. 

Royalton is one of the five boroughs where voters still elect councilors by ward. All but two of the 23 townships in Dauphin County elect their representatives by ward.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 August 2016 15:57

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State auditors find some problems with Lower Swatara Twp. accounting

State auditors noted a few problems with the accounting processes of Lower Swatara Township during a routine audit of the township’s use of money distributed from state gas taxes.

 The state auditor general’s office completed its audit July 27 of the township’s use of Liquid Fuels Tax funds covering 2014-2015. The state uses a formula based on the number of roads and bridges in each municipality and their usage to determine the amount distributed. The money received from Liquid Fuels funds may be used for expenses that include road and bridge maintenance or repairs, winter snow removal and anti-skid materials, and certain expenses related to the installation and repair of traffic signals or signage.

“Our examination disclosed that only one signature was required to authorize checks drawn on the Liquid Fuels Tax Fund,” the auditors reported. “When only one signature is required there is a significant risk of unauthorized disbursements, errors, or misappropriations occurring and going undetected.”

The township requires three signatures for checks, said Tom Mehaffie, president of the board of commissioners. Although the audit listed Mehaffie as one of its recipients, he said he had not seen it, but said he was certain three signatures were required.

“We stand by our audit,” said Susan Woods, press secretary for the auditor general. “We found they only had one signature required. There is no oversight then. In many cases this leads to fraud. You have to have checks and balances.” 

The auditors also noted that Commissioner Jon G. Wilt and his wife, Julie Wilt, are authorized to sign checks drawn on the fund. 

“We further recommend that either the treasurer/tax collector or the vice president of the board of commissioners should be replaced as an authorized check signer by another township official,” the audit stated.

“They are both elected officials,” Mehaffie said, adding that he sees no reason to change the signatories because voters chose a husband and wife for the township offices.

“It’s just a good internal control practice,” Woods said. “They need to find someone else that’s not related.” 

She said Wilt, who serves as vice president of the commissioners, could be replaced by another member of the board. 

“It’s best to have unrelated parties,” Woods added. “It helps protect from potential fraud.”

When the auditors allowed the township to respond to its objections to the signature practices, the township chose not to respond. 

Auditors flagged two errors in reporting for 2015, including $19,000 in expenditures for road and bridge maintenance that was not reported and the under-reporting of about $106,000 in funds spent for highway construction and rebuilding projects.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 September 2016 14:03

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Area native one of ‘most talented young chefs in the country’

Bon Appetit magazine’s seventh best new restaurant in the United States might be more than 350 miles away, but its roots are pure Middletown.

sukle ben tonedWEBBenjamin Sukle

The renowned food and dining publication calls Oberlin, a restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island, “home to one of the most talented young chefs in the country, Benjamin Sukle.”

If that name sounds familiar … yes, he is the son of Press And Journal owners Louise and Joe Sukle.

Sukle, 31 and his wife, Heidi, opened a Providence restaurant called birch (with a lower-case “b,” named for birch beer) in June 2013. They opened Oberlin in January.

Oberlin is named for Oberlin Gardens, the small community where his father and grandparents grew up. It is located on Union Street in Providence … the same street name where the Press And Journal is located in Middletown.

In ranking it No. 7, Bon Appetit writer Andrew Knowlton heaped praise on Oberlin. Knowlton said Sukle is “a chef cooking with his gut, in a place I could come back to night after night” and that “Sukle has a sixth sense for surprising ingredients — sauerkraut, horseradish — that jibe with a fish’s texture and sweetness.”

More Knowlton praise included: “As masterful as Sukle is with the raw, his skills with the cooked — especially house-made pasta — may be more transcendent. Pillowy gnocchi with littlenecks in a chive-flecked broth (the only clam chowder I’ll ever crave) should be inducted into the better-than-the-original hall of fame.”

Sukle is no stranger to rave reviews.

He has been nominated twice by the famed James Beard Foundation for awards: semifinalist in 2014 for Best Chef: Northeast while at birch and 2012 semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year in the United States while at Dorrance, also in Providence.

Birch, too, was honored by Bon Appetit — in 2014 as one of its Top 50 new restaurants in the country.

 

Middletown roots

A 2004 graduate of Lower Dauphin High School, Sukle said he grew up around great food — especially made by his paternal grandmother. It was something he took for granted, he said. 

He said he knew the difference between a bad and a good tomato because of his grandfather’s garden.

“I’m 31 and that stuff is still vivid to me,” he said.

His mother started getting into cooking shows when he was a teen.

“I’d watch those with her and it was super-fun,” he said.

He thought he might make it a career. At age 16, he started loading buns into a toaster at Red Robin.

“It was a perfect job for a ding-dong 16-year-old,” he said.

Kuppy’s Diner was always one of his favorites in Middletown.

In 2008, Sukle graduated from Johnson and Wales University in Providence, which has one of the best culinary arts programs in the country. He later worked in a three-week internship at Noma in Copenhagen, which is considered one of the best restaurants in the world.

Nowadays, he doesn’t make much food for himself.

“Anytime anyone cooks for me it’s a big deal,” he said, adding “I’m ashamed of how much money I’ve put into Wendy’s by now.”

He does eat tomato sandwiches he makes for himself. 

“It’s easy and it’s truly one of the best things of all time, with mayo and potato bread,” he said, although now he’s using his own sourdough bread instead.

The idea for Oberlin was to use more pastas, raw fish and whole roasted fish. He saw how much locally sourced fish was available while operating birch, and he felt like he wasn’t using enough.

He’s still hands-on even though he’s very busy.

“I bake the bread and butcher all the fish myself. I do that for both restaurants,” he said.

At 5 p.m., when they open, he says he is constantly making the five-minute walk between the two restaurants.

He also spends his time developing new dishes, although birch is more of the place he does that.

“I’m like a mad scientist with a 99 percent failure rate,” he said.

He hasn’t lost any desire toward being a chef.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to say there were certain goals that were achieved,” he said.

Still celebrating the honor from Bon Appetit, he laughed when asked what’s next. 

“I’m trying to get a cup of coffee. That’s my next step right now,” he said.

Don’t expect a restaurant here in central Pennsylvania, though.

“There’s no beach around there, man,” he said. “The beach is a big, big draw.”

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 25 August 2016 11:39

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You will be caught ... I promise you that!” — it happened, and arsonist is now in prison

arsonsign8 26 15WEBEsmeralda Gonzalez stands outside her home in the 100 block of North Catherine Street in Middletown was targeted by an arsonist in August 2015.

 

At first Esmeralda Gonzalez could feel only raw anger toward the young man who on Aug. 18, 2015, set fire to her house in the 100 block of North Catherine Street in Middletown.

Her anger manifested itself in a sign she placed on her front porch, before an arrest was made — “You will be caught … I promise you that!”

But somewhere along the line that anger turned to sadness. 

Almost a year later to the day — Aug. 16, 2016 — 19-year old Carl E. Nelson III of Ann Street in Middletown pleaded guilty to arson in Dauphin County Court and was sentenced to two and one-half to 5 years in state prison. He has already served one year of his sentence in Dauphin County Prison.

According to police records, Nelson set fire to the residence after he and Gonzalez’ son had argued over a skateboard. Nelson and a friend drank some cough syrup, and Nelson came back to the residence with a bottle of Gatorade filled with kerosene.

Inside the house at the time was Gonzalez’ daughter, her boyfriend, and the couple’s 10-month old baby. The fire caused at least $8,000 in damages, mostly to vinyl siding on the front and side of the porch. 

Gonzalez knew from the start that Nelson had been behind the blaze, but the sentencing in the courtroom had been her first opportunity to confront him face to face.

“’I’m not even mad at you anymore. I feel bad for you,’” Gonzalez said she told Nelson. “’I have a son your age. I wouldn’t want my son to go where you are going.’”

She told Nelson that he had never apologized for what he had done, and if he would, “‘I would be the first to speak up for you at the parole hearing’” if Nelson would ever be considered for early release from prison.

Gonzalez then went over to Nelson in the courtroom and gave him a hug.

“’I cried. He cried, and he apologized to me,’” Gonzalez said. “He was just this big kid bent over crying. It just broke my heart.”

Nelson then apologized to the judge. 

He said he felt bad for what he did, and that every time Nelson sees his mother she is crying.

Nelson’s lawyer said that Nelson has been going to anger management classes and is doing “really good” in Dauphin County Prison.

“I don’t think you’re a bad guy, just that what you did was bad,” Gonzalez told Nelson. “I don’t think what you did you meant to do, but now you have to face the consequences. I could have lost my family in this, but now your mom is losing her son.”

It did not seem to Gonzalez that Nelson’s mother or father, or anyone else, was there in the courtroom for him. Gonzalez said it seemed like she was the only one there to support him.

That too seemed sad, Gonzalez said. But if Nelson can get his act together and do his time, Gonzalez said she will be there for him again.

“The county victim advocate said they will contact me when he is up for parole. I’ll be the first one to say, ‘Let him out,’” Gonzalez said.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 August 2016 15:33

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Resurfacing 322 ramp for Hummelstown/Middletown

Eastbound off-ramp closed Sunday from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. Monday

Motorists traveling on US 322 in Derry Twp. have been alerted by PennDOT of work to begin Sunday, May 15.

Hempt Brothers, contractor for the project will eastbound U.S. 322 off-ramp for Hummelstown/Middletown from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. the following morning. Milling and resurfacing work will be undertaken, weather permitting.

The work is part of an ongoing $13 million construction project that began May 8 to repair and resurface a seven mile section of US 322 between the Eisenhower Interchange in Swatara Twp. and the Hershey interchange with Route 39 and US 422 in Derry Twp.

The contract includes roadway base repair, milling and resurfacing the existing roadway and shoulders with new asphalt. On the concrete portions of the project, the contractor will make concrete repairs and apply a thin friction course on the pavement. The project also includes guiderail replacement, minor drainage improvements, and curb ramp improvements associated with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Work under this construction contract is scheduled to be completed next summer.
PennDOT advises travelers that they may continue to encounter shifting traffic patterns and/or single-lane traffic restrictions through the work zone on weeknights from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Some sections of US 322 average more than 21,000 vehicles traveled daily.

Last Updated on Friday, 13 May 2016 14:03

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