In my mind, the Middletown Area Historical Society’s Crafts Fair, Greg and Carol Kupp’s Cruise-in, Paul Bear’s revitalized Swatara Creek Powwow and the Greater Middletown Economic Development Corp.’s (GMEDC) facade program, fall festivals, Elks Theatre building (which houses five businesses) and Holiday Home and ghost tours are all “wins” for the Middletown area.
As a result, too many of our town’s community-spirited folks are either worn down by borough mismanagement or bludgeoned by its vindictiveness.
Case in point: The third meeting of downtown businesses last week concerning the revitalization of the main business district.
The gathering had been called for the purpose of providing businesses the chance to roll up their sleeves and start assembling ideas to revitalize Middletown’s downtown. Instead, Council President Christopher McNamara hijacked the group’s time with a program carefully crafted to vilify former councilpersons, borough employees and the GMEDC.
And despite McNamara’s claim that “this is not my meeting,” he repeatedly tried to quash the GMEDC representative, Gordon Einhorn, when it was Einhorn’s turn to address the group about critical audit information the borough can’t find.
During a brief lull near the end of McNamara’s hour-long discourse, one businessman voiced what was on the minds of many in attendance: What did the council president’s lecture have to do with the meeting’s purpose, which was revitalizing the downtown? “I thought this was what the meeting was to be about,” the exasperated businessman said.
It was disturbing that once again a meeting involving Middletown officials was merely a litany of finger-pointing accompanied by a catalogue of everyone and everything that is wrong with Middletown.
If half as much of the borough’s effort would have been devoted to the real purpose of the meeting – promoting the positive aspects of our town – truly favorable results could be imagined.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the businesses graciously offered to offset the GMEDC’s cost for resubmitting the borough’s lost audit information and also to support a consultant to develop a concept to revitalize Middletown’s downtown. They were the meeting’s only bright spots.
As long as the borough's management continues its campaign of attacks, people will refrain from stepping up to volunteer for the good of the community. They see the handwriting on the wall – that chances are pretty darn good they could find themselves in the crosshairs of the borough’s hunting expeditions.
In light of borough officials’ continued predilection to assail anyone who diverges from their way of thinking, I understand the jittery attitude of both businesses and citizenry in the borough.
It is perfectly appropriate to ask whether the borough could have devoted some of its precious time to assist its business community instead of logging hour upon hour scrutinizing tens of thousands of 10-year-old e-mails in a veiled intent to serve notice to former borough employees that they may face lawsuits or prosecution.
Ask the people who are responsible for hosting events in Middletown and they’ll tell stories of the borough misplacing records/reports from past events, incorrectly completing and misfiling applications to state authorities, fabricating claims of insurance needs and effectively turning a blind eye toward promoting/supporting those events.
It would be easy to surmise that the procession of borough screw-ups and oversights suffered by community event organizers are just the tip of the iceberg if the current borough administration chooses to use its staff and limited finances to pursue personal vendettas instead of taking care of the details of positive business at hand.
Most of the comments were nostalgic in nature, recalling great affection for earlier times. Often that’s what people voice when asked to offer thoughts on improving or redeveloping an area such as our community’s downtown.
Unfortunately, the cold hard fact of life is you cannot recreate the past. Oh, you can make a grand attempt – think Disney World – but that’s out of the realm of financial reality for all but a few.
Now is the time for downtown revitalization! Agreed. Everybody is primed to do something! Check. Let’s move from the potential to the reality! Um ... well, there we have a problem.
There’s a 500-pound gorilla camped in Middletown Borough Council chambers, and his name is Negative Perception.
Our town’s reality is the negative perception that has destroyed the confidence – and support – of our community, leading to the inevitable notion that Middletown is a lost cause. A joke.
We recently asked residents and visitors on our Facebook page what first comes to mind about Middletown. Far too many of their answers are bleak.
“Ridiculous electric and dilapidated buildings,” wrote one.
“A dying town,’’ wrote another.
Still another offered, “Once small town USA. Middletown had pride. Now, just a memory, with very little hope to ever return to that quaint little town I loved so much!”
And then there was, “Shady council members, too many renters.”
And one more: “The way things used to be, when honest people ran the town.”
Most of council is quick to crow about its efforts, but in doing so believes it’s necessary to undermine previous administrations by alleging years of misdeeds. Our current council, ambassadors to the world when it comes to Middletown, has essentially cut off its own nose off to spite its face by choosing to target former council members, managers and solicitors in what I believe is a misguided attempt to prove how bad things are and impose blame.
One of the more eye-opening events for me occurred when council waged war on the Greater Middletown Economic Development Corporation (GMEDC), a group of volunteers whose sole purpose was dedicated to the revitalization of the area. I’m a board member and former chairman of the GMEDC, and as a result I have been personally and publicly attacked by both council members and borough staffers.
Perfectly rational, smart, well-informed citizens are rightfully afraid to serve. Don’t believe me? Consider Peter Pappas. After serving on the Middletown Borough Authority for more than 25 years, Pappas was targeted by council and eventually removed by a Dauphin County Court judge on a technicality, signaling to the world — and borough citizens — that Middletown council is unconstrained by conventions, by morality, or by anything else.
One only has to read Dauphin County Judge Lawrence Clark’s admonishment of council in his ruling, as reported by the Patriot-News: “The borough (council) should take no comfort or joy in this obligatory decision by the court. The borough council, in our considered view, has shown a significant lack of gratitude toward over a quarter century of faithful service provided by Mr. Pappas to his fellow citizens.”
There’s a serious cost to all of this political maneuvering. So much of what council has done over the last several years has resulted in an erosion of respect for the oldest community in Dauphin County. Many citizens may have yet to perceive it, but much of the outside world sees Middletown not as The Place to Be but as a town that lost its way. If we understand anything we will figure out this path is unhealthy – for everyone.
If we really want our town to be known as a place with virtues, then we have to invest in them. The citizens of Middletown must have the commitment and will to go all the way with it. This is more than the result of an election. We all have a long road ahead if we care about changing entrenched negative public perceptions.
On the road to uncovering our town’s true potential, make an effort to befriend the people you want to see stay in business, and be loyal patrons. Speak nicely about your neighbors, your neighborhoods and friends. Don’t be afraid to proudly say where you live or work.
Let your voice be heard by voting in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, but understand, that no matter who wins there is too much at stake to idly sit by. Some of those currently sitting on council will serve through January 2014.
To quote lyrics from Joe Cocker, "If what I’m saying don’t ring true … that’s the only way I know now to get through to you.’’
As you may or may not be aware, I sit on the Board of Directors for a non-profit organization called the Greater Middletown Economic Development Corporation. We are dedicated to the improvement of the Middletown Borough, especially in sustaining in the historical integrity and promotion of business in the downtown. Our Elks Theatre, the 469-seat movie-house on Emaus St., has been in continuous operation since 1911 and may very well be the second longest running cinema in the United States. It bears significant historical value and serves as a place for family and friends to come together for a wonderful experience.
Due to changing technology (and as you may have seen with the Allen Theatre in Annville, The Carlisle Theater, and The West Shore Theater in New Cumberland), cinemas like ours are in need of community support or may go extinct. We started the campaign SAVE THE ELKS! in October and have been actively raising funds for a digital projector to stay open and for a new marquee to increase its visibility downtown. This is not a request for a donation, but simply a request for your consideration of the value of community cinema, local heritage, and togetherness.
Here’s how you can help:
Come to the movies. By attending the Elks instead of the multiplex, you’re investing in Middletown. Since we’re non-profit, every dollar also goes back into sustaining the theater. In addition to new releases, we’ve also started a classic film series, and a cult film corner. We’re also going to having special events such as a World War II exhibit and a ceremony for veterans during screenings of Saving Private Ryan in late June.
Share the love. Tell your friends about what we’re doing. You can even forward them this email. Share your memories of the theater with us on our website.
Thanks for your time in reading this. Check out our website for more information about the theater and our campaign, SAVE THE ELKS! If you have any additional questions, please feel free to call me or send me an email.
All the best wishes to you and your family.
We’re proud to provide a Voters’ Guide in this week’s paper. This Voters' Guide lists candidates in the six contested local races in the May 21 primary election – for Middletown Borough Council, Middletown mayor, Londonderry Twp. supervisor and Royalton Borough Council's first ward seat – and provides their answers to questions posed by the Press And Journal.
This Guide's sole purpose is to help voters cast an informed vote when they go to the polls. Just to let you know, questionnaires were sent to ALL candidates in contested races.
Our thanks and respect to the candidates who responded. Our question to those candidates who declined – why?
Last week, I was encouraged by spirited talk offered by a group of businesspeople gathered to get a better understanding of the borough's proposal for downtown Middletown's rehab. It was the second meeting for the informal group. The first ended with a call for an official from the borough to attend a second meeting to “clear the air” of innuendos, misconceptions and previous confrontations.
Borough Council President Chris McNamara accepted the group's invitation and, at the April 29 meeting, repeatedly maintained that the borough's plan for a downtown redo was merely “conceptual.” However, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that at the January 2013 unveiling of Dewberry Associate's redevelopment plans, borough manager Tim Konek told those in attendance that "things are going to happen fast."
The “going to happen fast” statement may sound familiar to many people. The borough’s Fall 2012 newsletter also stated “Downtown streetscape improvements, including new sidewalks, curbing … will likely get underway in the Spring.” But, at last week’s meeting, Mr. McNamara asserted the outline for redevelopment was always in the hands of the businesspeople and not the borough. He pledged “there is no plan” for the project. So, is Mr. McNamara's statement at the April meeting a contradiction or a change in plans?
Interesting that Mr. McNamara repeatedly pointed the removal of all the downtown shade trees last November at public works director Ken Klinepeter and stated it was necessary because of work to begin on aging sewer and water lines beneath Union Street. However, an in-depth analysis of existing water and sewer lines, which we were told is the most essential piece of the puzzle in the downtown’s redevelopment, didn't actually begin until April of this year and proposals won't be available for another two to three months. Actual work on the streets isn't projected to begin until the end of the summer. Seems like that would have been ample time to inform residents and property owners of plans to radically change the downtown streetscape.
The impending results of that water/sewer analysis will determine exactly where and for how long Union Street will be closed to traffic – understandably a monumental concern for downtown businesses. One businessman in attendance pointedly stated he’s already in something akin to lock-down mode in preparing for the worst. Another businessman quipped he’ll take a long vacation if and when the project sets sail. Unfortunately for most of businesses, that is not an option.
While Mr. McNamara empowered the businesses’ representatives to dream the dream and come up with their own revitalization plan – something the borough can then take to its newly-constituted redevelopment authority and Dewberry Associates – details about financing the projects, specific timelines, etc., were vague.
In light of the influence Dewberry Associates' recommendations has on the entire project, I asked Mr. McNamara how the borough came to choose that firm. He handed that question over to Borough Manager Tim Konek who extolled the virtues of Dewberry. In my humble opinion, any statements Mr. Konek made about the pluses of Dewberry (which I'm not disputing here) should have been prefaced with his acknowledgement that the business had been his employer.
While there was great deal of enthusiasm amid the talk, one could still sense suspicion and uncertainty. Perhaps this skepticism prompted the call to Mr. McNamara that we business people do not want any more surprises or back channel rumors. In short: Openly communicate with us so we can all move in a positive direction. Support for the business community is in the best interest of our town.
At the end of the hour-long meeting, the group decided to gather again on Monday, May 13 for what is expected to be a roll-up-your-sleeves planning session – a start to provide the borough with what it had asked for.
I would love to see all the downtown businesses at the next meeting. It would go a long way in showing we're serious about improving our town and rightfully demanding council's respect. Come to think of it, I can’t see why other businesses throughout town wouldn’t want to attend as well. Stay tuned.
Speaking of business, let me just add we’re putting the wraps on our special Kuppy’s Cruise-In publication. The Cruise-In is Thursday, May 23 in downtown Middletown.
This popular event's program and sponsors will be published in our May 15 edition. It’s a great opportunity for businesses who want to support the event – and be seen by thousands of event-goers.
Speaking today to group of journalists at a program sponsored by the Pennsylvania Society Of Newspaper Editors. I'm lead off batter and asked to get the group charged and enthused about the day ahead of them. Have to admit it's going to be a challenge, especially with yesterday's story by the Wall St. Journal that listed the worst jobs of 2013:
1) Reporter (newspaper)
3) Enlisted Military Personnel
5) Oil Rig Worker
Always like a challenge though.
Welcome Charlotte Nola Jenkins - brand new daughter of Troy & Katie (Etter) Jenkins who was welcomed into our world thanks to her mother's hard work and determination and her dad's love and hreatwarming devotion. Big sister Mya is so proud as well as Katie's parents, Larry & Maxine Etter, and the rest of the clan.
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
As we look at all the turmoil, gridlock, anger, shortsighted arguments, petty politics and confusing maneuvering in Middletown Borough, we just want it to stop. It seems when our local leaders can’t win on the issues they go after the individual or try mixing and muddling facts. It’s a slight of hand artist’s dream come true.
These same officials also fall over themselves in proclamations of their attentiveness to citizens’ questions and concerns. Sadly more and more citizens express their frustrations to us - about repeated calls to both elected and appointed borough officials that go unanswered, about how they’re unable to make any sense, let alone follow obfuscated procedures supposedly emplaced for their own good.
There is also a growing list of people who have been targeted by this group of elected officials who are shamefully servile and silent during most, if not all public meetings.
If you don't believe a transparent and ethical local government is important enough to fight for, then I don’t have any way to influence how you think about the process. But important decisions within our local government should be based on a free and open democratic process - a system which currently doesn't exist in Middletown.
The central question that citizens in Middletown have to face through all this is: are the issues you believe in worth fighting for?
Don’t get disgusted and tune it out. If you feel passionately about any public issue enough to vote, contribute, attend a meeting, write a letter, or complain to your friends and family, then we must work together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government.
We must always remember that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to publicly argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots, and to have a say in how they are governed.
Isn’t that worth fighting for?