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Consultant to fill in while permanent Moon planning officer is sought

| Wednesday, June 18, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Major commercial developments are planned in Moon, even though the township has replaced its chief planning officer five times since August 2011.

Most recently, Travis Schenk, who started working for Moon as the economic development coordinator/planner on Feb. 18, left a few weeks ago.

Township Manager Jeanne Creese did not return calls for comment, but, in an email, she wrote that the only vacancy in the Community Development Department is that of economic development coordinator/planner.

“While all positions at Moon are important and efficiently managed, staff is cross-trained to ensure the highest level of both resident and developer services. The Community Development Department anticipates no impact on current or planned construction development,” Creese wrote.

In August 2011, the township hired Thomas J. Connelly to serve as planning director. He was gone a few weeks later.

“I was there for less than two weeks in September 2011 and returned to my position in Wheeling for personal/family reasons. That brief amount of time didn't give me the opportunity to have any experiences in the department,” Connelly, who is assistant director of the Economic & Community Development Department in Wheeling, W.Va., wrote in an email.

Marissa Gerkey, who had been assistant planning director in Crawford County, was hired as Moon's planning director in December 2011 and was gone by March 2012. She could not be reached for comment on why she left

Gerkey succeeded Adam McGurk, who left as planning director in April 2011 to relocate with his wife to New York. McGurk returned as Moon's assistant manager/planning director in March 2012 but left again in July 2013. He declined to comment.

Creese said via email that the title of planning director was eliminated more than a year ago as part of a reorganization of the development department, which includes an engineer hired in December, as well as a code administrator/senior planner, building code official/inspector and economic development coordinator/planner.

“It's trying to match up the skills of the people that are available with the needs of the township and what the role of that department of economic development handles,” Supervisor Marvin Eicher said.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jim Vitale said there are important projects that need the oversight of a permanent planner, such as the completion of the township's 10-year comprehensive plan, Chevron USA's proposal to build a regional headquarters on Market Place Boulevard in Moon and the expansion of the Pittsburgh International Business Park on Cherrington Parkway. Vitale and Eicher would not comment on the specific reasons for the planning personnel losses. Schenk could not be reached for comment.

Anytime there are changes, supervisors look to fine-tune the township's processes, but the causes of the planning losses are elusive to pin down, Vitale said.

“I think it's been due to different circumstances and situations that we've gone through. ... It's kind of hard to put your finger down on what the actual issues are,” he said.

One issue might be that the salary is not high enough to attract an adequate applicant pool, Vitale said.

Schenk's annual salary was $60,000.

In the short-term, the township decided to hire a consultant from Moon-based engineering firm Michael Baker Corp. to fill Schenk's role until his permanent replacement is hired, Vitale said.

“I think any time a planning director is important in a community such as Moon. ... Obviously, many times when developers come, the first person they meet is your planning director,” Eicher said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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