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Elizabeth Forward changes solicitors amid controversy

| Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, 2:46 a.m.

Elizabeth Forward school directors rescinded a controversial landfill privilege tax resolution, approved a three-year contract with support personnel and gave votes of confidence to the district's top administrators.

But all of that was overshadowed at a special Thursday meeting by a renewed controversy over district solicitors.

A change of heart by one member resulted in the board replacing Patricia McGrail as solicitor with Gary Matta.

The change was sought by board president Philip Martell on Jan. 22 but was tabled, 6-3. On Thursday, Matta was approved, 5-4, with directors Francis Posa and Scott McVicker providing key votes.

McVicker moved in January to change law firms from McGrail and Racunas to Dodaro, Cambest and Matta but joined the move to table the motion. On Thursday he seconded Posa's motion to appoint Matta.

Jamie Evans, Megan Ferraro, Dorothy Wycoff and board secretary Margaret Morgan voted to table the appointment in January, and voted against it on Thursday.

“What kind of message does it send when you have someone who does an excellent job and the reward is that she should be fired?” Morgan said.

Martell, Posa and McVicker were joined by board vice president Michael T. O'Rourke and treasurer Charles Bakewell.

“I've been friends with Gary Matta for 30 years and know he does a good job at Yough and McKeesport Area school districts,” Posa said.

Posa cited conflicts with Elizabeth Township over the selection of Forward Township police officer Travis Stoffer as school resource officer and legal action by Elizabeth Township to remove Evans, one of its police officers, from the school board. McGrail is solicitor in Elizabeth Township as well as Elizabeth borough, while her law partner Matt Racunas is solicitor in Forward.

“Plus Ms. McGrail gave us bad information on the Waste Management deal,” Posa said, referring to a resolution passed on April 23 to levy a $3-per-ton operations privilege tax on Waste Management's Kelly Run landfill in Forward Township.

The board voted 9-0 on Thursday to rescind that resolution. The tax was not included as a source of revenue for the district's 2014-15 budget.

Elizabeth council vice president Robin Miller and former councilman Larry Duvall hailed McGrail's work.

“We had a hellish time,” Duvall said. “Pat McGrail got us out of a lot.”

“We've had major problems that have been resolved and resolved in a timely manner,” Miller said.

The board approved a three-year contract with Elizabeth Forward Educational Support Professional Association. Superintendent Bart Rocco declined to give details pending a ratification vote by the support personnel next week.

The board reiterated its endorsement of renewed contracts for Rocco and Assistant Superintendent Todd Keruskin through June 2018.

Martell said the action was needed because of an error by the Pennsylvania Department of Education regarding contracts approved for Rocco and Keruskin in June 2013.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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