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Monessen mayor takes heat at council meeting

| Thursday, June 20, 2013, 1:11 a.m.

Monessen Mayor Mary Jo Smith and members of her administration faced public criticism Wednesday.

Michael Aldrich, the brother of recently retired Monessen police Lt. Lloyd “Yo Yo” Aldrich, accused the mayor of racial discrimination for not promoting the officer to captain before he retired in April after more than 40 years on the force.

“Mayor, I know he asked you on several occasions to be promoted, and there wasn't money … but you created the position for city administrator and it got to your boyfriend, John Harhai. But you told “Yo Yo” there was no money for captain,” Michael Aldrich said.

“I think he deserved better than what he was given,” Michael Aldrich said. “I think it is set that in this town, nothing has changed since I was a child.”

Smith did not respond publicly but said after the meeting she was actually instrumental in reinstating Lloyd Aldrich as a lieutenant after a previous mayor had demoted him to patrolman.

She said Lloyd Aldrich had never approached her about a promotion to captain.

Former city employee Mark Santa Columbo admonished Smith for a pre-election mailer that insinuated Lou Mavrakis – the Democratic nominee for mayor – was not fit to serve in public office.

“This is what they sent the citizens of Monessen, and it's a total disgrace. And then you made the mistake of sending it to my house,” said Santa Columbo, waving the mailer.

“You want to talk about honesty, integrity, credibility? You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”

Santa Columbo was fired after state police accused him of using a city credit card to purchase gasoline totaling $454.87 for his personal vehicles from Oct. 4 through Dec. 7, 2011.

He subsequently repaid the city and was accepted to the Westmoreland County Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program. The program, designed for first-time, nonviolent offenders, does not require an admission of guilt.

Landlords unhappy

Landlords Dom and Jason Mendicino of Charleroi criticized a recent council decision that requires property owners to pay $250 per unit for rental licenses if the landlord or property manager does not live within the city limits.

The aim of that ordinance, Smith said, was to ensure landlords were available and accountable for their properties.

The brothers called the license fee “exorbitant.”

“We have a full-time … property manager who takes care of everything in the Mon Valley, and whether or not he lives in Monessen should have no bearing,” Jason Mendicino said.

“We should be your best friend as investors in the community, and this is obviously going against that. When you add on fees like this, we have to move to other areas or just stop operations.”

The brothers said they own several properties in the city, as well as 20 around the Mid-Mon Valley and have nowhere near the expenses in other municipalities.

“... Between the insurance and the high tax burden … this is something that's becoming less and less attractive for us,” Dom Mendicino said.

“I'm sure there probably are some deadbeat landlords who leave their place in disarray, but this doesn't seem like the right way to accomplish what you guys are trying to accomplish.

“I would hope you guys would reexamine your position on this.”

Smith said afterward there were no public objections when council approved the changes eight months ago.

“We advertised this ordinance in the paper. It's been passed for how many months now? And now that the letters are being sent out, you're complaining,” Smith said.

“If you're truly concerned about this community, why don't you read and see what the ordinances are (before they're passed)?”

City business

Council formally accepted the retirement of long-time police Chief Mark Gibson. Smith swore in John Mandarino as chief.

Mandarino had been serving as acting chief while Gibson served out unused vacation days.

Council agreed to hire two part-time police officers at $14.25 per hour: Nicholas Bielich and Jesse Newhouse.

Council updated an ordinance consistent with state law raising the amount of contracts to be submitted for competitive bid from $300 to $18,500.

If the city has old equipment it wants to sell, anything $1,000 or more would be advertised for competitive bid. The previous amount was $200.

Council then authorized Solicitor Mark Shire to address the Monessen school board regarding exoneration of taxes on the old Health Mart building at 500 Donner Ave.

At its April meeting, the school board tabled motions to act upon several Monessen properties as recommended by the city, including forgiving prior real estate taxes assessed to the vacant and dilapidated building.

“I'm going to explain to them the city is hoping to have this property developed … And we think it will be easier to be sold if the taxing bodies will release those,” Shire said.

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-684-2635.

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