Four seek nominations for one Mt. Pleasant Township supervisor post
By A.J. Panian
Published: Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
In the nomination race for one available seat on Mt. Pleasant Township's board of supervisors, four people — one incumbent and three challengers — have registered as candidates, according to unofficial records of the Westmoreland County Election Bureau.
Democrats vying for the party nomination for the seat, which carries with it a six-year term, are incumbent Supervisor Frank Puskar and Robert “Hudie” Hudec.
Seeking the GOP nod are Aaron Howard and Robert Whalen.
Puskar, 44, was appointed to the board in 2007, and he was elected later that year to a six-year term which expires in January. Since 2011, he has served as chairman of the board of supervisors.
Prior to joining the board, Puskar owned his own excavating and snow removal business for 15 years.
Puskar said he's been part of “a really great team of supervisors and township staff” who have worked together to ensure the township's positive development devoid of tax increases to its more than 11,000 residents.
“The township hasn't had a tax hike in more than 74 years, and I'm proud to be part of the continuation of that,” he said.
The township has also saved millions of dollars during Puskar's tenure by not outsourcing work and controlling spending, he said.
“We perform construction in-house, and we perform blacktopping in-house; we're not paying companies to come in and do our work unless we have to,” Puskar said. “That's all part of my professional background.”
In addition, the township's healthy working relationship with state Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, and state Rep. Mike Reese, R-Mt. Pleasant Township, have aided in the acquisition of grant funding for several initiatives, including completion of a $125,000 storm water management project on Trauger Hill paid for with Community Development Block Grant funding at no cost to township residents, he said.
He also said the township recently received approval for Community Development Block Grant funding to raze the old Hecla School, also at no cost to taxpayers.
“I've been working on getting that building torn down since the day I took office,” Puskar said.
On April 1, a decision by the board to change the township's health insurance provider from Highmark to UPMC officially took effect, Puskar said. The township subsequently saved $100,000 at no decrease in the quality of medical coverage for the township's 13 full-time employees, he said.
The money saved enabled the board to allocate $20,000 to each of the township's five volunteer fire department's — Calumet, Hecla, Kecksburg, Norvelt and Trauger — to aid in the purchase of necessary equipment. The move prevented the establishment of a proposed annual fire services fee of $30 per household.
“The people in Mt. Pleasant Township have elected me to look out for their best interests,” Puskar said.
If reelected, Puskar said his future goals include continuing to work to improve the township's 95 miles of roadways, particularly those damaged during completion of the sewage project.
“I'm going to work hard to make sure those roads are returned to their original state, or better,” he said.
The board is also seeking grant funding to install new storm drains in the Bunker Hill area of the township, Puskar said.
“My experience of being her every day for six years has prepared me to move the township forward in a positive and fiscally responsible way,” he said.
• Hudec, 52, is a township native who since 2006 has owned and operated Hudec Excavation & General Contracting.
Prior to that, he worked for eight years as a union carpenter for Gulisek Construction and as a maintenance mechanic for Lenox Crystal through 1998.
Hudec said he felt compelled to run for the Democratic Party nomination to instill change on the township's board of supervisors.
“I just feel we need a new direction and new leadership in the township,” he said.
As an entrepreneur who meets payroll and regularly balances a budget, Hudec said he understands what it necessary to meet the responsibilities of a township supervisor — a position which carries with it an annual salary.
“I'm not running for a job, I'm running to do a job. You have to know the people's needs to be able to be successful. You won't know those needs unless you get out there and talk to them directly,” Hudec said. “I want to win, just to do a good job for the voters day in and day out.”
If elected, Hudec said he would work closely with the township's volunteer fire departments and rescue services to devise avenues of future funding.
He also plans to attack what he calls the township's drug problem.
“In our area here, I think we need to make it a safer community,” Hudec said. “It needs to be addressed possibly through the acquisition of state and federal grant funding.”
Hudec is also a member of the Mt. Pleasant Township Lions Club, which is known for holding fundraisers to aid various philanthropic efforts throughout the local area, he said.
“When you're helping people less fortunate than yourself, that's a great thing to be able to do,” Hudec said.
• Howard, 35, is a 1996 Mt. Pleasant Area graduate who is employed as a certified equine dentist by Spruce Run Equine Veterinary Associates of Somerset.
He also works as an auctioneer and owns ARH Antiques.
A fifth-generation Kecksburg resident and horseman on his family farm, Howard is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Dale Howard, who ran for township supervisors in the 1960s, he said.
In the late 1990s, Howard ran for Westmoreland County treasurer at age 21, and that gave him valuable experience in what it takes to run a successful campaign, he said.
“That was a great educational experience for me,” Howard said. “Meeting people and finding out how politics worked on that level was very interesting.”
Howard said he is driven to seek election to the township's board of supervisors primarily to provide a better conduit for communication between residents and their leaders.
“I feel like I could make a difference,” he said. “As a supervisor, you should have conversations with people and find out what they want.”
If elected, Howard said his other goals include establishment of a pay freeze for supervisors and other elected officials.
“I don't believe they should be accepting pay raises, not the way the economy is now,” he said.
Howard also said he would promote the establishment of a website to feature township businesses, and he would seek ways to establish more of a police presence in the township.
“I want to see if the township and (Mt. Pleasant) borough can join forces, bring cops out here, and find a way to split the costs,” he said. “If you want to protect the people you should have that presence, and you can't depend of the state and federal government for what you need locally.”
• Whalen, 54, a township resident since 1998, has served as president of Utility Workers of America System Local 102 in Mt. Pleasant since being elected to the post in 2009.
In that role, he represents shop members in four states — Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia — who generate and distribute electricity for various companies that are owned by First Energy, he said.
“Our folks are the linemen and meter readers who visit your home and keep the meter checked and running, power station folks who generate electricity, along with a host of support people that keep the electricity flowing,” Whalen said.
He also is a member of that union's national executives board, which represents 50,000 members across America in gas, water and electric services, along with first responders to catastrophic events, storms and equipment failures.
He maintains his employment with West Penn Power, formerly Allegheny Energy, since 1977. He has the option of retirement in June, he said.
Whalen's sense of leadership, particularly in his union president role, compelled him to run for supervisor, he said.
“I think I bring strong leadership skills to the community,” he said. “I'm responsible for 1,100 people's livelihoods in maintaining their contracts, and ensuring their safety in the workplace is one of my primary concerns.”
Whalen has directed crews of 30 to 40 people during the completion of various projects and, as a company employee, he has built and maintained substations, and he has helped internal and external restore electricity to customers knocked out during storms, he said.
“Most importantly, I believe I have the ability to work with people to reach a common goal in the best interests of all involved, whatever the issue might be,” he said.
As supervisor, Whalen said one of his main goals will be to establish “complete transparency.”
“I believe every resident and business owner in the township has a right to know how our tax dollars and grant money have been spent,” he said.
He also said he would work to make the township more efficient by finding ways to accomplish more goals with local resources.
Whalen added that the 24/7 demands of the supervisor's post are no different than the responsibilities he has met in his past and current positions of employment.
“I just think it's the right thing for the community to (be someone who) represents everyone in the community, and listen to everyone's needs, no matter how big or small they are,” Whalen said. “That's currently what I do — I represent the workforce in large groups and small groups, and their problems are equally important to me.”
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or email@example.com.
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