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Top 13 stories of 2013 in the South Hills Record

| Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Baldwin-Whitehall board member Martin Schmotzer, seated left, listens to proceedings in a board meeting Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013 at the Baldwin-Whitehall School District office.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Baldwin-Whitehall board member Martin Schmotzer, left, gets sworn in by District Judge Richard King, as Martin's daughter Victoria, 17, stands by Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013 at the Baldwin-Whitehall School District office.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Baldwin-Whitehall board member Martin Schmotzer, center, takes a seat amongst jests from the crowd assembled Wednesday, December 4, 2013 for a board meeting at the Baldwin-Whitehall School District office. At left is board member Elliot Rambo.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Baldwin-Whitehall board member Martin Schmotzer listens to proceedings during a board meeting Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013 at the school district office.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Road crews clean mud off of Baldwin Street in Bridgeville on Wednesday, July 10, 2013.
Route 51 at Greenlee Avenue is shut down Friday afternoon July 20, 2012 due to flooding. James Knox | Tribune-Review
File photo
One of the first orders of business for Dr. Michael Panza after he took over as superintendent of the West Jefferson Hills School District was to pose for pictures with the TJ Jaguar mascot.
File photo
Rob Zahorchak, 29, replaced Mary McGinley as manager of Baldwin Township. She retired after 38 years on the job. This is Zahorchak's first full-time managerial job.
File photo
Now that a slick and vibrant turf field has been installed at the Brentwood Park stadium, officials are seeking to renovate the bleachers, some of which cannot be used for safety reasons.
Flash flooding off Route 51 near Sheetz, taken by Glenn Schach, manager at Sheetz.
File photo
Streets Run Creek, in front of Option Automotive on Streets Run Road, was especially hard hit by the flooding, as water pulled the guard rail out of the ground.

Residents came out in force, upset about local officials' actions, major construction projects started, officials retired, and new leaders emerged this year in the South Hills.

Here's a look at the Top 13 stories of 2013, as selected by the South Hills Record staff:

They are listed in no particular order.

Brentwood Park upgrades

A groundbreaking took place in May for the first and second phases of the planned $8 million upgrade of Brentwood Park.

Projects at the park this year included a six-lane 400-meter track and turf field for the stadium, a standard-size dek hockey rink, one tennis court, one basketball court and two baseball fields.

Brentwood Council in April awarded $1.6 million worth of contracts for the project.

Council members this year also agreed to move forward with stadium and bleacher improvements. They agreed to a stadium master plan in October at an anticipated cost of $1.5 million.

Hire strikes chord

Hundreds of residents attended the Baldwin-Whitehall School Board's three December meetings seeking explanations for the board's recent actions.

The outrage came after board members at a special meeting on Nov. 19 appointed longtime Baldwin-Whitehall School Board member Martin Michael Schmotzer, 57, of Whitehall to a $120,000 five-year administrative job minutes after he resigned his school board post.

A petition that garnered nearly 1,300 signatures seeking Schmotzer's resignation from the job and the elimination of the position was presented to the board.

Two weeks into the job as supervisor of projects for the board of school directors and special assistant to the superintendent, Schmotzer, on Dec. 4, resigned that position. He was sworn into office later that night as a school board director for another four-year term, to which he was elected on Nov. 5.

The mulch-theft caper

A Baldwin Borough councilman who publicly admitted to stealing $11 worth of mulch from the community pleaded guilty to a summary disorderly-conduct charge in October.

John “Butch” Ferris, 69, a longtime Baldwin councilman, said he took half a cubic yard of industrial-grade mulch from the Colewood Park playground in the spring because he liked the color.

Baldwin police charged Ferris, who had served as chairman of the borough's public-works committee at the time, with misdemeanor theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property. Those charges were withdrawn in Judge Pat Capolupo's Pleasant Hills courtroom in October in exchange for the councilman pleading guilty the disorderly-conduct charge and agreeing to pay a $100 fine plus court costs.

Ferris also returned the pilfered mulch to the borough.

Superintendent hired; TJ high school project

The West Jefferson Hills School District's first non-interim superintendent in more than three years started at the end of June.

Michael Panza, 55, of Butler County was hired in April for a five-year term that runs through June 30, 2018. Panza will earn an annual salary of $150,000.

Panza came to West Jefferson Hills after working as the superintendent at the Sto-Rox School District for the past two years and prior to that as the Carlynton superintendent.

The tuba player and longtime band director said his leadership style is simple: MBWA, or “management by wandering around.”

District officials this year also took major strides toward a new high school building project and other facilities upgrade plans.

Managerial change

Baldwin Township's manager of 38 years retired at the end of March.

Mary McGinley's last day as Baldwin Township's manager was March 28.

Rob Zahorchak, who was hired at the end of February, worked one month as assistant to the manager before taking over the township's top job. He will make $50,000 a year.

Baldwin officer shot

A Baldwin Borough police sergeant — known for helping community members with car-seat installations and overseeing driving-under-the-influence training and enforcement — was shot in the back by friendly fire while responding to a domestic call earlier this year.

Sgt. Ralph Miller's pelvis was shattered, and the 15-year Baldwin officer suffered nerve damage and other injuries from the incident. He has not returned to work.

On Feb. 10, officers responded to a Baldwin home for a report that a man was carrying a knife and a loaded firearm and threatening to harm himself.

Police said Bryan Lijewski opened the front door but refused to show his hands. Miller asked to talk to the woman who called 911, but Lijewski tried to close the door on him, police said. Miller pushed his shoulder against the door, while another officer stuck his foot in the door to stop it from closing. One officer's rifle went off.

Lijewski, 30, pleaded guilty in August to gun charges, possession of a controlled substance, two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, two counts of recklessly endangering another person and three counts of simple assault.

He was sentenced to seven to 14 years in prison related to the domestic incident in November.

Safety upgrades

School and municipal buildings underwent security upgrades, as officials tried to make their buildings safer for staff, students and visitors alike.

Brentwood Borough and the Brentwood Borough School District upgraded facilities during the year, with updated entryways and more-secure windows.

Baldwin-Whitehall School District and Whitehall Borough leaders in recent weeks agreed to have projects for security upgrades in their buildings go out for bids, with planned facility improvements to follow.

Flooding problems

Five months after intense July 10 storms, residents still are seeking assistance.

Fast-moving waters triggered road closures on Route 51 and a portion of Streets Run Road that day.

Afterward, residents brought photos, videos and tales of the rain that left sewage floating in their basements and 5 feet of water in their driveways.

Governmental changes

In the general election, a 17-year incumbent on Whitehall Council was ousted by a newcomer with a diverse political history.

Whitehall Council President Glenn Nagy, 58, a Democrat, lost his bid for re-election in a tightly contested race for one of four open four-year seats to Ryan Barton, 30, a Republican.

Two Baldwin Borough Council incumbents who failed to secure their party's nomination in the May primary were ousted from their seats.

Four-year council members Robert “Bob” Collet and Larry Brown, both Democrats who received enough Republican write-in votes during the May primary to appear on the November ballot, failed to get enough votes for re-election.

Baldwin Council President David Depretis, a Democrat, secured the four-year Baldwin mayoral seat. He beat former Councilman Ed Moeller, a Democrat.

Baldwin Borough Mayor Alexander Bennett oversaw his last meeting at the end of December after 16 years as mayor.

District Judge John Bova, who heard cases from Baldwin Borough and Brentwood, also will retire after 16 years on the job.

In Brentwood, Mayor Ken Lockhart will retire after 12 years. Dennis Troy will serve as the borough's new mayor.

District Judge Pat Capolupo also is retiring. Jefferson Hills native Guy Reschenthaler was elected to a six-year term as district judge.

Jan Cmar is the new mayor of Jefferson Hills. She won a four-year term in the Nov. 5 election but was appointed early when longtime Mayor Michael Green resigned earlier this year.

Intersection upgrades

A project that was decades in the works to rehab the Route 51/88 intersection in Overbrook and Whitehall kicked off in 2013.

The project began earlier this year, when utilities relocated pipes, lines and wires from near the site and demolition work began for the creation of a “jug handle” behind the Rite Aid off Route 51 northbound. The project has three phases, with completion planned for November 2015.

The project will include replacing five bridges and building a new bridge at the intersection, said PennDOT assistant construction engineer Heath Butler. Route 51 will be widened between 2 and 5 feet on the southern side near the Route 88 intersection, which will allow for wider lanes to be constructed.

Pleasant Hills police retire

Pleasant Hills police Chief Edward Cunningham will retire at the end of the year, after 37 years on the force — six of which he served at the department's leader.

In all, five officers retired this year from the Pleasant Hills police department, including Cunningham, Lt. Richard Kelly, Sgt. Richard Painter, Sgt. Joseph Kenney and officer Craig Hall.

Sgt. Brian Finnerty, an 18-year veteran of the force, was named chief of the police department. Lt. Sean Greene, a 15-year veteran of the department, will serve as deputy chief.

Mayor Warren Bourgeois is retiring at the end of the year. At 82, he has served four terms on council and four terms as mayor.

Frank Street concerns

Month after month, a group of residents from the Jefferson Estates housing complex asked Jefferson Hills Council to help prevent construction of the proposed Frank Street, which would connect their community to the adjacent Hunters Field that is under construction.

Frank Street was envisioned about a decade ago, when Pleasant Hills officials sued Jefferson Hills, where the complexes are situated, for construction of an access road between the homes in Jefferson Estates and Hunters Field.

The developers for both subsequently agreed to build the road before 2006, but delays allowed for significant changes to the layouts of both communities.

Now that construction of Hunters Field has resumed, Jefferson Estates homeowners think the old plan is no longer acceptable.

Sadness and loss

April 5 marked five years since Tia Wright died. Her best friend, Taylor Childers, spent the day at the Jefferson Memorial Cemetery reminiscing with friends.

South Hills residents have suffered through many hardships during the last year, but they've rallied together through each one.

A taco dinner, T-shirt sales and concerts were held to support Domenick Henry, of Brentwood, who suffers from cancer.

Similar fundraisers were held for other families who struggled with sickness or injury, like the Dyer or Posa families, both of Whitehall.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or

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