Municipal officials in Western Pennsylvania optimistic, cautious about security against violence
By Bobby Cherry and Brittany Goncar
Published: Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013, 11:42 p.m.
Leetsdale officials were talking about upgrading security at the borough building on Beaver Street before a man gunned down three people on Monday night in a Northeastern Pennsylvania municipal building.
“That could happen anytime, anywhere,” Leetsdale council President Joe McGurk said.
McGurk said leaders in Leetsdale, with about 1,200 residents, last month considered requiring visitors to be buzzed into the borough building.
“We could do that with no problem,” he said. “But we wondered if constituents might think it's like Fort Knox. It's not uncommon in municipalities to have longstanding issues with residents.”
Residents upset over property issues come into the Moon municipal building every day, Manager Jeanne Crease said. “These issues are very emotional to people,” she said.
Police attend Leetsdale and Moon officials' monthly meetings as a safety precaution and occasionally to participate in the proceedings.
While no major incidents have occurred in Moon, Crease said a speaker alarmed administrators and elected officials at a meeting last year.
“A resident signed up to speak and, at the end of the meeting, came up to address the board, put a pair of dark sunglasses on and blue rubber gloves,” she said. “He was speaking unclear but was referencing an abortion issue.
“Just by the nature of his behavior, it was very alarming.”
Moon's police chief stood behind the speaker until he was finished, Crease said. “It was a vivid reminder to us of how vulnerable we are,” she said.
Robinson manager Jeff Silka said he and officials there haven't discussed added safety, but he isn't sure what could be done.
“It's very difficult on meeting nights to secure a building,” he said. “You want to have open access as much as possible.”
Police regularly are present at Robinson meetings, and more are added if necessary, Silka said.
“You usually can gauge what the temperature of the meeting is going to be, and then you react to bring in (more police),” he said.
David Sanko, who heads the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, said municipal officials are “on the front lines, protecting their communities and the health and safety of their residents.”
“Sometimes, the front line is a dangerous place. Danger, while rare, is at times the price of public service.”
Leaders in Murrysville and Dormont said they haven't considered adding security despite Monday's incident.
In Moon and Robinson, administrators work behind secure areas, leaders said. Providing for the safety of Leetsdale employees is one reason McGurk said leaders there could discuss improving security.
In Brentwood, bulletproof glass was installed Tuesday at the borough building on Brownsville Road. Leaders last year approved spending $20,000 for the glass, a secure entrance and other safety upgrades, manager George Zboyovsky said.
“(Safety has) been a concern of ours,” he said.
Zboyovsky said office workers there were unprotected from intruders. “I've had people barge into my office looking for the police,” he said.
Limiting access to local government in the name of safety could be a disservice to residents, Crease said.
“That's what makes this country what it is — that you can walk into a local meeting and talk to your elected officials,” she said. “You can't walk into the state House or a courthouse with a gun. But it's not that way on the local level.”
Staff writer Daveen Rae Kurutz contributed to this report. Bobby Cherry and Brittany Goncar are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Cherry can be reached at 412-324-1408 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Goncar can be reached at 412-388-5803 or email@example.com
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