Plenty to choose from in Kittanning mayor's race
By Brigid Beatty
Published: Friday, May 17, 2013, 3:41 a.m.
Six candidates, including Republican incumbent Mayor Kirk Atwood, have entered Kittanning's mayoral race in the May primary and have weighed in on issues concerning the viability of adding a K9 to the police department, increased visibility of police around town and street safety.
Four candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination, and Atwood faces one challenger on the GOP ballot.
The other candidates are Republican George Schreckengost, of 1296 Johnston Ave. and Democrats Thomas A. Ondo, of 253 Oak Ave.; Michael P. Johns, of 1115 Cemetery Road; Sandra Lee Bauer, of 1007 Wilson Ave.; Robert J. Fox, of 507 Woodward Ave.
In Ford City, Democrat Mayor Marc Mantini is unopposed and running for his third term in a borough plagued with budget concerns and a police force that has operated without a chief for the past eight years. No Republican is listed in the primary.
Atwood, of 932 Orr Ave, is seeking the Republican nomination to run for his second four-year term.
“I think it's great so many people are interested in running,” said Atwood, who ran unopposed in 2009.
The more people there are discussing issues related to the borough, the better the outcome, said Atwood.
He said the borough has been headed in the right direction by staying under budget and he wants to help continue that trend.
One of the issues he is concerned about has to do with potential overtime costs associated with adding a K9 dog to the borough's police department.
There are still a lot of questions that need to be addressed, Atwood said.
And just days after the recent swearing in of Bruce Mathews as police chief, Atwood said the police department is running smoothly. Mathews replaced former chief Ed Cassesse after he retired in April.
“Bruce and I have been working very well together. We have a great team of guys,” he said, referring to the seven police officers on the force.
Republican Schreckengost, who is also running for a 4th-Ward position on council, worked for the borough for 30 years including eight years as street foreman.
He said he has had a good relationship with the police department and is happy that Chief Mathews lives in town.
“If something happens, he (Mathews) needs to be readily available,” he said.
If elected, Schreckengost said he plans to be readily available by cell phone around the clock.
Schreckengost said his experience as a state and local government union steward gave him a chance to work with borough contracts and enables him to see a broader perspective.
In terms of pressing issues facing the borough right now, Schreckengost said street repair tops the list.
“This town needs a lot of change and needs a lot of work put into it,” he said. “We need to get streets fixed and need to get money coming into town.”
Schreckengost ran unsuccessfully for a seat on council in 2011.
He has been open about his criminal history which involved a felony ggravated assault charge in 1994 to which he pleaded guilty and which resulted in a six-month jail sentence.
“I don't try and hide it. I was drunk, young and stupid and got into trouble,” he said, adding that he hopes his honesty will help others avoid a similar mistake.
At the time of the 2011 election, County Elections Director Wendy Buzard said a person convicted of a felony can run for election as long as the crime committed was not against election laws.
THOMAS A. ONDO:
Democrat Ondo, originally from Ford City, has been a Kittanning resident for the past 10 years and said he wants to fix up the borough streets.
“This town looked better in 1970 than it does today,” he said.
If elected, Ondo plans to work closely with the borough council and police department and criticizes what he perceives is a lack of visibility around town on the part of the current mayor.
Ondo is an Army veteran who was wounded in 1968 at 20 while serving in the Vietnam War. He also served a tour of duty in Desert Storm.
Now, as a member of the VFW Post 92 in Lower Burrell, he helps other veterans fill out their paperwork in order to process their claims.
He is also serves as Commander for Chapter 519 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, belongs to the Vietnam Veterans of America, H62 in Beaver County, and is director and treasurer for the Knights of Columbus, Council 1011 in Kittanning.
MICHAEL P. JOHNS:
Johns, a Democrat who has been with the Iron Workers Local Union for 15 years and is chairman of the Kittanning Planning and Zoning Commission, said he's been following what's been going on in the borough and wants to help out the town.
Although he thinks newly appointed police Chief Mathews is up to the task of leading the police department, Johns does not believe the time is right for the department to add a police dog to its ranks.
“I don't see it as a priority,” said Johns, adding that more research is needed regarding expenses associated with training and liability issues.
“I believe in managing with what we have right now,” he said.
Johns, a life-long resident of Kittanning, lives with his wife, Shannon, and their two daughters Ruth Mae, 5, and Elizabeth Daniel, 2.
SANDRA LEE BAUER:
Democrat Bauer has lived in the borough for the past 43 years and graduated from Kittanning High School in 1960.
Even though she worries that residents might not be ready for a female mayor, she doesn't plan to let that stop her.
“This is the time,” she said, for changes in the borough.
Bauer wants to improve communication between the police department and borough citizens.
Police should be more visible on the streets and in the alleys, and residents need to get more involved by becoming the eyes and ears of the police department, said Bauer.
“With everybody working together we could make Kittanning a safe place to live and to visit,” said Bauer.
She also wants to help educate residents on the borough's rules and ordinances so people are aware of all associated costs and fines.
If elected, she plans to set up a mayor's hotline to facilitate open communication with the public.
She said as mayor, “you have to be ready to take a call.”
Bauer is board treasurer and chairman of the Armstrong County Community Action Agency and is a member of the Western Pennsylvania Firemen's Ladies Auxiliary.
Fox, a Democrat, of 507 Woodward Ave., is originally from Applewold and has lived most of his life in Kittanning. He has more than 30 years experience working in industrial sales and marketing.
Fox is in favor of adding a K9 to the police department.
He said he recently accompanied his wife, Kim Fox, to the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs annual leadership conference. Kim Fox is a 3rd-Ward Kittanning councilwoman.
All of the boroughs that have K9 units reported positive results, said Robert Fox.
“Having one officer working with a police dog is very doable,” he said.
In February Kittanning Borough was awarded the Ben Roethlisberger K9 Grant of $10,000 to help fund a police dog.
“My main concerns are returning Kittanning Borough to a place where we can live knowing we are being protected by a well-trained and equipped police department,” said Robert Fox.
If elected, he plans to attend the local government academy for newly elected officials to learn what is needed to be an effective community leader. He said he will pay all expenses (totaling around $450) to attend the classes.
“I would also network with other mayors to discuss issues they have encountered while in office,” he said.
Kim Fox said she fully supports Robert in his decision to run for mayor.
“If elected I will treat him no differently than anyone else. I know we have very similar beliefs and goals for making our town a better place to live and raise families,” said Kim Fox.
“I will not be afraid to disagree with him if I feel that is necessary. I actually will probably be harder on him and expect more from him,” she said.
Ford City mayor
Democrat Mantini, of 929 Seventh Ave., is seeking his third nomination for mayor on the Democratic ballot.
His motivation for running, he said, is his love for his hometown.
“I love this community,” said Mantini.
“All we need is a council that cooperates,” he said, citing recent bickering among council members concerning issues regarding the proposed construction of a new water plant facility.
Mantini is also critical of past budget cuts for the police department which has left the borough without a police chief for eight years.
“It's been very difficult not having a chief,” said Mantini.
He said the police department functions on a continual hiring process and employs three officers with full benefits. The 15 other officers are all operating on a part-time basis.
“We haven't hired a full-time officer in 15 years,” said Mantini.
And the police department is currently down to just two patrol cars, one of which has 130,000 miles on it, he said.
Despite the budgetary constraints within the police department, Mantini said the officers continue to do an exemplary job.
He said officers have taken on a lot of extra tasks while putting their lives on the line in fighting crime, particularly with drug-related crime, he said.
“They are still out there every day serving the public,” said Mantini.
He said the way to move forward rests on improved cooperation among council members.
“People need to be able to work with each other for the common good — even if they don't like one another,” he said.
Mantini is an Army veteran and worked with the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement. He has a master's degree in European history.
Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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