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Park structure at center of Ford City investigation

Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
Ford City Council plans to identify who took the breakers and wiring from a small building in Ford City Memorial Park, near the John B. Ford statue. The building provides power throughout the park, and without the electrical wiring, officials may not be able to book entertainment and other attractions for festivals. Tuesday Dec. 11, 2013

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Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, 1:16 a.m.
 

Ford City Council plans to launch a full-scale police investigation into the theft of electrical panels and wiring from a building near the John B. Ford statue in Ford City Memorial Park.

Borough officials discovered the electrical equipment, which supplies power to the park, was missing several months ago. The building was constructed by the Heritage Days Committee.

Council's action also sparked debate over the ownership of the building and its contents.

Councilman Jerry Miklos said he didn't believe council needed to take official action to begin an investigation, but said he hopes it will speed up the process and strengthen the investigation.

After nearly 20 minutes of bickering, council approved the investigation after a 3-2 vote, with council members Kimberly Bish and Robert Mohney dissenting.

“I don't think we need to have council make a recommendation (to start the investigation),” Bish said.

Jen Ray of Manor Township, who regularly attends Ford City Parks and Recreation meetings, said a lack of wiring could hamper the borough's ability to book entertainment and organize festivals in the park.

“If something doesn't happen, we can't pursue getting entertainment,” she said. “We don't know if we'll have electricity.

“I don't know who took the electric panels out, but they're gone.”

Ray said she attempted to file a complaint with Ford City police, and officers took pictures of the site, but she was told they would not be able to investigate the incident.

Mayor Marc Mantini, who did not identify which officer Ray spoke with, said the officer contacted the district attorney's office, which advised against the investigation because it is a civil matter.

Mantini advised council to have the Ford City Police Department begin an investigation to determine who owns the building and to decide if the electrical panels and wiring were illegally removed.

If anything illegal occurred, officials could file criminal charges against those responsible, Mantini said.

“If it was done legally, then there won't be any charges,” Mantini said. “We need to know, and we need council to start this investigation so this situation doesn't continue to go round and round.”

Mohney, who is a member of the Heritage Days committee, said the committee voted to dissolve itself in September.

The committee constructed the building in the park, but never signed documentation turning its ownership over to the borough, Mohney said. Once a structure is built on borough land, it becomes property of the government, but the organization maintains ownership of its contents, Mohney added.

“I don't agree what's being done, and I was out of town and blindsided by the vote to dissolve Heritage Days, but council can't really do anything,” Mohney said. “The committee's bylaws are written to say all properties will be sold, and profits donated to 501c3 nonprofit organizations.

“It's up to the committee to determine where to donate those funds.”

Council President Lou Vergari said the borough needs to get a court order saying the borough owns the buildings in the park. In the past, all agreements were done in good faith, not on paper, he added.

“This building was built by Heritage Days, but we never had a court order stating anything built on borough property belongs to the borough,” Vergari said. “We should probably have some kind of agreement stating that.”

Vergari said borough officials changed the locks on the buildings in Ford City Memorial Park and will not allow anyone to enter or take items out of the buildings until police finish the investigation.

Despite the controversy, the Ford City Summerfest committee, a small group of Ford City residents, hopes to keep a Heritage Days-style celebration alive.

Ben Dinus, chairman of the Summerfest committee, said losing the annual celebration would devastate the borough.

“We've lost so much in this town already, even in my lifetime, and losing something like this would just take the heart right out of the town,” Dinus said. “It's really important we have it, and we have a lot of hurdles to get over.

“But we want to work with a lot of people and make this a true community event.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1337, or bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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