Outgoing Connellsville mayor vows to stay involved in community
The new year may mark the end of Charles Matthews' single term as mayor of Connellsville, but the 62-year-old is not done.
With 38 years of public service to his hometown under his belt, he has no plans to leave town or end his involvement with organizations such as New Haven Hose Company, the city's volunteer fire company.
He believes the groundwork laid during his term as mayor will show results over the next few years.
“Honestly, the city is in better shape right now (than when he first became mayor),” Matthews said.
While city finances may look dim in the short run, he believes they will pan out once the city moves farther into the new year.
Matthews claimed the critics have been too harsh and the city has not been in the dire position they have claimed. He said there are several items that come to mind whenever he looks back on his term in office.
“The Aaron's Building is right out there on top of the list,” said Matthews, who said his early push was to have the building demolished.
In the end, a Connellsville area native stepped in to change the plan and save the landmark.
“Thank heaven for Tuffy Shallenberger,” said Matthews, referring to the businessman who bought the building and has started to rehabilitate the former multi-story furniture store at 139 N. Pittsburgh St., on the corner of Apple Street. “He saved us a bunch of CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) money that we can use elsewhere.”
Another building off the list is the old armory at 108 W. Washington Ave., which was sold to Lyndan Designs Inc.
A pending agreement with Hotel D2 for the construction of a new three-story hotel on the banks of the Youghiogheny River, along the Great Allegheny Passage trail, is also a plus for Connellsville.
Matthews said the city is beginning to turn around. He sees the work of city council and of the spirit of the volunteers in the community as the reason behind the positive changes.
But officials must be careful not to harm the small business owners who have stayed in the city, he said.
He pointed to Bud Murphy's and Spotto's as businesses that should not be forgotten as Connellsville works to attract new businesses.
Some of the good in the community includes the changes at the Greater Connellsville Community Center, with the work done by Councilman Greg Ritch and the volunteers at that facility.
Matthews said the facility has now returned more in the past year, especially the use of the gym and the Porter Theater productions, than had been developed over the years.
The city had loaned the center $3,000 to stay open. Now the center is in the position to begin paying back the loan.
“I had friends on the (old) board and it was not easy (for me) to make changes,” he said.
Matthews praised other groups that have been working for the community, many as volunteers, including the Connellsville Ministerial Association, service clubs, veterans groups, Carnegie Free Library and others. He said it is not always necessary for government to get involved.
He also praised local government officials.
“A big plus was working with the last (city) council,” said Matthews, adding there were disagreements, “but we didn't get ugly with each other. And the next four years look good.”
Matthews sees the good working relationship continuing when the new member of council, Aaron Zolbrod, and mayor-elect Greg Lincoln take their positions. He thinks the new faces may add fresh ideas. He emphasized he has never been a politician, but he views himself as a servant of the people and he hopes council and the new mayor keep that in mind.
“I hope they keep the heart of the city in mind,” he said.
If he had one thing he would do over, it might have been to campaign harder for re-election. He blamed this loss in the May primary on himself.
“I've got no one to blame but myself,” he said.
He also laughed at an editorial published by the Daily Courier following the election that suggested voters had chosen a new direction for the city. He pointed out that he only lost by 18 to 20 votes and only 17 percent of the voters turned out for the election.
That said, he does not see a political office in his future.
“You never say never,” he said, “but I don't see myself running (for any public office) again. I've lived in Connellsville all my life, except for a few years in the military.”
Matthews spent several years in the U.S. Air Force on active duty before swapping active duty time for an extra two years in the Air Force Reserve in Moon Township. A few years into his Reserve hitch, he found he could switch to the U.S. Army Reserve unit in Connellsville, saving the long trip to the Greater Pittsburgh International Airport.
He took a job as a police officer in the city in 1975 and rose through the ranks. He served as chief twice and also was a detective lieutenant.
After retiring from the police force on Feb. 1, 1998, he became active in community affairs, serving on the Connellsville Recreation Board and the Civil Service Commission before taking a seat on city council, beginning in 2004. His time on council ended in the middle of a term in 2010, when he ran for mayor and won.
“I hope I'll be here forever,” said Matthews, when asked if he has any plans to leave Connellsville. “I probably will be here until they plant me.”
Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-626-3538.