Sen. Ward: Closing of state prison in Westmoreland County planned in secret
Sen. Kim Ward said the closing of the state prison in Greensburg was planned in secret long ago by the Corbett administration and deliberately kept from Westmoreland County lawmakers out of concern that they would thwart the plan.
Ward, a Hempfield Republican, and other legislators didn't learn until Tuesday, the day before the official announcement, that the medium-security prison would close by June 30, causing the loss of more than 400 jobs, as well as local tax revenue.
“I'm not stupid. This decision was not made overnight,” Ward said Friday. “They kept it all behind closed doors. I believe they made their deal, whatever it is. That other prison has been completed and sitting up there for nearly a year. Wham! All of a sudden, they're closing (SCI Greensburg).”
SCI Cresson in Cambria County also will close as the state opens a $200 million facility in Benner Township, Centre County.
The governor's office did not return calls seeking comment.
Ward's comments and the anger expressed by Republican state legislators this week indicate a serious rift between Gov. Tom Corbett and GOP leaders who helped Corbett carry Westmoreland County.
County lawmakers, including legislators and the commissioners, said this week that they were kept in the dark and then left to explain to the public why the prison was closing.
“This definitely strains the relationship,” Ward said. “We don't represent the administration. We represent the people in our districts. If this means a family feud, so be it.”
Ward was at the state Farm Show Tuesday morning when she received a call from Corbett's office that Corrections Secretary John Wetzel and Joe Murzyn, Corbett's deputy secretary for legislative affairs, wanted her to join them in a conference call at 2:45 p.m. Ward said she had heard rumors of a possible closing from prison employees and state Rep. Mike Reese of Mt. Pleasant Township, whose aunt works there.
“I said, 'No, how are they going to close the prison?' It's unbelievable. I get on the conference call and they say, ‘We're calling to talk to you about SCI Greensburg. ... We're going to close the prison.' Just like that. Had absolutely no inkling.”
“OK,” Ward replied.
“We're doing it,” Murzyn said, according to Ward.
“Really? Just like that,” Ward said.
Ward said the governor had called her the week before to discuss other issues, but did not mention the prison.
“We talk about transparency in government. This isn't it. If SCI Greensburg is one of the least-efficient prisons, why couldn't this be done through a public process? Why shouldn't we be part of the process?”
Lt. Gov. James Cawley called Ward on Thursday to try and make amends, she said.
“I told him how I found out. He said, ‘We can't do anything about that. ... Where do we go from here?'”
“Here's where we're going to go,” Ward said. “We're going to fight the administration to get answers. We need to know that. We deserve to know that. The employees deserve to know that. Why did they do this?”
Ward asked Cawley to address rumors that Highmark or UPMC had expressed interest in buying the prison property, but Cawley dismissed them, she said.
Ward said she questioned Wetzel's explanation of cost savings.
“I don't know how they make a decision like that unilaterally without consulting us,” she said, referring to other state lawmakers and county officials. “I'm not sure what they were thinking — or if they were thinking at all.”
Ward said she and other Westmoreland County legislators are determined to find out the story behind the closing and whether there is a deal to sell the property.
“Did they expect we were all going to sit here on our hands?” she said.
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Endowment of $3.49B makes University of Pittsburgh 25th richest in U.S.
- Rostraver Democrat aims for 1 of 3 open spots on Westmoreland County bench
- Braddock man held for trial in Jeannette assault, robbery
- Westmoreland County settles with fired public defender
- New Alexandria tree trimmer pleads guilty to fraud
- Suspect in West Newton burglary sought, alleged accomplice arrested
- Three injured in two-vehicle accident on Arona Road in Hempfield
- Woman pays $178 fine for Westmoreland courthouse conduct
- Coal truck, another hauling beer crash on Route 22
- Former Steelers LB Haggans to do time in Westmoreland jail
- Man’s body found in car in Forbes State Forest