It’s been an interesting month (and more) without a portable electronic device.
Aside from the complications of lacking a mobile phone in the age of constant connectivity, I have come to miss other things even more than the instantaneous ability to access the Internet from anywhere – an activity that often generated a less than favorable response on the home front.
I’ve also taken time to notice the impact on interpersonal communications that these devices have on those like myself who can become sidetracked by the immediate access to information that smartphones provide. It’s disturbing, especially from the standpoint of parenting.
I like having the capability to take photographs and video and share them with family or on social media. E-mail and Internet have their place as well, but not the place that they once enjoyed.
Over the last month there were numerous arrivals and departures of note in our area, some of which I’ve tried to expand upon above and below.
Stephen King is coming to Sewickley
The announcement that novelist Stephen King will include Sewickley on his whirlwind, 12-city-in-12-day tour in support of his new novel was interesting in that a fair amount of logistical items, like the venue, didn’t accompany the initial announcement.
The choice of Rea Auditorium at Sewickley Academy isn’t a bad one – I’m very familiar with it from my school days, including the not-so-public spaces around its ample stage. In the 70’s I got to see the likes of Tony Randall, William Windom and Lionel Hampton there.
On the surface, it seems to make sense to host Mr. King there – it keeps the event in the immediate Sewickley area, and the Academy’s facilities may be available to the Penguin on a more congenial basis – Penguin owner Susan Hans O’Connor is married to the Academy’s Head of School.
Mr. King’s popularity creates something else entirely, however – and from the sound of the Penguin’s e-mail blast of March 30, the organizers seem to have an idea of the challenges involved:
For all of you who are coming to Sewickley for the Sunday, April 17 in-store ticket sale, we ask that you are considerate while waiting in line outside the store, that you do NOT save spaces for friends/family, that you respect the community, and that you are patient and kind to all those concerned with the ticket sales at the Penguin Bookshop.
Because we were committed to keeping this event local — in keeping with the spirit of Stephen King’s tour and his focus on smaller, independent bookstores — we were limited with our venue choices. This means that we have approximately 600 tickets available, far fewer than many of the other wonderful stores on Stephen’s tour. We know that Stephen King’s fans far outnumber what we can accommodate, and for that we apologize in advance. For those of you lucky enough to attend, it will be an intimate event, a special evening indeed.
Seen through my emergency planning glass, this sounds like, uh, “fun”. What’s a few hundred more cars in the Village on a Sunday afternoon, not to mention a line of people limited to 2 tickets each? Sounds like Starbucks may be doing some historic business that day.
For the event on June 8, it’s been plainly stated that because the Academy will still be holding classes, no one attending the event will be permitted on campus before 6 PM, when the event starts at 7.
So there will likely be logistical issues related to parking, traffic, and crowd management, involving 2 separate municipalities, as Academy Avenue also serves as the border between Sewickley and Edgeworth.
In my mind there’s only one other facility that would be able to fit the bill in terms of seating, parking, and proximity to the Sewickley area – that’s the Sewall Center at Robert Morris University, which is also set up for online ticket sales.
Quaker Valley High School will hold its commencement there, two days before Stephen King hits town.
Station 176 – A Questionable Farewell
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to the future generations.
Last night, Ingram Borough council took a page from the Edgeworth playbook, ending an over 100 year relationship with its volunteer fire department in favor of an agreement for service with a neighboring community for fire protection.
The circumstances of this transition has some similarities to Edgeworth’s actions in 2011 – Ingram and its elected officials appear to have quietly made overtures to other departments for proposals without any expression of concern to Ingram VFD about the quality of their service provision. According to the latest Post-Gazette reporting, they are actually refusing to elaborate on their specific concerns.
There are two big differences, however – the process in Ingram has been very public, owing to much reporting in the P-G and other media outlets, as well as a very active social media presence. Secondly, the borough stands ready to join Wilkinsburg as the second county municipality outside of Pittsburgh to receive services from the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire.
According to a presentation by the Ingram Fire Department posted to the borough website:
Is this personal? Maybe. The Proposal from Pittsburgh was prepared for Ingram Borough Council on October 30, 2015, however Ingram Council told the Ingram Fire Department and you, the Ingram citizens on December 14, 2015 they didn’t know who went to the city and there were no proposals at that time.
Is it because we declined to further talk about consolidation when we felt it was not feasibly economic for Ingram Borough? Possibly.
Are there complaints? Council said no.
Considering the community backlash, this is a politically difficult but courageous decision by Ingram council. Now comes the bigger question – Why does Ingram continue to exist as a borough? How much taxpayer money could be saved, and all services improved, through consolidation with a neighboring municipality?
The issues then become larger as well – eliminating jobs, some of which may be protected by union contracts – not just a bunch of pesky volunteers (citizens, voters?) to shoo away.
There is a website, Crafton-Ingram Thrive, detailing efforts by both communities and a local consulting firm to find common ground, and establish coordinated efforts in several operational areas. It appears, however, that the concept of pooling municipal resources, or even the words consolidation or merger, are conspicuously absent from the site.
This probably has something to do with the fact that Crafton and Ingram are each part of different school districts (Carlynton and Montour respectively), among other separations in service and governance as well as political obligations that may create what is perceived as insurmountable obstacles to a more efficient operating posture.
At least one local resident decried last night’s decision as a “first step toward regionalism“. If that’s the case, then it’s probably the only real positive coming out of this action. Many of our area’s archaic, inefficient mass of municipal entities that are in denial about the future may eventually be forced out of existence, instead of being able to unify from a position of stability into more responsive and efficient government entities .
If the volunteers at the former Ingram VFD were truly dedicated to both their community and the realities of the business in which they were engaged, they should have also been cognizant of economies of scale, along with the increasing demands of the fire service that volunteer departments with stagnant or dwindling memberships are hard pressed to meet.
Their own words indicate that they rejected the possibility of consolidation. Perhaps they should have been more open-minded and realistic.
There are citizens that have accused Ingram council of ‘destroying our community’ through these actions. The quotation from Shaw above illustrates to me why some (but not enough) citizens make the significant contributions of time and effort to become what is often the first level of emergency response for their communities.
It’s also not hard to see why so many feel that part of their community has been irreparably damaged by council’s action. Groups such as volunteer fire departments often form the locus by which a community perceives themselves as unified. More value seems to be placed on this when more and more residents find themselves working outside of the community itself.
In defense of that obviously passionate corps of volunteers and the community that supports them, if “council had never received complaints about public safety or response times” (according to the P-G ), then it is incumbent upon council and the Mayor to state, publicly and in writing, any and all of their concerns about the services provided by the volunteer department – well in advance of any action to obtain services elsewhere.
The absence of this gives the impression that the volunteers were thrown under the bus by council – and that’s just bad form, no matter what the circumstances or the type of organizations involved.
I get the feeling that these council members will pay for their decision come the next municipal election, and if Pennsylvanians had the ability to petition for recall, that process would have begun today.
Marty McDaniel Departs with Dignity
Speaking of things Edgeworth, the recent retirement of their long-time Manager Martin McDaniel is noteworthy in that his career is varied in both professions and influence, especially with managing two local towns which accounted for 23 years of his working life. Upon reading the Herald story listing his career highlights, I had to wonder out loud if it was his experience teaching middle school that best prepared for him to deal with some citizens and elected officials – myself included.
From his days as Sewickley’s Manager in the late 70’s to mid 80’s to the present day, Mr. McDaniel went about his work in a highly competent manner. This does not mean that he, and the governments he served, didn’t piss off their fair share of people in the process. This includes a dispute over a sign ordinance violation involving my family, and the aforementioned firing of the Edgeworth Volunteer Fire Department.
In a position like that, you can’t please everyone.
Marty McDaniel provided credible and professional service to those who hired him. Even though I disagree with some of the actions taken by his administrations over the years, he has my thanks for a job well done.
I for one would love to see someone with Marty’s skill set and dedication serving the citizens of Leetsdale. It’s needed.
Wendy Bell Departs – Badly
Regardless of anyone’s opinion about what Wendy Bell posted to her personal Facebook page, there’s no doubt that she exercised her First Amendment rights to free expression. Unfortunately, she also made her continued employment with WTAE untenable for several reasons – not the least of which was compromising her own credibility as a journalist through those public statements.
Ms. Bell’s on-camera decorum has also at times created what could be described as a confrontational atmosphere that is unnecessary or even misguided – witness her grilling of the Director of PEMA over the Turnpike snowstorm fiasco earlier this year. This official has no authority over the operation of the Turnpike itself. It’s almost like saying that the gridlock was President Obama’s fault.
Add in the fact that WTAE is physically located in Wilkinsburg, literally blocks from the scene of the shooting Ms. Bell chose to comment on. The Wilkinsburg community seemed less than pleased with Ms. Bell’s comments, and WTAE responded. Many citizens are nonetheless calling for a boycott of the station’s news broadcasts, similar to when the station angered many viewers over its investigative series on Fire departments last year.
An excellent analysis of the entire affair came from Post-Gazette columnist Tony Norman, who asserted in his column of April 1 (and no, I don’t think he was fooling) that the station had motives other than indignation and embarrassment to relieve themselves of Ms. Bell’s services:
I will say that I strongly suspect that WTAE has been looking for an opportunity to unload a popular, but expensive female anchor who has been around for nearly two decades without looking like a bunch of heartless villains.
I will continue to watch WTAE when I want to find out about stuff going on in the eastern suburbs. Their reporters make a point of focusing much of their time on stories occurring in this area, and perhaps take their relationship with this segment of the Pittsburgh community very seriously.
This is not only their right as a privately owned business, but also their responsibility, as they have a government mandate via their FCC license to serve the public interest.
Ms. Bell seemed taken with inserting her own opinions and indignation, often to the detriment of what I as a viewer look for when seeking out information. It’s difficult enough to separate the wheat from the chaff of what the broadcast media seem to be willing to pawn off as news these days. Quoting Tony Norman again:
What I bemoan most about l’affaire Wendy Bell is that it has become yet another opportunity for blacks and whites in this town to talk past one another from a position of hurt and victimization. There’s a lack of empathy here that is palpable and sad. We don’t trust each enough to talk honestly and make mistakes without fear. That’s why whoever replaces Wendy Bell will be the blandest, least offensive person they can find for the money. We will not necessarily be better off for it.
P-G columnist Brian O’Neill also weighed in on Sunday regarding Ms. Bell’s firing, while suggesting that there are greater priorities to keep at the forefront – such as catching the killers. Good point.
Arriving at Your Destination in One Piece…
On an unrelated issue, Mr. O’Neill listed, in his columns of March 30 and March 31, some of the responses he received to his request for readers’ biggest traffic pet peeves in the city of Pittsburgh and surrounding areas.
I’m sure all of us have seen places in our travels around here that just don’t make sense from a traffic standpoint. Common complaints listed were the preponderance of “No Turn on Red” signs at signaled intersections, and the lack of proper coordination of traffic signals along a busy roadway.
In the immediate Sewickley area, we don’t seem to have those problems – most of our traffic signals are along Route 65, and are synchronized to work together (such as at the Sewickley Bridge), or respond to demand from drivers in left hand turn lanes or side streets.
There are a couple of choice locations that I can think of, however. One is the intersection of Route 65 and Hazel Lane, which has already been covered here in sufficient detail.
The other consists of the Route 65 intersections with Graham Street and Boundary Street in Sewickley, and with McKown Lane in Glen Osborne. The road here is apparently not wide enough to accommodate a center turn lane. This makes for some interesting traffic tie-ups when people are attempting left turns from 65 onto Graham for Quaker Valley Middle School, or onto Boundary to access the Critmore Medical Offices.
The turns for Critmore seem to generate the greatest amount of potential problems, as the drivers seem to often be elderly and/or unfamiliar. Further complicating matters is that left turns from Route 65 onto McKown, at Critmore’s main entrance, are prohibited.
There is no directional signage on Route 65 for Critmore or the Middle School – perhaps this is something that could be addressed by funds raised from the auction of hand-painted adirondack chairs at next weekend’s Sewickley Gallery and Art Walk.
Some of the chairs, like the one at left, are extraordinary.
Let’s hope that Explore Sewickley and others see the value of directing visitors to not only the business district, but other essential venues in the area – like Rea Auditorium, where Stephen King will arrive in June.
Jazz Returns to the Pittsburgh Airwaves
Nearly three years ago, I wrote about efforts to return jazz music to the regular broadcast airwaves in the Pittsburgh region following the sale of WDUQ by Duquesne University, and its rebranding as an NPR news station, WESA.
Last month, Pittsburgh Public Media announced the acquisition of another Pittsburgh station, WZUM. At 1550 on the AM dial, this station was one of my favorites for its almost non-stop, automated R&B playlist. Now there’s jazz on the radio that I can tune in on the way home from work.
Along with this, PPM has also been able to procure an additional FM license for the region that they are seeking funding assistance to construct.
Congratulations to this organization for their diligent work in returning a dedicated jazz music station to the public airwaves. Maybe their signal will help to soothe the pain of completing my tax returns.
Enjoy the transition of seasons.