Resident's ouster sparks anger against officials
CHRIS PARKER/TIMES NEWS Rush Township resident Joe Shamonsky is escorted from the municipal meeting room Monday by Cpl. Duane Frederick and Patrolman Brian Thompson.
Outspoken Rush Township resident Joe Shamonsky, who has been barred from attending supervisors' meetings, was escorted out of Monday's public gathering by police moments before it began, sparking anger among the audience. It also prompted a sharp rebuke to township leaders from former supervisor George Pinkey.
"We have a Constitutional right to address you people with grievances," Pinkey said. "I understand, probably better than anybody in this room, what it is to have somebody try to disrupt a meeting. In the 12 years that I was a supervisor, one time we threatened to adjourn a meeting, but we never threw anyone out."
Pinkey told supervisors "there is no need for you to bar anyone in this township ... sure, everyone gets emotional when they get upset. But you take an oath to obey, protect and defend the Constitution. And there is a Constitutional right to address you with our grievances."
"You don't know all the circumstances, George, on Mr. Shamonsky," Supervisors Chairman Steve Simchak protested.
"You don't know the circumstances on Mr. Shamonsky," Pinkey shot back. "You were probably a kid running around in high school when Mr. Shamonsky was on the battlefields in Vietnam, sticking his fingers in bullet holes trying to keep guys alive until they could get them to an aid station. The man has scars he'll carry for the rest of his life. He paid a sacrifice that fortunately most of us will never realize. And you treat him like a ... dog."
Shamonsky drew supervisors' ire in January when he became outraged over a plan to increase the property tax by an additional 1.5 mills, bringing the rate to 5.62 mills. After a verbal exchange, supervisors had Shamonsky escorted out the door. Several weeks and some heated disagreements later, they sent him a letter telling him he was not allowed to attend the public meetings.
"He was warned twice before, and he was banned from all future township business meetings," said Simchak after Monday's meeting.
Another resident, Patricia Tracy, was further angered when one supervisor warned her to calm down. She asked supervisors to define what constitutes an "unreasonable noise" as grounds to remove someone from a meeting.
"When you threw Shamonsky out, I went 'Oh my God'. And you said to me, 'you're first notice, and you're next'." Tracy said many in the audience expressed their displeasure but were not thrown out of the meeting.
Shamonsky, who had been seated just inside the door when he was escorted out, at first lingered in the hallway outside the meeting room, then could be glimpsed through the slats of the window blinds, pacing around in front of the municipal building.
The room quieted as the supervisors began their meeting, which included voting 2-1 to expand part-time clerk Marie Skripnek's position from part-time to full-time with benefits, to hire Mark Betz as a part-time police officer at $12 an hour and to shift the police health insurance provider from Blue Cross to Health America.
The change in Skripnek's status, ratified by a 2-1 vote with Supervisor Shawn Gilbert opposing, prompted questions from resident Kathy Schimpf. Skripnek had been hired at the supervisors' Jan. 4 reorganization meeting at $10.50 an hour.
Schimpf wanted to know why the full-time position had not been advertised, and what duties had been added to require the additional 10-12 hours a week.
Simchak said the hours are needed to perform work that accompanies grants and other projects the township has been doing.
"There is a need there for a person 40 hours," he said. "We're looking at the same hourly wage, plus benefits."
Schimpf said a full-time job may draw differently-qualified applicants than for a part-time job.
Gilbert said he opposed the expansion because the township already pays its engineers and other professionals to handle grant work. Simchak said there is additional work associated with the grants that justifies the hours.
In other matters Monday, Jeanine Motroni asked why letters from the township's Concerned Citizens group had yet to be answered.
Supervisor Robert Leibensperger Jr. said it can take some time for the correspondence to reach the people who can best answer it. Simchak said some of the questions take time to research.
Resident Steve Behun pressed supervisors and police about a teenager he said is riding an all-terrain vehicle in the dark on Hometown Avenue. He said he's reported ATV problems for a year to no avail.
He said the last time he called was after dark Friday evening when an ATV rider "came out of the woods from Kahler Hill, straight down, smack-dab in the middle of Hometown Avenue. The rider rode on Eli Street and through Miller's baseball field to his house.
Behun said he knows who the rider is, and that he is under age 16, and was riding without headlights.
"There were cars tooting their horns at him," Behun told supervisors.
Behun said he was told by Cpl. Duane Frederick that the boy had been given permission by Frederick to ride on the street to reach a field as long as there were no complaints.
Frederick said that he told the boy "if we don't get complaints, it's ok. But if we do get complaints then we were going to enforce all the laws."
Frederick said police spoke with Behun after he complained, but that Behun could not positively identify the culprit.
"You said, 'I think it's him'. We can't go to court and say 'I think it's him',' he said.
Behun said he knows the ATV, the rider's physique and his helmet and saw him ride the vehicle to his house.
"It needs to stop. The police cannot give permission to these children to ride on the street."