Board votes down action to return items in building
When the Panther Valley school district acquired the property at 401 W. Bertsch Street, adjacent to the football stadium, they also got a potential legal nightmare.
Last night, Superintendent Rosemary Porembo read a letter from the family of Nino Logan, a former Panther Valley student and standout wrestler, who is now a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy and serving in Iraq. Logan's family requested the return of several personal items, including a pool table, pool table accessories, and weight lifting equipment that they said had been stored in the building under an arrangement with one of the previous owners, Ben Verta. "Upon hearing that Mr. Verta was going to lose possession of the building, we tried to get in touch with him, with no success," read the letter. It went on to explain that the family had also contacted George "Smokey" Krajnak, head of buildings and grounds and Porembo, but at that point, the school district had not yet acquired the building.
"All we ask is to be allowed to remove our personal items, to be treated as any other family would like to be treated," it concluded.
A motion to return the specified items to the Logans did appear on the agenda, at the request of board member R. Mickey Angst. The request prompted the ire of school board president Jeff Markovich who, citing the school board code of conduct, said that by making the request, Angst was in clear violation of the code. Markovich said that a previous request, made by Logan's father-in-law, had been referred to the building and grounds committee, which had not met since that request, due to the vacation of one of the members. Quoting the code, Markovich read, "We will not use our position as school directors to benefit any individual."
"Who is benefiting from this?," he asked, "An individual."
Solicitor Robert Yurchak also advised caution on the matter, as several other people have submitted claims against items stored in the building. "If you allow claims for one, you're going to have to allow claims for everyone," he said. Yurchak recommended postponing the vote on the Logan items. "You should be responsible in this particular situation," he said, "and handle it in a comprehensive manner, rather than will-nilly as it comes up.To do it this way, you're asking for a disaster."
Director Anthony DeMarco disagreed with Yurchak. "I respect your decision, but there are things in there such as Mr. Logan's," he said. "Unfortunately Mr. Verta never contacted his people. If people want to come to us, it's their stuff."
Director Anthony Pondish took issue with that statement by DeMarco. "It's is not Mr. Logan's stuff. It is the dstrict's stuff. It has been the district's stuff since we took it over. It's not their property. It's the taxpayers'." Pondish said he is not necessarily in favor of returning it or not returning it. "When you buy a building, it is yours. If an auctioneer had bought that building, those contents would have been auctioned off to the highest bidder the next day," he added. Pondish also made the argument that the district did not buy the building from Verta, but rather from the county. "Why didn't these people who owned stuff go to the commissioners," he asked.
Director Koreen Nalesnik asked the board to consider tabling the motion until more information and a better method of handling the matter could be determined. "I'm just afraid if we table it, these people will never get their stuff back." said DeMarco. A vote to return the items to Logan failed 3-5, with DeMarco, Angst, and director Bill Hunsicker voting to return the items, and Nalesnik, Markovich, Pondish, and directors Irene Genther and Donna Trimmel voting against it. Director Dave Hiles was absent.
After the vote, DeMarco made the comment, "the man had his day. Now he knows he's probably not going to get his stuff back. Markovich said that once the building and grounds committee meets, a protocol can be established to return these items. DeMarco and Hunsicker, the other two members of the building and grounds committee, in addition to Hiles both indicated that they were not necessarily interested in continuing this discussion.