Filed Under: Local Businesses || By
Category: Local Businesses || By
(Editor's Note: A special Halloween rerun. This story originally appeared in the Tube City Almanac on July 27, 2007.)
. . .
When the band takes the stage at the Valley Hotel near Clairton, some say a few members of the audience won't touch a drop of alcohol.
They're not tee-totalers. They're the ghosts that supposedly haunt the halls of the longtime landmark in Jefferson Hills Borough, along Route 837 at Coal Valley Road. Bartenders swear that small items left behind the counter disappear for hours or days at a time, only to reappear when they're least expected, while Jo Ellen Oggier, one of the hotel's co-owners, says she's heard footsteps and seen glowing lights.
Thankfully, most of the visitors at the Valley Hotel are of the corporeal variety --- they're just looking for a cold beer and some conversation, as they have for at least a century.
. . .
How old is the hotel? Oggier, who purchased the business in 2004 with her fiance, William "Duel" Deemer, says she's heard it dates to the 1860s, and the rough-hewn sandstone walls in the basement look like they're from the 19th century.
But it's not listed on a 1900 map of Jefferson and Mifflin townships, even though surrounding buildings appear. Historian and photographer John Barna, who accompanied me on a recent visit, suspects the present bar and hotel were built after 1900 on the foundation of an older roadhouse.
The property has a colorful, if checkered, past. Erected by the Granger family of Scotland, who emigrated to the area in the mid-19th century, the hotel served passengers of the Pittsburgh, Virginia & Charleston Railroad, miners who worked the nearby coal veins, and crews of the riverboats that plied the Monongahela between Brownsville and the Ohio River.
According to Barna, at one time a ferry boat plied the river between Glassport and a nearby boat landing; tethered to a cable from one bank to another, it was pulled along by horses on the shore.
Oggier isn't sure how the Hotel Granger survived Prohibition, but she's been told by older residents that the bar was converted into a grocery store. Frankly, she thinks harder refreshments were sold, too, if you knew who to ask, and there are also rumors that the sleeping rooms upstairs were used for paid entertainment by employees of the "world's oldest profession." (No, not farming.)
New England Road originally passed to the east of the hotel, but a road-improvement project sometime before World War II relocated the highway to the west, and the hotel's entrance shifted from the front to the back.
Improvements to state Route 837 and the opening of U.S. Steel's Irvin Works in 1937 provided the Valley Hotel with a steady stream of thirsty and tired truck-driving customers, but the development of "sleeper cabs" for tractor-trailers limited the traffic, and eventually it developed a reputation as a biker hangout.
Deemer and Oggier have told seedier former customers they're no longer welcome. They're cleaning up the rest of the hotel, too, removing layers of plaster, paneling and lath added by previous owners during at least two remodeling projects, one in the 1960s and another following a fire in the 1970s.
One regret is the loss of the original bar, which was torn out in the 1960s. "They probably cut it up for firewood," Oggier says. "It almost makes me want to cry."
Several of the sleeping rooms were unused for years; Oggier found a neatly-folded blanket on one bed that had sat in the same place so long it had gone yellow with age. Those are being renovated, too, and though truckers, railroad workers and tourists are welcome to stay, many tenants wind up being people who need a room but can't afford three months' rent for an apartment.
. . .
Most of the action these days is on the first floor, where the bar is friendly and comfortable, and the beer is cold. The newest addition is the well-lit stage, elevated behind the bar so that everyone in the small dining room gets an up-close and personal view.
Oggier and Deemer kept construction hidden from regular patrons until the stage was finished, then crews worked all night to demolish a wall and unveil the performance area for the next day.
Fridays are "open mike nights," when area bands are invited to try out; the Valley Hotel is booking professional acts on Saturdays. Deemer, a bassist and guitarist of some notoriety around the Mon Valley, is known to take the stage too, using one of his collection of guitars.
As for the ghosts? Volunteer investigators from the Pittsburgh Paranormal Society spent a night there recently. According to their report, the hotel is "definitely haunted," and they contend that a mirror threw itself onto the floor and shattered during their visit.
Barna and I didn't see any ghosts --- perhaps spirits aren't impressed by freelance journalists/historians and didn't think we were worth their time --- but we did enjoy the visit. And while we didn't get a chance to have any food, the Valley Hotel does have a kitchen with "bar food" --- burgers, fries, wings and other specials.
If you're down around Clairton or Dravosburg, you might want to scare up some friends and visit. Maybe the Valley Hotel will become your regular haunt.
. . .
The Valley Hotel is located at 1004 New England Road, Jefferson Hills, (412) 233-9800. Photos by John Barna.
Category: History || By
Comedian Bill Cosby joined Westinghouse Electric Chairman Michael Jordan on the balcony of the New York Stock Exchange on Dec. 1, 1997.
When Cosby and Jordan rang the opening bell that morning, Westinghouse Electric's "WX" stock ticker symbol would be eliminated and replaced with that of CBS --- the company that Westinghouse had bought two years earlier. The canary had swallowed the cat.
In a sense, the two men were there to mark a death --- although their mood was anything but funereal. Cosby, in fact, sounded stoked.
"Westinghouse is gone!" Cosby said enthusiastically when the bell tolled to open the market. "Now it's CBS. All right!"
. . .
Actually, it was far from all right for people in Pittsburgh. Jordan had briefly been touted as the savior of Westinghouse Electric Corp. As it turned out, he came not to praise the big-W, but to bury it.
It was actually Jordan's second time as a member of the once massive Westinghouse Electric family. As a Navy officer in the 1960s, he had worked briefly at the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory on Dravosburg Hill. For decades, Westinghouse operated Bettis Lab under a contract to the federal government.
With a background in consumer marketing at companies like Frito-Lay and PepsiCo, Jordan's skills would have been useful at Westinghouse back in the late 1960s, when the company's retail products such as TVs, radios and appliances were being drubbed by the competition.
. . .
Maybe if Jordan had been at Westinghouse back then, he would have found the right people to jazz up the stodgy design of its products, or at least to put some life into its commercials.
In the 1960s, Polaroid had a half-naked Ali McGraw on TV walking on the beach to sell its cameras. Who did Westinghouse Electric have selling its products? Betty Furness.
But when Jordan came back to Westinghouse as chairman and CEO in 1993, anyone who thought he was riding to the rescue of the corporation's rapidly shrinking industrial businesses was dreaming.
Instead, Jordan pushed the corporation deeper into the one area where its prospects still seemed bright, radio and TV.
. . .
In the first three years of Jordan's tenure, Westinghouse sold off eight of its remaining industrial divisions for $10 billion. The money financed a shopping spree in the newly deregulated broadcasting business.
In 1995, Westinghouse outbid Turner Broadcasting and other suitors to grab CBS --- then the weakest of the three major networks --- for $5.4 billion. Then it swallowed Infinity Broadcasting's 75 radio stations and American Radio Systems and its 98 stations.
The talk on Wall Street was that Westinghouse's remaining industrial divisions --- primarily its government services contracts and its nuclear power development arm, but also Thermo-King refrigeration --- were holding back the broadcasting side, and thus depressing the price of Westinghouse stock. This displeased investors, naturally.
. . .
There was some discussion of splitting Westinghouse into two separate publicly traded companies, which might have made some stockholders happy.
But it was equally apparent that a smaller, all-industrial Westinghouse, without the supporting revenue from its radio and TV stations, would have a hard time surviving as an independent company.
Instead, the decision was made to dump the remaining manufacturing businesses, move the corporate headquarters to New York, and scrub off the tarnished Westinghouse name.
. . .
As recently as the moon landing of 1969, "Westinghouse" had symbolized American technological prowess.
Now, at least on Wall Street, it carried the taint of "failure," like the name "Edsel," or more appropriately like "LTV," another former industrial giant whose last remaining Pittsburgh facility, the Hazelwood coke works, was also going out of business at the end of 1997.
There was apparently no serious effort to convince the "new" CBS to keep its headquarters in Pittsburgh. The entertainment capitals of the United States, after all, are New York and Los Angeles.
Compared to New York, Pittsburgh must have seemed about as hip as ... well, Betty Furness.
The last two Westinghouse divisions --- Process Control and Nuclear Energy and Government Operations --- disappeared a few months after the corporation changed its name. The former went to Emerson Electric, another former Westinghouse rival, while the latter was purchased by British Nuclear Fuels.
. . .
Jordan noted that the sales would provide "new opportunities for Westinghouse employees," but saved the best news for last. "For our shareholders, the divestiture option we selected for the industrial businesses has generated significantly enhanced value," he said.
Where George Westinghouse had once protected his employees above his own profits, his successor many times removed was making sure that Wall Street's interests were protected first, last and always.
The old Westinghouse, now the new CBS, didn't last much longer anyway. In 1999, it was itself gobbled up by Viacom for $35 billion, ending once and for all a continuous corporate existence that stretched back to 1886.
. . .
With renewed interest in nuclear power, there are indeed "new opportunities" for jobs at Westinghouse Electric Company, now a division of Japan's Toshiba. But those jobs are nothing like the 85,000 jobs Westinghouse once supported in Western Pennsylvania, including 27,000 in East Pittsburgh.
They're measured in the hundreds, not tens of thousands.
. . .
Westinghouse technology once powered --- literally --- the industrial development of the United States, erecting the electrical generating plants that ran machinery throughout the country. Now it's powering America's number one rival for economic dominance in the world.
This year, Westinghouse Electric began construction on the first of four new nuclear power plants in China.
In the meantime, three of the remaining large factory buildings at the old East Pittsburgh Works, including the historic "K" building from which KDKA first broadcast in 1920, have been torn down over the past two years.
In their place are parking spaces for about 1,200 people who work for 43 small firms --- most of them service businesses --- that rattle around inside the remaining factory structures, now known as RIDC's Keystone Commons.
East Pittsburgh's population is about one-third of what it had in 1940, and more than 20 percent of its residents live below the poverty line.
. . .
And the signature tenant of the old Westinghouse headquarters building on Stanwix Street in downtown Pittsburgh is Brunner Inc., an advertising agency. It makes packages and commercials, not turbines or giant electric motors or elevators.
But there is some good news. Brunner's clients include Bradford-based Zippo and Murrysville-based Philips Respironics.
Both companies have their main manufacturing plants in Western Pennsylvania; in fact, Zippo exports lighters to China, while Respironics has just opened a new $29 million plant near New Kensington, employing more than 300 people.
True, it's not at the level of World War II-era Westinghouse, but at this point, Western Pennsylvania will take whatever manufacturing it can get.
Category: History || By
Category: History || By
After a long absence from stores, you can once again buy Westinghouse light bulbs and television sets and air-conditioners and even vacuum cleaners.
They bear the famous "W" logo that Westinghouse Electric Corp. introduced almost 50 years ago, and even carry the company's well-remembered slogan, "You can be sure if it's Westinghouse."
But those products have nothing to do with the old East Pittsburgh Works or even the company that Western Pennsylvania residents thought of as "Westinghouse."
CBS Corp. owns the Westinghouse trademarks and lets other companies rent them for a fee, for use on their own products. Pittsburghers --- unless they own CBS stock --- don't see a cent.
. . .
There's also still a "Westinghouse Electric Co.," which until recently employed several thousand people in the Mon-Yough area at research facilities in Churchill and Monroeville.
When it completes its move to a new office park up in Cranberry Township, one of the last remaining links to what was once called the "Westinghouse Valley" will be broken.
That "Westinghouse Electric Co." has nothing to do with the light bulbs and appliances being sold in discount stores. Its sole business is construction and maintenance of nuclear power plants.
Since 2006, it's been a subsidiary of Japan's Toshiba Corp. Like the manufacturers of those various appliances, it also has to rent its "Westinghouse" trademarks from CBS.
. . .
The "Westinghouse Electric" nuclear business is an institution that Pittsburghers can remain proud of. About 40 percent of the world's nuclear power plants are using technology that was developed here in Western Pennsylvania.
But the consumer gadgets that also bear the "W" logo are a mixed bag. CBS isn't particularly picky about who rents the trademarks. Some of the products bearing the "Westinghouse" label are good. Some of them are garbage that do nothing to help Westinghouse's legacy.
Seeing "Westinghouse" logos stuck on chintzy plastic junk imported from China and Taiwan must grind the gears of thousands of ex-employees still living in the Mon Valley. It's uncomfortable, like watching a punch-drunk prizefighter, years past his prime, who doesn't realize that he's embarrassing himself by stumbling around the ring.
And Westinghouse Electric indeed was once one of the world's heavyweights. As recently as 1974, it was the 21st-largest corporation in the world --- bigger than Toyota, Daimler-Benz, Siemens, Du Pont and Shell Oil.
By 1974, however, Westinghouse was already committed to the path that would ultimately lead to its demise.
. . .
Rather than remaining a manufacturer of durable goods, Westinghouse's executives decided they were going to peddle services. "Soft" operations like credit, real estate and broadcasting took precedence over actually making things and selling them.
The small appliance division was sold to Westinghouse's arch-rival, General Electric, in 1972. The large appliance division --- washing machines and refrigerators --- went to White Consolidated Industries two years later.
Philips bought the light bulb division in 1982. Profit margins weren't "satisfactory," Westinghouse Chairman Robert Kirby told reporters.
. . .
The East Pittsburgh Works hadn't produced light bulbs, appliances or radios for many years, but in the 1970s, the massive facility was also being treated like a bastard stepchild by its parent corporation. Like the consumer goods, products made in East Pittsburgh were being divested to former competitors as well.
Employment at the 244-acre plant dropped from 11,000 in 1976 to 4,500 in 1984. The circuit breaker business went to Mitsubishi. AC motors went to Reliance Electric. Power company equipment, like transformers, went to ASEA Brown Boveri.
Along with them went jobs in a thousand little cuts.
. . .
At the time, the world's attention was focused on the implosion of the steel industry, and the endless trickle of jobs out of Westinghouse Electric in East Pittsburgh wasn't as dramatic as the fight to save the Dorothy Six blast furnace in Duquesne.
Yet those product lines dated back to George Westinghouse's day, and dumping the corporation's one-time core businesses amounted to selling the family jewels.
By the time the last employees were punching out of the East Pittsburgh Works in 1988, the Mon-Yough area was already reeling from the loss, one after another, of Firth-Sterling, Fort Pitt Steel Casting, Duquesne Works and National Works.
Although East Pittsburgh is just three miles from McKeesport's city limits, shell-shocked residents of the Tube City didn't have time to grieve. It was a case of "don't tell me your problems, I've got problems of my own."
Westinghouse Electric had problems, too, although it wasn't immediately apparent. Along with its manufacturing businesses, it had also divested its ability to stay on top of trends. A 1981 survey by the research firm Technimetrics ranked the corporation dead last among competitors for innovation.
. . .
Tomorrow in the Almanac: "The Final Curtain," or, "Why Many Pittsburghers Still Think Bill Cosby Should Kiss Our Doughy Behinds."
Category: History || By
When the industrial development of the Mon-Yough area is discussed, steel manufacturing and U.S. Steel Corp. get the most attention.
All but overlooked are George Westinghouse and the companies he founded --- Westinghouse Electric, Westinghouse Air Brake and Union Switch and Signal --- though their influence was just as important.
Perhaps they were more important. Westinghouse Electric was, after all, a major customer for the output of U.S. Steel's mills and those of other firms.
. . .
But Westinghouse Electric also was a major customer for the "brain power" of generations of Mon-Yough area families.
While grandpa may have come to the United States and gotten a job on the factory floor at Westinghouse, his grandson (or granddaughter) may have attended Pitt, Carnegie Tech or some other local university and gone to work as a draftsman, designer or scientist.
Following World War II, Westinghouse Electric's East Pittsburgh Works alone employed 27,000 people, including laborers and other craftsmen, plus the corporation's white-collar headquarters staff of engineers and other professionals. Ancillary plants around McKeesport --- in Trafford, Jefferson Hills (Large), North Huntingdon (Cereal Hill) and West Mifflin employed thousands more.
That's not even counting Bettis Laboratory at the top of Dravosburg Hill, which wasn't technically a Westinghouse Electric facility. It was operated for the federal government under contract (a contract Westinghouse fumbled in the 1990s when it was being subsumed into CBS).
Together, the men and women working for Westinghouse Electric in the Mon-Yough area pioneered the world's first commercial radio broadcasting station, the world's most successful electric locomotive, the world's first atom smasher, the world's first peacetime nuclear power plant and the world's first nuclear submarine.
They also pioneered the use of computers to control real-world physical systems, from assembly lines to warehouse conveyor belts. Westinghouse's Prodac 50, introduced in 1963, was a modified Univac designed as what the New York Times called a "blue-collar computer" which would be priced within the reach of even small companies.
. . .
Through it all, Westinghouse Electric employees labored under the long shadow of the company's namesake --- a remarkably enlightened man by 19th century standards. In fact, compared to robber barons like Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie, George Westinghouse was practically a bomb-throwing radical.
"Westinghouse was among the first to give workers a half-day off on Saturdays and to provide pensions and health care," noted American Heritage magazine in 1997. "His generous wages and policies infuriated other industrialists."
Indeed, his competitors called him "St. George." (It wasn't meant as a compliment.)
Also unlike Carnegie, Westinghouse had no need to glorify his own ego; he left no libraries or music halls named after himself. The only monument to Westinghouse in Pittsburgh --- a fountain in Schenley Park --- was paid for after his death, by contributions from 55,000 employees.
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Sixty-three years ago this month --- on Oct. 19, 1946 --- the doors to Westinghouse Electric's East Pittsburgh Works were opened to the public for the first time in 10 years. Throughout World War II, the combined factories, comprising more than 5.8 million square feet, had been heavily guarded to keep secret defense work from prying eyes.
"We are very glad that we again can open to you the gates of our great East Pittsburgh plants," wrote T.I. Phillips, Westinghouse vice president. "Today, you have the opportunity to see the plants, the machinery, and the products, and --- above all --- you will see that it is the collective skill of our employees that has made Westinghouse outstanding throughout the electrical world."
It was also Westinghouse Electric's 60th anniversary year. But the corporation had another reason to celebrate besides its own birthday and the end of the war.
. . .
In January 1946, members of the United Electrical workers union representing 75,000 Westinghouse Electric employees (including 18,000 in East Pittsburgh) walked off the job, demanding 18.5-cent-per-hour raises and equal wages for women.
Perhaps the founder's enlightened attitude toward labor relations had slipped a little bit in the 32 years since his death, because it took Westinghouse's successors 115 days to settle the walkout.
At one point, state troopers on horseback were needed to control the mob that formed when managers tried to cross the picket lines.
. . .
Though it wasn't located in McKeesport, the influence of Westinghouse Electric loomed large in the Tube City. (After all, East Pittsburgh was only three miles from the city line.)
And although it wasn't a steel maker (though it did operate its own foundries), Westinghouse's industrial legacy would seem to make it a worthy addition to the "Steel Heritage" section of Tube City Online.
So with all that as prelude, we add this 1946 brochure from Westinghouse "Family Day" to the growing collection of historic documents available for download from Tube City Online.
. . .
Tomorrow in the Almanac: "Am I Blue," or, "Westinghouse Electric's postwar history is bittersweet for the Mon-Yough area."
Category: Events || By
Glass City Band at Palisades: The recently formed Glass City Swing Band brings back the old-time favorites at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Palisades, Fifth Avenue at Water Street.
Based in Jeannette, the 18-member dance band features the music of Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and other bandleaders of the 1940s and '50s. Many of the band members have previous experience in brass quintets, wind ensembles or other groups, but share a "love for big band music and a passion for performing," according to a press release from the group.
Admission is $10 per person. Call (412) 672-2001 or visit the website.
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Nationality Food Festival: St. Therese of Lisieux Parish, Main Street, Munhall hosts a "nationality food festival" tonight through Sunday.
Food and drink of up to 10 different nationalities will be represented and entertainment will include games, bingo and music.
On Sunday afternoon, the Steelers game will be shown on a big-screen TV and beverages will be free.
Hours are 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday, and 12 to 6 p.m. Sunday. Call (412) 462-8161.
Category: News || By Joaquin Sapien, ProPublica
By Joaquin Sapien, ProPublica News Service
Category: News || By Staff Reports
Prospective Penn State Students Welcomed Saturday: Students interested in attending Penn State's campus in McKeesport can attend Penn State Day on Saturday.
The program at the Greater Allegheny Campus, located near the intersection of O'Neil and Eden Park boulevards, includes academic and career exploration, campus tours with Lion Ambassadors, and a tailgate lunch tied to Saturday's football game between the Nittany Lions and Michigan.
Panels will provide information on education abroad, students sharing their views on student life at Greater Allegheny Campus, and a "parents only" session.
Interested students will have the opportunity to complete a Penn State admissions application with assistance from admissions counselors.
Penn State Greater Allegheny applicants who bring their official copy of their high school transcripts will be eligible to have their $50 application fee waived.
All events take place in the Student Community Center.
For more information and to register, call (412) 675-9010.
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'All That Jazz' Nets $50K: More than $50,000 was raised by the sixth-annual "All That's Jazz" event at Penn State's Greater Allegheny Campus in McKeesport, a spokeswoman says.
The final tally from the Oct. 3 event was $50,141, which brings the total raised for the campus' scholarship fund $264,000 since 2004.
Entertainment was provided by McKeesport native Tamara Tunie, star of Broadway, film, and the TV show, "Law and Order: SVU" and her husband, Gregory Generet. More than 200 people attended the event in the Student Community Center.
Photos taken by Galen Grimes, associate professor of information science and technology, can viewed on the university's website.
"The entertainment, fare, and ambiance added to the excellent achievement of the evening," Chancellor Curtiss E. Porter said. "Everyone who contributed to this event should be extremely proud. We will have the funds available to help students pursue their educational goals here at Penn State Greater Allegheny."
Two student speakers, Barblin Essien, of Torino, Italy, and Ryan Novosedliak of Harrison City, explained to the crowd how their student scholarships benefited them and how without that financial support their educational goals would not be possible.
"All That's Jazz" was organized by event chair Mark Gruskin; sponsorship chair Clifford Wise; Nancy Seifert and David Pellow, entertainment co-chairs; Jan Pokrifka and Brian Hohman, auction co-chairs; Amy Michaliszyn and Bill Flanagan, publicity co-chairs; and Porter.
Category: News || By
Category: Events || By
Category: Satire || By
As you may have heard, the Daily News today celebrates its 125th anniversary by printing a special commemorative edition.
Under the leadership of Harry S. Dravo and Wesley Dravo, the newspaper published its first issue --- 1,000 copies, distributed for free --- on July 1, 1884.
The News' first editor was E.B. Clark, and its only reporter was J.L. Devenny. The News' offices were then on Locust Street, near the Baltimore & Ohio railroad station, but it soon moved to Walnut Street and would eventually settle in a building next to its present location.
By a shocking coincidence, Dr. Pica Pole, director of research and pierogi recipes at Tube City Online Laboratories, has now discovered one of the very first editions of Tube City Almanac, which also dates from 1884.
We reprint it here today in honor of the Daily News.
Category: Events || By Staff Reports
Critically acclaimed author John Hoerr will deliver the seventh-annual Founders' Day Address this Sunday at McKeesport Heritage Center.
The event begins at 2 p.m. and is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.
A native of McKeesport who chronicled the decline of the American steel industry in his landmark 1988 book, And the Wolf Finally Came, Hoerr will talk about his upbringing in the city and sign copies of his new novel, Monongahela Dusk.
The novel --- Hoerr's first --- is set in McKeesport against the backdrop of the struggles of steelworkers to win union recognition in the 1930s and '40s. (See the Almanac's review, Aug. 24.)
A 1948 graduate of McKeesport High School and a Penn State alumnus, Hoerr is a former writer and editor for Business Week and producer at WQED-TV who covered labor issues for four decades.
His other non-fiction books include 1997's We Can't Eat Prestige, which describes the 1970s effort by a group of mostly female employees to organize the staff of Harvard University; and 2005's Harry, Tom, and Father Rice, an account of the sometimes scurrilous efforts to expel suspected Communists from the union representing Westinghouse Electric employees in the 1950s.
McKeesport Heritage Center is located at 1832 Arboretum Drive in Renziehausen Park, one block from Eden Park Boulevard. Call (412) 678-1832.
. . .
Library Programs Slated: Parents and grandparents can get free advice next week on how to teach their children about handling money.
The talk, set for 6:45 p.m. Oct. 22, is one of a series of free weeknight programs slated this fall at Carnegie Library of McKeesport.
A financial adviser from Edward Jones Investments will present the program, called "Raising a Smart Money Child."
Other upcoming programs at the library include:
Category: News || By
A trio of local non-profit agencies will administer a half-million dollars in federal stimulus funds aimed at preventing city residents from becoming homeless.
City council has designated McKeesport Housing Authority, McKeesport Housing Corp. and the McKeesport Healthier Communities PartnerSHIP to oversee the three-year, $500,957 grant from the federal Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, or HPRP.
The money will be disbursed in the form of grants for rent, utilities and other necessities, and is designed to prevent families without any other form of public assistance from becoming homeless, officials said.
"These resources are not for people who are chronically homeless, but for people who have recently lost their jobs," says Bethany Bauer, city director of community development. "My office is getting calls daily from people wondering when Washington is going to release the money, because we already have the need."
The grant --- part of the $787 billion federal stimulus package enacted by the U.S. Congress in February --- is available for three years, or until funding runs out, Bauer says, but 60 percent must be disbursed with in the first two years.
McKeesport Housing Authority oversees public housing in the city, while the similar-sounding but separate McKeesport Housing Corp. assists first-time homebuyers and existing property owners with maintenance and repairs. The PartnerSHIP is an outreach effort of UPMC and the McKeesport Hospital Foundation.
The agencies were selected because of their existing working relationships and their experience in case management, officials say.
They say the Salvation Army, the McKeesport Veterans Resource Center and local AARP representatives will help identify residents who need assistance.
Pennsylvania was authorized more than $9 billion in stimulus money. More than $5 billion remains to be paid out, according to the U.S. Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board.
. . .
In Other Business: A West Mifflin company has been awarded a $122,000 contract to install new traffic signals on Route 48.
City Council by 7-0 vote last week accepted a bid from Traffic Control & Engineering Co. to equip the intersection of Marshall Drive and Long Run Road with signals and pavement markings.
According to city engineer William McKeever, the only other bidder was Traffic Systems & Services of Beaver Falls, whose estimate was more than $10,000 higher.
Officials say construction of the long-awaited extension of Marshall Drive between Old Long Run Road and Route 48 is proceeding on schedule. Work on the half-million dollar project is being done by the non-profit 12th Congressional Regional Equipment Company under the direction of City Public Works Director Nick Shermenti.
. . .
Grant to Ambulance Service: A portion of the annual $52 local services tax has been designated to assist the city's ambulance service.
Council last week approved an ordinance designating 9.5 percent of the revenue from the levy to the McKeesport Ambulance and Rescue Authority, commonly known as McKeesport Ambulance Rescue Service, or MARS.
Formerly called the Emergency and Municipal Service Tax, the fee is levied on all people employed in the city of McKeesport and other Pennsylvania municipalities.
The move will provide about $7,000 per quarter to the non-profit ambulance service, Mayor James Brewster says.
Although MARS is "solvent and doing a good job," the mayor says the money will help cover losses incurred when residents do not reimburse the ambulance authority for emergency medical transport.
For ambulance companies, Brewster says, "it can be difficult to collect on receivables."
In addition to the city, MARS also provides service to neighboring Port Vue, Dravosburg and Versailles boroughs.
Category: News || By
Semper Fi Benefit Oct. 31: Tickets are now on sale for the Semper Fidelis Club's 90th anniversary luncheon and fashion show, to be held Oct. 31 at Youghiogheny Country Club, Elizabeth Township.
Founded in 1919, the city-based organization of African-American women is a social and charitable group perhaps best known for sponsoring an annual college scholarship for the top two graduating black seniors at McKeesport Area High School.
Recipients from the Class of 2009 were Katrina Barlow and Shanice Flournoy.
Each year with the help of LaRosa Boys and Girls Club, Semper Fi also "adopts" an anonymous needy family, contributing food and clothing vouchers and other necessities.
Tickets are $35 each and all proceeds benefit the scholarship fund.
For more information, call Alease Paige at (412) 673-2206 or Jeanne Dix at (412) 664-4512.
. . .
YMCA Hearing Set: The city's Zoning Hearing Board will consider a request from the YMCA of McKeesport to open a new fitness center in the former Frank R. Bondi Medical Center on Evans Avenue.
The YMCA's board of directors closed the fitness center at the main building on Sinclair Street on June 1 because of maintenance problems and a $500,000 deficit.
Adjacent to the UPMC McKeesport hospital campus, the Bondi building is owned by the medical center.
The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday in city council chambers at the public safety building (the former city hall), 201 Lysle Blvd. at Market Street.
. . .
Trick or Treat Hours Set: Official trick-or-treating hours for Halloween this year in the city of McKeesport are 5 to 7 p.m. Oct. 31.
The move from the usual 6 to 8 p.m. was suggested by City Council President Regis McLaughlin because Halloween falls on a Saturday. It was unanimously approved by council.
The change allows participating children to begin trick-or-treating during daylight hours.
Category: Events || By
Get the stink blown off yinz, as mom used to say, and go enjoy the fall weather this weekend ...
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Spaghetti Dinner: It's an all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday at The Common Ground (formerly the YWCA Building), 410 Ninth Ave., Downtown.
Tickets are $6 and include pasta, salad and bread. Desserts are $1 each. All proceeds benefit programs run by the McKeesport NAACP.
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Flea Market: Christ Lutheran Church in Duquesne holds a bake sale and flea market from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the fellowship hall, corner of Fourth and Kennedy avenues.
Household items, toys and crafts will be on sale. Lunch --- including homemade soups --- will also be available. Call (412) 466-7773 or visit the church website.
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Walk-a-Thon: White Oak Animal Safe Haven shelter holds a "bark-a-thon" walk for pets and their humans from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at Beech Grove in White Oak Park.
All pledges benefit the animal shelter. Call (412) 672-8901.
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Oldies Dance: Watch the football games on the big, eight-foot screen and enjoy an oldies jukebox dance from 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the Palisades, Fifth Avenue at Water Street, Downtown.
Admission is $5 and includes hot dogs and snacks. Call (412) 672-2001 or visit the Palisades website.
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Chicken Dinner: Resurrection Church in West Mifflin will hold a stuffed chicken breast dinner from 12 to 6 p.m. Sunday in the social hall, 3909 Donna Ave.
Donation is $8 and includes side dishes, beverage and a slice of cake. A bake sale will also be held. Call (412) 461-9623.
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To list your event on Tube City Almanac, email Webmaster Jason Togyer (first initial, last name at gmail.com) or write to Tube City Online, P.O. Box 94, McKeesport 15134. Please send events at least two weeks in advance and provide a contact phone number.
Category: News || By
An investigation into possible abuse of overtime pay by some city police officers remains ongoing, says a spokesman for the district attorney's office.
But as far as the city is concerned, "it's a closed matter," Solicitor J. Jason Elash said.
"We have no proof to this day --- no evidence --- that anyone got any inappropriate money," he said. "We don't know of any specific amount that was ever paid unfairly."
City officials on Wednesday released to the Almanac, Daily News and Post-Gazette a list of all requests for so-called "court pay" filed in 2008 by police officers.
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The information was provided under orders from the state Right-to-Know Office, which was acting on a complaint filed by Post-Gazette reporter Moriah Balingit.
The office ruled Sept. 21 that the city had "failed to provide any basis ... for withholding the requested records," which Balingit formally requested in July.
The records released are a raw tabulation of some 1,221 requests for overtime pay, filed by 53 members of the police department, for attending trials and hearings in hundreds of criminal court cases.
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There are no indications in the 28-page file as to which overtime requests --- if any --- might be improper or incorrect.
"I know everyone anticipated seeing findings, but that's not what we have," Elash told the Almanac Thursday.
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Police officers in most municipalities, including the city, are entitled to "court pay" for attending trials when they would otherwise be off-duty. The so-called "court cards" documenting their attendance are to be signed by a judge.
In March, KDKA-TV and the Post-Gazette reported that seven police officers had been disciplined for submitting requests for "court pay" when they hadn't actually attended trials.
But Elash said those reports were not strictly accurate.
"There were irregularities in the way the court cards were being handled, and procedures were violated," Elash said. "We disciplined those officers for violations of those procedures ... but we have no clear evidence of a pattern and there's no clear evidence of even one pay period" that included fraudulent pay.
Media reports in March and the resulting public outcry prompted Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. to recommend that an outside investigation be conducted to see if any laws were broken.
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At the city's expense, certified public accountant Edward Datemasch of Plum compiled a list of all requests for court pay during a three-day period in May.
Each entry includes the date for which overtime pay was requested, the officer's name, the case number and the defendant's name.
In a cover letter to Elash dated May 12, Datemasch noted that in some cases the handwritten requests were "difficult to decipher" or that defendants' names and case numbers were "difficult to read and required judgment to decipher."
Zappala spokesman Mike Manko on Thursday told the Almanac that "the information provided to us is still being reviewed."
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Manko would not comment on how investigators were examining the records, or how much longer their investigation will take.
But presumably, checking each of the 1,221 court cards would require pulling each case folder, verifying that the officer named on the card was called to testify on the date in question, and then verifying that the officer appeared in court that day.
"We were provided with raw data," Manko said. "Part of our review involves checking the records of court cases. Beyond that, I can't comment."
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The city will wait for a ruling from the district attorney's office before taking any further action, Elash says.
"They may come back to us and say they have a case," he says. "But I personally, and the mayor, feel there is no issue. From the city's point of view, this is a closed matter."
Category: News || By
City officials are taking a "wait and see" approach to a $400,000 pension bill --- due at the end of the year --- that they may not be able to pay.
A $600,580 payment is due to the city's pension plans by Dec. 31 to meet its minimum municipal obligations, or "MMO," under Pennsylvania law. About $200,000 remains in the city budget for pension payments.
McKeesport's retirement plan for municipal employees was considered fully funded at the last pension audit, in part thanks to a $5 million bond floated in 2005, says Dennis Pittman, city administrator.
However, that was before last year's stock market swoon drained the value of the securities held in the program. He estimates they've lost 40 percent of their market value since 2007.
"If the (Dow Jones industrial average) got back up to 12,000, I think our pension plan would be fine," Pittman says. The average peaked above 14,000 in October 2007, but has been as low as 6,600 points this year. It closed at 9,725 Wednesday.
Other communities face similar challenges. Pittsburgh's pension plans, for instance, lost $124 million in value during 2008, according to published reports.
According to the Pennsylvania Economy League, municipal pension plans statewide are underfunded by at least $5 billion. The league said that the state's 2,500 local pension plans face a "real and extensive" funding crisis.
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia both received relief last month from the state General Assembly --- the former is going to try and lease its parking garages to a private operator, while the latter was allowed to enact a 1 percent sales tax.
Smaller cities and boroughs, however, were given only a temporary reprieve that state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, compared to "kicking the can down the road."
"The fact that we're not alone doesn't relieve us of the problem," Pittman says. "They have fixed Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but they haven't fixed all of them."
Mon-Yough communities have done a poor job of presenting their concerns about pension funding and other problems to Harrisburg, City Councilman Darryl Segina says.
"When Philadelphia or Pittsburgh gets in trouble, their antennas go up," he says. "McKeesport and other communities are way down the list. We've got to make our legislators understand what our problems are. Otherwise, we're all going to remain at the bottom of the barrel."
Segina wants the Twin Rivers Council of Governments to present a unified voice in Harrisburg for its member municipalities, and is pressing Mayor James Brewster to lobby the COG for action.
But it's difficult to get more affluent municipalities to care about the problems of McKeesport or other urban communities, Brewster says: "They say, 'Why should I get involved? I don't have a dog in this fight.'"
With the Pittsburgh region's population continuing to decline, Segina says those attitudes can't hold. "We were once a prosperous community, too," he says. "Most of the communities around us are stagnant --- and because of the age of their housing stock, they're going to start slipping backward."
Several city officials, speaking off the record, say McKeesport and other communities could probably borrow against next year's revenues to pay this year's pension obligations --- but admit that strategy also just "kicks the can down the road."
"The answer is revenue sharing," Brewster says. "We have to get the state in a position to make that happen. But they've got to get their own financial house in order first. We've got a state that can't even pass a budget. It's a bad situation."
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Category: News || By John Barna and Jason Togyer
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