Thursday, April 27, 2006

Incorrect assignment of blame

Wednesday's Valley News Dispatch had an editorial criticizing the Tarentum Borough Council for the illegal use of executive session on April 17 (discussed here and here on this blog). The editorial points a finger of blame at the borough solicitor saying he "should have at least asked Newcomer why the session was needed before it started."

I don't see why the borough solicitor should have the responsibility of policing the meetings of the Council. If someone knows of such a responsibility in his job description, perhaps they can identify it to me.

Many people could have asked such a question. A member of the public, such as myself, could have asked. The press could have asked. Any member of the council, including its president, could have asked. The fact that the solicitor was the lawyer in the room does not in itself make him responsible for cross-examining the members of the council that employs him.

I would not be surprised if the borough solicitor heard the statement that the private meeting was for a "personal matter" as a denial that any borough business would be discussed. That was how I heard it. Then I was surprised later by the news that there had been an unrevealed purpose for the executive session. If no borough business had been discussed, the state Sunshine Act would not have had any application at all to the private meeting.

The public was misled. The responsibility rests with those who asked for the executive session without revealing to the public what they intended to discuss in private.

Update 05-02-06.

The Valley News Dispatch did not post this editorial on their website. While I was on vacation a friend emailed me a scan of the editorial, which I was not able to post to my blog at that time because of the lack of software I knew how to use. Although I take issue with one point in the editorial, it is well worth reading. Click the thumbnail image of the scanned editorial to see a readable version.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


In online lingo AFK is the abbreviation for Away From Keyboard.

Over the next week or so I am not going to be able to give much attention to the blog, and may not post much.

Comment moderation is on, but I won't be as prompt as in the past in reviewing submitted comments and making decisions about publishing them.

For those of you dying to make comments, please remember that I have raised concerns a number of times about people abusing anonymity. It does not take long to create a blogger account with a name that could consistently identify the person commenting. When you post comments you also have the possibility of choosing "Other" and typing in a name you want to use for the post. I simply don't have a lot of patience for people using their own anonymity to make numerous statements against individuals they name.

If you want to create a Blogger account, Blogger will offer you the chance to make your own blog. If you don't want your own, you can just close the window when you get to that point, and you will still have the Blogger account you created, complete with the possibility of a picture or logo (just edit your profile) that can appear on all your posts.

There are still many ethical issues around using pseudonyms. (Take a look at this for example.) But if you pick a name to use consistently, and no one else tries to put on the same mask, it is at least possible to have some kind of conversation.

Be patient while I'm AFK. I will get back to you.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting 04-06: 5. Vocational matters

Pittsburgh Presbytery handled the usual variety of vocational matters at its meeting on April 20, 2006 at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

Through the report of the Committee on Preparation for Ministry the Presbytery voted to receive five inquirers as candidates for the Ministry of Word and Sacrament: Caroline Becker (Hampton Presbyterian Church), Rebecca Cartus (Presbyterian Church of Coraopolis), Emily Miller (Southminster Presbyterian Church), Heather Tunney (East Liberty Presbyterian Church), and Tamara Yeager (Westminster Presbyterian Church).

Through the report of the Committee on Preparation for Ministry the Presbytery also approved Leslie Y. Boone (Mt. Pisgah Presbyterian Church) for ordination. Leslie will be a Chaplain for Medi Home Hospice.

Through the report of the Committee on ministry the Presbytery approved calls. My friend and colleague from New York state Dean Weaver has been called to be the pastor of the Memorial Park Presbyterian Church. Scott Hoffman has been called to be the associate pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Sewickley. Jay M. Hollinsworth has been called as pastor of the Swissvale Presbyterian Church.

God is constantly blessing the church by bringing people to new places and ways of service.

My other articles about this meeting: 1 2 3 4 5

File under : , ,

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting 04-06: 4. Administrative Commission on Pittsburgh Presbyterian Foundation

During the meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery on April 20, 2006 at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary the Presbytery dismissed with gratitude an administrative commission it had formed on December 1, 2005. That administrative commission had been formed to take oversight of the Pittsburgh Presbyterian Foundation.

The administrative commission presented a final report in which it identified some systemic problems in the Foundation, but at the same time acknowledged that the Presbytery had not been giving the Foundation the oversight and support that it needs.

The Commission issued a number of directives to restore a proper relationship between the Foundation and the Presbytery, and recommended that there should be a reexamination of the Foundation in two or three years.

My other articles about this meeting: 1 2 3 4 5

File under : , ,

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting 04-06: 3. Cincinnati overture

When the Pittsburgh Presbytery met on April 20, 2006 at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary it handled its most controversial piece of business fairly early in the meeting. The fact that it failed to concur with the Cincinnati Overture On Amending the 1978 Policy Statement of the UPCUSA and the 1979 Position Paper from the PCUS by Deleting Certain Statements by a vote of 135-84 was the focus of the story in Friday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

For the benefit of non-Presbyterian readers of my blog, an overture is a resolution adopted by a lower governing body asking a higher governing body to do something. In this case the overture from Cincinnati Presbytery was asking the General Assembly to amend two almost identical policy documents adopted by the PCUSA's predecessor denominations. The policies were adopted by the two churches in 1978 and 1979 to deal with the question whether a governing body could ordain a homosexual. Both churches came to the conclusion that they should not, and the policy statement and position paper in question describe the rationale that led those churches to that conclusion.

Since the adoption of the two documents, the rules have become more entrenched in the life of the PCUSA, and a version of a portion of these policies is now a part of the church's constitution. Debate continues about whether the church has reached a conclusion that reflects the mind of Christ.

The Cincinnati Overture proposed that seven "inhospitable" statements be removed from the two policy documents. The seven statements are not part of the policies that were adopted, but simply part of the rationale. Their deletion will leave the rules intact but standing on the basis of a smaller rationale.

The statements proposed to be deleted are:

1. “We conclude that homosexuality is not God’s wish for humanity. This we affirm, despite the fact that some of its forms may be deeply rooted in an individual’s personality structure” (Minutes, UPCUSA, 1979, Part I, p. 262; Minutes, PCUS, 1979, Part I, p. 203, lines 108-110).

2. “In many cases homosexuality is more a sign of the brokenness of God’s world than of willful rebellion. In other cases homosexual behavior is freely chosen or learned in environments where normal development is thwarted” (Minutes, UPCUSA, p. 262; Minutes, PCUS, p. 203, lines 111-114).

3. “Even where the homosexual orientation has not been consciously sought or chosen, it is neither a gift from God nor a state nor a condition like race; it is a result of our living in a fallen world” (Minutes, UPCUSA, p. 262; Minutes, PUCS, p. 203, lines 114-116).

4. “As we examine the whole framework of teaching bearing upon our sexuality from Genesis onward, we find that homosexuality is a contradiction of God’s wise and beautiful pattern for human sexual relationships revealed in Scripture and affirmed in God’s ongoing will for our life in the Spirit of Christ” (Minutes, UPCUSA, p. 262; Minutes, PCUS, p. 204, lines 174-178).

5. “Homosexual persons who will strive toward God’s revealed will in this area of their lives, and make use of all the resources of grace, can receive God’s power to transform their desires or arrest their active expression” (Minutes, UPCUSA, p. 263; Minutes, PCUS, p. 205, lines 197-200).

6. “Yet the New Testament declares that all homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian faith and life” (Minutes, UPCUSA, p. 263; Minutes, PCUS, p. 206, lines 239-240).

7. “On the basis of our understanding that the practice of homosexuality is sin, we are concerned that homosexual believers and the observing world should not be left in doubt about the church’s mind on this issue during any further period of study” (Minutes, UPCUSA, p. 264; Minutes, PCUS, p. 207, lines 324-328).

Part of the debate involved concerns that the Overture would require amending the report of a committee 28 years after it finished, or even amending the published minutes of the General Assembly. Readers of this blog will remember a recent discussion this week of the topic motions to amend something previously adopted. A governing body can change its mind about something it has previously decided. It does not have to amend the minutes (although even they can be amended if they are wrong) but it can change its mind about what it want to say on an issue. The necessary vote depends on whether the body has notice of the proposal in advance of the meeting. Cincinnati Presbytery has sent their overture to the General Assembly in a timely way, so a simple majority of those voting at the General Assembly would be necessary to make the proposed change.

While we were voting at the Presbytery meeting, an observor sitting next to me asked me what the effect of concurring would be. It was a good question, Pittsburgh's failure to concur does nothing to stop Cincinnati's overture from reaching the General Assembly. If we had concurred, the papers given to the commissioners to the General Assembly would include the statement that we concurred, and we would have been able to appoint an overture advocate to support the proposal in the committee that handled it.

My answer was not complete. Deacon Carol Untch from the East Liberty Presbyterian Church (one of the three churches sending the overture to the Presbytery), and the chairperson of the Presbytery's Task Force on Ministry with Sexual Minorities made an important point in her presentation of the overture. She said that it "gives a message to people we know in Pittsburgh". Although the intended hearer of the overture is the General Assembly, there are bystanders listening in on our church-wide conversation. They hear snatches of what we have to say to each other, and what they hear influences their perception of the PCUSA as a welcoming church.

As a survivor of 20 plus years of debates of this issue, I had some concerns that a debate about deleting inhospitable statements was almost an invitation for there to be more inhospitable statements made. With the exception of one unfortunate statement in the debate that compared homosexuality to murder, I think we came through it pretty well.

There was a difficult point when it came time to vote and a request was made for us to use paper ballots. During the previous year the moderator had ruled that the request for paper ballots was sufficient to require them to be used. This year Moderator Carol Divens Roth consulted with our stated clerk Jay W. Lewis, who advised her that there was not a right to use paper ballots, but that the the Presbytery could vote to use them. I think the stated clerk was correct.

But what surprised me was the vote of the presbytery against using paper ballots. In my experience presbyteries have recognized that the privacy of a paper ballot protects conscience as well as the unity of the body. The decision not to use paper ballots felt to me like a power move to deter those in the minority from voting their conscience. It did not change my vote. I've been in the minority before, and I am sure I will be again, but I hope that there were not others who were held back from voting the way they thought Christ would want them to vote.

My other articles about this meeting: 1 2 3 4 5

File under : , , ,

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting 04-06: 2. Worship

Worship was an important part of the meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary on April 20, 2006. Worship began as quickly as possible after the convening of the meeting, and set the tone for our time together. Unlike other occasions for Presbytery worship, we had no printed bulletin; all of the worship resources were projected on the screen at the front of the room.

Mime group from the First Presbyterian Church of DuquesneAssociate Pastor of the Presbytery Judi Slater preached a sermon "Bearers of Good News" based on Mark 16:9-15.

At the conclusion of the sermon she introduced the mime group from the First Presbyterian Church of Duquesne. The mimes performed a piece entitled "People Need the Lord." They depicted people with various forms of sadness, need, or enmity, who were each changed as they gave their hearts to the Lord.

Mime group from First Presbyterian Church of Duquesne concluding "People Need the Lord."As the final scene in their performance they left the stage; each selected one person from the audience who was invited to join in their ministry of reconciliation.

This inspiring worship service ended before 1:30, leaving the Presbytery ready to consider how we could be bearers of Good News during the rest of the meeting.

My other articles about this meeting: 1 2 3 4 5

File under : , ,

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting 04-06: 1. Overview

Pittsburgh Theological SeminaryPittsburgh Presbytery met at 1:00 PM on Thursday, April 20 at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The three-hour meeting broke the recent string of meetings that ran hours past the expected time of adjournment. Eighty-six congregations were represented at the meeting by 129 ministers and 143 elders.

Important parts of the meeting included uplifting worship, debate of a controversial overture to the PCUSA General Assembly, reception of a final report of an Administrative Commission, and actions on various important vocational matters.

This was a glorious day to travel to and from the seminary. Acting Pastor to the Presbytery Dan Merry commented on the irony that those of us in the meeting would be spending our time underground in a windowless room.

Hank Bossers promoting the Canadian conoing tripOutside the meeting area, Hank Bossers (once the interim pastor at the Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum) had his tents set up to promote the Canadian canoeing trip he leads each summer for a number of teenagers. (Those who want more information about the trip should reach Dr. Bossers at the Cheswick Presbyterian Church, where he is the Designated Pastor.)

Inside the meeting are, we were using a new meeting format that Pastor Merry explained was intended to provide for "open, honest, constructive discussion of important business early in the meeting." As I drove to the meeting I had been reflecting on my anticipation of such open, honest, and constructive discussion which is markedly different from my experience from earlier in the week in a secular meeting. There is something refreshing about being in a meeting where the issues under debate are fairly close to the issues that are actually at stake for the participants. What was new in this meeting format was that a potentially divisive piece of business was scheduled earlier in the meeting. The presbytery was able to approach it with minds that had not been numbed by hours of reports, and was able to finish all of its business ahead of schedule.

Because this was the first meeting of the Presbytery at the seminary since the arrival of the Rev. Dr. William J. Carl, III as the Seminary's President, this was the Presbytery's first opportunity to be greeted by him.

My other articles about this meeting: 1 2 3 4 5

File under : , , ,

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Wondering how many votes were needed

Today's Valley News Dispatch had the story about the ouster of Council President Magnetta at last night's meeting. According to the story, the vote was 4-3, and I wonder whether that was a sufficient vote to accomplish what the majority intended.

Mr. Magnetta had been elected Council President by vote of the Council on January 3, 2006. As far as I know, no one has challenged the validity of that election. Can the Council change its mind about which member should be its President? Absolutely. But it is my opinion that such an action is in the nature of a motion to amend something previously adopted.

This may seem like a minor parliamentary point, but under Robert's Rules of Order a motion to amend something previously adopted requires a simple majority vote with notice, or a 2/3 vote without notice.

Why does this matter? The agenda for the meeting did not give notice that the Council would vote on "ousting" its President. Only four members of the Council knew that such a motion might be made at that meeting. The other three were taken by surprise, as was the public.

If the council members who wanted to accomplish the removal of their President had been willing to let it be known in advance that such a motion would be made, four votes would have been sufficient.

On the other hand, if a 2/3 vote was required to remove an officer without notice, then the motion should have been declared to have failed under the circumstances in which it was made and voted. A 2/3 vote of seven council members should have required five votes to pass.

This is just another consequence of trying to govern by secrecy and surprise.

File under : , ,

Giving the kingdom

Do not be afraid. for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.This is a poster I made from a photograph taken at Central Presbyterian Church's midweek program Grand Central Station.

There was something in the child's motion toward the balloon that spoke to me about a delight and hope that are the opposite of fear.

File under : , ,

Public progress, private intrigue in Tarentum

The Tarentum Borough Council met Monday evening, April 17, 2006 at 6:30. In the public part of the meeting, the Council discussed a number of ways in which the borough can deal with some of its challenges. I'll get to the private part of the meeting later.

Solicitor Strellec described three different proposed ordinances that will help the borough solve some ongoing problems. The Council voted to advertize a proposed ordinance that would increase the parking fine to $25 for those who do not pay the fine on time.

The Council also voted to advertize a proposed ordinance to establish a surtax to the land-owner for excessive police calls. This ordinance would be a way to make landlords and homeowners responsible for what goes on at their property. It was stated that the ordinance was intended to be enforced against property owners where the excessive police calls are nuisance calls. The ordinance calls for a sur-tax of $50 per call for the excess calls and if the surtax is not paid on time there could be an additional $250 fine when the borough takes the landowner to court.

The Council is also developing an ordinance based on one used in Millvale to address the problem of absentee landlords. This ordinance would require landlords who live more than 15 miles from the borough to name a property manager residing within a 15 mile radius of the borough. This would make it easier to resolve landlord-tenant issues. This possible ordinance will be presented to the Council next month and may be advertized after that meeting.

Solicitor Strellec also reported that that he had received a petition from an estate to abandon real property in Tarentum. The fire department is concerned that the structure on the property is in such disrepair that it poses a fire risk to the whole block. The Council voted to attempt to take the property if the taxes and liens owed to about 15 other parties can be exonerated.

Councilman Bill Rossey reported on plans to hold a town meeting at the Grandview Elementary School auditorium on May 5 to discuss possibilities for redevelopment in Tarentum.

At the end of the meeting. Council President Carl Magnetta stated that there had been a request from four members of the Council for a meeting in executive session following the regular meeting. Council President Magnetta stated that he had not been informed of the purpose of the executive session. Councilwoman Mary Newcomer stated that it was a personal matter, and no one disputed it. The Council adjourned. The public left the room, believing that all that was going to happen was something personal. The public was not told that the Council would reconvene in public after the executive session. It sounds like the public was misled. Read the next day's Valley News Dispatch to learn what happened.

I have a lot of problems with this private meeting.

First of all, if what was going to happen in the executive session was actually a personal matter, then there was no need for the Council to be holding an actual meeting because they were not going to be transacting business. If the Council members wanted to iron out differences, ask about each other's health and families, or give each other a big group hug in private they could do that without holding an official meeting.

Secondly, "a personal matter" is not on the list of permissible uses of executive session under the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act. No one told the public even which category of permissible purposes for an executive session applied to this meeting, nor was there any indication that the Council actually intended to conduct any borough business in the executive session. I wish that when the Council President heard the offer of an invalid reason for an executive session that he had simply ruled the request out of order. Doing so would have preserved the public's right to know what was being handled behind closed doors.

The story I am hearing is that in private the Council members wanted to reorganize the local government of Tarentum. That is something the public had every right to know. In fact, the public had a right to comment on it before any action was taken. But when elected officials prefer to work in the shadows, this is the kind of thing that happens. And in my opinion, the actions taken in the shadows under those circumstances are voidable.

They say that Louis XIV said, "L'État, c'est moi." (I am the state.) To consider the reorganization of the government of the borough as a mere "personal matter" completely ignores the distinction between public and personal. It astonishes me that Tarentum council members who stood for public election, and received a public trust to lead and govern would so quickly treat their public responsibilities as a "personal matter." Tarentum is not a monarchy. Honest.

File under : , , ,

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Minor traffic accident at Lock and E 7th.

I was having an Easter dinner with friends at the St. Paul's German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tarentum, when we heard a crash outside about 3:15 PM today. Some folks went out to see what had happened and it did not appear that there had been any serious injuries. The pictures below show the accident scene, and tell the story of what likely had happened a few minutes earlier in the collision between a pickup and an Allegheny County Police vehicle at the intersection of Lock and East Seventh in Tarentum.

Looking down Lock St. at the intersection with East 7th Ave. Tarentum

Looking up Lock St at the intersection with East Seventh, Tarentum

It was pretty clear even from a distance that the police vehicle had hit the pickup on the side.


Coming closer to the scene I could see that the police car had hit the middle of the side of the pickup. Almost a bulls-eye.


There are two stop signs at this intersection, and each requires the traffic on East Seventh to stop before crossing Lock. This picture shows the stop sign the county police vehicle's driver would have seen at the intersection. There is no stop sign requiring the traffic on Lock to stop.

Some of Tarentum's finest came out to investigate the accident, but the position of the vehicles didn't leave much for anyone to guess about. My best guess is that the county police vehicle entered the intersection when it was not safe to do so.

This would be a bad spot for a speed bump, and I certainly don't think that a speed trap would have prevented the incident either.

File under : , ,

Friday, April 07, 2006

A milestone of sorts

Sometime early this morning this blog had its 10,000th counted "hit." It is a milestone of sorts for a blog that has been running for a year and a few days. I'm glad to know that there are some people who find this stuff interesting enough to come back and read more.

It has been an eye-opening experience for me to review my visitor logs. Some of the articles in which I thought I invested myself the most (yes, the ones that I told myself would burn up the internet) had rather little interest for my readers. Other articles I've posted with very little investment of thought or conscious creativity have turned out to be those that keep getting viewed many months after they were written.

It also has been intriguing to notice how geographically far away some readers are from a blog that has an unashamed interest in things that are very local.

I don't know what all this means, but thank you for reading.

File under : ,

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The vending machine across from Central Park

The new vending machine center on Fourth Ave. TarentumApologies to residents of the Big Apple who landed here looking for news about a somewhat older and larger urban garden.

This week I noticed a new development across Fourth Avenue from Central Park and the Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum. It's a shiny new vending machine selling Pepsi products. There is no price sign visible on the machine, but a successful customer explained to me that it takes $1.15 to dispense a 20 ounce bottle. The vending machine will probably do pretty good business because there is a lot of pedestrian traffic past it in the course of a day.

However, the best local price for pop (that's soda for readers who are not from the Pittsburgh region) is nearby at Calligan's Pharmacy, where one can pay a friendly cashier $0.51 for a 12 ounce can sold from a cooler. They will even offer you a straw!

A stretch of 4th Ave. waiting for pedestrians and Pepsi purchasers

I have no reason to expect Eva Longoria to make an appearance in the rain on Fourth Avenue, but I sure hope the Steelers don't draft the newest resident of the block.

File under : , ,

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Don't let Elmer Fudd know

As I left the meeting of the Board of Deacons last night I saw some wildlife scampering around in the parking lot of the Senior Center. In the twilight they seemed to be moving and playing like squirrels, only bigger.

It was not until I got my car's headlights on them that I verified that I was seeing at least three rabbits running up and down East Third Avenue.

I think they were safe. None of the local alligators were in sight.

File under : ,

Monday, April 03, 2006

Grand Opening of Superior Sports Cards

Grand Opening of Superior Sports Cards in Tarentum, April 1, 2006Superior Sports Cards had their long-awaited Grand Opening in Tarentum on Saturday, April 1. (Previous articles are here and here and here.)

The business had been in the Highlands Mall in Natrona Heights for 18 years, but moved when that mall was slated for closure. It is a bit ironic that the opening of large shopping centers in Natrona Heights was associated with the loss of business in Tarentum decades ago, but now Tarentum is becoming a place to which niche businesses are returning.

Yu-Gi-OhWhen I visited the store there was a table at which a number of area young people were playing Yu-Gi-Oh, a card game with an associated cartoon TV show on which cartoon characters play the game. Store owner Drew Jonczak plans to offer times when large numbers of young people can get together at the store for Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments Thursdays from 4 to 7. The store sells cards for the game.

The store sells sports trading cards, as one might expect from the name. In addition, the store carries a large number of graphic novels (what people of my generation used to call comic books), wedding candles, dragon figurines and Hot Wheels cars and equipment.
Graphic novels

dragon figurines

Hot Wheels

Landmark plaqueThe building in which the store opened is a historic landmark in Tarentum, having been built in 1897 as a pharmacy. Drew Jonczak has big plans for restoring the building, and incorporating its history into the features within the store.

The original sign for the Chapman Pharmacy is mounted over the entrance to one of the rooms of the store.

File under: , , ,