The Crescent Hills Civic Association (CHCA) reached out to all local candidates in the Mayoral, Council and School Director primary races and asked for their responses to 3 questions each. The questions and the candidate’s responses are published in this guide for the benefit of all Penn Hills Voters. The CHCA hopes this voter guide helps inform all Penn Hills voters. The CHCA is a nonpartisan organization and does not endorse any candidate. The election is May 21st 2019.

Questions for both Mayor and Council Candidates (Democratic Party only– No Republican candidates):

1. What experience and skills do you possess that would enable you to be an effective and successful Penn Hills Mayor?

2. What do you think are the biggest problems facing Penn Hills and what will you do about them?

3. What are your opinions on the structure of council meetings, communication with residents, and the municipality’s Home Rule Charter? Would you make changes, and if so what?

Penn Hills Mayor 4 Year Term (Vote for 1)

[   ]       Pauline Calabrese

1)       1) Experience:

Practicing attorney for over 20 years

Adjunct Associate Professor at Carlow University – Relevant courses taught include Business Law and Employment Discrimination Law

CCAC: Relevant courses taught include political science classes: U.S. Constitution and American Government and Continuing Legal Education to attorneys and Continuing Education to Certified Public Accountants

Skills include Oral and written communication skills, negotiation skills, and organization and managerial skills. As an attorney, I draft and review complex contracts for a living. As an educator, I take great pride in simplifying complicated matters.

2)       Our biggest problems are inter-connected. We have a public relations problem, which erodes our economic base and increases taxes, resulting in a low influx of residents. I would (1) Develop a relationship with media outlets, county, state and federal officials, and charitable foundations; (2) Revamp local code to make it more friendly to small businesses and meet with developers to make our side of the Allegheny River mirror the other side; (3) Add new housing to complement our current stock to attract both young people, looking for affordable housing, and baby boomers, with disposable income; (4) Meet with the Mayor of Pittsburgh and other leaders to learn from their mistakes; (5) Capitalize on our outstanding location and beautiful geography, touting our riverfront and beautiful hill top views; and (6) Open the gateways to our neighborhoods.

3)       I believe there should be two voting meetings per month and I think the public comment should be placed at the beginning of the meeting, rather than make residents wait until the end of the long business meeting to speak. I would let residents actually speak, without interruption. I would be proactive and make all information public, rather than wait for a resident to make a “Right to Know" Request.

 [    ]     John Petrucci

1)       Serving in Law Enforcement for 30 years, I have learned honesty, integrity, and accountability along with investigative skills that help lead to effective and complete decisions.

As a current Councilman of Penn Hills, one of my biggest attributes is the focus I spend on being accessible to the residence. I am retired, and that allows for the time needed to answer resident concerns personally on a daily basis. Currently, I spend twenty hours a week at the municipal building working with the manager on various issues such as reviewing contracts coming up for bid, looking out for the taxpayers, and getting involved in community activities.

The time I have spent serving on Council has given me a deep understanding of the challenges Penn Hills faces, and I am always thinking of how I can make Penn Hills better for all of us that live here.

2)       The largest issue is the mismanagement of the school board budget that put the district 170 million in debt. Raising taxes has caused a ripple effect that has hurt residents, seniors, children, and the economic growth of our community. I will work with the new school board to help bring a resolution to some of their problems and reach out to state and local officials to search for relief.

Another issue is sewage costs. I worked with the manager to implement a five dollar decrease in the current service fee but will continue investigations to lead to more relief in the future.

Litter is a big problem. I have introduced to Mayor and Council that we adopt a resolution that residents and business owners be responsible for cleanup of their property on a regular basis or face fines.  Lastly, code enforcement needs to be more proactive instead of just reactive.

3)       The Charter was adopted in 1973 and has only had minor changes, I believe it is outdated. The structure of the meetings needs to be changed to fit the needs of the community today. I purposed changes back in January 2017, but it fell on deaf ears.

The council’s procedures should provide an environment to which the citizens feel they can make their views known to the council and have the opportunity to review and comment on policy matters. To increase resident accessibility, the meetings should also be recorded and broadcasted on various cable channels.

I would also like to institute a Town Hall Meeting that would be of no cost to the taxpayers due to the fact that a solicitor, secretary, and stenographer would not be needed. The only people attending would be Mayor and Council to talk about items of interest or concern in the community.

Penn Hills Council 4 Year Term (Vote for not more than 2) – Same Questions

 [   ]      Mark Brodnicki

1)       My education from the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg will help me understand the sometimes complex problems that Council will face. I have a Bachelor of Science in Business and Accounting. I have also take some other computer and accounting classes. I have worked at a successful retail business for 30+ years and this helps with my communication skills with the public.

2)       Penn Hills is a great community with great people. The biggest problem is how it is perceived by other suburban communities. By working with the police and other departments I hope to help keep it safe and fiscally strong. By doing this, it will attract new businesses and residents.

3)       I believe that we should return to a two meeting a month schedule. I brought this up at the meeting in February. I knew it would not be a popular idea with the other council people, except for Mrs. Sapp, but I believe we need to be more visible to the residents, especially with the problems with School District. It could be two regular meetings or a regular meeting and a workshop session, as long as there are two meetings. I don’t think it is as important in the summer because a lot of residents have other things going on but it is important for the rest of the months.

[   ]       Chuck Chieffo

1)       I am a life-long resident of the Penn Hills/Verona area and I care very deeply about this township that I grew up in. I am a Democratic candidate and I am not affiliated with the Penn Hills Democratic Party that has wreaked havoc n our community in the past. I believe that a positive change would be welcomed by our good residents. I worked for the Penn Hills School District for 14 years as a bus driver. I have great listening skills and a positive ‘get things done’ attitude. The people of Penn Hills deserve a Councilman with an open mind and ambition to move the municipality in a forward direction.

2)       Our municipality needs good, positive change. I believe I can help correct the many problems that face us now and in the future. I see the biggest problems as possible deceptive spending and huge sewage and water bills. I will call for an in-depth investigation for these situations, which everyone is concerned about. I will try to find creative funding ideas to help the fire station recruit additional volunteer firemen with tax incentives and school education reimbursement. I would also like to see our Penn Hills residents take an active part in making our community litter free and take more pride in their properties.

3)       I agree with the charter as written, but it needs to be enforced. I have attended many of the Penn Hills Council Meetings and see much that needs to be changed and fixed. For starters, the current Mayor has total dominance over these meetings. Many residents that have tried to speak and give opinions have been silenced. I believe the council meetings should be an open forum for residents to voice their concerns and give input to improve our municipality. If a resident has asked to speak in advance and is placed on the docket, they should be allowed to do so; this is what the Home Rule Charter clearly states.

[   ]       Frank Pecora

1)       I am a life-long resident of Penn Hills. Graduated PH High School in 1977. I watched the town grow to a fully developed township while they were building they never upgraded the sewage system or developing more tax revenues. I watched past administrations turn a blind eye to gradually increasing taxes & deferring them to fit there political agenda.

2)       Taxes & school district liability’s if elected I plan to work to expand & develop a more equitable tax base by appointing a blue ribbion advisory committee and by putting out a call for active & retired business people to advise Penn Hills how to solve these problems.

3)       Council meetings should be run bye the rules an regulations of the charter as it is currently written. Any amendments or major changes should be submitted to the voters in a resolution. If & when the law hurts the people we must change the law but the law should be changed by the people.

[   ]       James A. Getsy

1)       I have a Bachelor Degrees in sociology and psychology from Duquesne University and a Masters of Education from University of Pittsburgh in Counseling.  I have 40 years of grant management, with the Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh and the Federal Department of HUD. As part of my jobs, I reviewed and recommended funding of federal grants; did field inspections of the projects with the URA; inspected homes for code violations and other deficiencies.  I worked with planners, developers, attorneys, construction contractors, business people, homeowners and tenants, as well as representatives of the Department of HUD.  I oversaw the CDBG program for Penn Hills.   Since retiring from HUD, I have been an active member of several Penn Hills nonprofit organizations. 

2)       1- High sewer bills which compound the residents’ financial burden.  I would strive to reduce the sewer charges, particularly    the $30 surcharge.  As a council member, I will request that we have a town hall meeting to understand and explain why we spend twice as much as any neighboring community for our sewer system.

2- A complicated budget that allows for categories such as “Special Pay” which provided for the $280,000 granted to our previous municipal manager. I will seek to reduce this and other rapidly increasing categories such as Overtime and redirect monies to Resurfacing.  To bring transparency to the budget, I would request that the budget hearings be separate from the council meetings. 

3- Legal Representation.  Based on findings by the Grand Jury that the municipality’s solicitor provided free and discounted legal services to members of the boards of both the school and municipality, I would vote for the replacement of the current solicitor and require all members of Council to sign conflict of interest statements.

3)       1-    I support televised council meetings, allowing all citizens the opportunity to see their government in action. 

2-       I support citizen participation at council meetings and would oppose any efforts to suppress and interrupt residents who may be presenting opinions contrary to Council’s positions.  Mayor and Council have the right to keep order at the meetings, but not to prohibit dissent. 

3-       I am in favor of a Home Rule Charter amendment allowing for two additional council members. The Conflict of Interest Statement in the Home Rule Charter must be rewritten in clear and understandable language.

[   ]       Tyler Tomasino

1)       I’ve worked in the restaurant industry in various capacities for many years, most recently managing a multimillion dollar restaurant. My responsibilities included adhering to budgets, managing repair, maintenance and capital expenses, customer service, and dealing with complex employee-employer relations, amongst many other duties. Working in a high-stress environment, I needed to show exceptional leadership, creative thinking, teamwork, and excellent organization and negotiating skills. I also demonstrated the ability to communicate effectively, and build a team based on trust and a hands-on approach. I think my experience running a business, and the skills used to do so, translate directly to the qualities needed to be successful as a Council member. Running a restaurant, you are dependent upon your reputation to keep your business going - Penn Hills Council must develop a reputation that shows its willingness to work with the community in order to move Penn Hills forward.

2)      While I think there are many issues in Penn Hills, I think one of our main issues is transparency. We have a stigma of back-door politics. True or not, we have to change this image. In order to be more transparent, we must institute a clear, concise way to contact our elected officials; post not only agendas online, but all associated ordinances, bids and proposals so they can be inspected by the public; make council meetings inviting for residents; and institute an anti-nepotism and term limit policy, ensuring no elected official can receive kickbacks or continually hold office term after term. We must come together and empower all residents to offer suggestions, feedback, and yes - even criticism, because that is the only way to move Penn Hills forward. Open government is critical to an informed public, and an informed public is critical to democracy.

3)       As far as the structure of council meetings and communication with residents, I think we have significant room for improvement. Council meetings are not accessible for everyone, and that has to change. I want to record all public meetings so they can be viewed on demand by residents. We must also make better use of our website and social media outlets to better inform the public on upcoming events. 

I would like to see our Home Rule Charter updated in many ways, but specifically regarding how members of council are elected. We are a large community with a fairly small council. I would like to expand the number of council members from four to eight, and instead of electing at-large, I’d like to propose we elect by ward, so we can ensure all parts of the community are equally represented. 

[   ]       Jace Ransom

1)       -Hosted many community gatherings of local business, residents, and service agencies

-Created and facilitated several community groups and partnerships

-Present position provides me with access to community development models and best practice ideas

-Active member of several community groups:  PH Partnership, PH Educational Foundation, PHCDEC committee, Penn Hills Clergy Association, Municipal Economic

-Advisory Committee 

-Was a member of the managing staff of a successful Shredding business in Puerto Rico 

-Licensed real estate agent 

-Certified PA teacher.

2)       A big problem we face is the lack of communication from our municipal government to the people.  Most of the people in the community do not know what is being done in our local government and why it is being done.   People are ill informed and therefore do not have the information they need to be educated on what is going on and how it may affect them.  I would propose creating a communication policy for local government.

Another big problem is that we do not understand what our assets are in our community and therefore cannot advocate for ourselves.  We spend a lot of time talking about problems and never about what our assets are.  I would not exclude the problems from our conversation because we need to work on them, but I would also include a plan for our assets.  I would propose we spend time and money evaluating what our assets are and strengthening them. 

Finally, we all are aware of the financial situation our community has been placed in due to the misuse and mismanagement of school funds.  We must keep that in mind when we address budgetary concerns, raising taxes, and other financial matters.  Even though the municipality does not have a direct relationship to management of school funds, our community is greatly affected by school leadership decisions.  School taxes will be increased every year for many years and should be something the municipality is aware of and how it impacts our residents. 

3)       An idea has been presented to council to hold one “official” meeting a month and one “informal” meeting per month.  The official meeting would be a regular business meeting and the informal meeting would be more informative and discussion oriented.  I do like this approach.  I have addressed the need for better communication in answering the questions above.  The system we have in place is antiquated and no longer serves the community well. For the most part, I believe the Home Rule Charter is fine.  I would change Article IV section 2b special meeting to read “At least 3 copies of such notice shall be posted in conspicuous places in or on the Township Municipal Building, on the township website, face book page, and other “community sites”  I would also change the at least 24 hour written notice to at least 48 hour written notice. 

[   ]       Shawn Kerestus

1)       My ability to be an effective and successful councilman is rooted in my educational background: I hold a masters degree in Public Administration from UGA (a program ranked in the top 5 nationally) with a focus in local government along with my bachelors degree in Political Science from Pitt. Over the last 10 years, I’ve held various positions in the pharmacy field at UPMC, Aureus Health, and currently Pantherx Specialty Pharmacy. I’ve managed budgets totaling over $120 Million annually, overseen nationwide patient care programs, and negotiated contracts with the largest drug manufacturers across the world, all while maintaining the integrity to keep our patients needs my top priority. I see myself bringing the same approach to Penn Hills Council: I intend to bring a fresh set of eyes to our current municipal contracts and yearly budgets to ensure we are getting a fair deal, and that all decisions being made are in the best interest of our residents.

2)       The biggest problem facing Penn Hills today is our school district debt. This predicament has further exacerbated our population flight issue, which continues to decrease our tax base. The first thing we must do is leave the mentality that the school district has nothing to do with the municipality behind. We are one community. All local elected officials from state senator down need to begin a dialogue and develop a path forward for our community. This path forward should come in the form of a new comprehensive plan. This plan will be developed with input from all stakeholders in our community and will be used to update our outdated land zoning, outline a strategy to bring new businesses to Penn Hills that our residents desire, and develop a strategy to make our community more appealing to the next generation of home buyers. Furthermore, it is a problem how some local businesses are not properly maintaining their storefronts, disregarding our ordnances around landscaping, and are allowing their properties to be littered with trash and debris.  I will press our code enforcement team to hold these businesses accountable and begin to fine when necessary. Let’s take pride in our community and push to raise the standard of our curbside appearance.

3)       I believe all three areas have room for improvement. Citizens that have concerns for council should be able to email their topic and desire to address council instead of writing a letter for review. Furthermore, I will push to have a public comment section added to our meetings. Each person will be limited to 2 minutes to bring up any topic for which they have concerns or praise within our community without the need to obtain written permission. I also believe our elected members should have a time limit to address topics and maintain a respectful manner. If the public is required to be succinct in their comments, so should council. The municipality’s current methods to communicate with community members makes me think it’s 1991 again. If elected, I will push to make our website easier to use with regularly updated content, enact policy to require all elected officials to maintain an official email address that will be shared with the public to foster communication, and look to bring in an online system where residents can report code violations and other municipal issues directly from their phone or computer. A precedent will be set where public employees should respond acknowledging your issue within 24 hours and provide regular updates on its resolution. Finally, we should utilize our web space to post public events that are hosted by the municipality, school district, and local nonprofits.  Again, we are one community. With regards to the Home Rule charter, I believe it’s time for a committee to be appointed to review and update our Home Rule charter to meet the age we live in. Their finalized document would be put on a future ballot for the public to decide if it should be adopted.

Penn Hills School Director 4 Year Term (Vote for not more than 5) – Both cross-filed for both parties:

1. What experience and skills do you possess that would enable you to be an effective and successful Penn Hills School Director (School Board Member)?

2. What steps do you advocate to get the school district out of its budget deficit and balance the budget?

3. What would your approach be to improving the public schools performance and image?

[   ]       Erin Vecchio

1)       I believe that my ability to work with others is key. I don’t stand for nonsense, but I always make an effort to listen to others with a difference of opinion, we need unity if we are to find real solutions.

2)       The Auditor General himself (Eugene Depasquale) has said that we CANNOT cut our way out of the financial hole that we are in. The only cuts that would amount to anything, that won’t impact the quality of the students education, would be to stop sending millions of dollars annually out of the district to cyber charter schools. The money budgeted for charter schools is now larger than the budget shortfall by several million dollars.

I have brought in $4 million within the last couple years in grants with the help of Senator Costa and I will continue to pressure the State to bail us out. If the State themselves are telling us that cutting our staff and programs won’t get us out of the debt we’re in then why sacrifice the quality of education that we offer the community?

We had vide and testimony from tens of individuals in the “investigation(s)” about the corruption and theft involved in the causing of our current situation, had the prosecutors done their job we would not be in this mess. That being said I believe we need the federal government to come in the investigate everything themselves, the people responsible committed organized fraud and belong in prison.

3)       We need a bail out from the State so we can keep and hire great staff while investing our resources in current and future programs. Looking up the crooks would have helped but in the meantime we need to work together and stay positive. All we have left is each other.

[   ]       Robert A. Marra

1)       I am a graduate on MIT (PhD 1982) and have been employed by Alcoa/Almatis for 37 years.  I am currently Vice President of Technology for a $600 million global business and a member of the company’s Executive Committee.  In January 2018, I appointed by the Penn Hills Board of Directors to fill the position of Penn Hills School District Treasurer.  I worked closely with the District Business Manager and state appointed financial support accountant to ensure that our budget was realistic and accurate.  I also reported the district financial status at regularly scheduled board voting meetings in an open and transparent manner.  In the summer of 2018, I was appointed to the school board of directors to fill a vacated seat.  I am currently on the advisory board for the state appointed Chief Recovery Officer.

2)       As a member of the Advisory Committee, I have been working with the Chief Recovery Officer on developing a plan to balance the school district budget and reduce the debt level that has crippled the Penn Hill School District.  First and foremost, we must maintain the quality of education that is available to all of students.  We must reduce expenditures by right sizing our staff to a level required to service our declining enrollment; we need to maximize our revenues by taking advantage of the credits available for transportation, special education, and other services.  We also need to strengthen and publicize our in-house CHIEFS Cyber School to encourage students to return to the Penn Hills School District.

3)       Having had four children graduate from Penn Hills School District, I can attest that Penn Hills provides a quality education that prepares our student for post-secondary education or vocational opportunities.  Our elementary program is doing well as evidenced by our standardized test scores and PVASS (Pennsylvania Value Added Assessment System) scores.  We must strengthen our performance in the middle school and high school programs by providing intervention to students that need additional support.  We must provide a safe environment for our students, faculty, and staff.  Students that violate the rules must face consequences for their actions and discipline must be enforced in fair and consistent manner, There are many great things happening in the Penn Hill School.  We need to continue to publicize.