Beginning today, The Meadville Tribune reviews the top Crawford County news stories of 2012. It’s likely that all of the stories are familiar to Tribune readers, and more than 100 of you took part in helping to limit the list of headlines to just 15, then choose their order of importance to the community.
We start with the stories rated number 15 through 11, and over the next five days will proceed through the list to number one, the story voted as most important of the year.
15-Naming rights to Second District School debated
Change often isn’t easy, but when a change involves a school, emotions can run especially high. As members of Crawford Central School Board grappled with decreasing enrollment and increasing cuts in funding, it became apparent that maintaining three elementary schools within the city limits of Meadville and a fourth just over the border in West Mead Township was no longer a fiscally viable alternative.
When the decision was made during the 2011-12 school year that East End Elementary School would be eliminated from the district’s school roster — and most of the former East End kids would now be educated at Second District School across town — things got complicated. Parents of East End students requested a name change for Second District Elementary School to reflect its new student population, a committee was formed and a public meeting held to gather suggestions.
The public debate became heated, but in the end — months later — the board ruled that Second District will remain Second District.
14-Incorrect Voter ID signs cause election-day stir
Signs with large lettering — incorrectly requiring voter identification at polling places — reportedly caused confusion for local voters after at least two of those eye-catching displays were placed at Crawford County polling sites on election day, Nov. 6.
Some voters lodged complaints to the Voter Services Office after seeing the signs, leading to the signs’ eventual removal that day.
County officials across the state anticipated enforcement of new Pennsylvania legislation requiring registered voters to present valid forms of identification in order to vote, and the signs were part of packages for use on election day at polling places. Though state courts later ruled to put aside the law’s implementation for the 2012 election, the signs were still in local packages.
Voter Services Director Melanie Mushrush took responsibility for the local snafu as well as its inclusion in county poll worker packets, describing the incident as an oversight.
Alerted to the issue, the Pennsylvania Department of State contacted counties statewide to ensure no signs indicating ID requirements were displayed, according to spokesperson Matthew Keeler, who mentioned the Crawford County signs were “something that could be looked at later” by the department.
Making matters worse, other paperwork in the pre-packaged printed supplies, though with much smaller lettering saying that voter ID was needed, were also displayed at some polling places. They were not as obvious but were discovered by some people later in the day. The election board opted not to have them recalled countywide since the election was within a few hours of ending. There were no reports of any local voter not voting because of Voter ID confusion that day.
The county Election Board has planned a full review as well as a policy-setting effort for election-day guidelines before the spring 2013 primary election.
13-Armed guards now at courthouse front door
Security at the Crawford County Courthouse was revised this year with three more full-time deputies added to the Sheriff’s Office.
In July, County Commissioners Francis Weiderspahn Jr., Jack Lynch and C. Sherman Allen agreed to turn over security of the entrance to the courthouse to the county sheriff’s office.
Commissioners agreed to hire three additional armed sheriff’s deputies to replace the four part-time metal detector screeners at the courthouse’s main entrance. The four part-time metal detector screeners were under the control of the commissioners’ office.
The move was part of a 90-day plan for the sheriff’s office to update security rules and procedures at county-owned buildings.
The first additional deputy was hired in August while the other two new deputy positions were filled in September.
The sheriff’s office took over operations of front door security at the courthouse in early October.
12-County begins work on Talon site
Site preparation continued at the former Talon Inc. site on upper Arch Street in Meadville.
Demolition of a portion of the former zipper manufacturing plant was completed, along with separation of utility service for the various buildings.
Crawford County is considering using the former Talon Inc. site as a courts building as a way to alleviate overcrowding at the Crawford County Courthouse on Diamond Park in downtown Meadville.
However, the Crawford County Board of Commissioners has yet to decide whether to go forward with the project. A proposed split of current courthouse functions between the courthouse and the former Talon Inc. site has a projected cost of $25.3 million.
In January, an all-volunteer Community Advisory Committee recommended splitting the courthouse functions among two sites. The committee’s recommendation came after a months-long study by the advisory committee that started in late summer 2011.
11-Texas Twins drug runners caught, sentenced
Twin brothers from Texas were sentenced to state prison in mid-December for coordinating the transportation and distribution of as much as 20 pounds of marijuana a month into northwestern Pennsylvania.
The Attorney General’s Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Pennsylvania State Police charged Miguel Rodriguez, 29, of Corpus Christi and his twin brother, Marcelino Rodriguez, 29, of Eddy, as well as seven others with involvement in the drug trafficking ring last summer.
Miguel and Marcelino Rodriguez were sentenced in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas to a total of four to eight years and three to five years in state prison, respectively, on charges of possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and criminal use of a communication device.
Authorities said the Rodriguez brothers were assisted by Robert Karl Conaway, 29, in the distribution of marijuana in and around Crawford County, with Miguel operating in Texas and calling up to Marcelino and others to arrange the shipments to Pennsylvania and money transfer back to Texas.
Tomorrow: Top stories 10, 9, 8 and 7.