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All the news that doesn't fit in print

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    Blogger's Note:OK, so those of you who read these things and have grown used to me putting notes into the "Storify" of my posts to fill in the blanks between the Tweets, but that function was not working tonight.

    Also, it wasn't my idea but the meeting resulted in the lead of this story, visible up there in the headline, being buried at the bottom. Rest assured, it will be right up on top when I write it up for the newspaper.

    So a few notes:
    • At one point I Tweeted that nine positions would be cut under the proposed school budget and at another that 11 would be cut. The right number is 11, nine classroom assistants, one secretary and one teacher.
    • The African author to whom Franklin Principal Kevin Downes was referring is Wingari Maathai, who won a Nobel prize and fostered the "green belt" movement in Africa.
    • I didn't mention him by name, but as many of you know, the chairman of the finance committee is Board Vice President Dennis Wausnock and he listened in from a hospital bed as he is pretty ill.
    • So first of all, send him your best wishes, he has been a public servant for a very, very long time, and second of all, Twitter didn't give me room to put Wausnock's name in the Tweet. We're all pulling for you Dennis.
    • And although I couldn't resist putting in that board member Andrew Keefer works for a foreclosure law firm, I had intended to flesh out his comments in the notes. What he also said was "PSERS, debt service and building roofs, that's what this comes down to. Those are the three reasons the budget is increasing this year. The district continues to get more blood out of a stone but we have no wiggle room."
    That said, remember, to click the "Read More" blue story bar at the bottom for the juicy stuff, here is the Storify:

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    Marvin and Terryl Marsh accept the
    Volunteers of the Year Award.
    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Planned Parenthood Federation of Southeast Pennsylvania.

    Planned Parenthood Federation of America honored the Rev. Dr. Marvin Marsh of Pottstown's First Baptist Church and his wife Terryl Marsh with the organization's nationwide Volunteers of the Year Award recently.

    Dayle Steinberg, CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania, introduced the couple to the audience at Planned Parenthood's National Conference in Washington, DC.

    The two have donated over 2,600 hours of service to Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania, which serves Philadelphia, Chester, Montgomery and Delaware Counties.

    Dayle Steinberg, CEO of Planned Parenthood
    of Southeastern Pennsylvania
    “What makes Rev Marsh and Terry Marsh so extraordinary and worthy of this national recognition is the vast array and sheer diversity of support they offer and the 100 percent effort they give to all they do,” said Steinberg.

    Rev. Marsh has served on PPSP’s board of directors for the past seven years. 

    In their time volunteering, the couple has raised the volume of the community’s progressive religious voices through involvement in advocacy initiatives, including grassroots activities, media outreach, and visits to elected officials. 

     Rev. Marsh hosted a workshop for clergy on reproductive loss, recruited new clergy supporters, and instituted the first clergy internship at PPSP. 

     Having Marvin and Terryl in the Surgical Center weekly greatly enhances the patient experience, and both patients and staff express immense gratitude to the two for their presence and sensitivity.

    PPSP is grateful for the Marshes' ongoing contributions and celebrates Planned Parenthood's national recognition of their work.

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    It was with no small degree of regret that I wrote last week's article about Marta Kiesling's departure from the Steel River Playhouse.

    It marked another chapter in the never-ending story of How Pottstown Shoots Itself in the Foot Every Time; this time at an institution that had appeared to be immune.

    I've known my share of theater people and accept as a given that they can be, no pun or insult intended, mercurial.

    When you think about it, they kind of need to be in order to undertake the various quick changes of character and costume that are the mark of a successful theater person.

    And I've also counseled tough love when The Mercury's arts editor tore her hair out over the organization's apparent inability to get us promotional materials in a timely enough manner to put them on the cover of our Thursday arts section where, we all agree, they belong.

    But I never cotton to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    Like your children, its possible to love and appreciate them for who they are, even when they drive you nuts.

    I always just considered those frustrations to be part of the price we pay to have Steel River in town.

    And we definitely want Steel River in town.

    Now I know there are plenty of people involved in that organization's success, and I know that as the contact person with The Mercury, and the person out front with the community, it is possible for me to get an outsized impression of Kiesling's importance at Steel River.

    But my gut, which is not insubstantial, tells me good or bad, that she was at the center of the action and what we'll get without her remains an unknown.

    Since no one on the board of directors there has denied Kiesling's assertions Steel River is pursuing a "new direction," and that's why she says she left, I find myself asking one question: "What was wrong with the direction they were going in the first place?"

    Here we have a home-grown theater organization, deeply embedded with the schools and the community, producing first-rate productions that introduce local kids and their parents to the miracles of live performance in a way no class in the works of Shakespeare ever could.

    Here we have an organization that, despite being in debt, operates in the black and successfully renovated and occupied a downtown building in Pottstown, which is what we say we all want.

    And here we have an organization that put on these first-rate productions using a hybrid of professional and local people which were not so ridiculously expensive that going to a show did not necessarily mean your youngest could not go to college.

    I have to wonder, what's wrong with that direction?

    What's worse is we've been through this before, but as usual, Pottstown's long-term memory is limited to how great it was when we had factories and cruising.

    Does the name Pottstown Symphony ring a bell?

    Anyone?

    Here we had a home-grown, albeit quirky, organization that was kept going largely by the energies of a nigh-inexhaustible enthusiast and a new, "professional" person was brought in to "take it to the next level."

    Well intentioned?

    Yes.

    Talented?

    Sure.

    Successful here in Pottstown?

    Not a chance.

    Why?

    WE HAVE NO MONEY!

    The sad fact of the matter is, we do not have enough of an upper class, or upper middle class, with enough disposable income here, that is inclined to spend that money here to support local organizations with delusion of grandeur.

    We only have enough money to support those organizations that we already know and whose mission is familiar and useful and affordable.

    Until we bring in better paying jobs, such constructs are built without an economic foundation on which to stand.

    We can do a lot of things in Pottstown folks, no question, but the ones that work are the ones that involve everyone because that's the only way we can afford it.

    Dropping in out of the sky with a model that worked somewhere else, a place where there was a critical mass of people with enough money to spend on something that may not be familiar won't work in Pottstown, unless its a chain restaurant, for which we seem to have an inexplicable desire.

    The power of advertising I suppose. Homogenizing America one town at a time.

    Talk about setting the bar low.

    "We need an Olive Garden! We need an Olive Garden!"

    Please.

    Why? So they can take our money and ship it out of our community to some company that's traded on the stock exchange?

    Better to eat at Henry's Cafe. Better food and better for your community.

    Anyway, back to the arts and what will and won't work here.

    Case in point, Jamey's House of Music, the failure of which I also had the displeasure of reporting last week.

    Would it have been cool?

    Yup.

    Would I have loved to have a place where you could see everything from country to world music while eating Asian/fusion cuisine?

    Sure.

    But I had my doubts.

    The numbers don't lie and when you look at Pottstown area demographics, you see the truth of the matter.

    The median household income in the borough is around $43,000 with 18 percent below poverty. That's "household" income, not individual.

    Among families with children, judging by the school's free lunch program, that poverty rate is closer to 70 percent.

    Anything that doesn't have a lot of local support from day one is in for a rough ride and not many arts organizations have enough spare cash lying around to keep things afloat until they build a following.

    And each failure, just builds on Pottstown's reputation for failure.

    Blame The Mercury if you like, but I say blame human nature. We remember the one day of car wreck coverage, whether it involves actual cars or organizations, better than we recall months of quiet, competent, successful operation.

    Beyond that, set economics and demographics aside.

    Because people will continue to insist on being people, and the ability of people to willfully blind themselves to the big picture so they can be king or queen for a day is truly awesome and terrible to behold.

    I'm witnessing it now even in a comparatively small and well-established operation, the Pottstown Schools Music Association, which is currently eating its seed corn in a nasty squabble over who will be the next president of that organization.

    Both candidates, who are not only friends but relatives, insist they are mystified by "the drama" of the whole thing -- secret e-mails, commandeered voters, flexible eligibility requirements.

    But neither of them, or the people working the levers behind the scenes, is leader enough to say "you know what, the organization and its mission (the kids? You'll remember them?) is more important than who the next president is. I'll step aside so we can put this behind us and we can all start working together again on the actual mission."

    Instead, we're apparently going to behave like the middle schoolers who are supposed to be among our constituents. Great example for the kids by the way.

    Who, I have to wonder, wants to become the head of any organization that way?

    So even though the only things that have ever worked in Pottstown -- particularly where the arts are concerned -- are those which involve the maximum number of people; people who only have so much to give, be it time or money, from the smallest to the largest organizations, we continue to fracture ourselves into smaller and smaller camps, with fewer and fewer followers, speaking with smaller and smaller voices.

    Frankly, its an indulgence we cannot afford.

    And we wonder why we can't have nice things.  



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    Fifth grader Dana Summerville with Jack


    Jillian Giunta and Tajmir Hines with Mozart 

    and his owner Amy.
    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Pottstown School District: 

    Pottstown Middle School fifth and sixth grade students are spending some quality time with man’s best friend.

    Once a week four members of the Tail Waggin’ Tutors Program – Jack, Blue, Mozart, and TJ sit in the classroom as students read a book of their choice.

    Reading intervention assistant Victoria Redmond says of the program, “Statistics have shown that reading to a visiting canine buddy assists students with learning skills, encourages communication, lowers blood pressure, decreases anxiety, provides comfort, and in general brightens the students’ day.
    U'kari Taylor and Christian Coale with  Jack, 

    and his owner Jalma

    During the time that the students are reading, their canine buddies sit with them and at times almost look like they are interested in the book being read by their friend.”

    “The kids love it and find it relaxing. Even some of our students who are not regular readers are the first to volunteer to read to their canine buddy. They feel comfortable and it helps allow them to enjoy reading. When the canines are here, the students always want to read,” said fifth grade teacher Mandy Langdon.

    Keshanna Brown with Jack
    Mr. Matt Boyer, 5th and 6th grade principal, said "this is an outstanding program that gives our students an opportunity to experience the joys of reading in an environment that is warm and nurturing.”

    “The kids enjoy reading to Mozart and it is an experience that they will not forget,” said fifth grade teacher Deb Wilson.

    Each dog is accompanied by their handler and seems to enjoy the experience as much as the students.

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    Photo by Evan Brandt

    Montgomery County Planner Meredith Curran
    address borough council prior to the adoption of 
    the borough's comprehensive plan.
    So who would have thought an old ink-stained wretch like me (now a carpal-tunnel impaired wretch) would get himself all a-Twitter about Twitter not Tweeting?

    Arriving a little late to the council meeting (hey, I' a busy guy) I sit down to rip into my gripping Twitter coverage only to discover the app won't work.

    Opens.

    Closes.

    Opens

    Closes.

    Luckily, they train us to be cool under pressure at reporter school.

    So after I whined in a text to Reporter Frank Otto, who was covering a very hot Perkiomen Valley School Board meeting where students who had staged a walk-out were expressing their displeasure with the kind of school cuts Pottstown endured three years ago and definitely did not have time for my kvetching, it suddenly occurs to me.

    I can do all this on the Web too, through my browser.

    Duh.

    (As always, remember to click the blue "Read Next Page" bar for even more spine-tingling Tweets.

    We now join our Pottstown Borough Council meeting already in progress...


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    Photo by Evan Brandt

    Pottsgrove School Board President Justin Valentine, left, swears in new board member John Rossi at the end of Tuesday night's meeting.


    As usual, the lead from last night's Pottsgrove School Board meeting was buried at the end of the meeting and so, at the end of the Storify of my Tweets from the meeting below.

    But the news was so mind-blowingly important that the first thing I did when I got back to my humble abode, was to write a story for The Mercury web site, not for my beloved Digital Notebook.

    You can read that story by clicking this link.

    Spoiler alert! As you may have guessed from the photo, they appointed John Rossi to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Kelley Crist.

    And they did it on the SAME NIGHT!

    Who says government isn't efficient .... at least when they're doing something that's important to them...

    Anyway, why cut to the chase when you can work your way through the whole meeting right here, Tweet-by-Tweet.

    As always, don't forget that there's more to the Storify when you click the blue "Read Next Page" bar at the bottom.


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  • 05/14/14--21:00: Old Money
  • Photo by Evan Brandt

    Seems to me this building in the 200 block of High Street would be a perfect candidate for the program mentioned below.

    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the office of State Rep. Mark Painter (D-146th Dist.)

    Individuals and businesses are encouraged to apply for a new state program that offers tax credits to restore historic structures and transform them into income-producing properties, according to state Rep. Mark Painter.

    "Preserving historic sites, while also ensuring that they have a continued role to play in our communities, is a noble pursuit that I support, and I am hoping our communities will as well," said Painter, D-Montgomery.

    The Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program, which will be funded through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, is open to any individual, corporation, business trust, limited liability company, limited liability partnership or any other form of legal business entity.

    The total tax credit awarded to any qualified taxpayer will not exceed $500,000 in any fiscal year, and the total amount the commonwealth will issue will not exceed $3 million.

    "Anyone who thinks they may be eligible is encouraged to apply for this program. I know that these remnants from our past can still serve us well as we head into the future," Painter said.

    Painter's office staff is available to help with submitting applications. Beginning May 1, interested parties also can submit applications through the DCED website at www.newpa.com/hptc.

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  • 05/15/14--21:00: Light and Quick
  • Photo by Evan Brandt
    A Pottstown School District worker removes the lens from the lights taken off the first pole to come down at 
    Grigg Memorial Field.


    Yeah I know, this is mostly a storify of Tweets from last night's Pottstown School Board meeting, but the photos of the lights coming down were just too cool to pass up.



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    The Pottstown Middle School Jazz Band with their "Superior" rating from a recent competition at Arcola Middle School.

    Blogger's Note:John Armato, whose appreciation for the musical arts only continues to grow, provided the following.

    The Pottstown Middle School jazz band proved that when it comes to jazz there is no middle ground in the Pottstown School District program which is recognized for outstanding bands at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels.

    The middle school band, under the direction of Mr. Ben Hayes, earned the top rating of “Superior” at the Arcola Jazz event.
    Will Minnick with his 

    "Outstanding Soloist" award from 
    the Arcola jazz completion

    Competing against bands from Spring-Ford, Pottsgrove, Pine Brook, and Penndale, the band made its presence felt by performing “Groovin’,” “Freddie the Freeloader,” and “Blues Machine.”

    The trumpet section of Mitchell Aquino, Will Minnick, AJ Ecker, Nick Wilson, Kiersten Heverly, and Jonathan Brusk earned recognition as the “Best Trumpet Section.” 

    Will Minnick gained individual honors by receiving the “Outstanding Soloist Award.”

    “This band has shown incredible growth over the course of this year," said Hayes. "They work hard as a team so that they can perform well on stage." 

    "We are not the largest district in the area but we have proven that we are able to compete with much bigger schools and show how great our music department is," Hayes added. 

    "Our students are beginning to believe in themselves and the idea that good work habits and determination will make any goal obtainable. Their performance makes me say I’m proud to be from Pottstown.”

    Members of the jazz band include:
     
    The "Best Trumpet Section" with their award from
    the Arcola jazz competition.

    • Saxes: Shane Duncan, Evan DeBlase, Hannah Shankle, London Aquino, Rashell Williams, Avery Heverly, Destyn Snyder

    • Trumpets: Mitchell Aquino, Will Minnick, AJ Ecker, Kiersten Heverly, Jonathan Brusk

    • Trombones: Caitlin McLaughlin, Julian Weber, Manny Paez, Ross Mather

    • Rhythm Section: Gabe Francis, Dylan Thorne, Nick Wilson, Harrison Wolf, Madison Overholt, Claire Fetterman

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    Mercury Photo by John Strickler


    On Friday and Saturday, Pottstown School District wrapped up the celebration of its 175th Anniversary with a Friday dinner at Brookside Country Club for the Foundation for Pottstown Education and a celebration Saturday at Pottstown High School that culminated in the above photo.

    Here are my Tweets and Touts from Saturday's event, almost outnumbered by Tweets from Schools Superintendent Jeff Sparagana, who is new to Twitter but taking no prisoners, and a few from John J. Armato from Friday night.

    (As always, remember to click the blue "Read Next Page" bar to make sure you don't miss any of those sweet, sweet Tweets.)



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    Letter writer says Tom Quigley's mailers are misleading
    Tomorrow is primary election day.

    There are few local races in Pottstown with the exception of the Republican primary for the 146th state legislative district.

    It pits former state Rep. Tom Quigley -- who lost the seat in the last election to Democrat Mark Painter -- against Harvey Friedland.

    At attorney who lives in Trappe, Friedland bucked the Republican committee and filed to run against Quigley after Quigley won the committee's endorsement by one vote, after which two other challengers, Limerick Supervisor Thomas Neafcy Jr. and Pottsgrove School Board President Justin Valentine, backed out.

    Painter, the incumbent Democrat, is unopposed on Tuesday's primary ballot.

    The 146th District now only covers the eastern portion of Pottstown.

    During the most recent re-districting, Tim Hennessey's 26th District was extended across the Schuylkill to include the southern and western portions of the borough. 

    Not only is Hennesey, a Republican with decades in office, unopposed in the primary. It appears he will likely be unopposed in the general election in November as well.
    Harvey Friedland is seeking the GOP nod Tuesday for the 146th Dist. 

    So around here, it would seem that choices on primary day are limited to Republicans who live in the eastern portion of the borough.

    I received this e-mail over the weekend and I suspect it may not make it into the print edition of The Mercury before Tuesday's election.

    So I offer it here without comment. 

    It speaks for itself:
    Dear Mercury Staff,
    I hope that this will reach the Editors page before the primary election on Tuesday May 20th, 2014 which is next Tuesday.

    My name is David M. Alderfer, I have lived in Pottstown for 20 years. I am a proud Republican and have not missed a primary or general election since I've been here. In most past elections I've voted the party line, I have voted for Ex State Rep. Tom Quigley multiple times.

    I am to the point now where I don't know who I should or should not vote for. I hate the political mud slinging, knit picking and misinformation that goes along with these people running for office.

    Here is what I do know.

    Ex State Rep. Tom Quigley keeps sending out political campaign mailers with misinformation about his opponent Harvey Friedland. Mr. Quigley quotes an article from the Pottstown Mercury, as April 3, 2014, twice in his first mailer on May 9, 2014 and once in his mailer on May 16, 2014 as saying that Mr. Friedland said "we wont see the complete elimination of the property tax."

    Wow! I read it so it must be true! Really, now lets see an actual quote from the article that was written by "Award winning reporter Evan Brandt" that appeared in the Mercury. What was reported as the words of Mr. Friedland actually were "most property tax reform proposals he has seen do not generate enough revenue to allow for the complete elimination of the property tax."

    I see that as politics as usual, omit parts of a statement made by a person to discredit them. It also seems to me as being weak, like school yard antics. When one child says things about another to make them look bad.

    Really Mr. Quigley are you that insecure that you must mislead the public about your opponent?

    You were in office for "FOUR" terms and talked about and "sponsored legislation to eliminate school property tax." That's funny I've lived here for 20 years and I've never heard one person say their property tax has ever dropped a little bit.

    I'm sure Mr. Quigley is a real nice fellow, I'm sure Mr. Friedland is a real nice fellow.

    What I have not seen is any mailers, flyers or articles with Mr. Friedland misleading the fine people of 146th district about his opponent. Isn't that the typical political agenda?

    For years, ever since the incident when the Pa legislators in the middle of the night against the state constitution voted them selves a pay raise. I've heard people say to "vote them out." I believe Mr. Quigley was in office at that time and he was voted out, once.

    Do we really need to put him back in office again? Can we trust him?

    The Republican committee is endorsing Mr. Quigley, but that shouldn't surprise any one. If the same old, good old boys are there running things its easier for them to meet their agenda if they have the support of the politicians that they put in office, then it's politics as usual.
    I for one would love to see change in Harrisburg, but its not going to happen until we put some new fresh ideas and people in office.

    After looking over the mailers that Mr. Quigley sent out. Not only does it mislead the public on what was said in the Mercury. The dates that were used for the article quote was wrong.

    Mr Quigley's mailers said 3 times the article date was April 3, 2014, when in fact Mr. Brandt's article was in the Mercury on Friday April 4, 2014. Not only that, Mr. Friedland's name was misspelled on the mailer that I received on May 16, 2014. Really? Come on Tom, that's weak.

    (Blogger's note:I suspect Mr. Quigley is using the date the article was published on The Mercury web site, which is often sooner than it appears in print, which is the date Mr. Alderfer is probably using...)

    Is this the kind of person we want in office representing us? Not me, and if Tom Quigley wins this primary I may have to vote the other party in the general election in November for the first time in 37 years.

    I just wish this letter reaches the people and gives them something to think about. We can't change anything if we don't try to change it.
    Thank you,
    David M. Alderfer

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  • 05/19/14--21:00: And the Winner Is.....
  • Photo by Evan Brandt

    The Pottstown School District's Teachers of the Year wait to find out which will will represent the district in the statewide Teacher of the Year Competition. They are, from left, Sarah Paul, Julie Boettcher, Mandy Wampole, Jamie Fazekas, Amy Gazillo, Arden Moore and Kelly Smale.


    Well for the umpteenth year in the row, the Pottstown School District chose to combine one of the most important votes of the year, the adoption of the tentative budget for the year, with a number of other ceremonies including the Teacher of the Year.

    So, while families of the teachers talked with each other after the naming of the district's Teacher of the Year (I'm not telling, you have to read the Tweets), the board voted 7-2 to spend $55.9 million.
    Photo by Evan Brandt
    The 16th consecutive Distinguished Unit ribbon is attached to the 
    Pottstown High School Air Force JROTC flag by 
    Schools Superintendent Jeff Sparagansa. 

    Not that you'd know that from looking at the meeting agenda, where other crucial amounts like the hourly rate for the cafeteria manager are dutifully noted. But hey, why would you want to know what the budget is at a public meeting where, you know, you might offer public comment or something.

    It's almost as if the budget vote is an after-thought, a sideshow after the main event.

    Silly public.

    And you thought it was YOUR school district.

    You only get to pay for it.

    There is still one more budget vote, in June.

    In the meantime, this "proposed budget" is available for public review for 30 days, as required by law, after which you can offer public comment when, you know, its too late.

    Please find below the Tweets and one Tout video from last night's meeting. And remember to click the blue "Read Next Page" bar to make sure you've got it all.



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    Photo courtesy of Loreen Bloodgood
    Loreen Bloodgood, left, and Alicia Terrlizzi of Limerick, pictured here with their boys Lance and Blake.


    When Montgomery County Register of Willis D. Bruce Hanes began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples last July, in the wake of the Supreme Court's overturning of the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act, Loreen Bloodgood and Alicia Terrlizzi were among the first in line.

    Together for 17 years and the parents of two boys, the Limerick couple married immediately and for the last 10 months, that marriage has been in limbo because Pennsylvania did not recognize their marriage.

    Yesterday, a federal court judge appointed by President George W. Bush declared Pennsylvania's version of DOMA to be unconstitutional and allowing same sex couples to marry immediately.

    As a result, Bloodgood's and Terrlizzi's marriage became instantly legal.

    I had the distinct honor of interviewing Bloodgood last July and again yesterday to get her reaction to the next step forward in equality.

    Sometimes you just know you're writing about an important time in history and this was one of them.

    When I asked for their reaction, Bloodgood said she and Alicia are getting their taxes organized so they can file jointly for the first time in their lives together -- a seemingly mundane act that has taken on great symbolic importance for them.

    I actually spoke to Bloodgood before she had a chance to speak to Terrlizzi, who was out taking the boys to their soccer practice while Bloodgood made their lunches for tomorrow, "just like any other married couple."

    Below is a Storify of Tweets reacting to the news, as well as the stories I wrote back then and yesterday (yes, in the midst of election day because it never rains but it pours.)

    Congratulations to every one in love who only wants the world to recognize that they have chosen to spend their lives together.

    It shouldn't have been this hard.



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    Parents and caregivers, surely we all have hopes and dreams for our children and thoughts on how we can help them to succeed.

    Well the Pottstown School District wants to hear from you.

    A series of four listening sessions will be conducted next week as part of the $175,000 planning grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to determine how home/school partnerships can be strengthened; to find out what can be done to increase family participation; and to improve support for all children's growth and development from birth through grade 3.

    (I wrote about the grant in March for The Mercury. Click here to read that story.)

     "What is learned from these conversations will be shared with other community agencies and used in designing and re-designing school district programs," according to a release from the school district.

    The information will also be used as a basis for a major grant application to the W. K. Kellogg Foundation for a multi-year grant of more than $1 million which could result in additional investment in early childhood education and engagement.

    These "Community Conversations" will occur at the following times and locations:
    • Tuesday, May 27 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Pottstown Middle School, 600 N. Franklin St.;
    • Wednesday, May 28 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Connections on High, 238 E. High St.;
    • Thursday, May 29 from 1 to 3 p.m. at First Baptist Church, King and North Charlotte streets;
    • Thursday, May 29 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Barth Elementary School, 467 W. Walnut St.
    For this initiative to be successful, "participation from all social and ethnic groups is crucial," said the release. 

    Your feedback, regarding ideas, including the kinds of programs and activities wanted, and what can be done to help participation, is needed, according to the release.



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    Bud Jeffries holds Sharon Wagner up on his stomach.
    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Pottstown School District

    Students at Rupert Elementary School learned that reading and being considerate of other people can help them become a stronger and better person.

     That was the message they heard at an assembly that featured “Strong Man” Bud Jeffries. 

     Jeffries impressed the students with some incredible feats of strength such as bending steel spikes and lifting teacher Laurie Gresko over his head. 

    He pointed out to the students that as strong as he may be they also could become outstanding people by being strong both inside and out. 

    He reinforced for them that reading was fun and told them that he enjoys reading every day.  
    He wowed the students when he tore a deck of playing cards in half while teacher Shannon Wagner was standing on his stomach.

    Jeffries message to the students was that bullying is wrong and that it is everyone’s job to stand up to and report bullies. 

     He said, “While you all think that I am physically strong it is much more important to be strong in your heart and your mind. Each one of you has the ability to be an outstanding person if you apply yourself and believe in yourself.”

    “Bud’s feats of strength were amazing, but more importantly his message to our students was to be strong on the inside and value yourself as a person and respect others. I am sure that our students got his message today,” said Principal Matt Moyer.

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  • 05/23/14--21:00: A Crowd of Crowns
  • Dana Landes
    Pottsgrove
    Danielle Cronner
    Boyertown
    July 4th Homecoming Queens from four area high schools will be at the McDonald's on East High Street next week.

    They'll be there, 1428 E. High St., on Wednesday May 28 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.

    It will be the first Annual Meet of the July 4th Homecoming Queens.

    They hail from Pottstown High School, Pottsgrove High School, Owen J. Roberts High School and Boyertown Area High School.

    Sarah Maloney
    Owen J. Roberts
    Megan Remick
    Pottstown

    The girls will be raising money for the July 4th parade in Pottstown this year.

    Each penny is a vote closer for them to become the 2014
    Pottstown July 4th Queen.

    Photos may be taken of your child with the Homecoming Queen of their choice for $1. 

    So bring your camera or use your cell phone.

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  • 05/24/14--21:00: The Last Straw
  • I no longer cotton to the notion of "the last straw," at least not as far as the American middle class is concerned.

    Primarily, that's because I don't think there will be a "last" straw, at least not in my lifetime.

    When you're already buried under a pile of straw, each "last straw" is really just one more on the pile and America's middle class is already under a pile that gets a new last straw every day.

    Whether its the collapse of pensions, the unlikelihood of a secure retirement, low-wage jobs over living-wage jobs, impossible college costs and staggering student debt, underwater mortgages and rising bankruptcies and foreclosures, increasing food costs and less nutritious food, there are not too many bright spots for the middle class these days.

    Besides, the idea of the last straw suggests a breaking point, and really, do any of us think the American middle class isn't already broken?

    The evidence is not hard to find if you look.

    Consider that a record number of American citizens are living in "official" poverty -- that's 15 percent or 46.2 million people.

    And its not like the rest are living high on the hog, or even comfortably in the middle. We just don't fit into the "official" definition of poverty.

    For many, lowly newspaper reporters for instance, life in America is a paycheck-to-paycheck proposition. So many of us are one medical emergency, one emergency home repair, one missed credit card payment away from insolvency.

    And we're the lucky ones.

    Consider that four in five Americans faced poverty or the inability to find or get work as recently as last September. Has it really gotten any better since then?

    Not much room there for a middle.

    Those of you who are old enough to remember when it wasn't endangered will remember the middle as that thing which made America strong; the thing which is supposed to help keep society afloat and give the poor a comparatively safe and achievable place, economically, to which they can aspire.

    Follow the quarter-by-quarter jobless numbers all you want, these figures go up and down with a stiff breeze these days. Any measure of the economy that is skewed by a rough winter is not a long-term trend.

    The long-term trend is bad, and, even worse, what those figures don't show is that the jobs that are out there, the ones for which our leaders expect applause, do not pay a living age, or, at least a middle-class living wage.

    These days, politicians only talk about "how many" jobs they've created (if one even accepts that politicians can create jobs in the first place), not "how many good-paying, middle-class-sustaining, you-get-some-vacation-and-can-send-your-kid-to-college-without-fearing-the-first-of-every-month jobs" they've created.

    Many of America's new jobs -- call centers, Wal-Mart greeter, the ubiquitous "sandwich artist" -- pay just enough to ensure you can't apply for public assistance, making you wonder why a financially and spiritually exhausted class of people would choose work over non-work to bring home the same amount of money.

    Or, even more shamefully, those jobs pay so little that you still need public assistance to feed your family.

    Consider this from an Associated Press article published last September by USA Today:

    While racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty, race disparities in the poverty rate have narrowed substantially since the 1970s, census data show. Economic insecurity among whites also is more pervasive than is shown in the government's poverty data, engulfing more than 76 percent of white adults by the time they turn 60, according to a new economic gauge being published (in 2014) by the Oxford University Press.
    The gauge defines "economic insecurity" as a year or more of periodic joblessness, reliance on government aid such as food stamps or income below 150 percent of the poverty line. Measured across all races, the risk of economic insecurity rises to 79 percent.
    79 percent.

    Let that sink in for a minute.

    How can a country have a stable or successful middle class when 79 percent of the country is economically insecure?

    (Hint: It can't.)

    So equality meant that rather than lift minorities up, we're all more likely to slip into insolvency, not matter our ethnic background?

    And retirement?

    Forget it.

    Already, 34 percent of Americans think they will not be able to retire before they're 80.

    This from your ever-lovin' Dec. 5, 2013 Mercury tells the tale:
    According to a study conducted by Wells Fargo that surveyed 1,000 people between the ages of 25 and 75, 37 percent of middle class Americans don't believe that they will ever retire – up from 25 percent in 2011 and 30 percent in 2012.

    Even among those that think retirement is possible, a great deal believe it won't happen until well past the typical age. The same survey found that 34 percent of respondents reported that they will not be able to call it a career until age 80. 
    Pensions are in crisis, Social Security looms on the edge of a fiscal cliff every two years, and even the beloved 401K delivers little security when a money-drunk Wall Street drives the economy into a tree.

    (Luckily, they had an air bag -- the American taxpayer -- who saved their life, provided the get-out-of-jail-free card, and was left deflated and attached to a burning wreck while Wall Street went off to start its next bender ... all the while threatening that if we tried to regulate the supply of booze (money), they might just crash again..)

    And its not just us oldsters who are no longer being served by the system.

    Youth unemployment is at record highs, not good news for American children emerging from college with debt loads that would make a venture capitalist light-headed.

    When we starve public education, an adequate education becomes un-affordable for all but the rich;

    When college is too expensive without a crushing debt load, it becomes un-affordable for all but the rich;

    When jobs with good salaries which allow you to feed your family, have a house and save for your child's college are in increasingly smaller supply, those aspects of what used to be a middle class lifestyle becomes un-affordable for all but the rich.

    When your nation willingly spends more to put young people in jail than to give them an education, while those who can afford the best lawyers pay a fine but "admit no wrongdoing," America itself has become un-affordable for all but the rich.

    Cleave to whatever political or economic philosophy you please, it's just not mathematically sustainable to go on the way we are.

    I'm not going to go off on a rant here about the unfairness of "income inequality," which is our new, politically expedient way of saying the rich get richer and the rest of us get squat.

    Using phrases like "income inequality" allows us to duck accusations of engaging in "class warfare."

    Heaven forbid.

    Not to worry, there is no class war, at least not any more.

    A cold war has been quietly fought for the last four decades and guess what? The middle class lost.

    We lost because we never knew war had been declared on us in the first place.

    We lost because we led corporations buy our politicians and convince us that since there was a small chance we might be rich some day (no one ever told us how small. Look people get rich for no reason on TV every day!), we should protect the interests of the rich over our own.

    We lost because even though a middle class is necessary in a balanced economy to buy the goods and services the companies with ridiculously overpaid CEOs produce, all those companies think its someone else's job to pay their workers and mid-level managers a living wage.

    We lost because, apparently, none of us is as dumb as all of us. Not a surprising result really from a gutted public education system.

    No, I'm too exhausted running-to-stand-still to go on about fairness.

    We stopped valuing fairness too long ago for it to win any arguments any more.

    That's probably because we now value profit over patriotism, the right to make money no mater the cost over the idea that we're all in this together for better or worse.

    Those with the greatest ability to pay now pay nothing.

    Corporations take advantage of what America has to offer, a (relatively) stable society, fire and police protection, infrastructure (albeit crumbling), an (enfeebled) public education system.

    Oh yes, most importantly, jails. Lots and lots of jails.

    But when it comes time to pay for the taxes that support the society in which their success and profits occur, lawyers, loopholes and phantom holding companies suddenly assert, that their corporation is actually located not here in America, but on some lonely Cayman island.

    And why not?

    Their CEOs no longer live in the mansions on the hill outside of towns here in America, they're crumbling along with everything else.

    They either live in gated communities, an island enclave in the middle of a nation in need, or on one of those actual islands in the Caymans.

    As jet-setting internationalists in a global economy, their loyalty to America and Americans is based on what America can still provide them, not any obligation to the country that is home to their primary market.

    As promised, I am not going on about this because its unfair. You don't need me to tell you that.

    I go on about it because it can't last.

    It's not sustainable.

    Anyone who has read Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States," knows that the history of the American economy is one of tension.

    Look through a history textbook on World War II and see if you can find mention of the hundreds of strikes that occurred during the war and the reasons for them.

    Good luck with that.

    Look through a history textbook on World War I and find mention of Woodrow Wilson's secret police force and the jailing of activists on flimsy charges of espionage.

    Hell, look through a history of the founding of the country to find evidence of the many, many instances of group action and group self-rule occurring here before Lexington and Concord.

    No, we're taught that but for a few great men, we would still be British subjects.

    And no doubt, they were great and no doubt, we probably would not have succeeded as we did without them.

    But they didn't do it alone. Forgotten are the thousands of Americans who played their own small, but vital part in that great movement.

    (Spoiler alert, the same level of buy-in is still required for our country to work.)

    But the story of great men is an easier narrative to tell, more dramatic, and it teaches us that without great men to lead us, there's little we can do on our own -- much less together.

    The American leaders we think of as being great were, at least in the previous centuries, also considered the champions of the working man, the average American.

    In many ways, they were really just those who recognized the need to relieve the growing pressure, the need for a relief valve.

    Working conditions unsafe and no help for those injured? We get OSHA and workman's compensation, but not a revolution.

    Wages too low to feed your family? We got unions and the Dept. of Labor, and avoid a revolution

    Banks cause a worldwide collapse of the economy? We get bank regulation (at least for a while), and avoid a revolution.

    It's always just enough to take the edge off, a relief of the pressure that allows those in power to stay in power without giving away too much.

    And frankly, most of us are fine with that. Our system is responding to our demands and that's fine, as long as it works.

    It's not working any more.

    The American Communist Party was alive and well in the 1930s not so much because people hated capitalism, but more because they wanted enough food to eat and capitalism just wasn't getting the job done.

    Before you get your flag out, understand I'm not advocating for Communism. That's already been proven not to work. It's a dead issue.

    The point is when the system doesn't work for the majority of people, they begin to look elsewhere for a better way.

    And history has shown again and again that when too many people get too hopeless, too desperate, too pushed down, they tend to rise up.

    And  I don't think that's going to be good for anybody.

    Although one of those unending Facebook games designed to gather information about my buying habits told me my answers to five questions indicated I am a revolutionary, I'm not.

    Revolutions are about power and who gets it. Generally speaking, once they get it they want to hold on to it and it becomes more important than the reasons for the revolution in the first place.

    The American Revolution began in much the same way and became the phenomenon we're about to betray largely because those great leaders underestimated the power of their rhetoric and those forces it would unleash.

    (Many were terrified of "the mob," as they considered the electorate to be, and we got a Constitution and its aptly named "balance of powers" largely as an attempt to constrain rampant democracy. In essence, they decided that too much democracy is not such a good thing.)

    All that being said, the operative question is what to do now?

    Is there a way to re-establish the middle class, and thus re-ignite hope and opportunity in America?

    I'm afraid I don't have any answers.

    It's pretty obvious that economically and socially, a capitalist society based on consumption can't succeed without a middle class; a place where most of the consumers live, and those consumers need enough economic security to consume.

    Socially, the middle class needs to be achievable for those willing to follow the long path of education, hard work for fair pay and playing by the rules -- the opportunity we all say America represents but increasingly leads frustratingly to a dead end.

    When it works, a sustainable middle class is its own relief valve.

    People will willingly live in a system that offers opportunity. Give them little or no hope for advancement and they have no incentive to participate in the system that offers no fair way up.

    Sadly, it's doubtful much of anything truly useful for putting the middle class back on its feet is going to happen without a change in a national attitude that ignores our inter-dependency on each other; until we reject this idea that we don't need each other; and until we reject the fiction that duty to provide maximum profit to the shareholders trumps duty to each other and a sustainable national economy.

    But I don't see that happening any time soon either.

    In fact the only insight I can find to offer is that doing nothing, leaving things as they are, can't work for much longer.

    Sooner or later, we find out just how bad that last straw can be.

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  • 05/25/14--21:00: A Well-Deserved Salute
  • Photo Courtesy of John Armato

    The Air Force JROTC Unit at Pottstown High School.


    For the 16th consecutive year, the Air Force JROTC Unit 951 at Pottstown High School has been
    Photo by Evan Brandt

    Schools Superintendent Jeff Sparagana affixes this year's
    Distinguished Unit ribbon to the unit flag.
    selected as a Distinguished Unit.

    "The award recognizes units that have performed above and beyond normal expectations, and that have distinguished themselves through outstanding service to their school and community while meeting the Air Force Junior ROTC mission of producing better citizens for America," read a press release announcing the designation.

    Here is video shot Thursday of the JROTC Unit's Color Guard at the school board meeting where their designation was announced:



    "The objectives of the Junior ROTC program are to educate and train high school cadets in citizenship and life skills; promote community service; instill responsibility, character, and self-discipline through character education, and to provide instruction in air and space fundamentals," according to the release.
    Photo by Evan Brandt
    Sparagana congratulates Senior Master Sgt. Alexander Bolar.
    Enrollment is open to all young people who are in the 9th grade or higher, physically fit, and are citizens or nationals of the United States.

    There are 866 Air Force JROTCs in the United States, the Pacific, Europe and Puerto Rico.

    That works out to 133,000 cadets.

    There are 80 Pottstown High School and 35 Pottsgrove High School cadets in the Pottstown unit.

    Here is video, shot Saturday, May 3, of the JROTC Drill Team performing during ceremonies celebrating the 175th Anniversary of the Pottstown School District.





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  • 05/26/14--21:00: Memorial Day in Pottstown
  • Photo by Evan Brandt

    Pottstown Mayor Sharon Thomas addresses the crowd during Monday's Memorial Day Ceremonies following the placement of a wreath for the fallen of each of the nation's wars.


    From the opening of Memorial Park's spray park, to downtown Pottstown's war memorials, to the signature parade and a moving ceremony at the Vietnam War Memorial, the last three days in Pottstown are likely emblematic of Memorial weekends across the nation.

    (Remember to click the blue "Read Next Page" bar to get the whole story. And thanks to Mercury Reporter Frank Otto for his Tweet and Tout contributions to this post.)


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    Photo by Evan Brandt

    Pottsgrove School Board President Justin Valentine, center, began Tuesday night's meeting by reading a statement responding to an editorial in The Mercury on May 15 which criticized the board for the manner in which it appointed Mike Rossi to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Kelley Crist.



    The Pottsgrove School Board meeting of May 27 was significant for a number of reasons.

    First, it began with an announcement by School Board President Justin Valentine addressing the May 15 editorial criticizing the board for the manner in which which it filled a vacancy in which he pledged to establish a policy for the replacement of board members.

    Second, it took another look at a proposal which hangs in the budget balance, a proposal to provide new lap top computers to each Pottsgrove High School student and new iPads to all middle school students.

    And third, because a number of folks following the live Tweeting by yours truly responded by not only sending direct messages to one board member that became part of the discussion, but also people responding to what was happening in the meeting.

    The whole idea behind social media is that it is supposed to enable part of a broader discussion and last night, it fulfilled part of that promise.

    In arranging this Storify, I did my best to put the responses where I thought they best belonged, but understand I was juggling a lot of balls at the same time.

    As always, remember to click the blue "Read Next Page" bar to be sure you see it all. (Warning: There is a lot.)


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