With so much going on around town. Catch up on what you may have missed.
It’s Friday, June 5. Can you believe we made it to June? For a while there I didn’t think we’d ever leave March. It’s been quite a week, protests, National Guard troops and community solidarity. Plus, we say goodbye to a beloved principal, election results, graduations and oh yea, we’re in “yellow!” Grab a seat and let’s catch up.
“So proud of my town and how many people came out to raise their voice.”
-Kim A. via Nextdoor
I stand with you. This week West Chester came together, stood together, walked together, blacked out together. Shared responsibility, shared resources, shared fear… as we watched the country confront racism and inherent inequality with demonstrations everywhere, many times peacefully, sometimes not – and wondered, how can we make sure it doesn’t happen here?
On Saturday, Mayor Herrin and the West Chester Police Department issued a statement on policing in the Borough. In it they attempted to assure residents what happened to George Floyd could never happen here.
“Every officer in our Department undergoes the most up-to-date training in implicit and overt bias, appropriate use of force, modern de-escalation techniques, cultural diversity, and fair and impartial policing,” the letter read
Borough officers have all been outfitted with, and are required to use, body-worn cameras.
To ensure these words make their way into action there is interest in forming a community/police engagement committee starting. Reach out to West Chester Allies on Facebook, if you are interested in participating.
On Tuesday, Superintendent James Scanlon also commented on the situation in a letter to the school district community. In it he called out each of us for some hard truths about our community.
“As much as I would like to believe our school district is a place of great tolerance. I know we still have work to do,” he wrote. “Any parent of a child of color – and any student of color,” the letter continued, “will tell you that racism, in many forms, still exists in our community.”
Over the past week, area high school students participated in discussion groups on the topic of race – and I would like to hope, had school still been in person, the younger grades would have as well.
If you are a parent and would like to talk to your kids about race, this was recommended.
“Today National Guard Troops came to the West Chester area.”
-Mayor Dianne Herrin, Chief of Police James Morehead
It was all going so well… then on Wednesday, the National Guard arrived. According to a joint message from the Mayor’s office and the Chief of Police, this was not at the request of the Borough Police Department or the Borough of West Chester. Just a preventative measure taken on independently by the state to reinforce area police departments should they need it. They are scheduled to be here for seven days.
The troops are staying at West Chester University and their presence has made some students uncomfortable. In a carefully crafted message to students, the University maintained it was not a choice, “As a state agency… the University was not in a position to refuse. This was not a situation in which the University had a choice as it was a mandate.”
However, controversy escalated when the Chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, decided to weigh in on Instagram…
“Public service is an honor, privilege, & an obligation to protect and advance interests of all,” the comment read. “Proud of @wcuofpa which at governor’s direction houses natl guard which needs our help too. Path to healing runs through empathy and dialog (sp); not demonization & hate. Let’s start down to it.”
The comment led to some pointed responses and a Change.org petition asking that the guard leave campus and the pressure worked. The University recently announced the National Guard left the campus Thursday night with no plans to return.
“Let us all commit to doing better.”
-Christopher Fiorentino, President, West Chester University
Let’s walk together. Several peaceful rallies were held at the courthouse over the weekend and throughout the week. On Thursday night, a march was held from the Borough building to the courthouse in honor of Peace, Justice and Humanity. There were a selection of speakers from Mayor Dianne Herrin to Chester County Sheriff Fredda Maddox and Ms. Lillian DeBaptiste, daughter of former West Chester Mayor Dr. Clifford DeBaptiste.
Black owned businesses. If you would like to show your support by supporting local black-owned businesses, here are a few (I couldn’t find a comprehensive list so, if I am missing someone, please leave a comment and I will add them):
“He was a very caring man. He loved his students. You saw him in the hallways, always giving you high-fives and smiling and making you feel good.”
-Dr. James Scanlon, on Charles Cognato, Principal of Stetson Middle School
And while, we are still reflecting. The West Chester community was hit with another major blow this week, when it learned of the unexpected loss of Dr. Charles Cognato, principal of Stetson Middle School. Dr. C, as he was known to students, passed away on Sunday due to a pre-existing medical condition. I did not know him, but he was described as kind and caring and he will be missed by the entire West Chester school community.
Moving on up… Results are in for Tuesday’s Primary election and in the only contested race of note, former West Chester Mayor and current PA-State Rep, Carolyn Committa secured a big victory in her bid to claim the State Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Andy Dinniman. Carolyn handily beat her two opponents, long-time Dinniman aide, Don Vymazal and Kyle Boyer to advance to the general election where she will face Republican Kevin Runey.
She also won her re-election bid for her house seat.
Oh yeah… We’re in yellow! It’s official Chester County, along with the rest of the Philadelphia area, is now in the yellow phase of reopening.
Here’s what you can look forward to under yellow:
- Gatherings of under 25 people.
- Limited outdoor dining. Date night, anyone? I’ve seen patio open notices from restaurants across the borough. However, you may want to call ahead first. It appears to be a mix of reservations and first come, first served – and seating will be limited. In addition, restaurants can now begin offering carry out and retailers can resume in-person operations, although curbside pick-up and delivery are still preferred. No inside dining is allowed.
- Daycares and summer camps are open. I spoke to the Y this week and their childcare and camp services will be restarting on Monday. Summer camps as long as their operations meet CDC guidelines.
- Church services resume. Social distancing recommendations apply but congregations can begin meeting again.
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Hello, old friend. With the West Chester now in yellow, the library can prepare to re-open (yay!) According to a letter from the library, staff returned today and began readying for reopening including rearranging furniture and workstations to allow for social distancing. If you have been sitting on materials since March, you can now begin returning those items through the book drop. Just note it may take a few weeks before the items are “officially” returned and removed from your records. (If you can’t wait, Baldwin Book Barn is open now.)
It’s time for some hard choices. This week the Borough Council Finance Committee held the second of two special meetings to review the Borough’s worsening financial situation.
This week the committee discussed an 18-month salary freeze for all departments and temporarily eliminating overtime, except for emergency situations. They also reviewed credit card processing fees and proposed departmental reductions – including a recommended $585,000 reduction for eliminated stream protection projects, a halt in parking capital projects (a savings of $210,000) and $356,000 cut to the public works department.
Speaking of hard choices, Borough Council has called a special meeting to review the plans to close Gay Street for the summer to allow for additional outdoor dining. The meeting has been scheduled for this Tuesday, May 9 at 5:45 p.m. Information on how to request WebEx access is here – or the meeting is now posted on the homepage of the Borough website as well.
Accolades. Congratulations to the class of 2020! Who has already learned a hard lesson – life doesn’t always go as planned, but that’s not always a bad thing. Henderson and East Graduated earlier this week, Rustin “walks” tonight. (Note: you can find more pictures and videos from the graduation ceremonies at the West Chester Area School District Facebook page.)
Also, high fives, to Jacqueline’s Boutique in downtown West Chester on their first year in the Borough! (Also, why didn’t I get one of those shirts?)
Finally, let’s raise our glasses to Jeremy Holmes, assistant professor of graphic and interactive design at West Chester University on his Emmy nomination. Jeremy was nominated for his work (he designed and built the staring puppets) on Helpsters, a TV show developed by Sesame Workshop that launched on Apple TV Plus last fall.
Hello. Get ready to say hello to a new outdoor mural project. The West Chester Borough Public Arts Commission is looking for submissions for its latest art initiative, a 11’ x 27’ mural to commemorate the women’s suffrage movement which is celebrating its centennial this year. The winning submission will be painted prominently on the side a building on E. Market Street (it’s the one just past the Salvation Army Railton House as you leave town). For their efforts the winning artist will receive $500, plus $8000 upon final installation.
Interested in submitting? You have until July 3 to get your artwork in. Details here.
Also, say hello to micro-weddings, weddings of 25 people or less, from the Chester County Historical Society. Perfect for weddings during the yellow phase.
The freakin’ weekend. What are you up to this weekend? I think we are just going to relax and reflect. It’s been quite a week. Take care of yourself (and each other).
Stay safe. Stay healthy and I’ll see you next week.
Need some “me time” this weekend? Why not check out this local parenting podcast with plenty of tips on how to survive (period) – or grab a cocktail-to-go from your favorite West Chester establishment – or grab a book and take it to your favorite park… Or maybe all three? (I’m having too much fun just imagining “me time!”)
New to the blog? Follow along for the latest updates from West Chester.