The Phoenix Files

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Friday, February 29, 2008


I was talking with Mary from the Colonial Theater the other day, and she commented that, hopefully, a nice benefit to the new crosswalk signs on Bridge St. would deterring truck drivers from using that route and use one that does not requires them to drive through town. So obviously traffic is bad, especially in this area. My question to you, the fine readers is what do you think are some solutions to alleviate these issues?

Posted by
Matthew Byrd

Freedom of Speech?

This flier [see graphic] has been floating around the past week and, as was reported in Friday's Phoenix, accuses Earth Mart of supporting animal rights extremists.

The event in question is an outreach event held by Club Veg, a non-profit organization that provides education on vegetarian lifestyles. It will feature vegetarian dishes and information on The Great American Meat Out, being held nation-wide March 20.

Allison Geiger, director of Club Veg's Philadelphia chapter, said that the outreach event won't be an "in your face thing." Likewise, Earth Mart co-owner Lisa Longo has said Club Veg is merely one of many groups the store hosts for events, and that neither herself nor Earth Mart are vegetarian/vegan.

As for the allegations, both women agree that they are not true. Club Veg has nothing to do with animal rights, Geiger said, and she doesn't support PETA at all.

But now the reputation of both Earth Mart and Club Veg are slandered; the flier invites people to harass Earth Mart regarding the allegations.

I understand freedom of speech. That's the reason Longo agreed to host Club Veg in the first place. Do you believe the flier, which no individual or group has claimed responsibility for, is protected under this freedom?

Pro-choice supporters commonly protest at pro-life rallies. Supporters and opponents of the War in Iraq sometimes clash at protests held by one side or the other. I understand all of these incidences; both sides of an issue should be allowed to be expressed.

But what about this case? I would have at least liked the author of this flier to come forward and take responsibility for it. But the document directly invites people to harass Earth Mart. Protesting is one thing; allegations without any information to back them up is another.

Posted by
Brian McCarthy

ASK SKIP: Shedding Light on the North Side

Hi Skip!
First of all, thanks so much for offering "Ask Skip"! It's hard for inquiring minds to get answers here in Phoenixville!

My question is one that I keep asking Mr. Senley on his blog but he keeps choosing to ignore. When is the North Side sidewalk AND lighting project going to be finished? We have the sidewalks, but instead of street lights, we have lovely traffic cones lining High and Railroad streets. They've been there for about a year now.

If Dennis would like to make a Den about town segment on it, email me and I'll be happy to help!!

Yours truly, here in the Northside Frontier,


The traffic cones cover the electrical and hardware for new streetlights, of course. All of that is fully ready for the installation of the streetlights themselves, according to CDC Director Barry Cassidy.

Asked when that would happen, Cassidy gave Ask Skip an indeterminate “As soon as possible.” But the completion schedule, he said, is dependent on additional funding. Those funds will come through the County, and he would not speculate on just when that would be confirmed, let alone when he could expect actual receipt of real dollars.

Well, once pushed a little, he did speculate. “Maybe October,” he said, but he would not be held to that estimate.

One other item of neighborhood concern over this has had to do with – wait for it – the color of those lampposts. The old blue/black debate was made freshly interesting last year with the sudden appearance, unannounced, of two bollards on the southeast corner of North Main and High Streets – in purple. Purple?

“I had said that I thought lights should be black everywhere else” in town except in the Bridge Street Streetscapes area, Cassidy said, “to give the downtown a distinctive look. “Purple was the idea of the former borough manager,” he said. Cassidy could run with purple, he said, but would “probably ask Council” to make a decision on the matter.

Posted by
Skip Lawrence

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Good Way to Waste Time

This week’s recommendation in how to waste the precious minutes of your life is a website that I found thanks to my love of David Wain and all the cast members of MTV’s The State. The website is called HYPERLINK "" and features web blogs from the likes of Harry Shearer, Andy Milonakis, and Coolio (which is a lot of fun to type). There are several other blogs on the site some of which feature animation and a soap opera about evil people. So far my favorite has been Harry Shearer, simply for its genius. Apparently Harry has an impressive cable package that includes the live feeds of news networks. Harry simply records the feeds and shows us just how vain and shelf conscious journalism is today. By the way if you watch the Dan Rather one and tell me the man should not be locked away and heavily medicated! Hopefully you enjoy this week’s waste of time as much as I have.

*Warning: This week’s recommendation contains explicit material.

Posted by
Matthew Byrd

Not really a blog... but a good question

So, this isn't necessarily a blog, but Matt wanted something from me and this has been on my mind.

When people walk over hot coals, is it that they go so fast they don't touch the coals enough so it doesn't burn them? Or is it that they block out the pain and that's why they can get across? Is it both? Are the coals even hot enough to burn skin, or is it just really hot?


Posted by
Laurie Perini

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Some good news here... ...and more bad news from PHEAA

I’m very happy to see that St. John’s Community Garden hangs in the balance no longer. Yes, the labyrinth may be lost, but at least there will be some green space left as the housing authority decides what to do with the rest of the property. I won’t go on about this since Brian is doing a column on it, but I just wanted to share a smile.
Similarly, it’s good to see that the borough council decided to accept John Messina’s resignation from the planning commission and can now get on with interviewing him, Michael Hott and Michelle Beaver. It seems like the fairest way to handle the situation.

So, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency is in the news again, and of course it’s for another problem. Do we ever hear good news from PHEAA? Well, OK, it was good to hear about the recent court judgement against the agency in regard to open records, and it was good to hear about the former boss quitting in October, after a string of spending scandals, but the only really positive thing I can think of in connection to that agency is when Andy Dinniman was appointed to the board in December. I’ll have to ask how that’s going for him.
Anyway, the latest is that PHEAA is going to temporarily suspend loans made outside the state through the Federal Family Education Loan Program. The agency will send borrowers to banks instead, which supposedly will assure “a seamless transition,” but surely some students will lose out on opportunities as the borrowers’ pool gets more shallow.
Acting PHEAA president and CEO James Preston told a Pa. House committee, “Right now, it’s not profitable at all to finance (FFELP) loans.”
Last time I checked, PHEAA wasn’t a for-profit institution (although executives and staff have certainly had some nice perks for their “service”). Maybe he means that more people can be helped by focusing on other programs, but it’s hard to give the benefit of the doubt to that agency.
To be fair, student lending is being squeezed across the country due to the shaky economy, but PHEAA would have considerably more financial security (and goodwill) if it hadn’t been handing out lavish bonuses and luxurious trips to its executives and staffers for years.

Posted by
Patricia Matson

On The Street

Monday, February 25, 2008


Planning Commission member George Martynick will not voluntarily resign his seat, as requested by Council President Henry Wagner (D-Middle).

In an e-mail message sent late Sunday evening, Martynick stated simply, “I respectfully decline your request to resign from my recent reappointment to the Phoenixville Planning Commission.”

Martynick’s reappointment to his expiring term was made by Borough Council on January 15.

But Wagner had requested his resignation last Wednesday, to complement the resignation of former Council President John Messina. Messina had been appointed to the Commission slot now held by Michael Hott but expiring, like Martynick’s, in March.

The resignations were to pave the way for Borough Council to interview all current applicants for the two Commission seats. Interviews originally had been planned by Council but were scuttled on the procedural motion by Richard Mark Kirkner (D-North) that led to the selection of Messina on February 12.

“I ask you to consider voluntarily submitting your resignation from your recent appointment to the Phoenixville Planning Commission,” Wagner wrote to Martynick, “in order to allow for interviews of all interested citizens of Phoenixville to take place.

A return to interviews with Messina, Hott and paralegal Michelle Beaver was suggested first by Messina, who had been faced with immediate outcry over his own appointment without interviews. He argued that interviewing for not just his own but both expiring March seats “would be the only fair way” to approach the issue.

Martynick’s Sunday evening response to Wagner was made just prior to Council’s monthly Committees session, beginning at 7:00 p.m. tonight in its chambers, when Council will determine its next steps in the affair.

Posted by
Skip Lawerence

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Beyond Bridge

Everytime we hear or read about a new business coming to town, it almost always is opening on or in the vicinity of Bridge Street.

It's easy to forget that Phoenixville extends beyond that single stretch of road (perhaps too easy for some. How's that Bridge Street sidewalk coming along?). But with Franklin Commons on the north side steadily progressing, and businesses opening on Taylor Alley, we're starting to see how this period of revitalization is affecting our community as a whole.

I'm not going to lie, at first I was skeptical about Salon Fiber's move to Taylor. Driving down the alley on a daily basis, I wouldn't think it would be an ideal location for merchants to operate. Maybe that's just my aggravation over having to play a game of chicken every day when another car is driving down the alley in the opposite direction. But after speaking with the owner, it seems to make sense: we're running out of room on Bridge for businesses, and the parking lots on Taylor can easily accommodate customers coming to Fiber or any other businesses that may open there in the future.

As for Franklin Commons, we may not commonly associate business and commerce with the north side. But after going on a tour of the facilities with Laurie and Skip on Wednesday, I was extremely impressed by the over-25,000 square foot facility. Not just in terms of size, but how Franklin Commons is bringing education, daycare facilities, a commissary, and businesses all together in one complex, one concentrated area. There's still more tenants joining the complex in the future, so stay tuned for more information on them.

There isn't enough room in a single blog post to include all of the information on Franklin Commons' history, facilities, businesses and plans for the future, but the three of us are working on a series to explain what the complex offers to the community and what it means not only for the north side but all of Phoenixville.

Are these locations (Taylor, the area around Franklin Commons) ideal for new businesses, in your opinion? Or should prospective merchants and business owners look elsewhere? If so, where?

Posted by
Brian McCarthy

I don't know what to call this blog

Recently, Marilyn Monroe has been in the news again (if you haven't heard, go to and type in "monroe" and "lohan"). I happened upon one of the stories and they were talking about Monroe's body size.

I have heard numerous times "Oh, Marilyn was a size 12" or a size 14 or a size 16.

I hate hearing this because it doesn't actually mean anything. Monroe was about 5'5" and weighed, at her heaviest, probably about 140 lbs.

There is no way that Monroe was wearing what we would today call a size 16. Companies know that women don't want to be putting on a large shirt so as the average size of women goes up, the size of the clothing goes up too. It's called vanity sizing or size inflation and it's pretty well known/documented.

Now, there's something to be said here about the increased rate of obesity, the distortion of body image prevelant in society and even American consumerism, but I'm sure you all know these points already. I just wanted to say that it irritates me that every time I hear about Monroe in the news, I hear about her dress size, which is of little importance.

Posted by
Laurie Perini

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Vacation Time

I was watching the local news in the office the other day and they were talking about how Americans don't use their vacation time. What's even more astonishing to me is that Americans aren't guaranteed vacation at all.

According to a report done by the Center for Economic Policy Research, Rebecca Ray and John Schmitt reviewed international vacation and holiday laws and found that the United States is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers any paid vacation or holidays.

I wonder why we're such workaholics in the U.S. What makes us stay at the office and skip our hard earned days off? We stay late at night, come in on the weekends and putting in extra time where ever we can fit it.

I say take a day off, just one, just a little one (if your company lets you, that is). Tell your husband/wife/friend/child/whoever to take off too. Spend a day together and do something purely for the sake of fun.

Give it a shot, you might like it.

Posted by
Laurie Perini

A Good Way to Waste Time

You know sometimes I worry about what I find amusing when I’m wasting time on the Internet. Take, for instance, the hours of entertainment I find at collects found stuff: discarded love letters, discarded birthday cards, homework, etc., and places them on their Web site for us all to enjoy.
It sounds a bit voyeuristic, but having a chance to get a momentary glimpse into people’s lives is really a lot of fun. When reading these notes, I can’t help but try to fill in the rest of the story. Who is Mario? How long had he been dating Amber? Who is this “her”, and why was his car in from of her place last night?
On another level, it’s just fun to see all the ridiculous activities that warrant flyers these days. Why would you want to hang out with people who also own the same breed of dog as you?
If you find yourself asking these questions in life as unavoidable as I do, well then I recommend checking out It’s a fantastic way to waste time.

Posted by
Matthew Byrd

ASK SKIP: A Matter of Taste

I was thinking yesterday "Why in the heck is there a Taste of Phoenixville going on [in January]?" Every other "Taste" event that I've been to (Chicago, Philadelphia, & Denver to name a few) is during a warm season - late-spring, summer, early-fall. Why in the middle of winter, indoors, on a week-night??? I would have really liked to have tried some of the dishes that were presented, but I didn't have the chance to get over there.

I really like the idea of having our own Taste event and I'm glad it was successful (at least according to what I read in The Phoenix) but I think that it should be held later in the year so that more people can experience what this town has to offer in terms of its culinary possibilities.

There has to be a legitimate reason as to why this event is held at night, during the week, in the coldest part of the year. Unfortunately, I can't come up with any justification other than the organizers don't want people to show up.

You’re making me hungry.

Phoenix staff writer Dennis Wright, who has attended all six Taste events, tells me that the scheduling was initially an accidental improvement over original plans. It was, first, a pre-Christmas item on the social calendar, but that scheduling was scuttled because of, you know, snow, and rescheduled for a January date when planners knew for certain that there wouldn’t be any.

If you plan it, they will come, and they did. It turned out to be, Wright said, favored as the first major after-the-holidays public event. And just far enough away from holiday tables and New Year’s resolutions to be justified on grounds of diet. Simply put, according to Wright, it worked.

That said, the fundraiser in me prefers your spring-summer-early fall scenario. I checked with another fundraiser in town, and he had the same hunch. Taste organizers might consider throwing caution to the winds and try it one year.

(I can’t resist a personal note here. If you were fishing for agreement from me about our January weather, you’ll note that you didn’t get it, that you didn’t see a word about it here. I share my life with a Canadian, Montréal born-and-bred. I am specifically prohibited from making any public comment about “winter” as defined in Southeastern Pennsylvania, which she calls “spring” – though I hasten to add that, as far as I’ve been able to tell, Je me souviens means “I remember… Québec winters, so bright, so beautiful… so snowy, so windy… so icy, so frigid… so we blew town for Miami.”)

Posted by
Skip Lawerence

You can email your questions for Skip at

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On The Street

Messina controversy should be no surprise

There have been various surprises throughout the borough council’s recent maneuverings over the planning commission appointments. What should have been no surprise to anyone, especially those at the hub of the maneuvers, was that these would cause controversy.

Before last week, council had re-appointed George Martynick to his seat with the planners. That was no big surprise, and no controversy, although perhaps a bit hasty, because he has a strong record and no one else had applied for his seat.

But on Feb. 12, council voted against reappointing Michael Hott to the planners, and instead gave the post to their ex-president, a former planning commission member himself, John Messina. The ultimate result may not have been a huge surprise — Messina had said shortly after losing his council re-election race that he would be interested in rejoining the planners by taking Hott’s seat — but the shortcut speed of how that happened surprised and angered many residents, generating a storm of controversy that continued over the weekend.

Messina specifically went after Hott’s seat, probably not because of any perceived deficiency of Hott’s (various council members have stated that Hott is strongly qualified), but basically because he wanted to stay involved in borough government (as a dedicated do-gooder or as a PPG pal, take your pick). Hott almost certainly looked like an easier target for replacement than Martynick, who is known as both a competent planner and well connected in borough and county politics (his mother was a Chester County commissioner, after all).

However, council ended up bypassing its own plan for an orderly Feb. 25 process of interviewing Messina, Hott and paralegal Michelle Beaver for that second planner’s post on Feb. 12 when Richard Mark Kirkner made a motion, which council passed 5-1-1, to go ahead and name Messina to it.

Readers of found out by Wednesday about the events of the council meeting. The story was printed in The Phoenix on Thursday, Feb. 14, and a storm of angry comments on showed that Messina would not be feeling any valentine love from Phoenixville, then or anytime soon.

Many of the protests have centered on Messina himself. The feeling is that the citizens had spoken clearly in November by rejecting Council President Messina in favor of young Jeff Senley, for various reasons topped off by Messina’s staunch support of then-Borough Manager Anthony DiGirolomo. Having ousted him from Phoenixville politics, they were upset to see the council, even with three new members (though Senley wasn’t there that night), putting him back in power again.

But the way this was done added insult to injury. Council had agreed (and advertised) to interview for that second position, and no doubt a lot of people were planning to line up for public comment and announce why they didn’t want Messina back, in any capacity. Council’s Feb. 12 vote took that away from them, thereby disrespecting not only Hott and Weaver but also the residents and voters.

Numerous angry comments had been made by Thursday, and Messina asked council to rescind his appointment and reconsider his application along with Hott’s and Weaver’s after all, following interviews with all of them. On Friday, he altered that request a bit, saying that Martynick’s appointment should also be rescinded, and all four candidates should be interviewed for the two seats together. Martynick has said he is willing.

Councilman Mike Handwerk plans to move to reopen the appointment process at the next borough meeting. If council has any collective sense, that will be approved. The interviews had originally been set up to take place at the council committees meetings on Feb. 25, so probably all the candidates should be there then, ready to convince council and the citizens why they deserve to be appointed.

Messina reportedly was quite surprised and disappointed to find himself at the center of such a controversy following his shortcut reappointment. That apparent obliviousness to the will of the people was a big part of why he lost his council seat, and a factor council should consider carefully when choosing whom to appoint to the planning commission.

Posted by
Patricia Matson

ASK SKIP: The pharma jungle at the junction

We’ve had two questions about the new construction at the junction of Rts. 113 and 23 (Nutt/Schuylkill Road and Kimberton Road):

QUESTION: What is the new building across from Rite Aid going to be? I heard rumors that it is another Rite Aid, and that the other one will just close down. I sincerely hope this isn't true. What's the deal?

QUESTION: What's the word on the construction at the old General Pike Hotel location (Kimberton & Nutt Roads)? Keep hearing various answers - CVS - Sheetz - Wawa - RiteAid - etc. Does anyone really know?

We’re going to be able to provide only partial answers here, for now.

The current construction at the southwest corner of that site is, indeed, of a Rite Aid pharmacy. The land development plan for the site was approved by the Borough Planning Commission and Borough Council.

At last word, no decision had been made about the future of the Eckerd-now-it’s-a-Rite Aid directly across Schuylkill Road, nor about the Rite Aid farther south on Kimberton Road in Maple Shade.

We know that other construction was proposed for the areas west and south of the construction now underway. That portion of the site is, however, within Schuylkill Township boundaries and not within the Borough.

Multiple calls to Schuylkill Township offices to confirm the present status of subdivision and land development plans before the Township were not returned. You can Ask Skip, but it seems Schuylkill Township doesn’t want to Tell Skip. The best of unofficial sources, however, say that both a Wawa food market and a CVS/pharmacy are planned there.

The municipal boundary matter, you see, has defined more than just geography here. Even Borough sources cannot confirm what’s happening with the Schuylkill portion of the property; Borough Planning Commission members had attempted, as late as a year and a half ago, to raise the issue of inter-municipal cooperation on problems that would be common to proposals on adjoining properties sharing driveways and two state routes on their borders. “We were frozen out,” said Borough PC chair Deb Johnston said then. There seem to have been no attempts to renew conversations since that time.

But attempts were made by the Borough to have PennDOT, which must grant final permission for construction in areas abutting state rights-of-way to move ahead, serve as a kind of “back channel” to inform both municipalities about what was going on. PennDOT would not do so, on the grounds that all development applications are handled by PennDOT separately.

Of course, there’s the elephant-in-the-room of a question: how is it possible that two pharmacies, or three, expect to survive on that corner, and how nine retail drug facilities of a variety of sorts within a mile of each other are expected do so.

Retail pharma marketers seem to be able to conjure statistics that are persuasive, indeed explicable, only to themselves. And maybe to partner developers. Perhaps to some municipal boards. But not to the general public.

Posted by
Skip Lawerence

You can email you questions for skip to

Monday, February 18, 2008

Terrible Cook

I am a terrible cook. I’ve tried to develop this talent; always with disastrous results. This was thoroughly illustrated a couple of years back when I was living in an apartment in Spring City. Having a Saturday off, I decided to ditch my bowl of Captain Crunch, and make myself some real food for lunch, and what better food to begin my exploits in the culinary arts then Macaroni and Cheese; delicious. Unfortunately my dreams of cheesy goodness became a nightmare when I used too small a pot to cook the macaroni, and instantly charred it to the bottom of the pot.
Undeterred, I went to my cabinet and got myself another box of Kraft delight and started my second attempt to complete the basic function of feeding myself. While boiling the noodles (this time in a larger pot) I realized that I now had two packs of yellow powdery goodness. Being a normal American male my first thought was “if one package of cheese is good, two will be twice as good.” Wrong again stupid! I have no idea what unholy concoction I created that day, but I imagine it is the closest I will come to tasting whale ejaculate. Needless to say it was “me and the captain” for lunch that day, and all I had to show for my troubles were two dirty pots.
I did however, learn a lesson from that experience. I am not the only one who has the world view that if something is good, then more of it is better. We covet and hoard what we love, only to display it to those around us as a status symbol. But the lesson that I have been taught over and over again is that more is not always better; this would be a reasonable explanation for hundreds of miracle weight loss infomercials that are on at four in the morning.
As Americans we have had so much for so long, we are afraid that it’s going to be taken away from us. Maybe the American Dream is a lie, maybe showing compassion and charity is a big step in finding meaning and purpose in a life that holds more disappointments then promises? Maybe we should be less worried about the immigrants taking our jobs and our welfare, and more worried about making sure everyone has their basic needs met. I don’t know, what I do know is never put two packets of powder in Macaroni and Cheese.

Posted by
Matthew Byrd

ASK SKIP: What’s a Mayor to do?

What, besides participating in Council meetings and presenting awards, does Mayor Scoda do?
Thanks for the forum.

The Commonwealth’s Borough Code assigns legal responsibilities to a mayor that in some respects define him as a municipality’s chief executive. He must report to Borough Council, a legislative body, periodically on the state of the Borough, actively suggest problems to which Council should direct its attention, and even declare states of emergency should the occasion arise.

The Mayor has a procedural role in relation to Council as well. Mayors participate in all council deliberations, including those in executive sessions, and can break tied Council votes. All resolutions and ordinances passed by Council must be presented to the mayor for approval or veto; if a measure is subject to a mayoral veto, a majority plus one of Council is needed to override.

Perhaps the heftiest of a mayor’s responsibilities is as a borough’s chief law enforcement officer. In that role a mayor is required to exercise “full control and supervision over the Chief of Police and the Police Department and shall direct the time during which, and the manner in which, the police department operates.”

But, in the words of former Darby Borough Mayor Paula Brown, “The extent of the mayor's complete role is defined by the individual office holder's view of civic responsibilities, personal skills, background in intergovernmental affairs and individual interest.”

Phoenixville Mayor Leo Scoda agrees. In other respects, he said, “it’s a figurehead position so to speak. But you can be an active figurehead.” He believes the Mayor should be the visible presence of Borough government in places outside Borough Hall.

“I think it’s important for the Mayor to reach out and be present for so much that happens in the Borough,” he said. “There have been a string of anniversaries of groups and clubs lately. There are weddings, meetings, public events, big ones and small ones.

“This is now my eleventh year as Mayor,” Scoda said. “When I took office, I felt that too much of the office had been tied to politics. I think people appreciate the Mayor’s presence in their activities.

"But with so many people and groups in such a diverse community,” he said. “I feel bad that I can’t make everything.”

Posted by Skip Lawerence

You can email you questions for Skip to

Friday, February 15, 2008

On the street

Contextual Dreams

When I was a little girl (I remember it was 5th grade) I wanted to be an oceanographer. I think that I wasn't really sure all that went into the position, but if there were marine animals and possible treasure dives, I was all about it.

I was told I could be anything I wanted to be and the sky was the limit.

I've found out that that's not necessarily true. Oceanography has numbers involved and when I see numbers (or math) I generally run in the other direction as fast I can. Math is not a strong subject for me, but I understand (and accept) that.

I do think that I can be anything I the context of my abilities. I love writing and dream about being a novelist, but I also know that most novelists don't make a lot of money (if any at all). So I compromised and found journalism, which I also enjoy.

We can do what we want to do, we just have to make it fit into our lives and our situations. Chances are I'm not going to be a professional football player, being a girl and 22, but that doesn't mean I can't play football with friends on the weekend, or even be in a community league if I want to (I don't like football, it was just an example. Last time I played, my roommate tackled me and I think I broke a rib).

Telling our children that they can be what they want is a good idea because they should always reach for more. I just think that we should also tell them, when they're older and they start to get it, that this has to fit into reality. They shouldn't have to go it alone on that sort of thing.

Posted by
Laurie Perini

A Good Way to Waste Time

This week’s website recommendation is another pretentious waste of time that I’m sure most of you are not even going to bother reading and would never spend time browsing. Now that we have that out of the way; describes itself as “…public radio show about things that are awesome…” and I tend to agree. When first reading about the site I was skeptical about the level of enjoyment I could encounter while listening to public radio; memories of having to listen to NPR for my high school government class came rushing back, and my nose began to bleed. However, after listening to the first episode of their podcast and reading their featured articles the site was instantly bookmarked and checked with great frequency.
Covering all things awesome entails talking with some of the most highly acclaimed indie comedians, indie musicians and indie writers (starting to see a trend?) working today. The site originally caught my attention when they talked with Mr. Patton Oswalt, a professional influence on me. Living in Phoenixville I find it difficult at times to keep current with the indie “scene;” I would hate to find that the only thing I have to write about is how much I hate borough council.
I think in today’s high stress world it’s important to focus on the important things in life, and with TSOYA you are sure to cover all the bases. I should give fair warning that like a lot of public radio the attributors of the site have a very clear political outlook, that some might find… incongruent with their own outlook.

Posted by
Matthew Byrd

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Personal Heroes

I think it's important to have people to look up to in our personal professions (at least if it's something we actually enjoy doing and didn't get stuck here or there).

For me, it's someone who embodies the goals I have created for myself. It's someone who makes me feel like journalism is a noble cause.

In college, it was easy to find this role model in my classes. My "reporting" class teacher (the same for both 260W and 460W) will always be someone I look up to. The fact that he worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer has made me want to get to there someday. At least, I think so.

Here though, there is a wealth of people that I can admire. Matt Byrd, our online editor, for his creativity and dedication. Brian McCarthy, who finds the most amazing stories and brings them to the table. Dennis Wright, who showed me the ropes when I first got here.

Lately though, as I have been spending more time with Skip Lawrence, I've found my role model here at The Phoenix. I am amazed at the way he is imbedded in the community and a serious part of the community, but that he can take that hat off and put on his journalist hat to report on Phoenixville news. In fact, his connection to the community makes his reporting even stronger.

I think it's important to find that local hero that has traits you hope to share. As I become more a part of the community, I hope that new role models will spring up. I know this for sure though, this town is full of heroes.

Posted by
Laurie Perini

Council brings Messina back to PC

Borough Council last evening voted 5-1-1 to appoint former Council President John Messina to the Planning Commission seat now held by Michael Hott, when Hott’s term expires in March.

The decision follows Council’s previous reappointment of George Martynick, whose term also expires in March, to the Commission.

The action did not appear as an agenda item for Tuesday’s meeting, but was made on motion from Richard Mark Kirkner (D-North), a motion resisted by Mike Speck (D-East) and opposed by Kendrick Buckwalter (R-West).

Buckwalter stressed Hott’s experience on the Commission, serving there since January 2003, and his strengths, especially “his key role in integrating GIS mapping capabilities into the Borough’s planning process.”

While agreeing that both Hott and Messina held strong qualifications for the position, Speck objected to the revision of Council’s earlier intentions to interview candidates, including paralegal Michelle Beaver, prior to its committees meetings on February 25. He voted “present,” arguing that “a citizen who applied was not given the opportunity to be heard before Council.”

Council President Henry Wagner (D-Middle) said that the planned interviews would have been preferable, but “faced not with that preferred situation, I will not oppose [this] and will vote for John. I could have just as well voted for Mike Hott. I agree that John is a very qualified planner, and thankfully he’s willing to serve.”

Messina was a member of the Commission for twelve years, and its chair for seven, until his resignation in February 2007. He cited then as his reasons for resignation the apparent conflict of interest in his dual positions as Commission chair and Council president that had made, he said, “my tenure on the Planning Commission a political football.”

Messina lost his reelection bid for his North Ward Council seat in the November 2007 municipal elections.

Posted by
G.E. “Skip” Lawrence

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

ASK SKIP: “Blogger To Blogger,” he said: Part One

Blogger blogwalter said...
1. Do you believe the current Planning Commission has lost sight of the real goals of planning?
2. Should present commission member Michael Hott be replaced with a new member?
3. Should Council Members weigh the opinions of Planning Commission members when voting on this issue?

Now, I’ve promised to answer all questions, and I will answer these. In nonsequential order:
1) No.
3) Yes.
2) “Ask Skip” has no opinion.

Posted by
Skip Lawrence

Your can email your questions for skip to

ASK SKIP: "Blogger to blogger: Part Two"

My responses in “Blogger to blogger: Part One” were answers to questions as posed by blogwalter to

My first responses were not meant to be flippant, nor were they to dismiss the import of the fundamental issues to which the questions point. But, interestingly, blogwalter’s questions begged more; how they did so and why requires a second response.

A phrase like “the real goals of planning” is freighted with assumptions up to overload; then, when it’s asked whether a public body “has lost sight” of what’s already not defined, one can begin to suspect another agenda, one that makes the important issues actually secondary, even trivial, compared to the answers that are really sought.

Blogwalter was at least wise enough to ask his questions without context or commentary in his e-mail to “Ask Skip”. There’s a second version of his query, however, made very public and with no lack of context and commentary, on blogwalter’s website – that is, Councilman Kendrick Buckwalter (R-West)’s website – at

There, the primary motivating agenda becomes clearer, and it is distinctively partisan.

Let me be as clear as possible: “Ask Skip” was established as an informational forum, one that could be, at its best, a forum for civic debate. “Ask Skip” will neither aid nor abet the gotcha politics popular around here in some circles, no matter how well-dressed they may be to masquerade as policy debates. “Ask Skip” is not a mudslinging delivery system.

To have put “Ask Skip” in a position, simply by responding to those well-dressed questions, to amplify the “news” of a year-old affidavit, the bottom line of watchingphoenixville’s post, that has spent this last weekend getting itself wallpapered all over town is to misuse the forum and debase its purposes.

Doubt “wallpapered”? Note, at the least, the complementary posts at and

Another copy of the affidavit was handed to me several weeks ago, for another purpose appropriate to “Ask Skip.” I am following up on that issue.

At least one of those sources – if not the entire caucus, but of that I cannot be certain – was more than a little agitated over my report some weeks ago of former Council President John Messina’s interest in the Planning Commission spot; he believed that the fact of the report was prima facie evidence of my support of Messina’s candidacy.

It certainly was not. But the attempt to “out” a phantom of journalistic bias while redefining the context in which the appointment decision itself can be made misunderstands, in no particular order of priority, “Ask Skip,” The Phoenix,, journalism, current borough politics, and me.

All that now said, would Councilman Buckwalter like to rephrase his questions?

Posted by
Skip Lawrence

You can email your questions for Skip at

Monday, February 11, 2008

Additions to the Phoenixville YMCA

Chaplin's Open Mic

Thursday, February 7, 2008

...And now for something completely different

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a strong section of the readers of that are Scooby-Doo villains. When reviewing the comments left on the Phoenix Files posts, I am surprised that some of them don’t end with “those medeling kids.”
I understand that two of our writers are under 25 and The Phoenix is the first step in their careers in journalism, but having coming a across a fairly large cross section of the American populous, I’ve found that Laurie and Brian are extremely well informed and gifted writers. And yet their credibility and insight have been called into question on more than one occasion: the reason given was the fact they are too young and “wet behind the ears.”
I will never understand the viewpoint that there is some magic age that is reached when you have enough life experience and now you are allowed to talk. I’ve met uninteresting and ill-informed people in every age bracket, and conversely some of the most insightful and enriching people I have talked to have not been old enough to buy a pack of cigarettes.
And let’s not forget Dennis, love him or not, he will warrant a reaction. He is a part of Phoenixville and he has been in this town for so long that you cannot cite him for lack of experience or knowledge. He’s also a lot less green than those other two “young pups.”
Age, experience and education mean very little when weighed against the value of passion. You can gain those first traits, but passion can’t be acquired or purchased from a mail order catalogue. Every generation has to discover it’s own definition of the word “adult,” and judging their merit from your definition is a fool’s game.

Posted by
Matthew Byrd

*FYI: Matt is 28, and looks fantastic

Ask Skip: On The Waterfront

Are there any plans to develop the waterfront between the two bridges? I am referring to the land between Vanderslice (on the North Side) and Mill and Price Streets. If so, where can I find this information?

Yes, there are plans for that area, though the status of those plans is murky.

Officially, the area is a slice of “the steel site”: that swath of land in the center of the Borough stretching from the Schuylkill all the way west past Paradise Street, all of it formerly home to the Phoenix Steel Corporation.

The site is now owned by the Phoenix Property Group, and is subject to a master plan PPG proposed and the Borough approved in 2001. You can see the master plan at Borough Hall.

Some development has occurred on the site, including residential development on the site’s far western portion at Mason and Wheatland Streets, and, closer to the area of your concern, above French Creek at Vanderslice Street.

Look at a Borough zoning map, and you’ll see the lion’s share of that area, both banks of the creek, part of a “Greenway Overlay District” intended to encourage preservation and enhancement of “the waterfront,” whatever development occurs around it.

Progress on PPG’s development stalled seriously in 2006 after the Borough declined to approve a proposed residential development on the site north of the creek and east of North Main.

At the same time, however, Borough Council encouraged resubmission of plans PPG had prepared in conjunction with The Brandywine Financial Group, plans in which Council was especially interested, for a commercial development along the 100 block to Bridge Street north to the Creek. PPG sued the Borough over the decisions, and no new plans have since been submitted.

But last month, Council President Henry Wagner (D-Middle) appointed a special committee to start fresh discussions with PPG and Brandywine. It appears that a first meeting has been held, just this week. Watch this space, and the paper’s print edition, for more details as we are able to confirm and update the story.

Posted by
Skip Lawerence

What was your favorite Super Bowl commerical

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Access Denied

We recently contacted Phoenixville Area School Board officials to request a tour of the old Schuylkill Elementary School facilities. The purpose of this visit would purely be informational, without an accompanying story. We did hope to shoot video of the building's interior to post on the website, to show the structure's condition and let you, the public, decide for yourselves whether the building is in as good of condition as supporters of reusing it say it is, or as bad as School Board officials and others say.

With two conflicting stances, both with reports, studies and first-hand statements supporting their claims, we thought it would be best to see for ourselves what one of the main topics of discussion for both Schuylkill and the School Board actually looked like, and let you make your own conclusions as to the state of the building.

Here is the response from a PASB official to our request:
"At this time I would not want any folks in the building who did not need to be in the building. It does have moisture and mold issues, and we do not have utilities available for the building."

Certainly this is reasonable; for liability issues, anyone would be reluctant to allow people into a building that could prove hazardous (and has, judging from photos of reactions people have suffered, allegedly from said mold/moisture).

But I feel a stronger effort could be made on their part to attempt to help us; don't show us the whole building, only basic parts, have appropriate personnel with us, schedule the meeting for a time of day where lack of utilities wouldn't matter. in any case, I know myself and Matt (who would have shot the video) wouldn't mind holding it in until we got to a working bathroom, or bringing flashlights.

If anything, the video could have helped the PASB's case that the building should be demolish, if it showed the deterioation and mold they say is in there. But apparently, only those who need to be in there can enter. I wonder if the taxpayers who could end up funding the building's reuse fall into that category as well?

Posted by
Brian McCarthy

Super Tuesday, Part 2

The Associated Press wire news service sent its 54th and apparently final lead write-through (i.e. its 53rd update) of the Super Tuesday multi-state primary elections roundup story at 2:30 this morning. At that time, it said “Sen. John McCain seized command of the race for the Republican presidential nomination [... but] Democratic rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama traded victories in an epic struggle with no end in sight.”

The media may have hoped for landslides, and some of the states were called early, but a lot of the states had closely contested primaries. The Phoenix newsroom did some channel-hopping last night, but finally ended up with ABC, which slid from its planned five-hour coverage into six hours. At 2 a.m., when all the analysts and anchors said goodnight, Charlie Gibson smilingly told Diane Sawyer he’d watch her on “Good Morning America” (starting at 7 a.m.) to see how her stamina was holding up as she returned a few hours later.

All of the candidates will be hanging on as long as possible, too. Although McCain now has about 40% of the delegates he needs to capture the nomination, both Gov. Romney and Gov. Huckabee have pledged to keep fighting all the way. And as for the Democrats, although not all the contests were settled yet, Obama had won the vote in more states, but Clinton had won the more populous states, including New York, New Jersey and California. So she's apparently leading the delegate tally, but not with nearly enough to discourage the loudest self-proclaimed champion of change.

At this rate, the Pennsylvania primary may end up being relevant after all, even though it's so late in the campaign season. Can everyone hold their breath until April 22?

Posted by
Patricia Matson

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Super Tuesday

I’m all excited about Super Tuesday today; I called my mom about something else, and we ended up talking for 10 minutes about everyone’s chances in today’s primaries, and whether this will settle both the Democratic and Republican nominations or if they’ll go on to the bitter end; i.e contested conventions.

Apparently a lot of America agrees. According to The Associated Press, “an ABC News-Washington Post poll taken last week found Americans nearly as excited about Super Tuesday (37 percent) as they were about the Super Bowl (40 percent).”

Well, the Super Bowl certainly turned out to justify everyone’s expectations of excitement (I rooted against the Pats because of SpyGate, if you care), and I think today will too.
It’s inspiring to see how many people care about the primaries, which will actually affect most people’s lives a lot more than any game.

The media, of course, is piling on as much as possible; it’s in their interest to increase the excitement, especially since this is a contest where no network could buy exclusive broadcast rights. The cable networks resumed Super Duper chatter as soon as the football was finished, and most of the broadcasters have been doing the same.

I had to laugh, though, when I read about ABC’s coverage plans. After the evening news, as soon as “Jeopardy” and “Wheel” are done, they’re slating five hours of election coverage. ABC News President David Westin says, “I am genuinely proud of the network and the company for stepping forward this way... I think it’s the right call and the right thing to do.”

I have to take this with tongue in cheek. Sure, it’s an exciting race, with both parties’ nominations contested, but would it really be getting this much play in what should be sweeps month if the writers’ strike weren’t still going on? You can’t tell me that ABC’s plans would be the same if “Lost” ran on Tuesdays instead.

Posted by
Patricia Matson

Musical Attachment

As I was coming into work today, I heard a song on the radio that really seemed to fit my mood and a situation I am in in my life. It was strange because I hadn't heard the song in quite a while.

For me, music always often has an emotional attachment and there will be a song that makes me think of a specific incident or a specific person, or provokes a mood or a feeling. I remember trying to explain this to a friend who, while he is an avid music fan (he sends me mixed discs all the time with the latest stuff he's been listening to), could never get into music the same way.

We have a mutual friend who feels the same way I do about music. In fact, this latter friend and I have a Sarah Harmer song that we often listen to together (sometimes in the dark). Though it makes it sound like we're dating (we're not, at least not each other), this is honestly our song and when I hear it I can't help but think of her.

I want my former friend to be able to experience music in the same way, but I'm not sure how to get through to him about it. I think maybe if I just find the right song or there is a song on at the right moment, it may click.

Posted by
Laurie Perini

Something about Steel City

Steel City Coffee House provides music and more this month, kicking off its schedule of events tonight with the first Mad Poets Society Reading and Open Mic Night for 2008.
The society originated in Media in 1987 with 10 poets sharing their work with one another, and has since expanded to holding over 80 events every year. Coordinator Eileen D’Angelo said that the society has held the monthly open mic night at Steel City for approximately five years.
D’Angelo hosts the event tonight, starting at 7 p.m. Poets from the five-county area regularly read their work during the open mic nights, and anyone who wants to read their favorite poem or one of their own works, or perform music, is free to take the stage. Singer-songwriters Nick Filone and Tom Mullian are slated to perform tonight as well.
“It’s very inspiring,” D’Angelo said regarding the poetry readings. “Everybody shares their experiences through their own eyes... [showing] we have so much in common.”
“It touches everyone there. People go home inspired.”
The Mad Poets Society Reading and Open Mic Night is held the first Tuesday of every month and is free to the public. Steel City Business Manager Jane Tucker said that all other Tuesdays will now become the venue’s free weekly Tuesday Night Open Music Jam at 7 p.m.
“[We’ll] invite all musicians to come out and jam musicially and creatively with each other,” Tucker said. “Tuesday Night is also Student Night, where both high school and college students can show their ID and receive one dollar off any food and beverage order.”
Steel City hosts the ‘Saints and Sinners Tour” on Friday, February 8, featuring Pat Wictor and Toby Walker. Both guitarists draw from a variety of musical genres including blues and folk, and Tucker refers to them as “two of the top names in singer-songwriter traveling acts.” The show starts at 8:30 p.m., and tickets are $12 in advance and $15 the day of the show.
Jazz aficionados can enjoy a night of their favorite music on Friday, February 15, at 8:30 p.m. with the Dirk Quinn Jazz Band and special guest Anibal Rojas. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 the day of the show.
On Friday, February 22, Steel City hosts a Wine and Cheese Tasting featuring wine provided by Chaddsford Winery and Cheese from Ramondo’s Cheese! on Bridge Street. The event is a fundraiser with proceeds benefiting Citizen Advocacy of Chester County, which is located at 205 Church Street and helps build relationships between people with disabilities and their communities. The event begins at 7:30 p.m. and features music by local artist Trevor Gordon Hall.
“This is going to be an exciting night of sharing and raising funds for this much needed non-profit organization,” Tucker said. “A great time for a great cause!”
Tickets are $25 and can be purchased through Steel City or by calling Moira Mummer or Alicia Warner at 610-933-1299.
Old School Freight Train performs at the coffee house on Friday, February 29, at 8:30 p.m. following an opening performance by local fiddler Matt Brown. The group blends a variety of styles including bluegrass, jazz, latin, and Celtic music and consists of guitarist Jesse Harper, Pete Frostic on the mandolin, Ben Krakauer on the banjo, fiddler Nate Leath, and bassist Darrell Muller.
The band first performed at Steel City in Spring of 2006, and Tucker said that the group has since been very successful.
“They put on an incredible show and we were the first stop on their national tour,” Tucker said. “Now they are returning and ticket sales are through the roof. Apparently they have made a big impact.”
Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 the day of the show. For more information on these and other events or to purchase tickets in advance, visit Steel City Coffee House is located at 203 Bridge Street.

Posted by
Brian McCarthy

ASK SKIP: Oh, the Gay St. Bridge is coming down, doo-dah, doo-dah

We’ve received several questions about the Gay St. Bridge, of which this is representative:

I live near the Gay Street Bridge and am curious: Do you know when it's currently slated to be torn down? I knew it was generally set to happen in late Jan/early Feb. Thanks for your feedback.

We know no firm date as yet. Staff writer Laurie Perini reported on January 30 a revised estimate of “mid-March to mid-April” from PennDOT spokesman Gene Blaum. But we do know what we’ll be seeing even before it goes down. The two railroad trestles that span North Main St. will be jacked up – Blaum’s “conservative estimate,” Perini reported, was that jacking would take two weeks – to enable emergency vehicles access to the North Side. North Main will be closed for the duration of that process. We’ll also be seeing project notification signs at each end of the bridge, two to four weeks prior to its closing. The entire demolition and reconstruction project will take approximately two years.

Posted by
Skip Lawerence

Monday, February 4, 2008

ASK SKIP: Borough info lag? Is Tigro still kicking?

I am sooo sorry asked:

I actually have two questions, why does it take so long in getting information out to the public following a boro meeting?? Second, where the heck is Tigro? He ran for Mayor, did he move? I did not vote for him and I am sorry. And I hate myself for saying it, but the SOB was right. Messina, Carpetbagger and Coach Scoda were not what this town needed. Ok, now I need to wash my mouth out with soap.

Three things about your two questions:

1. If your concern about delays in getting information out to the public has to do with the Borough’s own delays, you’ll be pleased that, first,
cablecasts of Council meetings are now aired on TPN Comcast channel 23 typically within 24 hours of the meeting.

Second, as of January 28 Council has approved major changes in the borough’s website and its management, which should result in much-improved access to general information, to standard items like permit application forms, and to Council minutes as well as board and commission actions. Borough Finance Director Steve Nease says that he and the staff “will be rolling the new website out over the next two weeks.” Keep an eye on

If your question has to do with the time between a meeting and its report in The Phoenix, many meetings extend beyond the evening deadline for next-day print. We’re trying to make up for that built-in delay by adding news to The Phoenix Files immediately after meetings, and by partial meeting reports for the next morning’s print edition.

2. Bob Tigro, former member of Council from North Ward, former Council president and 2005 candidate for mayor, is alive and well and, says Bob, “still living in Phoenixville, at least until the bank says I don’t.” He serves as chairman of the Borough Republican Committee, “doing the best I can to keep us afloat,” he said. Hearing your question, Bob revised “that remark of Samuel Clemens: the reports of the Committee’s demise – and my own – have been greatly exaggerated.”

3. About the soap: I consulted my 8-year-old grandson, who has come to know a thing or three about the procedure. He suggests that, if you really have to do it – no joke, this is a quote – “He should use something unscented. From The Body Shop.”

Remember you can email you questions for Skip at

Posted by
Skip Lawerence

Ask Skip: Introductions

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