With the start of the school year taking place next week, a local activist pleaded for Titusville City Council to get involved with anti-bullying efforts in the city.
Loretta Clifford, who is working to have a chapter of a national anti-bullying group founded in Titusville, drew attention to the problem of local bullying. She said that kids are being constantly harassed both physically and mentally, and that many are pushed to suicidal thoughts.
“We have a problem in our community with bullying,” Clifford said. “We have it with adults — we have it with children.”
The talk with council is the latest in a series Clifford has held with leadership from across the Titusville area. She has reached out to the Titusville Area School Board, Mayor Esther Smith and Titusville Police Chief Dustin LeGoullon, seeking to form a community coalition to tackle the problem.
Clifford hopes to form a Titusville chapter of Stand For The Silent, a bullying activist program founded in Oklahoma. She is currently in the process of raising funds to bring one of the group’s founders, Kirk Smalley, to Titusville in order to hold a series of speeches within the Titusville Area School District. Smalley created Stand For The Silent in 2010 after his son, Ty Field-Smalley, took his life at 11 years old.
Clifford said that not enough is done to address bullying in Titusville, creating a situation where a kid being bullied gets little help if they report their harassers.
“I think it’s one of those things we don’t talk about,” she said. “If we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist.”
While there is a focus on children with Stand For The Silent, Clifford believes the bullying problem in Titusville goes beyond just kids. She said many of the kids who become bullied are inspired by negative behaviors from their parents, who may speak negatively or event threaten other adults.
“We, as adults, we can’t do this,” she said. “We can’t bully one another.”
City Manager Larry Manross echoed the sentiments, and also said that in many instances, even when legal action is taken against bullies, they are given small, easy to pay off fines as punishments, amounting to a “slap on the wrist” in his view. While parents are contacted in such circumstances, Manross said that doesn’t always help.
“In most of these cases, the parents couldn’t care less,” he said.
Smith said that when she was first contacted by Clifford, she was initially skeptical about what the city could do and thought it was a matter better handled by parents. However, she became convinced, and has started attending meetings of the burgeoning group. She told council she would inform them whenever a future meeting was held so that they could attend.
As for support for the group, Smith said it was unlikely the city would be able to give any financial help at this time due to budgetary reasons, but mentioned that the council could pass a proclamation in favor of Stand For The Silent.
According to a flyer passed out by Clifford at the meeting, presentations by Stand For The Silent’s national team start at $2,500 for an out of state seminar. Clifford hopes to have Smalley speak twice at Titusville High School, once at the middle school, once at a joint gathering for the elementary schools and once at a community event open to the public.
The city’s minimum municipality obligation will see slight increases in 2020, as announced by Manross at the meeting.
MMOs are an amount the city must contribute to the pension funds for city employees. The sum is determined by the state using data gathered every two years.
According to Manross, the fire pension MMO will rise to $331,265, up from $330,986; the police pension payment will go to $419,430, up from $415,928; and the Public Works MMO went to $51,920. Manross was unable to recall what the Public Works MMO was for the previous year, but said the amount had raised.
This is a markedly smaller increase than what the city went through in 2019. The MMOs for that year jumped by $76,023 for the police and $141,667 for fire.
The rise in payments was caused by the poor state of the stock market in 2017, when the city was last evaluated. Manross said that stocks have since improved, and is hopeful that the next assessment, which will be based on 2019 data and affect the 2021 and 2022 MMOs, will either stay the same or decrease.
However, Manross said that the state lowered the life expectancy for retired police and firefighters, going from 83 years to 78, which has in some way contributed to this year’s increase. He said he isn’t precisely sure why this would cause the MMO to go up.
Further confounding the issue is the sheer number of retirees the city has compared to city workers paying into the pension fund. Manross said the city has roughly double the amount of retirees compared to current employees.
He also said that this isn’t a Titusville exclusive issue, with increasing MMO payments affecting cities across Pennsylvania.
“Statewide, it’s getting to be unsustainable,” Manross said.
The city typically pays the MMOs on a quarterly basis, though it has the option to do otherwise.
Manross announced that the city now officially owns the Joe M. Ball Residence Hall and the Murdoch Townhouses, a trio of buildings donated by the University of Pittsburgh at Titusville. Council plans to sell the buildings to a private developer to be used for business purposes. Manross told council to begin thinking of a minimum price they would like to sell the buildings, as he hopes to get the structures sold before winter starts.
Bid packages for a new fuel system at the Titusville Airport will be opened at next week’s meeting, where council will be able to vote on which contract to accept.
Smith announced that she had reappointed Joe Thompson to serve on the Titusville Redevelopment Authority. Thompson serves as the board’s treasurer. Smith highlighted Thompson’s experience on the board as a reason she picked him over the other applicant for the seat, Lee Clinton.
A plan to remove a barrier on South Franklin Street has likely been abandoned by council. Manross said he spoke with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation about the issue, which was first raised at the July 16 council meeting, and found that while the city could remove the barrier, it would incur a significant cost. This is because the barrier, which is located near where South Franklin Street meets Trout Run Road, is overtop the electrical systems that power a nearby traffic light. Removing the barrier would also necessitate moving the electrical machinery, a project that Manross said would cost thousands of dollars.
Titusville resident Larry Emerson posed two questions to council during the public comment section of the meeting. Emerson asked how much use the new splash pad saw, and what salary and benefits the recently hired Titusville Airport manager, Raymond Gurnee, will receive. Manross said the splash pad, depending on the weather, was usually packed in his opinion. As for Gunree, the city manager said he is paid $20,000 a year and did not receive benefits, clarifying he is a part-time employee who works 20 hours a week.
Scott Knowles, who operates a shipping and notary business in Titusville and a news Facebook page, asked council to amend its policies on who can speak at city council meetings. His request is due to the current policy stating that only city tax payers can speak. Knowles, who said he doesn’t live in the city, asked for it to be changed so that anyone operating a business within city limits, even if they live outside of the city, can speak. Discussion arose over the issue due to the requirement of a business license to run a business in the city, which Knowles, council members and Solicitor Richard Winkler debated on whether it counted as a tax or not. Smith tabled the issue and asked Winkler to look further into the topic before council could take action.
The next meeting of Titusville City Council will take place next Aug. 27, at 6 p.m., at the Towne Square Building.
Ray can be reached, by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.