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June 13, 2014

New panel takes reins, paves way for YMCA to run rec programs

— Tempers flared, but in the end another hurdle was cleared Friday to allow Greater Johnstown Community YMCA to take over West Hills recreational programs and management of The Ridge and The Grove.

Westmont Hilltop Recreation Authority begrudgingly approved the new independent nonprofit West Hills Recreation Commission Ltd. as successor to the former Westmont Hilltop Recreation Commission, allowing the new organization to contract with the YMCA.

But authority Chairman James Craft and Vice Chairman Herbert Ewald wondered if the YMCA would take care of the former commission’s employees. Both were peeved that the other three members of the authority board are also on the West Hills Recreation Commission Ltd. board of incorporators.

“We are going to lose a lot of good people,” Ewald fumed. “Contrary to what people say, (former director Fran Sivi) did a great job.

“I’d like to see something up front. What are we going to do with these people?”

But neither the commission nor the authority can tell the YMCA who to hire under a contract ready for approval, said James Greco, who is chairman of the new nonprofit’s board of incorporators and a member of the recreation authority.

The authority is a little-known, largely inactive partnership of Westmont and Southmont boroughs and Upper Yoder Township. It is a a separate organization from the former Westmont Hilltop Recreation Commission that has been in existence for more than 30 years. In recent years, it has met only about once a year because it is primarily a vehicle to obtain grant funding for recreation.

Greco pointed out that the authority’s responsibility ends with the grants.

The reminder, coming during Greco’s first meeting as an authority board member, did not sit well with longtime chairman Craft.

“We are not here to fight with you,” Craft fumed. “We are here to try to figure something out.”

Greco said the authority is responsible for seeing the grants that funded improvements at The Grove and The Ridge were being managed for recreation purposes.

“We are giving you a way to get these things accomplished,” Greco said.

The authority unanimously approved motions by William Stasko naming the new commission as successor to the old commission, naming Johnstown attorney Robert Shahade as the authority’s solicitor and making the new commission responsible for management of The Ridge and The Grove.

Craft said he knew it would be futile to vote against the motions because authority members Greco, Stasko and Lee Williamson are also on the new commission’s board.

“I’m totally against you three voting on both the authority and the LTD,” Craft said. “Why come to a meeting? You’ve already decided. Everything is a landslide decision.”

“I’m very disappointed, to say the least,” Ewald said. “If (the former commission) had done what they were supposed to do, we wouldn’t be sitting here, period.”

Ewald is a Southmont Borough Council member. Southmont withdrew from the former commission last year, launching its demise, after the commission’s board failed to respond to the borough’s requirement for a financial audit.

The YMCA is well equipped to operate programs, and has already interviewed some former Westmont Hilltop Recreation Commission employees, Greco said. He predicted more programs will be available for a lower cost under YMCA management.

Randy Griffith is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/photogriffer57.

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