2017: The Year in Review

Just when you think you've seen it all

With the upheaval in national politics, North Boroughs residents joined citizens across the United States wondering what the new year would bring, and what effect the 2016 election results would have close to home. Turns out that the ripple traveled quickly, adding to all the expected events of 2017.

It was a year of great highs and lows in terms of behavior, as we saw more people than ever before get involved in their communities in different ways. From Avonworth students banding together to support teenagers with gender and sexuality questions to Bellevue residents speaking out against racism, there was much to inspire us during the year. Equally inspirational, although in a very different way, were the low points, when we all learned that we had to be vigilant and speak out against racism, especially when it became part of political campaigns and government meetings in Bellevue.By far, the most jaw dropping moment of 2017 was when a Bellevue resident defended a council member against accusations of racism by telling council that no one could prove he was a racist unless they saw him burning a cross on his lawn.
But for the most part, the year was filled with the joy and anguish that make up our lives in the North Boroughs.


In Harrisburg, state Rep. Adam Ravenstahl was sworn in to his fourth full term in the PA House as representative of the 20th Legislative District, which includes Avalon, Bellevue, Brighton Heights and other section of the City of Pittsburgh, as well as parts of Ross Township. Anita Kulik was sworn into office for her first term as representative for the 45th Legislative District, which includes Ben Avon, Ben Avon Heights, Emsworth and Kilbuck Township in the North Boroughs.

The entire community was rocked when 15-year-old Hannah Milbert died in a fire at her family’s Ohio Township home on Jan. 7.

Bellevue Police were looking for a man who robbed the Arby’s restaurant on Route 65 armed with a black Glock handgun and a pink cannister of mace.

Avonworth basketball player Garrett Day went over the 1,000 point milestone for his career and established records for consecutive games played (83) and consecutive section games (44).

Bellevue began the process of re-funding the borough’s 2011 bond issue, a move that was expected to save the borough more than $100,000 that could be used for infrastructure repairs.


The Center Avenue Bridge in Emsworth was scheduled to close for as long as a year while the Port Authority completed a $3.6 million rehabilitation project.

The Avonworth School Board hired William Battistone as the new principal at the elementary school, and moved David Thomas from the position of teacher to that of assistant middle/high school principal.

Bellevue was informed that the borough would receive more than $300,000 in grant funds to offset the cost of Bayne Park and sewer projects.

Emsworth applied for a grant to turn a park tennis court into a pickleball court.

Allegheny County SWAT was called to the 700 block of California Avenue in Avalon where a man in an apartment building was threatening to kill police officers. The man was taken into custody without incident and transported to a mental health facility.

Avalon Council voted to donate a small parcel of land on School Street to The DoorWay, a nonprofit program that planned to build a “tiny” house as part of its affordable housing program.

The Avonworth boys’ basketball team got edged out of the WPIAL playoffs in overtime, while the girls’ team moved into the WPIAL quarterfinals before losing to East Allegheny.


The Northgate – Avonworth swim team excelled in WPIAL competition and headed for the state contests.

The Salvation Army announced plans to build an $8 million worship and service center at the site of the current PrimeTime Center operated by the Lutheran Service Society in a former church on Lincoln Avenue in Bellevue.

Representatives of Kilbuck and Ohio townships held their first meeting to explore the viability of merging the two municipalities.

Avalon Borough filled some key administrative positions. Acting borough manager Lorraine Makatura was hired to fill that position permanently, and Brian O’Malley was hired as the borough’s assistant manager. David Haslett was hired to head the streets department, which required him to resign as the borough’s mayor.

Bellevue Council put the brakes on an ordinance that would have required commercial property owners to install a “lock box” that would allow emergency personnel to access their properties during non-business hours. Business owners objected to the expense and wanted to be able to opt out of the box installation if they waived liability for damage to their stores and offices if first responders had to break in.


Although some concerns were expressed, there was great support for the creation of a Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) club at Avonworth High School that would provide support to fellow students.

Bellevue citizens who live in the area of Meade Avenue complained to council about a house on the street that was being rented to as many as 14 people at a time through Airbnb, creating problems with parking and noise.

State Rep. Adam Ravenstahl has announced that Avalon Borough would receive a $55,800 state grant to develop a five-year financial management plan and operational strategy for the borough.

Avonworth High School offered a special standing ovation to musical director Deborah Frauenholz, recognizing her 20 years of award-winning performances staged at the school.

Voters in Bellevue had the opportunity to question the many candidates that were vying for nominations in the spring primary, as the League of Women Voters hosted a candidate forum.

Avalon Council accepted the resignation of council member Ralph Cortese.

The local primary race heated up in Bellevue, where voters were letting it be known that the 2016 presidential election would influence how they cast their ballots. Three candidates sought the Democratic nomination for mayor. Two of them – incumbent Paul Cusick and council member Tom Fodi – had previously registered and voted as members of other political parties, and both also sought write-in votes for the Republican nomination for mayor. Only Emily Marburger ran as a lifelong Democrat seeking only the Democratic nomination. Fodi also took heat for social media posts, including a Breitbart meme, that were seen as racist and insensitive by many.


A definite anti-incumbent sentiment was apparent in the primary election results, as voters faced with an array of candidates voted to shake things up in the local political world. In Bellevue, incumbent mayor Paul Cusick lost both his nomination attempts, as a candidate on the Democratic ballot and as a write-in candidate seeking the Republican nomination. Emily Marburger was nominated by the Democrats, and Tom Fodi by the Republicans.

In Emsworth, incumbent mayor Dee Quinn lost the Democratic nomination for mayor to Amy Sue Lillie.

In Ben Avon, six candidates vied for four Democratic nominations for seats on the borough council, and voters again rejected the incumbents, R.J. White and Russ Kuehner.

In Avalon, former mayor Dave Haslett, who resigned in April to accept a job as the borough’s public works supervisor, nonetheless won the Democratic primary nomination over two write-in contenders, council member Tom Lloyd and Northgate School Board member Brigitte Jackson.

Petunia, a gorgeous orange tabby who resides in Bellevue with her human companion Bruce Haughin, was the undisputed winner of The Citizen’s Pet Photo Contest.

Brigitte Jackson became Avalon’s first woman mayor, appointed to fill out the term of Dave Haslett, who had resigned to take a job with the borough. Council also appointed John Crawford to the council seat left vacant by the resignation of Ralph Cortese.

Members of the Avonworth-Northgate track team rocked the WPIAL and qualified for state competition, where Hunter Robinson won two gold medals and one silver in her three events.


Bellevue celebrated its 150th anniversary by bringing back some of the past events that were enjoyed by residents, as well as adding some new entertainment. The Bellevue Firemen’s Parade returned, as did a carnival at the Sheridan Avenue football field. A craft and vendor market lined Lincoln Avenue on Saturday, and a nondenominational worship service was held in Bayne Park on Sunday.

Avonworth School Board members faced a silent protest at their work session, as support staff asked the board to provide the same family health insurance benefit enjoyed by other employees. More than a dozen individuals holding signs were quietly assembled outside the entrance to the administration portion of the building. When the doors opened, the group entered the board room, and once seated, continued holding signs that expressed such sentiments as: “We support the students. Can you support family health care?” “Say ‘yes’ to family health care for paras and food service.” “Healthcare for all.”

Longtime Northgate secretaries Judy Collins and Jeanne Nedwidek prepared to retire after decades spent at the district’s elementary and high schools.

Top graduates at the local high schools included Northgate valedictorian Alex Sklyar and salutatorian Kathleen King, and valedictorian Julianna Nicolaus and salutatorian Abby Busse.

Todd Giammatteo was hired as Bellevue’s new public works supervisor.

Bellevue Council was presented a proposed plan for structuring the police department that would add part-time officers and create two detective positions. Council never took action on the plan after the police officers themselves opposed the hiring of part-time officers.

J.P. McFeeley was sworn in for a seat on Avalon Council left vacant by the resignation of John Vetterly.

Christine King was appointed to the seat on the Northgate School Board left vacant by Brigitte Jackson’s move to the Avalon mayor’s office.

A farmers market returned to Bellevue, as a group of residents organized weekly markets in Bayne Park.

The joint planning commission for Avalon, Bellevue and Ben Avon proposed a zoning law amendment that would allow property owners to engage in the urban farming practice of raising chickens and bees.