A1 A1
Local
top story
Alleged rape victim fails to appear for hearing for defendant on unrelated charges

SUNBURY — Despite being subpoenaed to testify, a Mount Carmel woman failed to appear Monday morning at the Northumberland County Courthouse for an unrelated hearing involving the man accused of raping her.

A habeas corpus hearing for Patrick Gurdak, 22, of 304 W. Fifth St., Mount Carmel, who was charged by Mount Carmel police with simple assault and other offenses relating to a March 18 disturbance at his residence, was continued by President Judge Charles H. Saylor at the request of Assistant District Attorney Michael Finn after the alleged victim of the assault failed to appear.

The victim in the assault case is the same woman Gurdak was charged by borough police with raping between Feb. 11 and Feb. 28.

After continuing the hearing until Aug. 19, Saylor conducted another habeas corpus hearing for Gurdak on charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct filed by Mount Carmel Patrolman Tyler Herbster in connection with an April 10 disturbance at his residence.

Herbster testified that police officers went to Gurdak’s home to arrest him for violating a protection from abuse order filed against him by the alleged victim of the assault. An officer said police attempted to handcuff Gurdak after he opened the door and appeared on a porch. But Herbster said Gurdak then retreated into the home, forcing police to use substantial force to take him into custody.

Saylor ruled that Finn presented enough evidence to hold Gurdak on the charges.

Both hearings were requested by public defender John Broda to challenge testimony presented at preliminary hearings before Magisterial District Judge William Cole, of Mount Carmel, in which Gurdak was held for court.

Gurdak was arraigned July 5 by Magisterial District Judge Michael Diehl, of Milton, on felonies of rape by forcible compulsion, sexual assault, incest and criminal solicitation, and a misdemeanor of indecent assault by forcible compulsion relating to the alleged rape of an adult family member.

The charges were filed by Mount Carmel Lt. David Donkochik.

Gurdak remains incarcerated at Northumberland County Jail in lieu of $200,000 cash bail on the rape-related charges.


Mark Gilger / SUBMITTED PHOTO  

An Elysburg resident who didn’t want to be identified recently took this photo of three fawns grazing on her property. White-tailed deer are Pennsylvania’s state mammal.


top story
Public park takes the place of dilapidated former school

RANSHAW — An eyesore has been replaced with a recreation area in the eastern end of Coal Township.

A public park on the site of the former St. Anthony Parochial School at Webster and Fifth streets is nearing completion. On Monday, a crew from Brookside Landscaping was stabilizing green benches along a crushed-stone walkway enhanced by shrubs.

According to Coal Township Manager Rob Slaby Jr., the work is some of the last scheduled for the site, which includes a gazebo, mulch and grass that took the place of barren dirt.

The total cost of the project is $43,000, which was split between the township’s general fund and a grant from the Keystone Communities Program, administered by the Department of Community and Economic Development, that was also used to raze the hazardous building in fall 2016.

A requirement of the grant, Slaby explained, was that the property had to be repurposed. Since the project is in a flood plain, supervisors believed a park was the best option for the community.

In 2014, the township purchased the property for $1, plus costs and fees, from the county repository with the intentions of demolishing the building, which had partially collapsed on several occasions.

Following demolition, the land was used as a staging area for equipment for an unrelated flood control project for Quaker Run, which borders the property to the south and had flowed through a culvert underneath the school’s parking lot that has since been removed.

Slaby said there are no future plans for the park but said further improvements cannot be ruled out. The cornerstone and a marker of the school will remain on display at the RCA grounds, he added.

School history

In 1923, the plot was purchased for the erection of a parish school and auditorium. Construction started in 1924 and was completed in 1926 at a total cost of $122,000.

The school, which contained eight classrooms and a large auditorium, was used by the Roman Catholic congregation of St. Anthony’s Church, the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit and the Shamokin Area School District after the condemnation of the Garfield School in 1970. It was also a common place for community and private social gatherings.


National
Trump backs 2-year budget deal that boosts spending, suspends debt limit

WASHINGTON — The White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., reached a tentative two-year budget deal Monday that would raise spending limits by $320 billion and suspend the federal debt ceiling until after the 2020 presidential election.

The agreement, which still must be passed through Congress, probably would prevent a debt-ceiling crisis later this year but also would continue Washington’s borrowing binge for at least two years.

“I am pleased to announce that a deal has been struck with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — on a two-year Budget and Debt Ceiling, with no poison pills,” President Donald Trump tweeted Monday. “This was a real compromise to give another big victory to our Great Military and Vets!”

The deal was met with fierce resistance from some prominent Republicans who said it would add too much to the debt, a backlash that will force congressional leaders to work hard this week to ensure they have enough votes for passage. The agreement also could spark concerns from some House liberals because of concessions made to the Trump administration, as both parties try to stake out positions that resonate with voters ahead of the 2020 election.

The agreement marks a significant retreat for the White House, which insisted just a few months ago that it would force Congress to cut spending on a range of programs to enact fiscal discipline. Instead, the White House agreed to raise spending for most agencies, particularly at the Pentagon.

In exchange, White House officials received verbal assurances from Democrats that they would not seek to attach controversial policy changes on future spending bills, although it’s unclear how that commitment would be enforced.

Pelosi brokered the deal with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, whom Democrats and even some Republicans had considered the best arbiter for a compromise. White House Acting Budget Director Russell Vought sought last week to force Democrats to commit to $150 billion in budget changes in exchange for the new spending, but his demand was rejected.

Instead, negotiators agreed to $77 billion in accounting changes that probably wouldn’t constrain any future spending. But the deal locked in more spending for the military, something Trump has tried to make a hallmark of his first 30 months as president. He has told advisers that if he is reelected, he wants to focus on spending cuts beginning in 2021, and he has largely cast aside the budget-slashing goals some of his aides have advocated for since his inauguration in 2017.

“We are, I think, doing very well on debt, if you look at debt limit, however you want to define that, but we’re doing very well on that and I think we’re doing pretty well on a budget,” Trump told reporters Monday. “Very important that we take care of our military, our military was depleted and in the last two-and-a-half years we undepleted it, OK, to put it mildly, we have made it stronger than ever before. We need another big year.”

The deal would suspend the debt ceiling until July 31, 2021, meaning it probably would not need to be addressed again until the fall or winter of that year. And the agreement would set spending levels through Sept. 30, 2022.

The deal was reached as the House prepares to leave Washington at the end of this week for a six-week summer recess, giving Pelosi little margin for error to pass the legislation in a matter of days. The Senate is in session for an additional week and is expected to take up the deal next week before senators, too, head out on recess.

Many Republicans spent the bulk of the Obama administration insisting that the budget needed to shrink and calling for a constitutional amendment to balance it. A number of those lawmakers have either left in recent years or muted their criticism of Trump’s embrace of big deficits, and some GOP leaders in recent weeks have said they need to focus on passing budget deals and not getting into messy fights without a clear strategy.

In December, Trump decided late in negotiations to block a bipartisan spending agreement, leading to a long government shutdown.

“Somebody needs to calmly and clearly lay out the alternatives, because we saw what happened last time,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters Monday. “We ended up in a shutdown mode, and I don’t think that’s good for anybody.”

Still, some conservatives expressed outrage Monday that the White House would back such a big increase in spending when deficits are already ballooning.

Rep. Mike Johnson, of Louisiana, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said he spoke with Trump on Saturday and urged him to oppose the emerging deal.

“I encouraged the president that he would have his right flank if he would hold the line and allow us all to do the fiscally responsible thing and that is limit this out-of-control spending,” Johnson said. “He responded well ... he understood the sentiments.”

Fiscal hawks also said they were mortified.

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said, “As we understand it, this agreement is a total abdication of fiscal responsibility by Congress and the president. It may end up being the worst budget agreement in our nation’s history.”

But some Democrats said they were upset that Democratic leaders did not secure a commitment from the White House that Trump would stop using money from military programs to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he would support the deal, even as he voiced concerns that leaders in his party went too far in offering these assurances to the White House.

“I’m worried the House is willing to give (Trump) far too much discretion to take money and move it anywhere he wants, including a wall,” Leahy told reporters, an objection that could resonate with liberals in the House.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., indicated her opposition to the deal, writing on Twitter:

“Notice how whenever we pursue large spending increases + tax cuts for corporations, contractors & the connected, it’s treated as business as usual. But the moment we consider investing similar (money) in working class people (ex tuition-free college) they cry out it’s ‘unrealistic.’ ”

Also as part of the deal, Democratic leaders agreed not to include controversial policy changes, known as “riders,” in future spending bills. Those measures, which can be tied to hot-button issues such as abortion and immigration, can imperil spending legislation. Opponents of these measures often call them “poison pills.”

“There will be no poison pills, additional new riders ... or other changes in policy or conventions,” congressional leaders wrote in an outline of the deal.

But lawmakers often disagree on what constitutes a poison pill, and the debate could be revived once specific spending bills are introduced.

By raising spending limits for the military and nondefense programs for the next two years, the White House and Pelosi have effectively erased key remnants of the 2011 Budget Control Act, which was supposed to constrain spending for a decade.

“With this agreement, we strive to avoid another government shutdown, which is so harmful to meeting the needs of the American people and honoring the work of our public employees,” Pelosi and Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a joint statement.

Lawmakers and the White House would still need to pass spending bills to fund government operations for the next fiscal year, which will begin in October, but that is considered an easier task now that budget levels have been set. The $320 billion in new spending that the White House and Pelosi agreed to represents an increase over what the reduced budget levels would have fallen to if the limits had begun next year.

The government spends more money than it brings in through revenue, and that difference is called the budget deficit. To cover the deficit, the government borrows money by issuing debt. The debt has grown from about $19 trillion when Trump took office to more than $22 trillion this month. The government must pay interest on the money it borrows, and this year it will pay more than $350 billion to finance its borrowing.

The deficit has widened since Trump took office. It was $587 billion in 2016, President Barack Obama’s last full year in office, and is projected to reach $1 trillion this year. The larger deficit is a result of higher spending and 2017 tax cuts, which have led to a large drop in forecast revenue, according to budget experts. White House officials have argued that the combination of higher spending and tax cuts has helped the economy grow and that they plan to cut spending when the economy is on a stronger footing.

The deal could raise questions about the White House’s negotiating strategy going forward. Democrats targeted Mnuchin as a negotiating partner during the current talks because they thought he represented their best option for a compromise. Typically, the budget director or White House chief of staff would play a more prominent role. But acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney has poor relations with House Democrats, and many have written off working with Vought.

It’s unclear whether this dynamic will change when lawmakers begin their next round of negotiations on the specific spending bills, debates that are likely to drag into September.

“I think Mr. Mnuchin has a different perspective on some of this than others in the administration, Mulvaney and Vought among others,” said Johnson, the Louisiana Republican. “And I don’t know if it’s yet decided which perspective will win the day. But we know there are some very smart and very thoughtful people involved in the negotiations, and we hope that at the end of the day they’ll do the right thing.”


Local
top story
Man who couldn't swim drowns in creek

POTTS GROVE — A 33-year-old Montour County man died Saturday while swimming with his family in Chillisquaque Creek.

Montour County Coroner Scott Lynn said the incident occurred at 4:50 p.m. in the area of Danny’s Road, Liberty Township, Montour County, near the Northumberland County line.

According to Lynn, Arlen Weaver, 33, of Danny’s Road, became submerged in Chillisquaque Creek after attempting to enter the water while using a beach ball as a floatation device.

“The victim was a non-swimmer and with his wife and children when the incident occurred,” Lynn wrote, in an email to The Standard-Journal.

He said the county 9-1-1 center received a call at 5 p.m. that a man was missing in the creek. Weaver’s body was recovered following an extensive search.

Fire departments and dive units from across Montour, Northumberland, Columbia and Lycoming counties were involved in the search.

Responders from the Milton Fire Department, the Potts Grove Fire Department and Lewisburg’s William Cameron Engine Co. were among those dispatched to the scene by the Central Susquehanna Regional 9-1-1 Center. Union County Sheriff Ernie Ritter and his search dog were also called to assist.

Pennsylvania state police were on scene but did not immediately issue a report on the incident.


Larry Deklinski / LARRY DEKLINSKI/STAFF PHOTO  

Emrie Bloom, 10, of Catawissa, adjusts her hat shaped like a flamingo during “wacky day” at a youth soccer camp held last Wednesday by the Southern Columbia Area High School soccer team.


Local
top story
Female workers sues employer for alleged sexual harassment, discrimination

WILLIAMSPORT — A Snyder County woman has sued Michael Foods Inc. over claims of sexual harassment, and disability discrimination and retaliation.

Nancy Tracy, through her attorney, Mark Catanzaro, of Mount Holly, New Jersey, filed Friday a 14-page complaint in the U.S. Middle District Court of Pennsylvania, alleging her employer, located in Klingerstown, “aided and abetted” their employees in carrying out discriminatory actions against her based upon gender, creating an intolerable work environment.

Tracy requests the court enter a declaratory judgement stating Michael Foods’ policies and procedures subjected her to sexual harassment and similar behaviors; prohibiting Michael Foods from implementing or enforcing any policing that denies employees of any gender the full and equal enjoyment of benefits or promotional opportunities; and instructing the business to take various steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

The plaintiff also seeks compensatory damages in excess of jurisdictional limits on each count of sexual harassment/hostile workplace, gender discrimination and retaliation.

According to the complaint, Tracy has been subjected to sexual harassment by employees, including supervisors Jamie Osman and Stephen Shifflet.

The suit lists 11 examples of alleged misconduct, including an employee grabbing her breasts, an employee requesting numerous times for her to sit on his lap, an employee making repeated sexual comments towards her and her daughter, an employee grabbing her buttocks and an employee asking for pictures of “the new and improved” breasts following reconstructive surgery due to breast cancer.

Tracy alleges Osman made “repeated” comments about her buttocks and “badonkadonk” and Shifflet asked how her breasts would look and feel after reconstructive surgery.

She claimed Osman did nothing when he was informed an employee rubbed his elbows against her breasts after requesting to view them. She added that she voiced her concerns to Osman and Pam Dalton, but “nothing was done to stop the behavior.”

Instead, Tracy alleges, Dalton advised that she “shouldn’t let it get to” her and should simply not acknowledge it when men speak in vulgar and harassing tones.

She asserts that her vehicle’s tires were punctured, her belongings vandalized and three employees screamed at her and blew a mess from their work area to hers in acts of retaliation.

According to the complaint, when she applied for the position of sanitation II, as a promotion from her position of sanitation I, she needed to submit a written essay on why she was qualified, but, upon belief and information, men who applied for the exact same position were not required to submit an essay.

She said male colleagues were freely given access to training for sanitation II, but she was “forced to push and plead” in order to get final training in order to be qualified for the position. This disadvantage, she claimed, hindered her ability to advance within the company.

The complaint states that on April 9, 2018, the plaintiff was injured at work and was advised by a physician that she could return to work on light duty; however, the company required her to work on machinery not considered light duty as retaliation for raising concerns about sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

In August 2018, she sought leave pursuant to Family Medical Leave Act for three non-consecutive days off to care for family members, although male employees were not required to take the same measures, she claims.

Tracy also alleges she was denied “tenure” pay, which was promised to her and has been given to less qualified male employees.

According to the suit, Tracy filed on June 12, 2018, a written charge of discrimination against Michael Foods with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, alleging discrimination and retaliation, and the current suit is timely because it is initiated within 90 days of receipt of the Notice of Right to Sue, which was mailed May 15.