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Controversies plague Halfmoon Township government

Plus: Penn State student arrested at Proud Boys protest likely won't be suspended


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This is Talk of the Town, a free weekly newsletter delivering top news from State College and the surrounding region.

December 15, 2022
Inside this edition: Drama continues in Halfmoon Township as supervisors abolish manager position, Penn State student arrested in connection to Proud Boys protest likely won't be suspended, and Pa. Republicans sue to block Democratic-scheduled special elections. 
Halfmoon Havoc

Halfmoon Township has been plagued by controversies over the past 10 months.

An attempt in February by several supervisors to fire the township manager at the time, Denise Gembusia, for being “defiant” backfired and galvanized citizens in her defense, according to reporting from Halie Kines, the Centre Daily Times’ local government reporter.

Beyond that, the supervisors tried to cut ties with C-NET, the local government access channel; potentially violated the township’s nepotism policy; refused to acknowledge National Hispanic Heritage Month; and eventually abolished the manager position altogether.

We spoke with Kines about her ongoing coverage of Halfmoon Township. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Talk of the Town: What happened initially to make you turn your attention to Halfmoon Township?

Kines: I was covering a [Centre Region Council of Governments] meeting, and a former Halfmoon supervisor made the comment that there was a storm brewing in Halfmoon Township. And he didn't provide any further context during the meeting. But, as a journalist, when you hear that there's a storm brewing, that, of course, warrants some type of follow up. 

… The next township meeting, which was the Feb. 25, 2022, meeting … lasted for more than four hours. It was the initial attempt to fire the former township manager without really a clear reason, and also an attempt to discontinue using C-NET services, which could have led to some more major and valid transparency concerns.

Talk of the Town: You’ve been writing about issues in Halfmoon Township since February. Why is ongoing coverage of the township important?

Kines: Local government, in general, is so important. But this specific situation was kind of odd. During that February 2022 meeting, at least one of the supervisors was kept in the dark about what some of the agenda items were related to. And the chair wouldn’t answer questions about it when he was asked about it. 

So if an elected official doesn’t know what is going on during a meeting, how can they expect a resident to be informed about what is happening? 

Beyond that, at one point, the township was without most of its staff, and during the course of about three months, Halfmoon lost its manager, roadmaster, full-time road crew, an auditor, and a planning commission member. People leave jobs all the time. But when that many people depart from a small township in a short period, something bigger is probably happening. And the residents deserve to know and understand what is going on in the correct and appropriate context, which is why this was such an important story to stay on top of.

Talk of the Town: From your reporting and conversations with township residents, what are the biggest concerns about the township government?

Kines: Definitely transparency and accountability of the board of supervisors are two of the bigger concerns I've heard from multiple people. I remember one resident telling me in April that she doesn’t know the supervisors that well, so it was hard for her to gauge what their true intentions were, especially when they wouldn’t answer questions about certain agenda items. 

Recently, with the removal of the manager position, some residents raised concerns at the most recent meeting about how that could negatively impact the township. 

Talk of the Town: Is there anything else readers should know about the situation in Halfmoon Township?

Kines: I think the whole situation has demonstrated why local government and local journalism are so important. I hope it, at least, empowers people to be more involved with their local government by attending the meetings and staying up to date with what is happening. 

I don’t think that Halfmoon is necessarily unique in their struggles. I previously reported in Potter and Tioga counties. There were many local government entities there that were in disarray, which prompted residents to call for more transparency. But without people showing up and paying attention, it can all go unnoticed. I think it just shows that greater picture of needing to be informed and paying attention to your local government.

—Sarah Rafacz, State College editor

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» Dec. 16: Catch the Spirit in downtown Williamsport.

» Dec. 16-17: The Huntingdon Regional Ballet performs The Nutcracker at the Halbritter Center for the Performing Arts.

» Dec. 19: Participate in a Holiday Sing Along at the State College YMCA.

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