Follansbee council approves school officer

FOLLANSBEE — On Monday, Follansbee Council agreed to provide a city officer for the former Jefferson Primary School and discussed proposed improvements to the Ray Stoaks Plaza and Mahan Playground.

At a special meeting before council’s regular monthly work session, council approved an agreement with the Brooke County Board of Education involving the assignment of Officer Megan Himmelrick to the school, which has been renamed Brooke Intermediate North.

City Police Chief John Schwertfeger said the board has agreed to pay for Himmelrick’s hours at the school, while she can continue to serve the department in emergencies and during summers.

As the school’s first prevention resource officer, Himmelrick has undergone state training to serve as a liaison between law enforcement and the school community, particularly pupils.

Before assuming a part-time position with the city last fall, she served the Weirton Police Department.

Himmelrick also will be the first city officer to serve as a prevention resource officer, though others have served as Drug Abuse Resistance Education officers.

Brooke County sheriff’s deputies had served in that role at Follansbee Middle School. After the sheriff’s department wasn’t able to secure state grants for the positions, the school board has arranged for a mix of deputies and city officers to serve in schools.

Council unanimously supported the officer, though City Attorney Michael Gaudio expressed concern about the city’s liability for the officer while at the school.

Schwertfeger said he believes the school board will address that issue.

During the work session, Mayor David Velegol Jr. said next week he will ask council to approve $10,000 to hire a consultant to draw up possible improvements to the Ray Stoaks Plaza by the Follansbee City Building.

Velegol said he would like to convert it into a town square, with picnic tables and other features, where farmers’ markets and other special events may be held.

Fifth Ward Councilman Scott McMahon said he’s opposed to the idea because it involves closing the section of Penn Street between the alley and Main Street and eliminating the parking spaces north of the City Building.

Velegol said the curb across the west end of Penn Street could be extended to create new parking spaces. But McMahon said it’s likely that City Police will use those.

Asked about the cost for the project, the mayor said it could be $100,000, but the consultant would provide a more accurate estimate. He added improvements could be pursued in phases.

McMahon said the money could be better spent, council and the city’s beautification could come up with its own ideas for improving the plaza, and some cosmetic repairs could be made easily.

City Manager John DeStefano said the consulting firm can pursue grants for the plaza.

Second Ward Councilwoman Angela Kocher supported Velegol’s proposal, saying, “If you want business to come downtown, if you want to revitalize it, you have to start somewhere.”

First Ward Councilman George Robinson suggested spending the money on repairs to Mahan Playground. Located along Main Street, it’s a highly visible and well used park, he noted.

In related business, Velegol said he and Robinson surveyed the park and next week will recommend the purchase of new picnic tables and benches for up to $1,150.

Council members also:

¯ Heard from Vito “Skip” Cutrone, who asked them to allow him to serve alcohol beginning at 10 a.m. on Sundays at the video lottery casinos he owns. He noted the state legislature has moved the time when alcohol may be served from 1 p.m. on Sundays pending approval by local government.

In the event it’s not, the issue must be decided in an election.

Cutrone also called council’s attention to an uneven curb installed recently at the southwest corner of State and Main streets. He said he and another person fell there recently and he’s concerned about senior citizens tripping on it.

Council members noted the curbs were redone by crews hired by the state to improve handicap access and considered contacting state officials about the problem.

¯ Learned it will be asked to approve about $8,647 for new speakers and other sound equipment for council chambers. Microphones currently used by council members are tied into a tape recorder and don’t amplify their voices.

¯ Learned Dave Heaton has resigned from the city’s water board and a new representative of the 5th Ward will be needed for the panel.

¯ Observed a moment of silence for the late Tina Hinerman, a former 1st Ward councilwoman, and Santo Santoro, an active union official who also co-founded the city’s youth basketball league, among other pursuits.

(Scott can be contacted at