Tempers flare at Portage meeting over social media post | Local News

PORTAGE – Reactions to one councilman’s scathing social media posts escalated into a heated discussion during Monday’s Portage Borough Council meeting.

Posting in the Facebook group “Portage PA Pride,” Councilman David Hayes said council approved $5,000 toward development of a proposed Mainline trail, which he said “has nothing at all to do with Portage but it will cover the towns that won’t pledge the $5,000. So the boro (sic) voted 6-1 to give this, your tax money is being used for other towns.”

Continuing his post, Hayes referred to new light poles being installed as part of the ongoing Main Street Streetscape project underway in partnership with PennDOT’s reconstruction of Route 164 through the borough.

The new Christmas decorations were designed for the old tall streetlights, which are being replaced by 15-foot decorative lights.

Hayes’ post went on to lament fellow council members’ failure to support his proposal to allow off-road vehicles to use Johnson Avenue through the borough during the Portage Area Summerfest committee’s Fundfest on Aug. 15.

He estimated the committee would make $2,000 from ATV and side-by-side riders who regularly ride on the mountain behind Portage Area High School on weekends. The post says the money would come from riders who would “come down from the mountain and eat and such.”

Hayes made a motion to allow the ATVs access during a July council meeting, but the motion died after no other council member would “second” it.

During July’s discussion, council members asked about liability for accidents and possible complaints from the Johnson Avenue neighbors.

Calling himself “the Donald Trump of the council because whatever I bring up they make sure to shoot it down,” Hayes’ post singled out Councilman Brent Kinley as opposing any fundraisers that involve ATVs.

This week, Council President George Wozniak addressed the Facebook post.

“There was a lot of inaccurate and misleading information in Councilman Hayes’ post,” Wozniak said during Monday’s meeting.

The $5,000 toward development of the Mainline Trail was contingent on the trail committee getting grants to move forward with the project, Wozniak said. Council approved the pledge July 19 by a 6-1 vote, with Hayes in opposition. Last week, a representative of the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance said the Mainline could serve as an important link in the national project.

As proposed, the trail would connect the borough to the Path of the Flood trailhead at Ehrenfeld, with a route through town to the Portage Area Historical Society’s Museum.

“Councilman Hayes voted no for something that would put Portage on the map and an important stop on the 9/11 trail, and giving the residents of Portage the ability to enjoy nature by walking or riding on the trail,” Wozniak said.

As far as the Christmas decorations, Wozniak pointed out that Hayes voted in favor of the Christmas decorations purchase in 2019 and the streetscape project in 2021.

Hayes’ post includes a call for residents to attend meetings to “see where your money is getting spent” and the statement: “That just drives me crazy with the weird spending this council does.”

But Wozniak said Hayes not only has approved expenditures, but also almost always makes the motion to pay the bills.

“If Councilman Hayes was so concerned about erroneous spending, why does he motion to pay the bills without question?” Wozniak said. “It’s a roll-call vote. He could vote ‘no’ each time.”

Several council members responded to Hayes’ assertion that council closed their minds to ATV use in the borough.

“We have tried to work with him,” Kinley said. “Every time he had an idea, we listened.”

Councilman Todd Learn called the Summerfest Fundfest proposal a “great idea,” but said Hayes presented it less than a month before the event without a fully developed proposal.

In February 2020, Hayes and Allegheny Ridge Recreation Association President Doug Wagner asked council to designate some borough streets and alleys as ATV routes to allow borough residents to access trails outside of town and eventually let ATV trail users come into the borough for gas or food.

After discussions at several meetings, the proposal was officially tabled at the June 20, 2020, meeting. Borough Solicitor Michael Emerick in May 2020 told council the borough’s insurance underwriters would not cover the liability.

On Monday, Emerick clarified that if council authorized ATV routes as allowed under state law, the borough could not be held liable for simply granting the use.

“It’s not a blanket immunity,” Emerick said, explaining that the insurance carrier would probably increase the borough’s premiums for the added risk.

The ATV issue has been the main source of contention with Hayes during his six years on council, Wozniak said.

“Council worked with him as much as they could, but in many situations, council’s hands were tied because of laws and bordering landowners and municipalities,” Wozniak said. “Councilman Hayes is on council for his own personal agenda. If you attend meetings on a regular basis, it is very clear to see.”

“He is not here for the borough,” Kinley said. “He wants ATVs and side-by-sides in our town.”

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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