By David Assad
Contributing Writer 

New voting machines make first appearance at Arlington meeting


County Council President Rich Fitzgerald looks on as Laverne Dixon tries out one of the new voting machines at the Arlington Civic Council meeting that will be used in the General Primary Election on May 16. Photo by David Assad

The Arlington Civic Council/Block Watch had a full plate of activities at their most recent meeting May 1 at the Kaufmann Center on Salisbury Street.

Allegheny County Council president Rich Fitzgerald gave a demonstration on how to use the newly purchased, touch-screen voting machines. Fitzgerald brought three of the new machines with him along with two county employees to give a demonstration to more than 50 people who expect to vote at the May 16 primary.

The federal government, through a $12.5 million grant, enabled the county to switch from the lever machines that have been used locally for 40 years. Mr. Fitzgerald does not agree with the change, believing the old system was very reliable and accurate. However, he encouraged everybody to accept the new system and does not believe anyone should have difficulty learning how to use them.

The people who work at the polls had to attend a special class on how to run the machines recently and will be able to help anyone who shows up to vote at their local polling place next week.

Fitzgerald said using the new machines is as easy as using an ATM machine, a self-serve check-out register at the supermarket or pumping your own gas.

“If you've done any of those things, you can do this,” said Mr. Fitzgerald who passed out printed instructions on how to use the high-tech voting machines.

Fitzgerald gave everyone a quick demonstration and those in the audience eventually got an opportunity try it themselves. There were no candidates for the upcoming primary listed on the voting machines at this meeting. However, there were examples for people to select among a list of choices for items such as a favorite singer, e.g. Sinatra, Elvis, Mamma Cass, etc.

Other speakers at the meeting include Gwen Morton of the Green Neighborhood Initiative and Lilly Leonardi of the local FBI office's community outreach program.

Ms. Morton told the Arlington residents that they are eligible for a free energy audit of their home. This program will end within this summer and funding for the program is limited to the first 50 households who sign up for the energy audit.

She said she would visit each home and do a series of tasks that will save each resident money and energy. A visual inspection of one's furnace and water heater will be done as well as inspection of existing insulation. There will also be an installation of several free energy-saving devices such as light bulbs, door jambs, window plastic and low-flow shower heads. There will also be recommendations given for more specific problems that may require professional installation.

There is no age or income requirement needed to be eligible for this program and it is free to renters and home-owners. The program is offered through the Conservation Consultants, Inc., located in South Side and is sponsored by the Heinz Endowments.

Ms. Leonardi, the FBI community affairs coordinator and a former police officer, also address the large audience. She said her organization's mission is to look at gang-related problems in neighborhoods, that they are a form of terrorism.

She said terrorism is not necessarily related to our nation's conflict with fanatical religious groups from the Middle East. She said any group of people who act criminally and try to use threats and intimidation for their own political or personal gain is considered a terrorist.

She said problems exist in every community due to drug use, not just in the neighborhoods considered to be run down and blighted. This problem also exists in affluent neighborhoods, she said.

“It's good to know you have such an active community council,” Ms. Leonardi said. “Take a look at this issues your neighborhood must deal with.”

She said her outreach problem is currently working with 70 school districts in Western Pa., consisting of 250,000 students.

“We're looking at the good, the bad and the ugly and we're looking at how to glue everything together,” she said. “We're always looking for community leaders to inform them about what we're all about.”

In a related matter, two Zone 3 police officers – Steve Crisanti and Ron Tardino - unexpectedly dropped into the block watch portion of the meeting.

Since Commander RaShall Brackney took over Zone 3 in January, the block watch had been under the impression that the officers would no longer be showing up at the meetings held the first month of every month.

The officers said they were only told they had to attend the Arlington Block Watch meeting, about an hour before the civic council meeting started. Commander Brackney has said in the past that she wants community groups to send representatives to the monthly Zone 3 Community Safety Committee meetings. The commander has said she prefers to have the patrol officers on the street doing their job rather than occupying their time at community meetings.

Officer Crisanti suggested to the Arlington leaders that they make a special appointment with Ms. Brackney to make sure the “flow of information” is maintained between the community and the Zone 3 police.

Officer Tardino said a new class of officers has started working recently and Zone 3 has benefited by using some of the “new faces” in “plain-clothes” assignments to fight the drug problem in various neighborhoods.

“We're the only zone that has benefited from this and it's been a great thing for us [in fighting crime,” officer Tardino said. “We need more diversity in the department which will be a benefit to all of us.”

Mary Lou Simon, president of the Arlington Civic Council and officer of the Block Watch, was glad to see the patrolmen at the meeting. It was a pleasant surprise for her.

Chris Meyer, an administrator with Kane Regional Centers and an Allegheny County employee volunteer, domonstrates how easy the new voting machines will be to use.

“When people have questions about what's going on in the neighborhood, it's good to have the officers there to address them,” Mrs. Simon said. “When [the block watch] is not getting a [monthly] crime report [from Zone 3] or we're not getting any [police at the meeting], we're not capable of answering any questions about concerns in the neighborhood.”


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