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Two vie for Johnson seat

November 01, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - In an election with few contested municipal races in Franklin County, voters in Chambersburg's First, Third and Fourth wards have choices to make Tuesday.

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Democrat Kris Burget and Republican Scott Thomas are seeking the Third Ward seat now held by Rev. W. Larry Johnson, who was charged Tuesday with institutional sexual assault, bringing contraband into the county prison and solicitation of a prostitute.

He is leaving office after two terms, but his legal problems are apparently unrelated; he did not run in the May primary.

Burget, 40, of 331 S. Main St., and Thomas, 36, of 422 S. Main St., expressed similar concerns for the ward recently.

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"We need peace of mind down here. We're getting a bad rap all the time," said Burget, a delivery driver for Lowe's.

"We've got to change the way the Third Ward is perceived," said Thomas, an explosives expert for Charles E. Brake Co.

"We have to keep the police force in pursuit of the drugs, open containers" and other crimes in the ward, Burget said. "Then people will be able to walk the streets at night and not be afraid."

"We need a stronger police presence in our Third Ward," Thomas said. He said it was a mistake for the department to move its substation from South Main and Catherine streets to a storefront space in the Fourth Ward.

Both are members of the Third Ward Community Task Force, which Johnson helped form in the wake of a March homicide.

"I'd like to see more business at the Southgate Mall. We definitely need a grocery store down here," Burget said. Earlier this year, the County Market store closed down, leaving the area without a supermarket.

"I feel Southgate has to be one of the commercial hubs of our community," Thomas said. He said many residents now have to carry groceries for long distances through traffic.

In the Fourth Ward, two political newcomers are vying for the seat formerly held by Kevin Tanger. Republican James C. Goetz, 49, of 525 Reservoir St., appointed to the council in June after Tanger moved from the borough, is running against Democrat Sharon Bigler, 49, of 359 High St.

"I just feel the council isn't in touch with the community anymore. ... They spend money on unnecessary things," she said.

Bigler cited a recent decision to spend up to $10,000 for a Harrisburg, Pa., law firm to file a court brief in support of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's position on a proposed Exit 7 in a lawsuit. "You can't tell me there isn't a lawyer in town who couldn't have written that brief," she said.

A volunteer emergency medical technician with the Chambersburg Fire Department, Bigler opposed a decision by council to maintain the current contract with Chambersburg Area Advanced Life Support Service, which she said harms area fire companies.

Goetz, the construction foreman for the Guilford Water Authority, supported the decision. Ending the contract with the advanced life support company would have put it out of business "and adversely affected service to everyone else in the county," he said.

Goetz said he wants to be involved in issues affecting the aging infrastructure of the borough, but said he's still learning the ropes of being a councilman. "We have to work together to face issues as they come up and deal with them in a professional way," he said.

In the First Ward, two-term Republican incumbent William F. McLaughlin, 50, of 1306 Edgar Ave., faces a challenge from Democrat Gary L. Hawbaker, 32, of P.O. Box 1096.

"Crime in the borough is down because we've invested in more police protection," McLaughlin said. "Jobs in the borough have increased in the past eight years. Downtown revitalization is finally getting under way with projects like the Capitol Theatre" and the Village on the Falling Spring.

"I see the need to continue to manage the borough's finances closely, to manage expenses at a time when revenues and the tax base are shrinking." he said.

Hawbaker focused on improving traffic safety and utilities in the borough. He said the proposed Interstate 81 Exit 7 is "in the hands of the courts," but if it is approved the borough must develop a strategy to prevent residential areas from being inundated by industrial traffic.

He called for improvements to several intersections and sound barriers along railways through the ward.

"The town itself is lacking in infrastructure," said Hawbaker, a contractor. He favors putting electrical lines underground and installing fiber optics and other new technologies to improve the borough's image and attract new business.

Hawbaker was charged earlier this year by Pennsylvania State Police with theft and receiving stolen property. Police alleged he failed to return equipment he was issued when he worked as a county corrections officer.

"I believe I will be found innocent of these charges," he said.

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