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Year in Review: Dems control Central Bucks; superintendent quits

September, October, November & December 2023

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Editor’s Note: This week our editors look back at the biggest and most-notable stories of 2023. This is the third in a series of three installments. It covers what happened in September, October, November and December of 2023.

September

A narcotics investigation, led by the Bucks County Detectives Drug Strike Force, Quakertown Borough Police Department and Homeland Security Investigations with collaboration from other local, state, and federal agencies, dismantles a bi-coastal drug trafficking organization that shipped millions of dollars in deadly drugs from Los Angeles to Bucks County and surrounding areas. The investigation led to the seizure of more than $3.5 million worth of drugs, and more than 40 firearms and 100,000 rounds of ammunition. Charges were filed against six people, including one from Bucks County, one from Berks County, one from Northampton County, one from Lehigh County and two from California.

Sixteen members of an Upper Bucks family on a mission trip in Belize are injured in a horrific crash, just days before most of them are scheduled to return home. The crash occurred when the van they were traveling in slammed into the back of an unlit, fully loaded dump truck in the city of Spanish Lookout.

“Never Broken: Visualizing Lenape Histories,” an exhibition featuring the work of Lenape artists that aims to show how art tells stories about history and identity, and how art can be used to tell new stories and correct history, opens at the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown. “Never Broken” is the first exhibition by the museum to focus on indigenous art and the first featuring all Lenape artists. Their artwork expresses personal and tribal identity and addresses violent displacement of the Lenape from Lenapehoking, the ancestral homeland of the Lenape. This includes the land where the museum sits.

The Bucks County Herald Foundation names Penn Community Bank president and CEO Jeane M. Vidoni to its board of directors. Vidoni, a resident of Doylestown, has been president and CEO of Penn Community Bank, the largest independent, mutual bank in eastern Pennsylvania, since the bank’s creation in 2015.

October

Doylestown Township Supervisors rebuff recently voiced objections to the scope of an ambitious Central Park restoration proposal, voting by a 4-1 margin to award a series of bids for the work. The project, estimated to cost $12,913,800, includes plans to update the park with an indoor recreational center, a comfort cottage for bathrooms, and new outdoor sports courts. That equates to residents paying an additional $93 a year in taxes.

Hundreds gather on the Doylestown Health campus to express gratitude and pure delight over the opening of a much larger brand new Children’s Village. It was in August 2020 that a raging tornado ripped the roof off Doylestown Hospital’s early childhood education center, as 135 children took cover inside with their teachers.

The 200-year-old Cintra Mansion on West Bridge Street in New Hope Borough, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, is demolished. In its place will stand a replica. Three independent structural engineers told the borough council the mansion’s exterior walls were beyond saving. A geologist added that Cintra was built using soft, soluble stone, which further bolstered the argument for demolition.

Marcus Papanikolaou, poised to cap off a truly great high school swimming career this winter at CB East, is killed in a single car accident on New Road in Churchville. A senior who attended an online charter school while swimming for the Patriots, he had finished swim practice and was en route to a haunted hayride when his car struck a tree, according to family friend Dimitriy Kichin. At CB East, he was a PIAA Class 3A medal winner all three years he competed, specializing in sprint freestyle. He was a four-time District One champion and a National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association All-American. The accident cut short a promising swimming career for Papanikolaou, a Penn State commit who also swam for BeFirst Swim Team. Papanikolaou was described by coaches as a great kid, who was bright and happy. Several called his death heartbreaking.

Citing personal reasons, Felicia Ganther announces she will resign as president of Bucks County Community College, effective Dec. 14, with one year left on her contract. Ganther said the recent deaths of three close colleagues and cancer diagnoses of two siblings had a profound impact on her. Ganther faced a number of challenges in her short tenure at BCCC, but she said those challenges had nothing to do with her decision to resign. Ganther served as a board member of the Bucks County Herald Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that oversees this newspaper.

A Bucks County judge rules Pennridge School District “acted in bad faith” when it refused to provide a Perkasie father with a complete record of books removed from the high school library for review under a new learning resource policy, and then attempted to conceal the deception by manipulating library records. Judge Jordan Yeager ordered the district to provide the information requested and to pay the father’s “reasonable” legal costs for the lawsuit he filed after the district refused his request.

The former director of Doylestown Hospital medical staff, who retired in 2021, is charged with embezzling more than $600,000 from a hospital charitable account. Investigators say they believe Norma Galagarza, 68, of Chalfont, used money earmarked for charity to pay personal taxes, real estate taxes, cell phone bills, car payments, and personal credit accounts.

November

Democrats win big in both countywide and local school board elections. Democratic candidates flip the Pennridge and Central Bucks school boards, where issues related LGBTQ+ topics, library policies, and curriculum modifications loomed large. Bucks County Commissioners Bob Harvie and Diane Ellis-Marseglia, both Democrats, are reelected, as is minority Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo. Voters rejected every Republican candidate seeking a seat on the Central Bucks School Board, sweeping in a Democratic majority for the next four years. The battle for control of the nine-member school board captured national attention, as controversies over COVID policies, LGBTQ+ rights, removal of library books and parental involvement created more than two years of volatile meetings and community protests. Democrats pulled off a major upset in Pennridge, sweeping all five school board seats, creating a shift in the balance of power after years of GOP control. The victors campaigned on a promise to fire Jordan Adams and Vermilion Education on their first day in office. Adams had been criticized for what opponents said was a lack of experience in writing curriculum and his ties to the Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum that some say promotes an American exceptionalist view of history.

As its final action, the Republican-majority Central Bucks School Board approves a $712,000 separation agreement with now-former superintendent Abram Lucabaugh, who resigned following the election. In July, the GOP-led board gave the former superintendent an 85% raise, increasing his salary to $315,000. The controversial severance deal passes by a party line 6-3 vote following an often contentious meeting that drew hundreds of vocal residents.

The Bucks County Herald Foundation names Emilie Lounsberry to its board of directors. A professor in The College of New Jersey’s Journalism and Professional Writing Department since 2009, Lounsberry worked for more than two decades as an award-winning staff writer at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Upper Perkiomen Police charge a Pennridge School District guidance counselor with three felony counts of sexual assault of a student. Kelly Ann Schutte, who worked at Pennridge South Middle School, was placed on administrative leave after the allegations surfaced last summer. The criminal complaint says the mother of the alleged victim, a 14-year-old boy, contacted police in July to report that her son was in a romantic and sexual relationship with Schutte. Schutte’s attorney declined to comment on the case.

The Pennsbury School Board votes 8-1 to construct a new high school instead of renovating existing buildings. The project’s estimated cost range is $235 million to $277 million.

Four students and a teacher file a federal discrimination complaint against the Pennridge School District for what they say is a “chronic failure to take reasonable and necessary measures to address persistent and severe harassment of LGBTQ+ students of color.” The complaint, filed by the Advocacy for Racial and Civil (ARC) Justice Clinic in Philadelphia on behalf of the students and teacher, whose names were redacted, also lists the NAACP of Bucks County and the PairUP Society, a local advocacy group, as plaintiffs.

Central Bucks South Titans football team wins the District One 6A title game, with a strong defense, forcing five turnovers.

December

Buckingham Police Chief Mike Gallagher abruptly resigns after seven years on the job. He broke the news himself on the police department’s Facebook page. Gallagher’s move came two weeks before township attorneys were scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia to discuss a civil complaint that former detective Samantha Devery filed claiming police department sex discrimination, charges the township has denied. Township supervisors approved a separation agreement and release between the township and Gallagher, less than two weeks after his resignation and one day prior to the Case Management Conference in Philadelphia. The conference established a trial date of May 28. Supervisor Chair Paul Calderaio said Gallagher’s wife had retired, and he wanted to move south. He also noted that when Gallagher was hired seven years ago, it was to serve a particular action plan that was estimated to take five-to-seven years to complete, and that a status report would be provided during the process of hiring a new police chief. Police Lt. William Moffett has assumed command of the department in the interim.

At its reorganization meeting, the first with its new Democratic majority, the Central Bucks School Board moved quickly to address several controversial policies that divided the district and the larger community over the past two years, casting Central Bucks into national headlines. Policies 109.1 and 109.2, which many claimed were tantamount to book bans were suspended, bringing cheers from the audience. Also suspended was Policy 123.3, which the lame duck board adopted at its last meeting, restricting transgender girls from participating in sports aligned with their gender identities. And policy 321, which banned the display of political flags, which included Pride flags, in district classrooms, and prohibited teachers from “indoctrinating students,” also was suspended. Additionally, the new board called for a legal review of the more than $700,000 severance package awarded its former superintendent Abram Lucabaugh during the previous board’s last meeting in November, and of some legal fees paid to a Philadelphia law firm to hired to investigate an ACLU of Pennsylvania complaint that the district fostered “a widespread culture of discrimination” against LGBTQ+ students.

Doylestown Township Supervisors approve a zoning change that opens the door to a housing development and potential dog park on North Broad Street. Doing so allows a developer to move forward with plans to build 60 affordable, one-bedroom apartments for senior citizens in a single, four-story building and 18 market-rate townhouses on a three-acre township property that abuts a one-acre parcel in Doylestown Borough. The vote came just hours after Doylestown Borough Manager John Davis expressed his displeasure with the planning commission’s recommendation that the supervisors approve the change, and with what he called lack of inter-municipal planning.

The Jefferson and Lehigh Valley Health networks ink a nonbinding letter of intent to combine.

Residents living near Haycock Camping Ministries in Springfield Township oppose its expansion, citing noise from gunshots day and night, increased traffic and Christian music blaring through their neighborhood.

Doylestown Borough residents living near a planned downtown four-story hotel raise concerns about the ambitious project.

A property where Alexander Hamilton was stationed, and where the Continental Army had one of its headquarters in December 1776 receives a conservation easement.

January, February, March & April >>

May, June, July & August >>


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