W-B Area Candidates Forum Canceled Amid Security Concerns

May 1, 2019

The Downtown Residents Association has canceled a Wilkes-Barre Area School Board candidates forum due to “escalated hostilities” and security concerns.

The event was going to be Friday night at Wilkes University’s Henry Center Ballroom, and the association does not have time to find a new venue. 

“Given the new security measures required of this forum, we determined that Wilkes University is not a suitable location,” university spokeswoman Gabrielle D’Amico said. “We feel it’s an important discussion and have offered to help the Downtown Residents Association identify a new venue.”

In an email about canceling the candidates forum, Downtown Residents Association spokeswoman Patricia Parks noted “escalated hostilities” between school board members and Save Our Schools, a group that opposes the plan to build a consolidated high school in Plains Twp. The association will not be able to find a new venue before the May 21 primary election, Parks said.

Hostilities have increased after Save Our Schools member Richard Holodick posted photos on Facebook that put the faces of the Wilkes-Barre Area School District superintendent and solicitor inside circles. Those photos “give the impression ...  of looking through an unmarked rifle scope,” school board member Denise Thomas said.

Holodick said he did not use the photos to make Superintendent Brian Costello and Solicitor Ray Wendolowski look like targets. He said he used their photos because he referenced them in comments.

Wendolowski and Costello said they do not feel threatened by the photos. Other school board members denounced the photos in the Holodick post on Facebook.

The SOS group opposes the school board plan to build a new $121 million consolidated high school on an old mining site in Plains Twp. School officials insist the state Department of Environmental Protection has approved construction measures that make the site completely safe for a new school. 

The district plans to merge its three high schools — GAR, Meyers and Coughlin — into the new high school when the 2021-22 school year begins. SOS wants to keep three high schools.

Nine candidates are on the primary election ballot, including four incumbents — the Rev. Shawn Walker, Mark Atherton, Dr. James Susek and John Quinn. Five challengers filed to run — Terry Schiowitz, Debbie Orlando Formola, Beth Anne Owens-Harris, Bob Holden and Robin Shudak.

The Downtown Residents Association is still conducting a forum on Monday for Wilkes-Barre city government candidates at the Wilkes’ Henry Center. Candidates running for Wilkes-Barre Mayor, controller and council members for Areas B and C will participate.