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‘Teabaggers,’ Supervisors Butt Heads in Rowdy Township

August 16, 1996

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ For a lesson in TV-friendly democracy, watch the Republican convention. For the real rough-and-tumble of politics, see a meeting of the Salem Township supervisors.

The head firefighter doesn’t like the supervisors. The supervisors don’t like the people in the mobile home park. The people in the mobile home park don’t like their $34-a-month sewer rates.

The bad feelings boiled over late Wednesday when a fight broke out among a few of the 75 people in a room the size of an elementary school classroom. An elderly woman suffered a skinned knee, and the mother of a Boy Scout was worried that he got the wrong idea about government.

``How am I supposed to tell my son that fighting is not the answer?″ asked Cindy Marshall, whose 15-year-old son had gone to the meeting to get a merit badge.

The supervisors in the township about 20 miles east of Pittsburgh had a long series of shouting matches, even arguing about the minutes of the last meeting.

``It’s reminiscent of something you might see in a Third World country,″ said Maurice ``Mossie″ Murphy, a Pittsburgh political analyst. ``Usually people show more restraint, even when an issue gets racially charged.″

The rural township has two strip clubs, abandoned coal mines, about 7,300 people and hard feelings about most aspects of government. The flashpoint is Cloverleaf Estates, a large mobile home park of elderly residents.

The people of Cloverleaf are called ``teabaggers″ because some of them hurled enough soggy tea bags to fill a coffee can at Supervisor Deborah Perino in 1995. She fled with tea in her hair and on her dress.

Jean Rose, 70, was charged with instigating the protest, which was inspired by the Boston Tea Party and prompted by a $10-a-month increase in sewer bills. Rose was later cleared, then sued Perino in federal court.

The township meetings get rowdy. Republican-turned-Democratic supervisor Carmella Salvatore said she walked out in July because David Rosatti, president of the Forbes Road volunteer fire department, was heckling her.

``I will not succumb to mob rule,″ she said.

Rosatti said he wants a forum with supervisors about safety issues. Salvatore said Rosatti is upset because a prominent township resident would not donate money to the fire department.

Supervisors may meet next amid the smell of diesel fuel in the township garage to give people more room.

``I’m not sure if it will ever blow over, but maybe things will calm down after last night,″ said Sam Testa, a court clerk in Westmoreland County, which includes the township. ``I know people who are sick over what’s going on up there, all the feuding and fighting.″

The fight Wednesday began when constables tried to remove people to thin the crowd.

Witnesses reported seeing one man with his hand around another’s throat. At one point, a state trooper remarked, ``I want to get out of the way of this crowd before someone whacks me over the head.″ Nettie Kidd’s right shin started to bleed after she was knocked off a chair.

``I don’t like fighting, and I may not go back to another meeting. You never know, so many people might just think about going off and grabbing a gun,″ she said Thursday.

Perino and Supervisor Frank Pavlovich was unavailable for comment because they were making rounds in the township’s road-repair trucks.

No immediate charges were filed in the brawl.

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