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O’Gara opposition may be on the rise

O’Gara opposition may be on the rise
“This is the biggest thing that has ever happened in Westmoreland County,” a seasoned public official and Westmoreland County native told The Journal earlier this week. “I’ve never seen anything generate this level of passion and public outcry.”
This Monday night the Westmoreland County Citizens Association (WCCA) had a call for the O’Gara question. Treasurer Wallace McGuinniss had already left the meeting and only 2.5 of the attendees said O’Gara ought to come.


Association Vice President Margaret “Peggy” Campbell made it known she favored a Westmoreland County O’Gara training or consulting facility. District 5 Supervisor Larry Roberson raised his hand with Campbell and Westmoreland School Board member Rosemary Mahan said she thought she was in favor of O’Gara but still had questions.

Mahan rounded out the 2.5 votes favoring O’Gara. She later shared a belief that the O’Gara trainees would be good for the local economy, possibly even utilizing lodging facilities at Stratford Hall and Westmoreland State Park.

The Westmoreland Citizens for Change (WE COUNT) did not attend send a delegation to the June 1 Westmoreland County Citizens Association meeting. The new organization will hold its own meeting later this week.

By the time the WCCA began its Monday evening Montross Fire House meeting, WE COUNT had gathered more than 800 names of O’Gara opponents in its petition drive. That membership says it hasn’t even scratched the surface but wonders what it will take to send the message to O’Gara and the members of Westmoreland County’s local government.

“It’s sad in a way,” one O’Gara opponent said of the effort O’Gara opponents have expended. “Just imagine if the county could have harnessed all this energy for a worthwhile and lasting effort.

“Oops, I forgot. If I might paraphrase the Chairman, if it weren’t for the efforts of the Board of Supervisors and their staff, nothing would get done in Westmoreland County!”

In recent weeks some of the rhetoric has become a little sharper. More people are referring to the facility O’Gara plans to establish on the Chandler and Westmoreland Industrial Park property as a mercenary training camp.

The word is out that O’Gara is not part of the United States military establishment and it has become increasingly difficult to find ordinary residents who share public officials’ belief that O’Gara’s trainees will be American citizens employed with the United States Department of State.

It has also become increasingly difficult to persuade private citizens who have engaged in hundreds of hours of unrelenting research that their public officials have performed their own due diligence.

On the evening of June 1, the comments Supervisor Roberson made to residents attending the WCCA gathering were light years removed from the picture gathered by so many private citizens.

Roberson recalled that when he ran for office two years earlier, the county’s unoccupied industrial shell building had been a big election issue. Once elected, he said his attitude had been much the same as other Supervisors.

“Show us the money and we’ll talk about it,” was the approach adopted by the local government. The District 5 Supervisor further intimated that some of the entities expressing interest expected the county to let them have the shell building and its companion 25 acres for nothing.

“We learned O’Gara wanted that and also the Chandler land when we went into closed session and O’Gara gave us the proposal,” said Roberson.

“Then O’Gara gave its proposal in public session and at Carmel Church. It might not be the ideal situation, but probably nothing is ever an ideal situation. They will offer local residents a number of part-time jobs and the State Department authorizes everything [they do].

“We’re not training mercenaries," the gentleman said, ‘We aren’t Blackwater.’ They won’t be in situations where there’s shooting because they train to get in and out of situations before anyone knows that they are there.”

The WE COUNT organization formulated a set of written questions about O’Gara’s Westmoreland County plans and presented the written questions to the Westmoreland Supervisors during the Board’s May 11 meeting. On June 2 the answers had not been returned.

Requests made to the local government under the Freedom of Information Act did not bring comfort to worried residents. By the end of May, it had become apparent to a large number of Westmoreland residents that the county’s public officials had taken O’Gara at its word or had adopted a “show us the money” attitude such as Roberson described.

Private attempts to obtain what citizens considered crucial information seemed increasingly pointless as more facts were brought to life as the result of independent research efforts.

“We got very little information and almost no new information,” was one characterization of the information that county officials were able to release.

“The majority of the answers were that no such documentation exists.

“The public officials didn’t do much of anything except look at what O’Gara gave them and the dollars behind it all. It was very disappointing.”

During the question and answer session held at Carmel United Methodist Church earlier this year, O’Gara Group Division President Jim Noe promised Westmoreland residents that O’Gara will find another place to locate its facility if the people of Westmoreland County make it known to O’Gara and to the Westmoreland Supervisors that O’Gara is not wanted in Westmoreland.

Worried residents who have independently gathered a voluminous body of information will share their concerns with the Board of Supervisors for a final time next Monday. The June 8 session will begin at 6 p.m. in the English Building’s Circuit Court meeting room.

Betsy Ficklin

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