Jan. 1—When city council voted on an autumn evening in 1991 to ask state government to declare Scranton a financially distressed municipality under Act 47, most people expected the city to complete its recovery in three to five years.
No one could have predicted it would take more than three decades.
Scranton's belated emergence from Act 47 oversight was selected as Northeast Pennsylvania's top news story of 2022 in voting by The Sunday Times news staff.
It topped the new round of controversy that embroiled the Lackawanna County Prison, which was voted the year's top story by readers of the newspaper's website, thetimes-tribune.com.
CITY LEAVES ACT 47
Thirty years and 15 days after the commonwealth formally designated Scranton as financially distressed, the city successfully exited the state oversight program in January.
City representatives celebrated the milestone with officials from the state Department of Community and Economic Development and the Pennsylvania Economy League, which had the often unenviable task of coordinating the city's recovery.
The achievement came at the end of a long road that included an epic arbitration battle between Scranton and its public safety unions, a parking debt default that almost bankrupted the city, the sale or lease of major assets and the uncertainty of a global pandemic.
It also required difficult actions to reduce debt and improve budgeting and more than a little sacrifice by city residents.
"This is a very special day in Scranton's long and storied history," DCED Secretary Dennis Davin said before signing the order terminating the city from Act 47. "This is a city that has true momentum."
2. PRISON CONTROVERSIES
The year brought another series of scandals involving the Lackawanna County Prison.
Among them, District Attorney Mark Powell opened an ongoing criminal investigation into the deletion of a digital record documenting Commissioner Debi Domenick's brief 1995 confinement at the prison.
While Domenick adamantly denied involvement in deleting the record, the existence of the criminal probe came to light amid a separate legal fight between her and Powell, who accused Domenick in court documents filed July 6 of ordering a subordinate to retrieve emails from the county server to gain information about an investigation involving a prison employee.
That employee was former Deputy Warden for Treatment Krista Purvis, Domenick's friend and ally, who was fired in June partly for refusing to cooperate with an investigation into allegations she helped an inmate's wife mail a crucifix and wedding band to him at the prison. Purvis, who is gay, later filed a federal lawsuit against the county and prison alleging retaliation, discrimination and a hostile work environment.
Powell, who sought an injunction in county court barring Domenick from accessing emails and stored electronic data of the district attorney's office, got the result he wanted in August, when the commissioner signed an agreement stipulating she'll be prohibited from accessing those materials.
That Domenick had a key to the prison's administrative offices that the warden claimed he never authorized was also a source of controversy, prompting the prison board to hire a private investigator to probe how she obtained it. Private detective James Sulima's taxpayer-funded investigation drew no conclusion about who gave Domenick the key.
3. REASSESSMENT BEGINS
Reassessment is finally a reality in Lackawanna County.
More than five decades after the county's last reassessment, Tyler Technologies started collecting data over the summer in a process that will eventually lead to the creation of new assessed values for roughly 107,000 properties in the county.
The commissioners voted 2-1 in March to hire Tyler to perform the work and then approved an almost $5.2 million contract with the Plano, Texas, company in May.
The reassessment will bring assessed values, which are the basis for county, municipal and school district real estate taxes, in line with current market values. It is intended to restore fairness to a system that has grown wildly out of whack since the last reassessment in 1968.
The new values are scheduled to become the basis for property taxes beginning in 2026.
4. JAN. 6 DEFENDANTS FACE PUNISHMENT
Justice caught up in 2022 with two of the three Lackawanna County residents charged for their roles in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.
In February, former Old Forge School Director Frank Scavo reported to the federal prison in Fort Dix, New Jersey, to begin serving a 60-day sentence for his guilty plea to a misdemeanor count of parading, demonstrating or picketing in the Capitol.
That came a few weeks after a federal judge sentenced Olyphant volunteer firefighter Michael Rusyn in January to 60 days of home confinement, along with two years of probation, after his guilty plea to the same charge.
Another Olyphant resident accused of entering the Capitol, Deborah Lynn Lee, is awaiting trial before a federal judge in Washington in May.
5. LOCAL HOSPITAL CHANGES
The year brought some major changes to the hospital landscape in Lackawanna County:
—Lehigh Valley Health Network capped a bold foray into the Scranton market with the opening of the new $40 million Lehigh Valley Hospital-Dickson City on Main Street in May.
—After spending $6.2 million to acquire 22 homes around its Hill Section campus since 2021, Geisinger Community Medical Center in September revealed concepts for its potential expansion in the 300 block of Colfax Avenue, with parking facilities in the 200 and 400 blocks.
—Commonwealth Health's Moses Taylor Hospital and Regional Hospital of Scranton received approval from the state Department of Health to merge under one license, allowing them to formally coordinate their operations.
6. SCRANTON SCHOOL CLOSURES
The Scranton School District began the last major goal of the recovery plan: reconfiguring schools.
With a goal of reducing the number of empty seats available in the city's 10 elementary schools, administration unveiled a plan in October to close John Adams, William Prescott and Charles Sumner.
After a series of town halls, the school board decided to move forward with potentially closing Prescott or Sumner. The board plans to hold a hearing on the closures, although a session originally scheduled for this week was canceled.
The board will not hold a hearing for Adams at this time, which would push any potential closure of the Pine Brook school into the future.
7. TEENS CHARGED IN STABBING
A reported gang-related fight turned deadly June 22 when city police said a 16-year-old boy stabbed an 18-year-old Tyler McKenna seven times at 3 W. Olive St.
Trial is tentatively set for March for the alleged knifeman, Amir Williams, and two co-defendants, Nahsyeis Williams, 16, and Sheldon Datilus, 17.
Amir Williams is charged with first-degree murder and third-degree murder, among other counts. Nahsyeis Williams and Sheldon Datilus face charges of aggravated assault as an accomplice, conspiracy and related counts for their roles.
Law enforcement officials said the brawl sprang from a gang dispute. Surveillance footage showed two groups of youths engaged in a confrontation near the entrance to Geisinger Orthopedics.
According to police, while Datilus and McKenna fought each other with fists, Amir Williams approached with a knife and stabbed McKenna from behind.
Nahsyeis Williams threw punches at McKenna and Amir Williams stabbed the victim again. McKenna suffered a total of seven wounds. The police recovered a bloodied knife at the scene.
8. INFLATION WOES
Like everyone else in America, consumers in Northeast Pennsylvania endured the pain of higher prices in 2022.
The average price of gasoline in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area skyrocketed to more than $5 a gallon in June before starting to slowly moderate during the second half of the year.
By the middle of last week, the average price had dropped to $3.61 a gallon, only about 8 cents more than it was in December 2021.
But it wasn't just gas.
Inflation and continuing supply-chain issues helped drive up prices virtually across the board for everything from groceries to housing-related costs.
9. BOTCHED BUS CONTRACT
Finally bidding the bus contract in the Scranton School District resulted in a lawsuit and a new legal team.
The school board voted in January to give a five-year contract to Punxsutawney-based Krise Transportation.
In April, Lackawanna County Judge James Gibbons ordered the rebidding of the contract. In granting a preliminary injunction sought by Dunmore-based Pete's Garage, Gibbons scolded the district for meeting with Krise privately and not affording the same opportunity to other bidders, including Pete's Garage.
After rebidding the contract, directors awarded it to Pete's Garage in June.
Directors in April fired solicitor John Audi and his firm over the representation in the case and entered into a three-year contract with Bethlehem-based law firm King, Spry, Herman, Freund & Faul this fall.
10. DEADLY NESCOPECK FIRE
A family get-together turned tragic in Nescopeck.
In the early morning hours of Aug. 5, a fast-moving fire tore through a house on First Street in the Luzerne County borough, killing 10 people who were staying there for the night.
The victims, seven adults and three children, included relatives from multiple generations, including two sets of siblings.
It was the deadliest fire in the county in 37 years.
Eight days later, a car barreled into a crowd gathered at a Berwick bar for a fundraiser for the victims, killing a woman and injuring 19 other people. Police say the driver, Adrian Oswaldo Sura Reyes, then returned to his home and beat his mother to death with a hammer.
The Top 10 stories selected by newspaper's readers included three that did not make the cut in the news staff poll.
At No. 6, readers chose the 2022 election, including the re-election of U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, the Election Day chaos in Luzerne County and the reapportionment of the 22nd State Senate District.
The story about three Scranton police officers who were placed on leave amid a federal probe of housing complex patrols was picked by readers at No. 9, and the local protests over the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade was chosen as No. 10.
SARAH HOFIUS HALL, JEFF HORVATH and JOSEPH KOHUT, staff writers, contributed to this story.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org, 570-348-9132