Mark Nootbaar

Senior News Editor

Mark Nootbaar is a native of Illinois but moved to Pittsburgh more than 16 years ago to become the Assistant News Director at National Public Radio Charter Member Station WDUQ. As assistant News Director, Mark served as WDUQ’s lead reporter and morning assignment editor. After WDUQ was sold in 2011, Mark moved with the frequency to the new station to become the Senior News Editor where he is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the 90.5 WESA newsroom. Mark has also worked in Illinois and Texas. He lives in the North Hills with his lovely wife and daughter.

 

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In reaction to charges that he might have misused a county-owned vehicle, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has written a $42,737.52 check to cover all of the mileage he has put on his take home car since assuming office.

Last week County Controller Chela Wagner publicly questioned Fitzgerald’s use of the car citing several instances where he used the vehicle to get to and from what she labeled as political events. Wagner specifically questioned 19,556 miles, which she equated to $13,125 by applying the federal mileage reimbursement rate.

Reid R. Frazier / The Allegheny Front

Inside a government lab near Washington D.C., Denise Akob holds up a glass jar filled with water. At the bottom of the jar is what looks like sand.

“It just looks like mud from any old stream—it’s got this brown color, it’s rocky, the water is still really clear,” says Akob, a microbiologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The sediment is from a clean streambed. It’s been inside the bottle for 90 days.

The 2015 budget for the city of Pittsburgh still needs to have a few more numbers plugged in before City Council can approve it, but the New Year could mean higher property taxes and higher parking rates. 

The mayor has outlined a $508 million operating budget and a $76.6 million capital budget for 2015.  It calls for $4.5 million in additional property tax income and another $5 million in earned income taxes.

Those hoping to lure a $2.5 billion ethane cracker plant to Beaver County got a boost this week when Shell Chemical LP exercised its land-option on an industrial site near Monaca.

The company has been evaluating the land owned by the Horsehead Corporation for more than two years.  If built, the company expects to use the facility to process gas pulled from the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations into ethylene. Ethylene is used as a building block for a long list of every-day products including drink bottles, detergents and adhesives.

Of the 51 schools in the Pittsburgh Public Schools district rated by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, only 16 of them met or exceeded the state’s goal of have all schools obtaining at least 70 points on a 0-100 scale.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is offering praise for a deal between Dollar Bank and a group of regional foundations to sell the August Wilson Center.

“I am overjoyed to have the August Wilson Center for African American Culture back in the community’s hands, and we as a city owe thanks to all of those who worked to make it happen,” Peduto said.

The move comes just two days after the bank bought the building at Liberty Avenue and William Penn Place in downtown Pittsburgh at sheriff’s sale for $1,912.50. Dollar Bank held the delinquent $7.9 million mortgage on the building. 

The city of Pittsburgh is hoping to team up with some local artists to land a share of $1 million being offered by Bloomberg Philanthropies to enhance the public art offerings in larger cities.

Morton Brown, the public art manager for Pittsburgh says the city has long been searching for a way to join the community and local artists in one collective project, and the Bloomberg grant presents the perfect opportunity.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The Democratic candidate for governor in Pennsylvania launched his political campaign with a television ad blitz and has never trailed in the polls in the race against incumbent Republican Tom Corbett.

Tom Wolf has been knocked as a tax-and-spend liberal with ill-defined policy plans, but the biggest question is how he’ll work with a Legislature likely to remain in GOP control. The York County businessman points to his experience serving his community in the midstate as his credentials.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

From the very beginning of the 2014 campaign, Gov. Tom Corbett was fighting an uphill battle. His approval ratings were low, polls consistently showed him running far behind potential Democratic candidates, and the controversy over fracking and school funding were grabbing headlines on a weekly basis. 

Corbett staked his first campaign on fiscal discipline and a no-tax pledge. He had a GOP-controlled Legislature but faltered on most of his major policy priorities. 

With 5,200 students benefiting from the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship fund in the last six years and more than $140 million dollars raised toward a $250 million goal, Pittsburgh Promise Executive Director Saleem Ghubril is pleased with the progress.

The numbers were announced as part of the program’s annual report to the community release Wednesday. 

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh think they have found a link between prenatal and early life exposure to air pollution and autism.  The study focused on 217 families with children on the autism spectrum. 

Autism now affects one in 68 children in America.  That is up nearly 800 percent in the last 20 years. Principal investigator Evelyn Talbott said her research found exposure to increased levels of chromium and styrene increased the risk of autism by 1.4 to two times. 

Brian Siewiorek

Back in the late '60s, Andy Warhol would frequently ask artists like the Velvet Underground to perform live as he projected his films. The practice nearly died with the artist, but it's being resurrected in Pittsburgh this week.

Musicians will perform live scores Friday for 15 Warhol films that experts are calling “unseen.”

“Warhol shot a lot of film and he probably looked at it, put it away,” said Geralyn Huxley, curator of film and video for the Andy Warhol Museum. “Certainly they were never publicly screened that we know of.” 

For the first time in decades Heth’s Run in Highland Park will soon reach the Allegheny River, and the change is as much due to a transportation project as it is an environmental effort. 

The state is hoping to partner with municipalities across the state to improve traffic signals that will lead not only to better traffic flow but also to added energy savings.

PennDOT will use Act 89 funds to support its “Green Light-Go” program.  The act sets aside $10 million for signal improvements in the current budget.

The Pittsburgh Public School District has claimed $3 million of $63 million being handed out Monday by the U.S. Department of Justice aimed and increasing school safety efforts nationwide. The grants come through the National Institute of Justice’s Comprehensive School Safety Initiative.

A widening scandal over the exchange of emails containing pornography by current and former members of the attorney general's office has gripped the Pennsylvania Capitol all week.

Pennsylvania's state Supreme Court chief justice demanded information on whether any judges were part of the exchanges. Gov. Tom Corbett, who was attorney general when the emails were exchanged, was forced to defend his management of the office as he campaigns for a second term.

Small business owners in southwestern Pennsylvania are on the whole optimistic about the region’s economy, and more than a third of them expect to see their sales increase in the coming quarter.  The projection comes from the latest PNC survey, which looks not only at Pennsylvania but also at the other areas where the bank has operations.

“Pennsylvania small businesses continue to increase their plans to hire over the next six months,” said PNC Economist Kurt Rankin.  Twenty percent of those surveyed plan to add new full-time employees.

Chris Squier / 90.5 WESA

As a final hearing on the future of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture was about to begin Monday morning, an $8.85 million settlement was announced by the creditors, Pittsburgh-area foundations and a second bidder. 

Previously a consortium of local foundations had bid $7.2 million.

A New York-based developer with plans of turning the building into a hotel had offered $9.5 million for the structure, but community outcry asking for the center to remain a locally held cultural institute apparently tipped the scales toward the foundations’ bid. 

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Another shuttered downtown department store will soon be turned into housing, parking and retail space but unlike some of the other projects launched by Millcraft Investments, this one will start with demolishing the structure.

A business incubator in Pittsburgh has landed a nearly $1 million grant to help attract new investors. 

The $800,000 federal grant was awarded to Innovation Works to support its fairly successful AlphaLab program.

AlphaLab brings early-stage businesses into its workspace on the South Side where it provides the entrepreneurs with a small cash investment, goal-specific education, key mentorship opportunities, and an entrée into the Pittsburgh high-tech community.

A voicemail threat left on a West Liberty Elementary school number has prompted the Pittsburgh Public School District to evacuate West Liberty, South Brook 6-8 and Pioneer.

The voicemail apparently threatens that a sniper would be at the school today. The message was found shortly before school started. Police are investigating the threat.

The Pittsburgh Penguins say they should be able to begin developing the 28 acres that once held the Civic Arena in the next six to nine months thanks to a deal that city leaders believe will positively impact the entire Hill District and Uptown.

Johnny Manziel's time is coming. For now, the most famous backup quarterback in football is merely a student.

Brian Hoyer, the journeyman veteran who beat out the Heisman Trophy winner for the starting job in Cleveland, provided a lesson in resilience on Sunday. Then Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers provided another in how to finish.

Again.

Roethlisberger hit Markus Wheaton twice during a last-gasp drive to set up Shaun Suisham's 41-yard field goal as the Steelers survived 30-27.

Micheal Lynch / 90.5 WESA

The nationwide fight over a higher minimum wage for fast food workers landed eight Pittsburgh-area protesters behind bars Thursday.

More than 100 workers and supporters hit the streets in front of the McDonald’s restaurant in Wilkinsburg demanding wages of $15 an hour and union representation.

Local fast food workers have been holding rallies, pickets and job walk offs for months, but Thursday’s event was supported by similar rallies planned in nearly 150 U.S. cities.

New open burning rules are pending before the Allegheny County Board of Health, and while most residents who have spoken out are in favor of the tighter controls, some feel the rules fall far short of being able to adequately protect public health.

“This is not about the tyranny of government overreach and the revolution has come to Bellevue,” said Bellevue resident and anti-burning activist Carol Wivell. “This is about people going before your elected officials and begging for help.”

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has up held the convictions of former State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister Janine Orie but has slightly changed Melvin’s sentence.

Melvin was originally ordered to send letters of apology to every judge in the state, and she was required to write them on pictures of herself in handcuffs. Thursday’s ruling found the decision to use the picture was “emblematic of the intent to humiliate Orie Melvin.”

Thanks to a federal program, all 25,000 students in the Pittsburgh Public School district will be offered free breakfast and lunch for the next four school years.

The district was recently approved to take part in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Community Eligibility Provision contained in the National School Lunch and Breakfast program.

“Students who are healthy and adequately nourished can learn and learn better,” said Curtistine Walker, director of Pittsburgh Public School District Food Services.

The floor in the Pittsburgh International Airport’s Airside Terminal is in the process of being turned upside down by a local artist.

Crews are installing the work of Clayton Merrell on the floor of the terminal’s Center Core, which connects the escalators from the people movers to the four concourses.

“You can imagine if you are laying on your back looking up at the sky… the terminal is going to be an inversion of that where you will be walking on the sky and the horizon will be encircling that,” said artist and CMU professor Clayton Merrell.

The federal grand jury, which heard evidence against then Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, has been dismissed without handing up any indictments against the mayor or anyone in his administration.

David Hickton, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, would not comment on the development. Ravenstahl’s attorney Charles Porter Jr. could not be reached for comment. 

In June, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed rules designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal plants by 30 percent by 2030. 

The proposal has been hotly debated since then, and one of only four public input sessions nationwide begins Thursday morning in Pittsburgh. 

Because the power industry is responsible for more than a third of all carbon emissions in the U.S, it seemed to many to be the best place to start. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the agency received approximately 300,000 public comments before the hearings began.

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