Tom DeRosa and the art of taking no guff

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Don't mess with Tom DeRosa.

The 68-year-old chairman of the Forward Board of Supervisors finds himself in the middle of a landmark case to reveal the identities of anonymous online accusers, and he recently had a throwdown with Hollywood producers filming in his little township.

Guess who's winning both fights?

The man who likes to call everyone "bud'' but never backs down, that's who.

"You don't win by backing up,'' he told me.

Forward's a sprawling community of less than 4,000 people, on the Monongahela River about 20 miles south of Pittsburgh. Some locals went on a community bulletin board last fall to trash Mr. DeRosa. At least two called him a crook.

There's a lot you can say about public figures in this country without libeling them. You can even be wrong in your accusation, unless you're malicious and show reckless disregard for the truth.

Some posts on elizabethboro.com may have crossed that line. One said under the heading "DeRosa = Corruption'' that "they need to get tom out of there he's a lier look what he did with the townships money its in his car lot.''

Another poster, similarly gifted in the rules of spelling and punctuation, made similar accusations. Last month Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. ruled that the operator of the website must cooperate in identifying the people behind the screeds.

The American Civil Liberties Union had been able to protect the identities of other anonymous posters on the site who merely expressed opinions rather than criminal accusations, but it will not appeal the judge's decision to unmask the two more venomous critics.

Mr. DeRosa, who has been a supervisor since 1996 (and came in fighting), says he has spent $12,000 in legal fees in this imbroglio. As for the Hollywood thing, money is coming from another direction.

He and the makers of "Abduction,'' featuring teenage heartthrob Taylor Lautner, crossed paths last month when the film crew swarmed a park in Forward to shoot scenes.

Mr. DeRosa, who with wife Carol is the guardian of a 13-year-old girl, went down to the park to snap a picture for her.

He snapped "a pretty good looking kid'' with his cell phone but when he got home the girl told him he'd gotten the wrong hunk. (It was Mr. Lautner's double.) So they drove back to the park together.

That's when a man, evidently Dan Lautner, the actor's father and one of the film's producers, asked for Mr. DeRosa's phone and started walking off with it.

Bad move, that.

Mr. DeRosa said he didn't know there was a rule against photos. He got the camera back and erased the picture. But Mr. Lautner told him, "I want you out of here.''

He might not have known who Mr. DeRosa was, but he'd soon find out.

Long story short, the film crew lacked a permit for the park. So Mr. DeRosa said the 60-some cars parked on the soccer field had to go.

Forward police sided with the movie crew and wouldn't call a tow truck. After a member of the film crew poked Mr. DeRosa in the chest, he told the guy he'd be going back to Southern California with nine fingers if he tried that again.

"You don't go into a community and start dictating. You don't embarrass me in front of people,'' he explained. "They had a lunatic on their hands.''

He called a tow truck, and once it arrived, the film crew agreed to deliver a check for $500, made out to Forward Township, to the municipal building. That, he said, would cover one day.

When he returned the next morning and found a big movie tent still on the baseball field, he blocked the exit with cars from his dealership and demanded another $500 plus $1,440 for use of the police.

A spokesman at the municipal building confirmed that the crew hadn't gotten the proper permit nor paid the municipality anything until after Mr. DeRosa stepped in.

Will Casey, a spokesman for the movie crew, said Friday, "We have no comment.''

I told Mr. DeRosa his methods were unusual.

"Let me tell you why it's unusual,'' he said. "It's no BS.''

He answered my questions with such good humor he had me laughing. He says he's easy to get along with when treated fairly, and nobody should think they can take over a public park without compensating the township.

That's just another day for Mr. DeRosa. When I asked about the WTAE report that he'd fired a cop for refusing to give him his private cell phone number, Mr. DeRosa said Thursday, "He got his job back today.''

If all this sounds like the males of our species marking their territory, well, that's about right. But there's one Mon Valley dog who just took on a pack from California and another virtual one online, and he's the one in a tail-wagging mood.


Brian O'Neill: boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947.


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