Saturday, October 29, 2011

Reply to "Make Educated Council Choices" Letter

Here's a letter to the editor that appeared in the October 23, Times Leader, and below is our commentary on it:
Make Educated Council Choices
On Nov. 8, the residents of Luzerne County will be selecting 11 out of 28 candidates for the new county council. It is extremely important that the voters elect the most qualified, experienced and ethical candidates to these council seats.

The goal of this home-rule government is to reduce politics as we have seen it in the past. I sincerely hope that will be true! But let’s not be na�ve to think that politics is dead in Luzerne County, because it’s not. That is why it is up to the voters to make a conscious decision by voting for the candidates who will serve us best and not be driven by the party politics of the past.

The Democratic Party of this county already is handing out slate cards to vote for all 11 Democrats for county council. Does the Democratic Party, which seemingly has controlled Luzerne County for the past number of decades, actually believe that these 11 candidates are the best choices?

To date, the Republican Party has not endorsed any candidates nor has it suggested that 11 Republican candidates would be the best choices during this time of transition. I hope that remains the same until election time.

Also, there are some candidates who are registered Independents and campaigning as if they are independent individuals. But just because these individuals are not registered with a political party does not necessarily mean they are not political and have political ties. Let’s remember that independent candidates often hold views more extreme than the two major political parties, are too narrow in view or have hidden affiliations with a party but don’t formally identify with it in order to avoid subjugation of its policies.

Party politics is what has turned Luzerne County into a nationally recognized example of widespread political corruption, back-door deals and scandals. The party politics, which have overwhelmingly dominated this county in the past, need to be overcome.

This election should not be about party affiliation, gender, race or in which community the candidate lives. It needs to be about the individuals who understand this new home rule charter, have a solid education and most important have a track record of making ethical decisions.

The voters have an opportunity to change this county and have the ability to shut the door on party politics, which has driven our county into a hole.

Angelo Zingaretti
The point that really struck my interest was how Zingaretti insinuates that being "extreme" is mutally exclusive with being independent. He even hints that the reason some candidates are third party is that they're too Republican to be a Republican or too Democrat to be a Democrat--which seems to me to be somewhat self-refuting. If they were too "Republican" to be a Republican, then how exactly can they be described as "Republican"? He equivocates being a moderate with being an independent, which is nonsensical since "moderate" implies trying to moderate between two sides. Yet, if being moderate is a "side" in and of itself, then one could be moderate and an independent, especially if one views the parties as being extreme and unnatural. In the political spectrum, Angelo views any deviation from moderation as a downward slide. But here's the catch: yesterday's moderate will be different from today's moderate and from the one 20 years from now, and from the one 20 years ago. So if you really want to believe in something specific, then you should try to hold a philosophy that isn't determined by the ones around it. Thoughtless "moderation" is a sort of graduated nihilism because it bespeaks an ever-changing dynamic with no real philosophical foundation. If you're going to be a moderate, then you might as well be apathetic, since you're subject to those around you.

And this is the problem with KING'S COLLEGE, where Zingaretti attends; that all the political science students either come out being limp-wristed moderates or raving Democrats. It seems that moderation is good as long as it implies accepting the intellectual Democrat way of thinking. These are all sophisms that slide off easily.

So it depends how one defines indpendent, and what one wants to be independent from. A moderate is independent of consistent ideology, while an "extremist" is independent of the status quo point of moderation. Extremists rely heavily on ideology and moderates rely on the ever-changing collection of ideologies.

The worst impliciation of his point is that there is somehow a "right answer" that is irrespective of ideology. On the contrary it's all about ideology, especially in the long run. Therefore, one can be independent and on an "extreme" of one concieved spectrum or another.

The writer sees party politics the problem behind the corruption in Luzerne County, which is somewhat true. (The real problem is a sort of naive tribalism and regionalism whereby people choose candidates because they know them and only because they know them--and they hope to get a job or another benefit from them. Many times they get votes simply because of family ties. This is why Mayor Leighton is related to city attorney Bill Vinsko and via marriage to police chief Dessoye. The problem is that their a bunch of parasites, who collude to live off the rest of us.

Zingaretti then criticizes the Democrats for passing out slate cards. The reasoning behind the slate cards for the Dems is such: Each Democrat candidate is at a huge advantage over each Republican candidate, so if each Democrat voter really wants his favorite to make it, he must bullet vote for him/her. But, the irony is that this pervasive bullet voting may undermine the Democrats advantage if all the Republicans vote straight party. But Terry Casey and the Luzerne GOPers have decided not to issue a slate card in order to sacrafice county council candidates in favor of concentrating on the higher risk/reward prospects of Dick Hughes and Stafanie Salavantis. However, most Republicans will probably bullet vote in the hopes that their candidate will edge out a Democrat, and we may end up with all Democrats on the council.

Zingaretti correctly asserts that third party candidates often associate with major party people. Rick Williams and Packard both switched their registration of Independent in March of 2011. Williams had been a Democrat and Packard a Republican. Williams associates with Democrat candidate Elaine Maddon Curry, who is very statist and socially liberal, and his promotion of "progress" on his campaign literature reveals that he himself is probably a concerted big-governmenter. Also, some of Republican Joyce Dombroski-Gebhardt's supporters are also helping Libertarian Tim Mullen. Republican Bill James is reportedly helping Democrat Michelle Bednar.

But all in all, I thought the piece by Zingaretti was thought-provoking, and I fully endorse his aversion to blind party partisanship.

TL Letter: Money Spent on War Could Fix Local Problems

Tom Gunshannon of Larksville recently wrote a letter to the Times Leader that makes a lot of sense:
As I read about the attempts by our elected officials to get approval for $300,000 for the repair of the Coal Street Creek Bridge in Plymouth, I can’t help but wonder where our priorities lie. It appears that the “approval” of the needed $300,000 is a hard stretch for our state and federal legislators and local officials.

Yet we can spend more than $1 billion a day on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. These wars are costing us $300,000 every 26 seconds. Can’t we stop shooting and bombing over there for 26 seconds and bring that money home to fix our bridge?

Isn’t it time that we let the rest of the world stand on its own two feet and stop playing policeman of the world? Couldn’t we start spending all these billions of American tax dollars on the citizens of the United States for a change?

Don’t the citizens of this country deserve a little aid and consideration at long last? Is that really too much to ask?

Tom Gunshannon
It appeared in the September 6, 2011 edition of the Times Leader.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Leighton Lied to Supporters

At the mayoral debate at Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton lied to his supporters when he said the contract between Wilkes-Barre City and LAG Towing "is being enforced."

The moderator asked "Why don't you enforce the towing contract with LAG Towing." After mumbling some inaudible complaints to the moderator, the mayor said that "the contract is enforced", which drew boos from the crowd.

The mayor lied because the contract mandates that logs of each tow be kept. These logs do not exist and haven't been kept for over 75 months, as city officials were forced to admit. The logs are necessary to ensure that an independent auditor can verify that LAG is fulfilling another provision of the contract: that LAG charge industry standard. LAG owner Leo Glodzik lied to the Times Leader, saying $200 was the standard rate for a rollback tow, when in fact it is around $80.

The reasoning is simple: the contact mandates logs be kept; logs aren't kept; therefore the contract isn't being enforced.

If the mayor has brainwashed himself to believe that the contract can be enforced by not being enforced, then we could speculate that he is of such bad will, that he is capable of making himself believe anything. But we'd like to point out that the emporer has no clothes.

Whatever experience he may have, if his perceptive abilities are so unspeakably bad, then he is not fit to be mayor.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Walter Griffith Endorses Candidates

Luzerne County Controller Walter Griffith has endorsed several candidates for the new Luzerne County Council:

Eugene Kelleher (R)
Charlie "Bible Buck" Hatchko (American Independent)
Kathleen Dobash (R)
Steven J. Urban (R)
Tim Mullen (Libertarian)
Gina Nevangloski (R)
Joyce Dombroski-Gebhardt (R)
William Bill James (R)
Harry Haas (R)
Michael Lacey (Libertarian but his campaign literature says he's an Independent).
Steven A. Urban (D)

For more, see his article in the citizen's voice:
Don't Vote Straight Party in the Nov. 8 Election

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Musto-Carroll Refuses to Answer Questions

The Luzerne County Young Republicans Group published the following press releases:
Sept 30
In light of the recent sentencing of Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan for their roles in the “Kids for Cash” scandal, The Luzerne County Young Republicans (LCYRs) seek answers to lingering questions surrounding Luzerne County corruption. How could this scandal have continued for years without any County Officials noticing? Would the scandal have been prevented, or at least its effect been minimized, if other County officials had done their jobs?

The Interbranch Juvenile Commission shed light on these questions. In its report, the Commission concluded that District Attorney Jackie Musto Carroll failed to perform her duties and showed no interest or concern for the juvenile court system during the “Kids for Cash scandal.”

In addition to her negligence, Musto Carroll engaged in nepotism and cronyism by hiring Mark Ciavarella’s daughter and daughter-in-law in the District Attorney’s Office. Jackie Musto Carroll’s actions reek of corruption and the LCYRs believe she owes the residents of Luzerne County an explanation for her behavior.

The LCYRs request that District Attorney Jackie Musto Carroll formally answer each of the following questions and return the same to the LCYRs.

1. Why did you fail to discover the Kids for Cash scandal?

2. By your own admission, you never set foot in a juvenile courtroom during the Kids for Cash scandal. Why did you ignore this part of your job when it could have prevented the scandal from occurring or at a minimum limited its effects?

3. Under your watch, the Assistant District Attorneys were not adequately trained and as a result failed to recognize and challenge the routine deprivation of juveniles’ constitutional rights by Mark Ciavarella. Why did you fail to train your Assistant District Attorneys when proper training would have prevented the scandal or at a minimum limited its effects.?

4. Despite the obvious nepotism and cronyism involved, why did you hire Mark Ciavarella’s daughter and daughter-in-law in the District Attorney’s Office?

5. Did Mark Ciaveralla ask you to hire his daughter and daughter-in-law, or contact you in any way regarding the hiring process?

6. Do you believe that nepotism or cronyism have any place in government?

7. Given the Interbranch Juvenile Commission’s finding that you “stood by and abdicated” your responsibility as a prosecutor, how can the residents of Luzerne County have any faith that you will not to continue to abdicate your responsibility since you have already set abdication of responsibility as a precedent?

8. Given the Commission’s finding that you “demonstrated no initiative, interest, or concern with what was occurring in juvenile court,” how can the residents of Luzerne County feel confident that you can effectively lead the charge of protecting our children?

9. Why did you fight to block the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania from reviewing whether the Luzerne County juveniles, who were denied legal counsel, were entitled to relief?

The LCYRs have sent the above questions to Jackie Musto Carroll. We request that she answer and return the above questions to the LCYRs by October 14, 2011.

Oct 18
Jackie Musto Carroll has once again ignored the residents of Luzerne County. On September 29, 2011, the Luzerne County Young Republicans (“LCYRs”) sent Musto Carroll 9 questions regarding her contribution to the “Kids for Cash” scandal, as well as her record of nepotism and cronyism. The LCYRs requested Musto Carroll answer our questions by October 14, 2011. The day for reply has come and gone without any response from our District Attorney.

In May of 2010, the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice released its report on the “Kids for Cash” scandal. In its report, the Commission concluded that Jackie Musto Carroll “stood by and abdicated” her responsibility. The report further concluded that Musto Carroll “demonstrated no initiative, interest or concern in was occurring in juvenile court.” Despite admitting to never setting foot in a juvenile courtroom during the scandal, Musto Carroll stubbornly continues to deny that she failed the County in any way.

For well over one year, Jackie Musto Carroll has refused to address questions regarding her contribution to the “Kids for Cash” scandal. Despite an official report finding her to be negligent, she has consistently brushed aside the legitimate questions and concerns of her constituents. As an elected official, she has failed in her obligation to answer for her actions and inactions while in office.

Jackie Musto Carroll has made time to host fundraisers and plan rallies for her re-election campaign, but she refuses to make time to answer the most important questions of this election.

Our 9 questions have provided Jackie Musto Carroll with an opportunity to clear her name less than one month before the election. Musto Carroll’s failure to seize on this opportunity to vindicate herself, provides even more support for our claim: that her actions and inactions contributed to the “Kids for Cash” scandal.

The LCYRs are disappointed in Jackie Musto Carroll’s continued disrespect for the residents of Luzerne County. Despite her refusal to address our concerns, we will not let go of this issue. We intend to continue with our demands and push her to answer our questions.

For additional information, contact:
Luzerne County Young Republicans
We wonder if the Young Republicans' beloved Tom Marino also knew about Kids for Cash.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Wilkes University County Council Forum Recap

This is a review of the forum held at Wilkes University on October 17, 2011, to which all county council candidates were invited.

Our reporter arrived 5 minutes late but by that time Packard, Brominski, Hatchko and Walsh-Waitkus had already spoken, but later each was asked the question "How would you ensure that the county manager (who the council will appoint) will act independently, professionally overseeing the day-to-day operation of county government."

Jeremy Packard (Independent) said he looked forward to being a swing vote as an independent and didn't want agendas from the major parties to impede the manager from doing his job.

Edd Brominski (D) said it was important for the manager to receive input from the council but also for the council to let the manager do his job.

Charlie "Bible Buck" Hatchko (American Independent) related his experience in negotiating union contracts, and promised to go to the papers if he were to notice any impropriety.

Jane Walsh-Waitkus (D) answered in a calm, articulate way, but didn't say anything of much substance.

Our reporter was there for the rest of the speeches. All in all, most candidates did better than they had in the KING'S forum held on Sunday night. They were afforded more time and seemed to benefit from it. There were more audience members there too--over 100 total.

Jim Bobeck (D) gave a much better speech, and went over some specifics of the charter and stressed the need for the council to let the manager do his job and to enforce the charter's ethics code. But Bobeck managed to say something dumb in one of his asides, when he implied that main problem with Alcohol Prohibition was poor enforcement; on the contrary, it was that people still wanted to drink.

Eileen Sorokas (D) did a better job, and highlighted the newness of the home rule government.

Sal Licata's (D) speech was essentially the same one he made Sunday, and it was kind of boring. He said that when sitting on boards he always made decisions that were "in the best interests of everyone" --which is quite a statement. In economics terms, he claims to have always maximized utility and to have known how to do so. In reality, he probably meant to say that he acted in the best interest of all instead of favoring one group or another, an important point to make given that Licatas abound in government.

John Ruckno (R) did very well in his speech, and called for fiscal responsibility, restraint, and the need to live within our means. He said he preferred to balance the budget but not through raising taxes. He also favored a zero-based budget. He also stressed the need for a nation-wide search for the county manager.

Tim McGinley (D) emphasized the skill he had gained over the years. He said the council would have to endeavor in team-building and consensus building in order to build the trust necessary to make the home rule government work.

Rick Morelli (R) said he had the necessary experience with municipal bonds to know how to address the county's debt problem and cited his 17 years of financial experience and full scholarship to Villanova. Ethics provisions, which still needed to be voted on, should have teeth in them, according to him.

Linda McCloskey-Houck (D) called for tax relief "if possible" and praised the Working Families Ticket, which includes herself, Licata, Morcavage, and Walsh-Waitkus. It was a little platitudinous.

Bill James (R) introduced his career experience, said as councilman that he would offer "no crap or bull", and proceeded to spend the rest of his speech on the success of his progeny.

Joyce Dombroski-Gebhardt's (R) speech was similar to her's on Sunday, but she added her role in the Wyoming Valley flood protection committee, which had pushed to get the dikes raised in the 1970's, 80's and '90s. She stressed the need to balance the budget but without raising taxes, and again ended her speech with a somewhat trite "May God Bless America." May God Bless Luzerne County would've been better.

Harry Haas (R) had a better speech. He said he liked that the council was part-time, and governed by citizen legislators. Although government is difficult to change for the better on the Federal level, said he, change could more esaily be accomplished at the county level. A good county manager was also important to Haas.

Elaine Maddon Curry (D) also had a better speech, listing the role she played in stopping the Hazleton School board from hiring teachers and in instituting a conflict of interest policy. On the side table, cards bore her name along with Bobeck's. She lamented that the voters themselves couldn't elect the county manager.

Blythe Evans (R) noted that it would take the county 17 years to pay off its debt--allowing for $30 million yearly surplus. He wanted to cut spending to reduce the debt, and to find a tough county manager.

Theresa Morcavage (D) said that she witnessed corruption in her 22 years of being employed with the county and said she knows how to stop it. She stressed the importance of following the provisions of the charter and making a strong ethics code.

Rick Williams (Independent) said that at the county level there is no difference between D's and R's and that all candidates ought to run as independents. He noted his experience as head of an architect firm and the need to attract business to the area to increase the tax base. He called for a gutsy manager who would make tough decisions until the 7 out of 11 councilmen fire him.

Tim Mullen (Libertarian) noted that we're all in trouble when interest rates go up and that if they do we'll have to sacrifice in order to service the county debt. Alluding to his combat experience, he compared the relationship between the council and the manager to that between an officer in the military and a sergeant, saying that the relationship should be firm but not overbearing in a micro-managing way.

Kathy Dobash (R) said she wouldn't be a wallflower and that she would file a right-to-know request if she didn't receive proper info from the county manager.

Mike Lacey's (Libertarian) speech wasn't as smooth as his previous one at KING'S College, wherefrom he graduated. His vision for the county remained impressive, however, as he said that the county had a good location, being between New York and Philly, and that bringing business in would be accomplished via a stable government, where pay-for-play would be abolished. He called for citizen-input in the new government, and noted that once the manager made a decision, the council would have to support and not undermine it, much as his staff supports the final decisions at his pharmacy.

Stephen A. Urban (D) [the elder] spoke, and the audience "oohed" at the mention of his name. He said that he had showed integrity as commissioner and that a whistle blower like him was needed. He then cited the lack thereof in Wilkes-Barre City government. Like Morcavage, he wished the county manager to be elected instead of appointed.

No-shows were Michelle Bednar (D), Stephen J. Urban (R) [the younger], Gina Nevenglosky(R), Brian Bergman (Libertarian), Mike Cabell (R), and Eugene Kelleher (R).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

County Council Forum Recap

This is a recap of the speeches presented by candidates for Luzerne County Council at a forum hosted by the League of Women voters that took place at KING'S COLLEGE. It is more a commentary on their speeches and not on each of them as a whole. I begin with the best ones.

Pleasant Surprises
Salvatore Licata's (D) speech was quite good. His points included taxpayer relief, the creation of a business friendly environment, and fighting crime. You can't lose with those points.

Eugene Kelleher (R) began his speech with some humor, and proceeded to stress the importance of an independent manager. He did well.

Jeremy Packard's (Ind) speech was very polished, but he seemed to favor a strong county manager and a weak council. The spirit of his outlook seemed a little too Hamiltonian for my tastes. Nevertheless, the speech was good.

Blythe Evans (R) seemed eager to be an independently-minded candidate.

Decent Speeches
Tim Mullen (Libertarian) emphasized the need to address the county debt but said he wouldn't do so by raising taxes or increasing fees. He seemed humble and honest as he said he would make up for any lack of experience with common sense.

Joyce Dombroski-Gebhardt (R) listed her diverse career experience and also made a solid pledge not to raise taxes. Her ending sounded a little trite but at least she made some solid promises.

Ed Brominski (D) noted that when he was in county government, budgets were balanced, and listed his volunteer efforts.

Rick Williams (Independent) discussed his architectural career and called himself an "Independent Independent".

Jane Walsh-Waitkus (D) calmly related her government and business experience, but she didn't seem to list any specific policy stances.

Linda McClosky-Houck (D) spoke well and noted her extensive involvement in her church; but she also didn't make any definite policy proscriptions.

Tim McGinley (D) gave a good oration, except for the part when he said that the Home Rule charter was "the best form of government we could possibly have." This may have been hyperbole, but even for a hyperbole it seemed a little unreasonable. Probably none of the framers of the constitution thought it was ideal, since each camp had to give up certain things to their opponents.

Having witnessed the booming speeches of Charlie "Bible Buck" Hatchko (American Independent), it was not a little disappointing to see him appear so nervous up on the stage as he awkwardly read his speech. Toward the end he seemed to return to his old self, however. Hopefully he does better in his upcoming speeches because, despite what some might say, Buck actually knows a lot about corruption, has experience with government contracts, and has a strong moral backbone. A person like him would benefit the council.

Harry Haas's (R) speech seemed to ramble from point to point, and was a little disjointed.

John Ruckno's (R) was decent, but he didn't mention any stances or policies. Hopefully he will in the future because he seems to be a strong candidate given his business and financial experience.

Elaine Maddon Curry (D) spent too much of her speech on her role in getting a drama theatre built. Building a bunch of theatres won't do much to actually increase Luzerne County's earning potential or improve its overall economy in the long run.

Rick Morelli (R) seemed to stammer quite a bit and came across as insincere. (We're a little biased against him, and with good reason.)

Theresa Morecavage's (D) speech was bland.

Kathy Dobash (R) emphasized the need for transparency and pledged to be a protector of taxpayer dollars. She sounded a little too angry though.

Eileen Sorokas (D) read from her sheet in a sing-songy way. She was correct, however, in stating that she is an independently-minded candidate. Our experience has verified this.

Jim Bobeck (D) was perhaps the biggest disappointment. Despite having an impressive resume and being somewhat of a front runner, his speech was overly melodramatic. The cadence of his voice made him sound sort of like a beatnik in a jazz cafe, and he actually compared the home rule charter to the Declaration of Independence. Anyone who knows history would realize how tasteless this was. The rest of his speech was vague.

No-shows included Mike Cabell (R), Gina Nevenglosky (R), Stephen A. Urban (D), Stephen J. Urban (R), Michelle Bednar (D), and Brian Bergman (Libertarian).
We ask that the reader not judge the candidates from this analysis alone, and sorry if we've been too biased or harsh.

Monday, October 3, 2011

W-B City Government & LAG Towing Forced to Produce Records

Crusader against corruption Mark Robbins won a Right-to-Know Request appeal against Wilkes-Barre City Government and its tow truck contractor Leo Glodzik--owner of LAG Towing. The contract between the two parties mandates logs of each tow be kept in order to ensure that Glodzik is charging industry standard. These logs haven't been kept in 75 months, and W-B City council, the mayor, and the police chief have all refused to enforce the contract even after beaucoup media scrutiny throughout the summer. Now, W-B City government must produce the documents. We could be on the verge of a giant corruption scheme being exposed. More to come.