Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Lack of identification a barrier to care for many addicts

The Lancaster County Drug & Alcohol Commission helps provide counseling and rehabilitation services to those with life-disrupting addictions to substances like heroin or amphetamines.

At their quarterly Advisory Board meeting on April 28, Rick Kastner, Executive Director of the Lancaster County Drug & Alcohol Commission, explained, "A lot of our clients, they live on the streets; they don't have any of the records that we have at home in our safety deposit boxes."

"They don't have a permanent address and can't get government documents [like birth certificates and social security cards]... and so it's just this endless cycle of things getting in their way," added Dr. Lisa Koogle, Chair of the Board.

"It can be really daunting," said Kastner. "Because you simply can't go in and say, I'm Rick Kastner, give me a [Medicaid] card. You have to prove that I AM Rick Kastner and this is where I was born and you have to prove that."

He added that "with the need to know who's who, with Homeland Security and everything, getting a valid ID card is a lot harder than it was before 2001."

"And also most jobs nowadays, you have to bring in your birth certificate or driver's license or something," Kastner said. "Because they don't want to hire someone and then find out that they're an illegal alien or a terrorist or whatever."

"If you don't have those legal documents to go grab and use, you're stuck. It's like you're caught between a rock and a hard place," he concluded.

Kastner explained how his agency tries to assist clients, many of whom are homeless, to establish their identity. He cited one case where a social worker voluntarily accompanied a client to Harrisburg and guided the client through various agencies in order to establish positive identity so that the person could report to a new job.

Commissioners Approve Roof Greening, Bridge Repair Funding

In a rather uneventful meeting, Wednesday, the County Commissioners approved the expenditure of funds on two infrastructure projects.

The first involves repair to two of the County's bridges: the Auction Road Concrete Arch Bridge in Rapho and Penn Townships near the Manheim Auto Auction, and the Weavers Mill Bridge in Caenarvon Township.

The Weavers Mill Bridge had been temporarily repaired after being struck by a tractor trailer last year, said Acting County Engineer Keith Harner.

The cost of repairing the Weavers Mill bridge is $74,500, which is being covered completely by insurance, Harner said.

The replacement of the Auction Road bridge is costing $965,854.50, which comes out of "Liquid Fuels Funds" from the State.

The Commissioners also approved state funding for "roof greening" experiments, including $46,000 dollars to two organizations for consulting services, and $94,976 to the National Novelty Brush Company, whose new building at 505 East Fulton Street will feature green roofs.

Roof greening is the practice of covering the roof or exterior of a building with plant life so as to increase energy efficiency and reduce storm runoff.

Senior County Environmental Planner Mary Gattis said that green roofs "reduce the urban heat island effect," by absorbing solar radiation rather than re-radiating it as hard surfaces do, allowing buildings to stay cooler in the summer.

She also said that green roofs"capture the runoff of 90% of storm events," absorbing as much as "1.8 million gallons a year."

Citizens to Study Commission: 'Give Us Ballot Initiative'

More than 35 people crammed into Mount Joy's small Borough Hall, Tuesday night, for a chance to air their questions and comments regarding the Government Study Commission's Draft of a Home Rule Charter (available here).

Among its more significant changes, the Charter proposes to:
> increase the number of Commissioners to 5, with staggered terms and with 1 seat guaranteed to the minority political party
> create the position of a County Executive to oversee the administrative functions of County government
> establish an Office of Management and Budget
> establish a politically balanced Board of Elections
> consolidate certain row offices, and> allow citizens to place, by collection of a thousand signatures ("initiative"), resolutions before the Commissioners for a vote.

One point of division among the audience (and the Commission) concerned whether citizens, after collecting signatures, should have the ability to place questions on the ballot. Unlike most initiative processes, the draft Charter does not call for a public vote.

Currently, the Charter only provides the electorate with the ability to place resolutions before the Commissioners for a definitive up or down vote (inaction results in passage by default).

Carl Moyer of Lancaster Township passionately voiced his opinion that the populace at large is prone to emotional appeals and pointed out that, as written, the citizens can sufficiently build momentum for an issue "by demanding a vote, and then a re-vote, and then another re-vote."

"I read newspapers and magazines from the State of Vermont. I have a daughter living in California. It is a disaster," Moyer said.

Randy Goodling of Elizabethtown disagreed.

"A charter without a strong and powerful initiative and referendum section is a very weak charter," he said, adding that he would like to see the powers of recall elections, votes of no confidence, and citizen ballot initiatives added.

In response to questioning from NewsLanc as to whether the position of Commissioner would become a part-time one, like that of school board members and council members, the Study Commission indicated that the Charter does not specifically address that matter, deferring to more of a "whatever it takes" approach.

Salaries of the commissioners remain the same no matter how many hours they work.

Government Study Commission members Bill Saylor and James Miller both indicated that they fully expect that the task of the commissioners would remain essentially "full time."

Miller said that the workload will remain comparable while the concentration changes to a "more global functioning," including conferring with the Planning Commission and the municipalities on matters of importance.

Saylor said, "To me, the role of the County Commissioner is not diminished at all by this Charter."

Challenged by commission member Sam Mecum, Goodling conceded that he thinks ballot initiatives should be limited to certain subjects. Goodling said that he believes decisions including the sale of Conestoga View and the expenditure of County funds on the Convention Center should have been subjected to a public vote. "Initiative and referendum are really the backbone of what a Home Rule Charter is," he said.

Commission member James Miller expressed doubt that citizens will ever vote for a tax increase on the ballot, no matter how noble the purpose. Miller said that "the Founding Fathers established us as a republic, not a democracy," arguing that town hall meetings do not produce sound decisions, especially on complex matters.

Commission member Heidi Wheaton favors citizen ballot initiative. She cited a study by a University of Southern California professor on citizen initiatives and fiscal gridlock concluding that they "do not appear to be a significant obstacle to balancing the state budget in California."

The study Wheaton cited also noted that 24 states have citizen ballot initiative. She said she considers ballot initiative necessary for Lancaster County to control its escalating level of debt.

Commission Chairwoman Carol Phillips asked for a show of hands among those present as to who favors a strengthened section on citizen initiative, including permitting citizens the ability to place at least certain kinds of questions on the ballot. All but about 10 of those present raised their hands.

Phillips promised that the Commission will reconsider the subject of initiative, and other citizen input, before its vote on the Home Rule Charter on May 6.

The next and final public hearing before the May 6 vote is this Saturday, May 3, at 9 a.m. at the Garden Spot Village in New Holland.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Commissioners Not Conducting Public Search for Esterbrook Replacement?

At their Tuesday worksession, the County Commissioners announced that they had met in executive session "regarding personnel matters" preceding the meeting.

In response to questioning from NewsLanc as to whether "any progress has been made, or at least a established a process for, finding Mr. Esterbrook's replacement," Commissioner Chairman Dennis Stuckey said with a wry smile, "that's why we met in executive session," declining to elaborate further.

The Commissioners repeatedly refused to comment even on whether a search process of any kind is going forward.

Said Commissioner Scott Martin, "When we're ready to - we know exactly what direction we're headed, we'll be sure to let everybody know."

This has lead to speculation by some that Mr. Esterbrook was nudged out for personal or political reasons in favor of a hand-selected successor.

In other news, the County is appointing the law firm of Barley & Snyder to serve as special counsel at a rate of $260/hour to represent the County in the ongoing litigation related to 150 North Queen Street.

It was recently reported - and County Solicitor Don LeFever confirmed - that Dr. Ira Trocki, the former owner of the building, is appealing a lower court's decision, which awarded him $7.8 million in addition to the $8.3 million the County had initially paid for the building.

Trocki believes that the building was worth $21 million when the County took it by eminent domain.

In other matters, the County is expected to authorize the expenditure of $965,854.50 to replace the Auction Road concrete arch bridge in Penn and Rapho Townships, and $74,500 to repair the Weavers Mill covered wooden bridge in Caernarvon Township.

The County is also expected to approve state funding for experimental "roof greening." Roof greening is the practice of covering the roof of a building with plant life in order to increase energy efficiency and reduce runoff.

The National Novelty Brush Company at 505 East Fulton Street in Lancaster will be participating in the experiment.

In the first of a series of educational presentations about County government, there will be a presentation on what the Register of Wills does at Wednesday's public Commissioners meeting, which is held at 9:15 am on the fifth floor of the County Courthouse.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Lancaster Post Well Received

Although there exists no financial relationship between NewsLanc and the Lancaster Post, NewsLanc "paper boys" handed out the Post with a NewsLanc newsletter insert at the Central Market on Saturday morning.

Response was very gratifying, as six hundred copies were quickly distributed.

Hopefully Post readers will encourage merchants to permit the free distribution of the Post on their premises.

A few asked why NewsLanc was helping to distribute the Post. Our answer: Lancaster desperately needs competition in news reporting and commentary. The more, the better!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Lancaster should junk voting machines without verifiable paper trail

The following is excerpted from www.blackboxvoting.org:

The entire premise of technology-based elections is based on support for the "verifiable voting" concept. But before designing technology for elections, we must first determine how it will empower citizen controls, enabling the counting of votes in public rather than counting them in secret. We do not consent to any form of secret vote counting, administered and controlled by government insiders and their vendors.

Any system that forces the citizenry to trust government insiders to count their votes represents a change in the original design of this nation. The United States of America was designed to uphold the right of citizen sovereignty over the government. In addition to hiding the counting of votes from public view, computer-counted elections hide the chain of custody of the vote data. Citizens are never allowed to view the original input in order to compare it to the output, and are relegated to trusting circumstantial evidence controlled by insiders. Such a system is, in fact, a transfer of power...

The core of elections was and again must return to the principle of citizen sovereignty over government. Elections can never be based on a requirement to trust government insiders and their vendors to count our votes, nor can elections be dependent on experts to tell the citizenry that the system is okay, nor should the detailed mechanics of elections be impossible for the average citizen to understand. Models which depend on experts and insiders create centralized control, and remove all control from government's rightful owners – the citizens. This represents a violation of the principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Current LCCCA Board Passes Buck on Naming Rights, State Grants







At Thursday's monthly board meeting of the Convention Center Authority, NewsLanc raised three issues of enduring concern in the Authority's contracts with Penn Square Partners:

. the sharing of 50% of the proceeds from the sale of naming rights with Penn Square Partners
. the gifting of the right of first offer with respect to naming rights to one S. Dale High; and
. the sharing of 50% of state grants with Penn Square Partners

NewsLanc's reporter also asked the board whether their previous plans to meet with Penn Square Partners in order to discuss the issue of naming rights clauses had been rescheduled.

Authority Chairman and Acting Executive Director Art Morris responded, "there has been no meeting and there's been no meeting planned."

"It's not something the board is actively considering," he said, adding that issues with signage must take place soon and "that would be an issue that would be taken up under the new Executive Director."

Following the meeting, Kevin Fry told NewsLanc that the board is not actively soliciting buyers for naming rights and has been advised that they would not be particularly profitable at this juncture.

Fry said that the issue of naming rights may be revisited in a couple of years once the Convention Center is expected to be more on its feet financially.

In other business, the board approved change orders adding approximately $175,000 in construction costs.

Facilities Programming Committee Chair Ted Darcus reported that construction of the project is 39% complete as of the end of March, with one day of critical-path recovery, reducing the overall slippage to 30 days.

The Authority also approved a formal job description for the Executive Director and small modifcations to the employee handbook.

SD of L's Sports Program in Disarray

Many of us can recall times when McCaskey High School was a strong contender in county and state-wide sports. But not now.

On the positive side, McCaskey youths continue to excel in boys' and girls' basketball with 22 and 5 and 17 and 11 win / loss records respectively during the winter of 2008. Students also compete well in boys' track with a record of 8 and 1 and in cross country with boys 13 and 8 and girls 10 and 11.

Football was 3 and 7, off from past years. Boys' wrestling was 5 and 8.

But, deplorably, the boys' soccer team went 1 and 17 while the girls' were 6 and 10 with 2 ties.

Girls' volleyball was 3 and 14. Girls' tennis 1 and 13. Girls' field hockey 2 and 16.

Boys' baseball 4 and 16. Girls' softball 5 and 14.

Boys' swimming was 1 and 10; girls', 0 and 11.

When it comes to soccer, observers have noted the lack of drills and lessons at the middle school level and the sole reliance on scrimmaging. Spectators at practices fretted that the kids were learning no skills and simply practicing their mistakes.

Moreover, a failure to post the starting date for soccer practice on the McCaskey web site prevented most of the youngsters from attending practice until school started.

It is not enough for coaches to be well-meaning and good players. They need to be versed in teaching skills and team play.

To this end, several soccer coaches from the School District of Lancaster attended a training clinic by ONE on ONE Soccer. McCaskey boosters funded the session. However, an offer by the boosters for additional training and coaching assistance was declined.

Inner-city youngsters have enough problems with self-esteem without belonging to teams that continuously lose. The school district owes more to its youngsters than 1 and 17 and 1 and 13 records. It isn't the kids. It's the athletic program!

NewsLanc will continue to explore the issue of the breakdown of the SD of L sports program. We are not suggesting lack of zeal or commitment; rather a failure to teach the teachers and possible reluctance of coaches to learn.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mayor Gray Swears in New Chief of Police


In a ceremony following a brief City Council meeting, Wednesday night, Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray swore in Lancaster's new Chief of Police.

Rick Sadler has 27 years of experience with the Philadelphia Police Department - his most recent position being that of Chief Inspector.

Following the ceremony, Sadler said that he is "elated at such a wonderful opportunity" and said he is eager to roll up his sleeves and get to work.

He described his ladership as "roundtable style management," saying, "in a community like this, a diverse community, whatever problems exist... if we work at this as a team we can handle it."

City Council President Louise Williams welcomed Sadler to Lancaster and also acknowledged the "outstanding service" of Lancaster's (hereforeto) Acting Chief of Police, Don Palmer.

"Don has been critical in managing the budget each year. His committment to hold the line on expense has ensured that city residents receive critical public safety services," she said.

Wednesday's ceremony was held in front of a packed room in City Council Chambers, Wednesday night. Numerous local police and members of Chief Sadler's family were in attendance.

COMMENTARY On Preliminary Draft of Home Rule Charter

We read all 26 pages of the April 8th Draft and were impressed with its thoroughness and professionalism. The following observations and concerns do not imply that NewsLanc does or does not favor a change in the form of County government. More on that later.

1) The Chair gets to appoint the committees. NewsLanc recommends that appointments be subject to the approval of a majority of all five members of the Board.

2) Contrary to what was previously reported in the Intell, the Board may deal directly with members of the Executive Branch "for the purpose of obtaining information and advice." Otherwise they deal through the County Executive "exclusively."

3) Wisely, adoption of an ordinance requires a majority vote of all five members, not just the three or four in attendance. Approval of resolutions and motions can be by a majority of those present.

4) Provides for an initiative petition of "a thousand United states citizens who are legal residents of the County." Requires the Election Board to "pass upon the validity of the petition and the validity of the number of signatures thereon."

But then, strangely, it directs the petition to be "considered" by the Commissioners. It is as though the public got all dressed up to put a matter on the ballot and are told the only place they can go is to the Board! There is no need for a thousand signatures in order to get up at a commissioner's meeting and make a recommendation! NewsLanc recommends that such petitions be placed on the next ballot to become law. Either that or drop this sham provision.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Voter Turnout More Than Double the Typical, with Geographic Disparities

It has long been observed that political engagement in general and voter turnout in particular tends to be greater in more affluent areas.

NewsLanc's Election Day interviews demonstrate that Lancaster County is no exception.

In Lancaster Township's Seventh District, 280 people had voted as of 1:30 pm, according to Judge of Elections Terrie Finger.

There are 1142 registered voters in the precinct.

But in more urban areas, turnout was less than a third of the affluent suburb's numbers.

In Lancaster City's Third Ward for example, the second precinct (voting in the lobby of the apartment complex at Farnum & Christian Streets) saw only 74 voters by 2:30 pm

At Carter & MacRae Elementary School on South Prince Street in Lancaster City's Fourth Ward, First Precinct, they had just broken 100 by 3:00 pm.

Usually, the precinct sees about 50 people all day.

While the character of the neighborhoods varied greatly, one thing that appeared to be constant was the caliber of the poll workers.

All of them said that they feel motivated to volunteer by a sense of civic duty and community cameraderie.

Terrie Finger, the Judge of Elections in Lancaster Township's Seventh District, said that she feels motivated by a sense of civic responsibility.

Laurie Olin, an Inspector of Elections in that precinct, agreed.

She says, "it's good to see all your neighbors."

Finger, who has been volunteering for about six years, works in advertising while Olin works for the Lancaster Foundation for Educational Enrichment.

Mary Codish is a volunteer in Lancaster City's Third Ward, Second Precinct. She's 86 years old, retired, and has been helping out at the polls for sixteen years.

She also volunteers with the Salvation Army.

Jack Yohn, the Judge of Elections in that precinct, said that now-County-Commissioner Craig Lehman encouraged him to volunteer two years ago when the two were neighbors.

"It's a lot of fun," he said. "It needs to be done, it's very important, and so it's nice to be involved in something as important as this."

A couple of blocks away at Carter & MacRae Elementary School, Judge of Elections Glenn Brooks was going the extra mile to help the more-than-20 voters who had come to the wrong polling place to find their correct one.

He used his cell phone to call the Elections Board to tell them where they needed to go.

It's not a requirement of Judges of Elections, but Brooks feels it's the right thing to do.

"It's not about politics," he says. "It's about helping people to vote."

His precinct also sees a significant proportion of spanish-speaking voters.

Brooks says he's lucky to have found a volunteer from the district who speaks fluent Spanish.

"In November, I'd like to see at least one additional bilingual person," Brooks said.

This is the fifth election for which Brooks has served as a poll worker.

"We've had people come in here who, if it wasn't for our help, they never would have been able to vote today," he said.

According to the County Bureau of Elections and Voter Registration, Judges of Elections are paid $105 for their time, while all other poll workers are paid $90.

This corps of volunteers - only 4 workers per polling place - sets up the polling places, oversees voting from 7 am to 8 pm, verifies the accuracy of the procedures, and returns all materials to the County Elections Bureau at the end of the night.

Convention Center Authority counting on 3.2 million in state grants to keep pre-opening numbers in the black

The Lancaster County Convention Center Authority is finding itself in over its head.

Finance Committee Chair Laura Douglas said Monday that the Authority is $129,000 short in its construction budget alone and that change orders are averaging $200,000 a month.

With some ten months of construction remaining, they are facing at least a $2 million shortfall.

And these are pre-opening expenditures only.

It remains to be seen whether the facility will attract a sufficient number of conventioneers to make the investment viable much less profitable.

But Chairman and Acting Executive Director Art Morris is optimistic that help is on the way.

He said Monday that he continues to receive assurances from Senator Gib Armstrong that the county is earmarked for $3.2 million in state grants.

When will that money be available?

"The expectation is that this will be packaged as part of the budget in June," said Morris.

He went on to caution that sometimes the approval of the state budget is delayed for political reasons, as occured between Rendell and the Republican legislature in summer 2007.

He also noted that the actual receipt of the money would likely not occur until "months later."

Morris himself has been serving as the Authority's Executive Director without pay for the better part of a year.

With the recently-confirmed Kevin Molloy taking the helm in May, the paying out of his salary (and signing bonuses) will further reveal the Authority's real cost overruns.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Friends indeed...and conscientious citizens!

The Sunday News April 20 editorial "A friend not in deed" is a lesson on how fragile are the rights of the accused to defend themselves, won with so much sacrifice of lives and fortunes over twenty-five hundred years; and how careless of those rights a provincial newspaper can be.

The editorial states: "...if the friend had been arrested for possessing stomach-turning child pornography, and you work for a center that helps victims of sexual assault, standing by your friend has to have a limit. Your first concern-indeed the first concern of society at large – has to be for the victims. It's why we think the YWCA of Lancaster’s has done the right thing in distancing itself from two former employees who testified at a sentencing hearing earlier this month for Stephen Spiese, the local actor from Columbia who was convicted in Lebanon County Court on child pornography charges.”

Is Sunday News editor Marv Adams familiar with the Stalinist trials of the 1930s when innocent people were purged and either shot or sent to work camp and a slower death in Siberia? No one dared testify concerning the character of the accused or they too would have met the same fate.

Is Adams aware of the trials and persecutions by the Nazis, not just against Jews but also others whom they considered enemies of the state? No one dared testify for the accused there either.

One of the cornerstones of democracy is the right – indeed the obligation – of citizens to testify without fear of retribution either from the state or others.

No employee should be subject to censure or penalty for performing the patriotic duty of honestly testifying in court!

These witnesses provided vital information for consideration by the Judge in evaluating the history of Spiese. Their testimony had nothing whatsoever to do with whether Spiese watched child pornography or the propriety of such actions. If the YWCA doesn't like the sentence, let them criticize the judge, not pander to the public by "distancing itself from two former employees."

If it were up to this writer (and I say this in jest), Adams would be sentenced to return to college and take several courses in history and civics. He is a good man and otherwise has my respect, but his ignorance of the lessons of history and essence of democracy are shockingly apparent.

Robert Edwin Field, Publisher

Lancaster Post soon available at Turkey Hills

According to Christiaan Hart-Nibbrig, Co-Publisher and Co-Editor of the Lancaster Post, free copies of the weekly tabloid "will be available at every Turkey Hill in the County starting next week, as well as at the Barnstormers opening day at Clipper Stadium, April 25th."

During the initial week, copies were handed out in downtown locations by staff members and others.

The lead news story was about State Senator candidate Paul Thibault. The lead sports article was an interview of Von Hayes, former Phillies star and the new Barnstormers manager.

Gaining access for distribution to the premises of Turkey Hill stores is a major distribution milestone for the Post which plans a circulation of 30,000 copies per week.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

LETTER: F & M Student Parking: A Present Problem That is Going to Get Much Worse

F&M's Master Campus Plan 2004, the most recent published Master Plan, gives some idea of the increased parking problems that are being caused by F&M's refusal to accept its responsibility and provide sufficient on-campus student parking. This problem, which will only get worse, is not being addressed at all in the Campus Master Plan.

Instead of increasing the number of parking spaces on the main campus proportionate to its increasing enrollment figures, the number of parking spaces is actually decreasing. The Master Plan 2004 lists the number of existing spaces on the main campus at 370 and planned (future) parking on the main campus at 300 – a reduction of 70 spaces.

Much of the existing parking is reserved for administration, staff and visitors. The present Williamson Field parking lot (entered from Harrisburg Pike) that used to be used by students is now reserved for visitors. The same is true of the parking spaces behind the Marshall & Buchanan dormitories.

At the same time, new dorms are to be constructed. A 150-bed Student Residential with Faculty House is to be constructed where the football stadium is right now. A small parking lot with no more than 50 spaces is shown in the Master Plan architectural drawing.

Another new dorm, already on the drawing boards, is to be built directly north of the Life Sciences Building. This dorm appears on the architectural drawing without any parking spaces being shown. The Apple Infirmary is to be turned into "Student Residential with Faculty House." No parking is shown for this building or for the adjacent Marshall & Buchanan dormitories.

In addition, the Master Plan calls for ALL PARKING SPACES in the rear of the Administration Building and Marshall & Buchanan Halls TO BE REMOVED AND THE AREA RETURNED TO GRASS. These spaces are currently reserved for administrators, staff and visitors.

The total number of combined spaces, representing both the North and (Main) Central Campus, is being reduced.

The Campus Master Plan 2004 lists a total of 1,112 existing spaces on both the North and Main campuses. It lists the planned future parking as a total of 1,200 spaces. Included in this figure are 200 spaces on the Baker Athletic Field.

The plan to use the Baker Field for parking has apparently been canceled in favor of development. This acreage is currently being considered for a high-density alumni housing complex, according to John Fry who made an announcement to this effect at a public meeting last winter. Subtracting the 200 from the total planned spaces in the Master Plan leaves only 1,000 spaces, a figure which includes 700 spaces north of Harrisburg Pike.

Of the 700 spaces north of Harrisburg Pike, 400 of these spaces on the North Campus are for students living in College Row. Many, if not all, of the remaining spaces are reserved for patrons of Iron Hill Brewery and the other businesses occupying the first (ground) floor of College Row.

Subtracting 1,000 from 1,112 shows a reduction of 112 parking spaces from the 2004 figures, while at the same time the College is increasing its current enrollment of 1,980 to 2,180 and adding 20 new faculty over the next two years. And these 1,000 planned future spaces are not just for students; they are also shared by administrators, faculty and employees.

No wonder these students park their cars on city streets. The College has not provided an alternative.

This is why the City Zoning Board should not allow more students to reside in the planned James Street Properties off-campus student houses than the current zoning for these houses allow. These zoning regulations were created for a very good reason: to protect the rights and interests of other homeowners and residents living on those same streets.

Friday, April 18, 2008

New Publication Launched In Lancaster County

The Lancaster Post published its first edition today and the publishers believe it will provide Lancaster County with a credible alternative to the local monopoly press.

The Post is a free issues, arts, and entertainment weekly that will be distributed in every part of Lancaster County.

"We heard so many people complain about Lancaster Newspapers — that its coverage was biased, that it was boring — that we decided a little competition would be good for everyone," said Ron Harper, Jr., one of two publishers and editors.

The first edition features an extensive multi-page exclusive interview with the four Presidential candidates: John McCain, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Ron Paul. The column asks each candidate the same questions and gives them the same time and space to answer.

"It took a lot of persistence and follow-through to get their participation, but with such a critical primary just days away, it was in their interests to get the exposure in Lancaster County," said Christiaan Hart Nibbrig, the other co-Publisher/Editor.

The publication, a tabloid, also has many human interest features, such as a restaurant review, a cooking item, a Lancaster County crossword puzzle, entertainment guide, and an arts section.

"We want to provide something that is not only interesting and informative," said Harper, "but that is also a lot of fun to read."

The newspaper also has a companion website that will reproduce the newspaper and also have additional interactive features.

"We know it seems counter-intuitive to start a newspaper when so many are failing across the country, but that really affects the dailies. Weeklies are strong," said Harper. "Plus, we intend the Post to 'midwife' the county from getting their news from print to the web."

Harper is a well-known investigative reporter who published through his website, 5thEstate.com, for the past nine years. He is perhaps best known for the investigative reporting that forced state assembly appropriations chairman John Barley to resign in disgrace. His reporting also resulted in the conviction and jail sentence of Ric Curry, the former head of Lancaster School District.

Hart Nibbrig, an alumnus of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has experience at Time magazine as an online news writer, and at People magazine as a business analyst. He is also the founding editor and publisher of the Mendocino County (CA) Outlook, an issues and arts bi-weekly (1992).

The paper is published every Thursday and starting next week can be found at all Turkey Hill convenience stores as well as other locations throughout the county.

Public Reacts to Home Rule Charter

Formed in November 2006 by ballot initiative with the purpose of studying and considering changes to the structure of County government, the Lancaster County Government Study Commission has finalized a draft of what is called a Home Rule Charter.

The process of "Home Rule" allows Counties to make certain changes to their form of governance in order to make it more responsive to the people it is intended to serve.

After months of deliberations, the Commission has completed a Charter for the County, with a number of important changes.

Those changes, which would have to be approved by the voters on November 4, 2008, include the following:

First, it would increase the number of County Commissioners from three to five. The Commission feels that doing so will "increase representative government and accountability."

One of the five Commissioner seats would be reserved for a member of the minority political party.

Second, it would create the position of a County Executive (or County Administrator), who would oversee all administrative functions of County government. Such an individual would be appointed and can only be removed by a supermajority vote (four of the five) Commissioners.

Third, it provides for citizen initiative, under which a resolution can be placed before the Commissioners for a vote if 1,000 county residents sign a petition asking that it be considered.

Fourth, it consolidates the offices of Register of Wills, Prothonotary, and Clerk of Courts into a single position: the Clerk of Judicial Records. It also eliminates the two Jury Commissioners.

Fifth, it establishes an Office of Management and Budget under the direction of the County Executive and strengthens the Controller's fiscal watchdog role.

Sixth, it establishes a nonpartisan Board of Elections composed of two Republicans, two Democrats, and one Independent.

Finally, it encourages regional cooperation by establishing a "Municipal Conference."

The Study Commission held the first of three public hearings on the finalized draft of the Home Rule Charter at the Farm & Home Center, Thursday night. About 35 persons attended the discussion, which lasted a little over 2 hours.

Public reaction to the proposal was mixed.

Bernie Gordon of Manheim Township said that the entire process appeared to arise from dissatisfaction with recent County Commissioners and expressed skepticism that the Commission's well-meaning attempts to fix perceived deficits by writing processes into the Charter is adding much ability to do anything that the citizens cannot accomplish currently.

He also said, "I listen with some dismay to the idea of an appointed executive. Government is a position of trust... I think it violates the trust that the electoral process gives. An appointed official does not have to respond or does not have to be responsive to the electorate... This removes it too far from the public; it removes it too far from accountability."

"Government is the electorate," he said. "Too often, we've had a top-down attitude."

Commission member Bill Saylor explained, "The election of a county executive would be a popularity contest. And we wanted to expand it so you could do a nationwide search - someone who's got some degrees in government or business management. We're not saying that someone from Lancaster County couldn't be the executive officer, but it gives us greater flexibility in looking for the best possible officer."

Members Heidi Wheaton and Carol Phillips agreed with Saylor's assessment.

Referring to intermunicipal cooperation, Wheaton brought up the Enola Low-Grade rail line, saying that the County might have avoided costly litigation if it had been involved in talks with the municipalities all along.

Ken Gardner of Elizabethtown worried, "I hear you saying that this executive would be very high-priced."

"What's going to happen to our taxes?" he asked.

Commission member Greg Sahd pushed for a showing of hands in the audience as to who favored an elected county executive and who favored an appointed one.

About six hands went up for "elected."

About 20 did for "appointed."

Randy Goodling of Elizabethtown said he would like to see citizens have the ability to place questions on the ballot. As written, the Charter gives only the Commissioners this authority.

Commission member James Bednar argued that the referendum process "creates total chaos," and said, "look at what's happening in California."

The Government Study Commission's next public hearing is scheduled for April 29 at 7 pm at the Mt. Joy Borough Office, which is located at 21 East Main Street.

A third public hearing is scheduled for Saturday, May 3 at 9 am in the auditorium of Garden Spot Village at 433 S Kinzer Ave. in New Holland.

The current version of the Charter is only preliminary and will not be finalized until at least May 6.

Public feedback is always welcome and encouraged. You may write the Government Study Commission at P.O. Box 83480, 50 N. Duke St., Lancaster PA 17603-3480, call 717.735.9607, or e-mail SSherban@co.lancaster.pa.us.

Two more 2009 Covention Center Bookings in March;
Brings total to twelve

Director of Sales and Marketing for the Convention Center Josh Nowak announced Thursday that two new bookings were achieved during the month of March.

This brings the total number of bookings so far for 2009 to 12, reflecting $163,600 in revenue.
The goal for 2009 is 58 bookings, reflecting $506,077 in revenue.

Of the twelve booked events, seven are consumer shows, two are trade shows, and three are other events.

In response to a question from board member R.B. Campbell about the busy season for hotels, Chris Barrett of the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention Visitors Bureau revealed that countywide hotel occupancy averaged 56.1% in 2007, a 2.9% increase over 2006.

"We're not at 100% occupancy at any time of the year," he said.

A NewsLanc contributor publicly accused Lancaster Newspapers of publishing "propaganda," referring to the recent series of articles on the preparations for the Convention Center opening.

Public Relations and Marketing Committee Chair Kevin Fry responded that he believes promotion of the project is important "even though they have a financial stake in it."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

LETTER: Child porn industry exploits children

Being kinky is not a crime. That's what the New Era and religious conservatives need to understand.

My understanding was that the research on the influence of pornography in general has shown that viewing pornography alone really has no impact on one's likelihood to rape or commit a sex crime, but that viewing pornography depicting violence makes one slightly more likely to commit such aggression. It's an interesting question.

The point is that patronizing those websites keeps them in business and by doing so... there's a sense in which one participates in the abuse and exploitation.

Of course, there's a world of difference between showing a 17 year-old and showing someone half that age.

And yeah. Some people get off on rape and sado-masochism fantasies. It's something we should admit exists.

But the argument is that the child porn industry exploits children for entertainment and that people who indulge in their products are assisting in that exploitation.

Editor's response: Good points. Question: Would the same people object if the videos were life-like animations rather than using real children?

LETTER: Therapist suggests Spiese not dangerous

Stephen Spiese is guilty of having looked at revolting videos of child sex abuse. The judge put him in jail and under probation for eleven years because he believed Mr. Spiese might perform these same acts on children.

I made inquiry of a sex therapist as to the accuracy of this belief.

Since there is no suspicion or documentation of Mr. Spiese having had any inappropriate activity with children in the 20 years Mr. Spiese has been looking at this type of material, [I was told] there is no reason to expect his behavior with children would change.

So it would appear the judge put Mr. Spiese in jail because of the judge’s ignorance rather than researching the current knowledge about sex compulsions. This verdict will serve him well at election time.

Lancaster Area Key in PA Democratic Primary, Terry Madonna tells Rotary

"Expect the unexpected in this race," prominent local pollster and political commentator Terry Madonna told the Rotary Club of Lancaster Wednesday afternoon.

"About six months ago, it was the inevitability of Hillary Clinton's nomination," he said.

"And then we had the inevitability of Rudy [Giuliani]."

"There's a saying that New Yorkers retire, go to Florida and die, and so did Rudy," Madonna joked, referring to the former New York Mayor's failed electoral strategy.

Also, Mitt Romney was very high in the polls at one point, and McCain was told that he couldn't win the nomination without having raised the big bucks that Giuliani and Romney had.

Madonna also said that caution is due when pointing to experience as a predictor of electoral success.

"Three of the most qualified people to be President on paper were James Buchanan, Warren Harding, and Calvin Coolidge."

"Today, they are consistently rated by historians as among the worst," he said.

"I'm reminded, by the way, of the fact that there was another guy from Illinois who served two years in the Congress - that was all, in the lower house - 6 years in the Illinois state legislature in the House and that was his total experience. I'm talking, of course, about Abraham Lincoln."

"There are times in American political history when having little experience and no record is an advantage because the voters end up in a mood where they don't like what's there."

"When the party in power gets chucked out," Madonna continued, "the American people are willing to do some unusual things."

He pointed to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Richard Nixon in 1968 as such unusual occurrences.

As for the election next Tuesday, Madonna thinks it's likely that Barack Obama will win Philadelphia and its suburbs.

"Pennsylvania is divided with the East for Obama and the West for Clinton," he said.

He pointed to sectional and demographic differences, arguing that Clinton's strength is with the less affluent "bitter-gate folks," referring to the recent controversy over remarks made by Obama.

"Swing areas are the Lehigh Valley and here," Madonna argued.

Recent polls, he said, show Clinton ahead by 4-6 percentage points statewide.

Madonna said that neither candidate will make it to the required 2025 pledged delegates to secure the nomination.

"There are only one of two ways this will be settled," he continued: "by one of the candidates dropping out or by the superdelegates."

"The Democratic Party's problem is that no matter who wins this, someone is going to be unhappy," he said.

As for the general election, Madonna believes that if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, conservatives will rally around John McCain, who will emphasize his personal narrative as a war hero and a "maverick."

"McCain's fundamental problem is closeness to [President George W.] Bush," he said.

Madonna predicted that if Obama is the nominee, he will be accused of being inexperienced.

He proclaimed, "Barack Obama is probably the best speaker in American history since William Jennings Bryan" but went on to note that both politicians were bigger on inspiration than on substance.

Terry Madonna is a Professor at Franklin & Marshall College and the director of its Center for Public Policy. He also directs the F&M Poll, the results of which are frequently cited on the national news networks.

Commissioners Call Severance Fair, Defend Refusal to Elaborate

In response to repeated questioning from NewsLanc and others as to why two former County administrators are receiving a quarter-year's worth of salary and benefits as "severance pay," Commissioner Chairman Dennis Stuckey responded, "We thought it was a fair severance package" but declined to comment further.

"In our understanding in the public, he resigned," said Jesse Storm of Manor Township. "What is going on behind the scenes?"

"I know of no other business in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that pays out one-quarter of the time that you've worked as a severance package to any employee who leaves," he continued.
NewsLanc reporter Matt Henderson reminded the Commissioners that they have a responsibility to use the taxpayers' money wisely.

In response to further prodding, Democratic Commissioner Craig Lehman said, "The only way to be fair and respectful to all parties is to not comment on personnel matters," opining further that it can lead to situations in which individuals are embarrassed and "ripped apart in the media."

"And I'll take a hit for that," Lehman said. "That's my job."

Commissioner Scott Martin was not present at Wednesday's Commissioners meeting.

Stuckey explained, "Commissioner Martin was excused today because he's in [Washington] D.C. for the Pope's visit."

County Library System Debuts Health Information Portal

The Library System of Lancaster County, in partnership with the 4 major local hospitals and the United Way, has launched a "Health Information Web Portal" on its website.

Susan Hauer cited a 2005 Pew Research Center internet study, saying "95 million Americans are now searching the internet for health-related information and more than 70% did not find what they needed or had a very difficult time knowing what to believe."

This site will provide reliable, verified information, she said.

Hauer said that the goal of the project is "to promote health, wellness, and the prevention of disease in Lancaster County by providing resources that will empower county residents to make healthy choices."

The web portal includes statistical information and information on providers and services targeted specifically to Lancaster County and the region.

"We're so pleased to present this at the Commissioners meeting because this benefits everyone in the County," she said.

The health portal website is http://www.healthylancastercounty.org/. It can also be accessed through the Library's website by going to http://www.lancasterlibraries.org/ and clicking on "Health Information."

COMMENTARY: Testifying In Court is a Right and a Moral Obligation

According to the April 15 New Era, "The YWCA Sexual Prevention and Counseling Center said Monday that two of its employees who testified on behalf of [Stephen] Spiese were no longer employed at the center. Both of the employees knew Spiese through the theater community."

At an April 13 press conference, Maureen Powers, Executive Director of the YWCA, claimed that the witnesses "gave the impression that their testimony on behalf of Mr. Spiece had the backing of the YWCA" and said their supervisors were not aware that they planned to testify at the trial.

The YWCA demonstrated a lack of understanding of democracy if it discharged or pressured to resign employees who fulfilled their civic responsibility by testifying in court. We also wonder whether the YWCA has opened itself to a very substantial lawsuit by its infringement of its workers' civil rights.

While the YWCA flailed away, management at the Fulton Opera House acted responsibly. It made clear that the Fulton and the two employees who testified disapproved of Spiese watching child pornography.

The testimony of the employees of the YWCA and the Fulton was not to contradict evidence that Spiese watched pornography, nor to defend it. Rather, it was to provide the judge with background information concerning how Spiese had carried out his professional responsibilities over the years.

Spiese was entitled to a trial, not a lynching.

EDITORIAL: Pre-Announcement of Rivera Selection Was In Public Interest

Sometimes prudence must override civil niceties. We believe that the announcement last week that Pedro Rivera was the choice of the majority of the school board was such a situation.

As it was, more than 200 people showed up for the vote at the School District of Lancaster's board meeting last evening held in the auditorium of P. J. McCaskey High School. Normally, another room is used for board meetings but it can only accommodate about 120, including those standing.

Had the selection of Rivera not been announced a few days earlier, there might have been hundreds more present with most expecting and demanding the selection of local favorite Buddy Glover.

This would have put incredible pressure on board members supporting Rivera. And who knows how contentious the crowd might have become if they came expecting Buddy Glover to be selected and then were rebuffed!

We believe board president Patrick Snyder properly assessed the potential for danger and acted wisely in reducing the pressure on the board and the volatility of the meeting by what under other circumstances would have been a premature announcement.

COMMENTARY: We Can Have Rivera and Glover!

Many were disappointed when local favorite Buddy Glover was passed over for the position of school board superintendent. The length and breadth of support for Glover from all those whom have had contact with him – regardless of their racial background – was made apparent.

But there is no reason why Lancaster need be deprived of his valuable service. He would be a shoo-in to be elected to the school board and, perhaps after a term or two, to the chair position. Then the School District of Lancaster would benefit from two extraordinary leaders: Superintendent Pedro Rivera and School Board leader Buddy Glover.

Glover is 58 years old. He has at least ten good years of public service ahead of him. Let's make the most of this popular and highly competent local figure.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Rivera Chosen As SDL Superintendent After Rancorous Meeting

The School District of Lancaster Board hired Pedro Rivera II as Superintendent of Schools after nearly two hours of rancorous discussion. The vote on the motion to hire Rivera was 5-4: Board members Boben, Howell, Marten, Snyder, and Rowen in favor; members McCain, Faller-Miller, Owens, and Simms opposed. A crowd of some 300 members of the public were in attendance, along with five police officers brought in for security (though they were not really needed).

The meeting began with Board Member Nenita Faller-Miller objecting to the manner in which the eventual outcome of the night's vote had been announced ahead of time in the news. Board Vice President Michael Rowen explained that the executive committee had decided to schedule the vote specifically on whether to hire Rivera rather than make it more generally on hiring a superintendent based on a straw poll of members which had been taken earlier. Rowen said that the agenda was sent to the news media with Rivera's name but that he had attempted to contact each board member first. However Ms. Faller-Miller and another board member, Mrs. Janelle Simms, both complained that they did not receive any communications from Rowen until after the news had hit.

Much of the public comment also seemed to be in response to the Board's premature announcement. While several members of the public spoke in favor of longtime Lancaster Schools teacher and administrator Leon "Buddy" Glover, many of them also complained about the high-handed way in which the Board seemed to be operating. Darrell Glover, Buddy's brother, accused the board of attempting to drive a wedge between the African-American and Hispanic communities.

More details will follow soon.

County to Hold Public Hearing to Consider a Department of Public Health

The County Commissioners announced at their worksession, Tuesday, that a public hearing has been scheduled for Monday, May 12, 2008 in Room 502 of the County Courthouse "for the purpose of discussing a Lancaster County Health Department."

The Commissioners refused to comment on whether they do or do not favor the creation of such a department, but Minority Commissioner Craig Lehman explained that proponents of the idea deserve a hearing and that the County will be gauging the feasibility of the idea.

Commissioners imply severance was in exchange for resignations

Below are extracts from questions posed by NewsLanc reporter Matt Henderson to the County Commissioners at Tuesday’s work session and their responses. The exchange can be heard in its entirety at www.newslanc.com/Commissioners_Worksession_4-15_ReEsterbrook.mp3

NewsLanc: “It gives the appearance that you are giving a lot of money in exchange for keeping [County Administrator Mark Esterbrook’s] mouth shut. Why should public money be used to stifle the ability of a department employee to express any concerns he may have and to have those concerns vetted publicly? ... Don’t you think the public is entitled to know what is going on here.”

Vice Chair Scott Martin: “[I’m] not going to comment too much... but it goes to the terms that are adjusted both ways that are mentioned in a settlement agreement.”

NewsLanc: "....Seems like a gag order on him not to say anything negative about the commissioners or any one he worked with."

...

Solicitor Don Lefever: "That type of provision is not uncommon in all sorts of settlement agreement and releases and employment severances. Both parties have an interest in putting the past behind them, whatever it may be, and moving on... in this case Mark [Esterbrook] was interested in other opportunities and it was beneficial to both the county and Mr. Esterbrook to move forward....The parties, to the extent there may be differences, and that type of provision does not necessarily mean that they are, but to the extent that there are, bygones are kind of bygones, and we are not going to discuss details of differences that may have been had...all sorts of things like that. That is not at all unusual. You will find many agreements out there like that that include that provision.”

...

Dennis Stuckey: "We are not or do we intend to consider any adjustment to the contract. So long as we are in agreement with Mark, there is no reason for us to reconsider."

Chelsea Clinton to Speak at F&M Wednesday

Chelsea Clinton will be speaking at Franklin & Marshall College on Wednesday. The event is scheduled for noon at Hartman Green in the 600 block of College Avenue.

The outdoor event is free and open to the public, though those planning to attend are kindly asked to RSVP with the Lancaster4Hillary campaign office by calling (717) 393-1027 or e-mailing Lancaster@hillaryclinton.com.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Manheim Twp. Commissioners Approve Crossings Project 3-2

Conducting their meeting before a packed room, Monday night, the Manheim Township Commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the High Real Estate Group's proposal to construct a $100 million shopping complex across from Long's Park on Harrisburg Pike.

There had originally been some confusion as to whether the vote would be held Monday since Commissioner Chairman Larry Downing is recovering from surgery and was not able to attend.

But, linked into the meeting by teleconference, Downing cast the critical third vote in favor of the project.

He was joined by Commissioners Carol Simpson and Michael Flanagan.

Commissioners Nancy Keebler and Rick Casselbury voted against approval.

Keebler stressed her obligation as an elected official to listen to what the residents of the township actually want.

She cited statistics from a survey of Township residents indicating that "65% of residents on the survey discouraged commercial shopping centers" and "74% indicated satisfaction with the existing shopping."

She also worried about the impact on the floodplain, on wildlife in the area, and on the quality of life immediately surrounding the project - concerns with which Casselbury agreed.

For their part, the majority cited economic growth as a primary factor.

Commissioner Carol Simpson said, "This vote is about revenue for Manheim Township," going on to argue that the project will bring in "$2 million in income every year for the Township and its schools."

"To decline this opportunity," she said, "would be a slap in the face to all of our residents, especially those just starting our and those on a very low income."

She called the traffic improvements "unprecedented," saying, "There is no money for roads in Lancaster County."

Downing, chiming in by teleconference, echoed Simpson's position, arguing that the project would be beneficial "not just for Manheim Township but also for East Hempfield and the City of Lancaster."

He assured those present that the Commissioners listened to their concerns and he agreed that the project is a good way to stimulate economic growth and help improve roadways "with no cost to the municipalities."

Commissioner Michael Flanagan, speaking last, said "It is likely that this particular shopping center will be built somewhere in Lancaster County in the coming years. The question is 'should it be here?' "

He explained that the Township is placing conditions on their approval including certain traffic improvements and concluded by saying, "Should we fail to approve this, we are missing an opportunity for regional benefits at little taxpayer expense."

Surprisingly, there was little public comment at Monday night's meeting, although many outspoken opponents and supporters of the project were present.

One person who did comment was Kathy Ashworth, who lives on Farmingdale Road and is also involved with the TRAC committee - a group of citizens concerned about F&M's plans to relocate the Dillerville rail switching yard.

As it became evident that the Commissioners were likely to conditionally approve the plan, Ashworth told the Commissioners that the public should be allowed to see those conditions and comment on them prior to the vote.

Acting Chairman Michael Flanagan decided to go forward with the vote but ensured that copies of the conditions were made available to the public immediately following the meeting.

Ashworth said in an interview that she is disappointed but not surprised with the vote and that the proposed traffic improvements are "extensive, but not enough to make it work."

The High Group anticipates that 1,800 permanent jobs and 1,400 construction jobs will be created by the 646,000 sq-ft project, dubbed a "lifestyle retail center."

It will occupy 90 acres of land and cost roughly $100 million to construct.

But project supporters must still clear another hurdle before the project can go forward. They must put forward a "land development plan."

The High Group said in a press release that "the project will be presented to the community in technical detail" during this phase.

High expects the land development process to be concluded within a year and hopes to have construction well underway by 2010.

More information is available on the project's website at http://www.crossingsatconestogacreek.com.

EDITORIAL: F&M Should Be More Forthright

Franklin & Marshall's communications and public relations personnel do not serve the college well when they spin and puff up their press releases and public communications.

The public appreciates the importance of F&M in our community, both culturally and economically. Also most of us are proud of the college and especially admire the leadership that John Fry has brought to our community, not only on behalf of the college, but also with the James Street Project and enhanced downtown security.

Engage in dialogue, not propaganda. Hold open and fair meetings. Consult and listen before deciding what you are going to do.

One more suggestion: Remove half of the lights that were recently installed along Race Street. Security is a genuine concern, but rivaling a carnival freeway is overkill.

CC Bond Guarantor Reeling From Losses

While other banks reviewed and turned down the opportunity to guarantee Convention Center Project bonds, Wachovia disregarded the grim findings of the PKF Feasibility Study and concerns raised by earlier market studies and took on the risk.

This type of 'gun slinger' banking has severely impacted Wachovia's financial strength. According to Bloomberg.com, Wachovia has cut its dividend and will raise about $7 billion in share sales to replenish capital.

Sale of stock at this time is especially costly for Wachovia. According to Bloomberg, the "company's market value has dropped 50 percent since its ill-timed $24.6 billion takeover of Golden West Financial Corp. in 2006 at the peak of the housing market."

Wachovia is obliged to either renew its Convention Center Project bond guarantees or repurchase the bonds at the end of a five year period.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

LETTER: Questions Reference to "1984"

You should change the reference to 1984. The whole book is about the state's dictating what to think and punishing those unwilling to suspend reason and memory to tow the official line.

Editor's response: But even in George Orwell's 1984 where the population was barraged by propaganda and falsehoods, the state was monitoring what people were saying and doing, not what they were thinking. Hence our mention of progression from crimes against others, to victimless crimes, to crimes of speech, to the post-Orwellian crime of what one fantasizes.

Perhaps a future generation will insert brain probes that will monitor thought and, by electrical impulses, discourage what Big Brother does not desire. This may only be a couple of generations away.

SUNDAY NEWS'S April 13 headline: "College: F&M gives 45 percent; mayor seeks 33% of non-profits"

WATCHDOG: Associate Editor Gil Smart got the story right, but the headline was incorrect. Per the actual article: "College property that is exempt is assessed at $52.7 million; if F&M had to pay taxes on it, they would cost $483,6000 ... Gray wanted one-third of that, or $161,200 – but agreed that the $44,655 F&M will pay to maintain Buchanan Park this year should be part of the figure. That left $116,545, the amount the college will contribute."

Thus F&M "gives" 33%, not 45%, in lieu of paying taxes on tax exempt property.

Congratulation to columnist Art Morris for stirring the discussion, to Mayor Rick Gray for "jaw boning" the issue, and to John Fry and F&M for upping their contribution to the 1/3rd level.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

EDITORIAL: New Era Goes George Orwell One Better

Even George Orwell in "1984" only evoked the specter of a police state hounding citizens for what they said. Twenty-three years later we have taken the final step in the progression: crimes against others, non-victim crimes, and the crime of speech which so alarmed Orwell. We now imprison people for what they fantasize!

Seldom passing up any opportunity to revel in smut, the New Era ran a surprisingly balanced and thought-provoking front page story on April 10 headlined "Danger in Disguise?"

The article describes how 57-year-old Stephen Spiese, described by his numerous friends and colleagues as a "good man, a caring man" and a "talented teacher," was sentenced to one month incarceration and branded a sex criminal, thus ending his career and making him an outcast because:

1) He molested a child?
2) He tried to molest a child?
3) He watched pornography concerning molestation of a child?

If you guessed one or two, you were wrong. Spiese has been found guilty of fantasizing child abuse. Nothing in his life has suggested any action harmful to children whatsoever. Witness after witness testified that his relationship with children as teacher and volunteer have been exemplary.

So just as sensible people were questioning exactly what Spiese's crime was and whether he should have been tried, let alone convicted and sentenced to even a month in jail, enter sex-crazed Ernie Schreiber with a Saturday editorial "Child-porn case outcome troubling."

The editorial harrumphs: "The jail time seems insufficient for a crime that the judge himself noted creates a market for the abuse of children. Surely his prison sentence should have been marked off in years, not days."

If having ever looked at adult pornography were a crime, a very large percentage of us men would have done prison time by now. (We cannot speak for women, but we have our suspicions.)

Granted the idea of child pornography is abhorrent, but the basic concept is the same: A person should be held culpable for what he or she does; not for what he or she fantasizes. If thought is a crime, then we as a society have become even worse than those who conducted the Salem witch trials.

As a matter of prudence, Spiese might have been quietly reassigned to work with teenagers or even discharged. But sent to prison and prohibited for 11 years from owning a computer, accessing the Internet or having unsupervised contact with girls under the age of 18, that is way over the top.

Friday, April 11, 2008

F&M NOT Paying 25% on Tax-Exempt Properties

Concerns have been raised recently as to whether Franklin & Marshall College is paying its "fair share" of taxes to the City of Lancaster.

Due to the comparatively large amount of tax-exempt property in the City of Lancaster, Mayor Rick Gray has asked city non-profit organizations to donate 25% of what their assessment would be if their holdings were taxable.

NewsLanc contacted Nancy Collins, Vice President for College Communications and Manager of Media Relations at F&M to inquire whether the College is in fact giving the requested 25% in-lieu-of-tax payments.

From Ms. Collins' communications, it appears that the College is not giving 25% of the valuation of its tax-exempt properties.

What the College is doing is giving 25% (including the cost of maintaining Buchanan Park)($142,955) of its total valuation ($562,935).

But the problem is that some of Franklin & Marshall's properties, including College Row, College Square, and the James Street properties are taxable as it is.

As Keith Cole remarked in his April 1 Letter to the Editor in the New Era, Ms. Collins appears to be neglecting the distinction between taxable properties and non-taxable properties.

NewsLanc is seeking clarification from Ms. Collins as to how much of F&M's holdings are, in fact, taxable.





Matt:

Franklin & Marshall College owns property assessed for $63,824,800. At the current millage rate of 8.82, the College's total tax bill would be $562,935, if the property were taxable. We pay $98,300 of this amount. If you add this figure to the annual cost of maintaining Buchanan Park, which is $44,655, you get a total cash and direct in-kind services number of $142,955, which is 25 percent of our total tax bill of $562,935 ($98,300 divided by $562,935).

We pay this each year when we receive the city's invoice.

Nancy


Nancy Collins
Vice President for College Communications
Franklin & Marshall College
P.O. Box 3003
Lancaster, PA 17604-3003
717-291-3904
fax: 717-291-4381
nancy.collins@fandm.edu

Completion of CC construction estimated for early 2009

In response to a question from an observer attending the LCCCA Facilities Programming Committee of April 10, Tom Smithgall (High Construction) and Tim Sullivan (Reynolds Construction) reported they expect the scaffolding holding the outer shell of the Watt & Shand building will be removed some time between the end of May and the middle of June of this year.

Smithgall and Sullivan also indicate that substantial completion of project construction, excluding FF&E, would be achieved on our about February 16, 2009 if they are able to maintain their current schedule.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Regulars at Commissioners Meetings Question Esterbrook Departure

The Commissioners faced heavy criticism today over the unexpected departure of former County Administrator Mark Esterbrook.

Esterbrook was widely regarded as an extraordinarily competent and objective manager.

The Commissioners would not comment on his release, which includes three months of severance pay and benefits, and it appears that Esterbrook has been sworn to silence as part of the settlement.

NewsLanc publicly expressed grave concern about the implications for free speech and democratic government that both Mr. Esterbrook and former Deputy Administrator Frank Koerber have agreed, as a condition of their release, not to "disparage any former or current county employee or official."

While we fully understand the sensitive nature of personnel issues, these provisions apparently amount to an outstanding gag order.

"To pay in excess of $70,000 in salary and benefits in order to stifle criticism amounts to little less than bribery at taxpayers' expense," said NewsLanc reporter Matt Henderson.

Bonnie Miller of Manor Township, April Koppenhaver of Lancaster City, and Jane Albright of East Lampeter Township - all regulars at County Commissioners' meetings - extolled Esterbrook's virtues and questioned the mysterious circumstances of his departure.

"Something happened behind the scenes here, and I don't like it one bit," said Miller.

In other business, the Commissioners approved "extending the term of the existing Coroner's Office lease for an additional three months for the period May 1, 2008 through July 30, 2008" for 1,368 square feet of office space at Lancaster General Hospital at a rate of $540 per month. The Cornoner's Office has been temporarily located at Lancaster General until the renovations at 150 North Queen Street are completed.

The Commissioners also approved a resolution proposed by Commissioner Martin "to prohibit the budgeting of funds individually for any Commissioner for the purpose of enabling a Commissioner to grant or allocate funds, based upon his or her individual discretion, and judgment for purposes and recipients determined solely by an individual Commissioner."

Bonnier Miller of Manor Township, in the audience, lauded the move as a step towards open government.

The Commissioners also approved $87,880 (90% of which is State funding) in grants "to be used for planning, development and training activities for the implementation of a Mental Health Treatment Court in Lancaster County."

Democratic Commissioner Craig Lehman said that the County hopes to have a mental health court "up and running hopefully by the end of 2009."

He went on to call it a very positive step for the system to treat rather than incarcerate individuals with mental health issues.

Commissioner Martin agreed, saying that incarceration costs taxpayers a lot of money.

Jeff Hawkes inadvertently raises Charter concerns

Jeff Hawkes' Intelligencer Journal column of April 8 entitled "Commission's charter worthy of 'we the people'" raises concerns rather than abates them about the proposed Home Rule Charter.

Hawkes states: "The charter writers anticipated the potential for commissioners meddling in the executive branch. They addressed it by requiring the commissioners to deal 'exclusively' with the county executive."

As is the situation at both federal and state levels of government, legislative committees have the right to communicate with or call before them any government official for inquiries and to obtain reports. If Hawkes is correct, then the county executive would be tantamount to the county czar and that is hardly what the citizens desire.

Hawkes goes on to say "Citizens, through the power of initiative, may propose an ordinance or resolution. If they can gather the signature of 1,000 county adults within 60 days, the commissioners must vote on it. If they fail to vote, the proposal goes into effect."

Normally, an initiative is to place a matter on the ballot for voters to decide after first obtaining a requisite number of signatures from voters (not adults.) There seems to be little benefit to go to the trouble of obtaining a thousand signatures just so that the commissioners can say yea or nay, just as they can even without an initiative.

NewsLanc requested clarification from Hawkes but received no response.

EDITORIAL: Commissioners Gag Dissent With Taxpayers' Money

At their Tuesday workshop, the County Commissioners agreed to pay three months' salary plus benefits to former county administrator Mark Esterbrook and former deputy administrator Frank Koerber in exchange for their not bringing suit and their agreeing not to "disparage any former or current county employee or official."

To make a financial settlement to avoid litigation is perhaps appropriate. But there can be no excuse in a democracy for public officials preventing former employees from criticizing them.

According to the current edition of Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, the meaning of "disparage" includes "to bring reproach or discredit upon; lower the estimation of," which is one of the most important privileges enjoyed by citizens of a free country.

The right of employees to speak out against perceived inappropriate actions by superiors is essential for protecting the citizenry against despotic government. To pay in excess of $70,000 in salary and benefits in order to stifle criticism amounts to little more than bribery at taxpayers' expense.

NewsLanc calls upon the Commissioners to remove the gag provision from the agreements and to encourage public vetting of appropriate matters of dissent.

Rotary Bans Coverage of Rabbi Paskoff's Address

For reasons perhaps only comprehensible to Lancaster Rotary Club President Alexandra Weisensale, Rotary has banned media from covering the address today about the Jewish community in Lancaster by Rabbi Jack Paskoff of Shaarai Shomayim Synagogue .

According to Weisensale, Rotary forgot to invite the media to cover the State Senate Candidates Forum a week earlier, although Jeff Hawkes of the Intelligencer Journal attended the forum and wrote a column on the subject.

At the same time she announced the ban concerning Paskoff's address, Weisensale invited the media to cover Dr. Terry Madonna's address next week concerning the presidential race.

When contacted, Paskoff said he was unaware of the media ban.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Public Hearings Scheduled to Present Finalized Draft of Home Rule Charter

After months of deliberations, the 11 members of the Lancaster County Government Study Commission have come up with a finalized draft of a Home Rule Charter, which will appear on the ballot in November.

The Commission wishes to share with the public what it has come up with and to solicit feedback.
Although the public is encouraged to attend any meeting of the Government Study Commission, there are three public hearings over the next number of weeks that will be specifically devoted to presenting the finalized draft and soliciting feedback on a larger scale:

On Thursday, April 17th, there will be a hearing held in the Auditorium of the Farm & Home Center at 1383 Arcadia Road at 7 pm.

On Tuesday, April 29th, there will be a hearing held at the Mt. Joy Borough Office at 21 East Main Street at 7pm.

And on Saturday, May 3rd, a public hearing will be held in the auditorium of Garden Spot Village at 433 S Kinzer Ave. in New Holland.

The full draft of the Home Rule Charter will also be made available on the Government Study Commission's website at www.co.lancaster.pa.us/lancastergsc and your feedback is always welcome by mail at P.O. Box 83480, 50 N. Duke St., Lancaster PA 17603-3480, by phone at 717.735.9607, or by e-mail at SSherban@co.lancaster.pa.us

Government Study Commission Defends $50,000 for information campaign

A delegation from the Government Study Commission appeared before the County Commissioners, this morning, to discuss the anticipated expenditure of $50,000 to educate the public regarding the Home Rule Charter ballot question.

The anticipated expenditure has been controversial with those who fear that a line is being crossed between education and advocacy.

Government Study Commission Chair Carol Phillips explained that the majority of the money would go toward covering the cost of a postcard mailer to every household in the County.

Commissioner Scott Martin, who is a Republican, questioned whether a special exception is being made for the Home Rule Charter given that questions often appear on the ballot without this level of effort for "public education."

Martin called it "a can of worms that has been opened" and questioned whether such informational campaigns are within "the proper role of government."

Commissioner Craig Lehman, a Democrat, disagreed, calling the $50,000 "not a lot of money, in perspective."

"[T]he way I look at it is, whether you're for Home Rule or Whether you're against Home Rule, having some kind of educational campaign is a matter of basic fairness."

Government Study Commission member Sam Mecum said, "A majority of Lancaster County citizens elected the 11-members of the study commission, so you can say that the voters have already spoken to that extent, and now we're not going to tell them what's coming in November?"

Phillips read the conclusion of a Chester County court case in which expenditures to educate the public about a Home Rule initiative were deemed appropriate and not necessarily advocacy.

The Commissioners have the authority to decide that $50,000 for public education is an inappropriate expenditure of taxpayer dollars.

Phillips expects that the Commissioners would consult with the Study Commission in the event that they decide as such.

County Administrator Mark Esterbrook Resigns

NewsLanc has learned this morning that County Administrator Mark Esterbrook has submitted to the County Commissioners his resignation effective April 8, 2008.

Esterbrook is receiving 3 months of severance pay ($42,311) and his medical benefits will continue for the same period.

Asked whether Esterbrook left willingly or was asked to leave, Commissioner Chairman Dennis Stuckey had no comment.

Asked whether it is possible for an employee who quit willingly to receive severance pay, Commissioner Scott Martin said only that the determination is made on a case-by-case basis.

Stuckey and Ex-Commissioner Sharron Nelson both read statements at Tuesday's Commissioners Worksession, thanking Mr. Esterbrook for his service to the County.

Esterbrook was widely regarded as an extraordinarily competent manager of County government.

He was not immediately available for comment, Tuesday.

Stuckey said that Chief Clerk Andrea McCue will help with the vacuum left by Esterbrook's departure, and that no timetable has yet been set for finding Esterbrook's replacement.

Monday, April 7, 2008

LETTER: Need Qualified Executive Director

The convention center is scheduled to open in about one year, not two years.

The master developer (High), the construction management company (Reynolds), and the marketing/management company (Interstate) are reporting to two masters (PSP-RACL and the LCCCA). We need an executive director who has the right background and qualifications to oversee and monitor these activities to make sure the LCCCA is properly represented. A simple pencil pusher would not be able to do that effectively.

LETTER: Strong Executive Director Important

Kevin Molloy was only a third-tier manager in Erie. He probably sees "Executive Director" as a career move, which will look good on his resume.

The previous "Executive Director" and "Chairman" left the incumbent board and staff with a very-poorly planned budget and path forward. Art Morris has repeatedly taken a nearly-impossible situation and made it work within unreasonable constraints.

As the inevitable cost overruns and delays (and resulting conflicts) come to fruition, it will take a strong "Executive Director" to complete the project and bring it on-line (perhaps more than Art Morris could handle by himself) – especially considering the unreasonable constraints placed on the LCCCA by its predecessors. I suspect Mr. Molloy will be VERY busy well into 2009.

After that, there is NO need for a highly-paid "Executive Director." Interstate Hotels and Resorts – the hand-picked agent of S. Dale High – has exclusive control over the marketing and operation of the convention center. Once the convention center is in full operation, the LCCCA could cease to exist, and it would make no difference whatsoever in the operation of the facility.

I suspect Mr. Molloy will move on to greener pastures before the end of 2009.

LETTER: Authority Executive Director Overpaid?

Here's my question – and I am totally serious.

What in the world is this guy going to do? Here we are paying this guy $400 per day when:

– There is No convention center for almost two years
– ALL work is contracted out
– There are two other employees (one just left but I'm sure they will replace her)

Absolutely crazy.

Additionally – isn't it great all the JOBS the convention center is giving to the people of Lancaster – or NOT! There's no one that we could get to be this super-duper-pencil-pusher-glad-hander that's from Lancaster?!?!? I am betting that we could have found someone that would work for say $300 a day or maybe even $200 a day. AFTER ALL - WHAT DOES THE GUY DO?!?!?

Editor's note: We do not object to the amount of pay considering Kevin Molloy's experience in opening the Erie Convention Center and hoping that he is very competent. This is a critical stage whereby the Authority must deal with many complicated and demanding challenges of the past, currently and for the future. We hope that Molloy will appreciate that he is working for the Authority (and thus the public) and will stand up to Penn Square Partners rather than being co-opted by them and their cronies in the Power Elite.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

EDITORIAL: Local Rotary President Creates Chaos

A month ago, apparently without doing a modicum of investigation, local Rotary Club President Alexandra Weisensale ejected NewsLanc reporter Matt Henderson from a meeting, where he was routinely covering weekly speakers, something that he had openly been doing for months.

Weisensale justified her action by saying that meetings were not open to the media except by invitation, which brought an editorial blast from the Intelligencer Journal / New Era who pointed out that they had been covering Rotary meetings without special invitations for years and urged that all media be treated the same.

Last week Weisensale acknowledged Rotary's mistake in not inviting media to the State Candidates Forum, attributing the oversight to an apparent error or "miscommunication" among the committees charged with organizing programs and inviting the media.

Then a couple of days later Jeff Hawkes of the Intell devoted a column to the event, indicating he had attended!

We at NewsLanc don't know what to make of all of this. It seems to us that Weisensale acted rashly and is unwilling to recognize her mistake and again open the meetings to all media as has long been national and local policy.

We at NewsLanc admire Rotary. We wish we could feel the same about Weisensale.