Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ephrata's Youth Aid Panel Improves Community

When Lancaster County Assistant District Attorney Monica Mosely told the Lancaster County Commissioners that there was a real need for three more Youth Aid Panels in the city and township, NewsLanc was curious as to how the panels were working in other parts of the county. Mosley said the rest of the county was adequately covered, so NewsLanc checked with Ephrata about their youth aid panel.

"So far in 2008, we have taken ten juveniles through the youth aid panel who otherwise would have gone through the criminal justice system," Ephrata Mayor Ralph E. Mowen said. "It has been our experience in the past that on many occasions the juveniles were not being held accountable especially on minor, summary violations. The parents usually paid the fine and nothing happened to the juvenile. In some cases, I suppose, the juvenile paid the parent back through chores at home but I’m not positive of that."

In Ephrata, the disposition of the juveniles through the youth aid panel is based on many considerations. "A few of the factors are age of the juvenile, type of crime, amount of planning or lack of planning and victim impact," Mowen explained. "The majority of juvenile crimes we have seen this year are retail thefts of items with little value."

"They have generally been given twenty hours community service. The community service is usually at the Ephrata Recreation Center or the library. We also request they do a report on the affects of retail theft, to society, themselves and parents. We also ask them to explore their future. If they want to go to college we make them meet with their counselor and come back with a plan. If they want to get in to a High School Vo-tech study, we ask them to meet with their counselor to determine if they qualify and/or find what they need to do to qualify."

The mayor added that "Most of the feedback we are getting when these juveniles come back in for their exit interview is very positive."

Mayor Mowen also added that he is always looking for community volunteers to serve on the Ephrata Youth Aid Panel.

No more: "How much is that doggie in the window?"

Is "puppy love" unrequited due to the scarcity and high cost of acquiring a pet?

It may be because buying a puppy from a pet store in Lancaster County seems impossible these days.

A telephone survey by NewsLanc to six major pet stores in the area found no puppies for sale, although many other forms of pets are available. Clerks on the phone could not explain why they don't offer puppies. They did suggest that a puppy could be found by checking classifieds or at the Lancaster Humane Society.

No one suggested a purchase from a farm.

A check of the classifieds show Boxer pups offered at $500, Bulldogs at $1500, Great Danes for $750, and Yorkshire Terriers at $700. Labrador Retrievers vary from $200 to $400.

At the Humane League of Lancaster County, 2195 Lincoln Highway East, puppies are available for $175. Joan Brown, President and CEO, said that the cost includes spay or neutering, microchiping, and initial veterinary care. Older dogs cost less, but include all the same services.

While many of the county's puppy farms are professionally operated and licensed, there are others that are described as "puppy mills" based upon operating standards that their critics consider low. Thus "puppy mill" has come to have a perjorative connotation.

Puppy farms have a majority of female dogs and produce as many puppies as practical.

Most operate as a wholesale operation, selling their puppies to "brokers." These brokers then sell the dogs in and out of Pennsylvania. Some do sell retail or direct to consumers.

To prevent purchasing from a farm that might mistreat its puppies, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture offers its Dog Kennel Inspection reports online.

"Pennsylvania is taking action to improve consumer knowledge and provide better care for dogs in kennels across the state," Governor Ed Rendell said last year when the state's database went online. "This new access to kennel inspection records will help consumers know the conditions of kennels – where they might purchase a dog or board their dog while they travel – so they can make better decisions about the welfare of their pets."

Friday, May 30, 2008

"Trash talk" #1

Michael J. Devaney, Manager of the Bureau of Solid Waste and Recycling, is conducting an anti-litter crusade through increased placement of downtown trash receptacles.

The new trash receptacles are not just placed on the street corners. To Devaney, there is a much better way.

"I've actually watched people," Devaney says. "And I know where they will drop their trash. It's about 25 steps from the source."

Therefore, trash cans are strategically placed close to what creates the city's trash, such as a restaurant or convenience store.

Lancasterians with sharp eyesight will notice subtle changes. Those older, wire trash receptacles have been replaced with newer, streetscape-compatible units. The new trash cans cost $800.

The old units are currently being refurbished, and will soon be installed in other sections of the city.

Proposed Lancaster County Charter Available

NewsLanc has added the latest copy of the proposed Lancaster County Charter to this site. Dated May 6, 2008, The Final Report and Proposed Home Rule Charter for County Government submitted to the Citizens of Lancaster County by the Lancaster County Government Study Commission is available by clicking here.

Wickersham administrators may lose state certification

The Pennsylvania Department of Education confirmed to NewsLanc that two investigations of alleged cheating at School District of Lancaster are currently ongoing.

"A PSSA security breach is certainly a lot more than a personnel issue. It can be grounds for suspension of an education certificate," said Michael Race, assistant press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

"The department has in the past taken certification action against educators who have violated the test procedures," Race confirmed. "In some cases, that has meant suspension of certification. Obviously, a certification action would be a personnel issue in the sense it could impact the employment status of school personnel. If you lose your certification, you can't teach."

Each spring, as part of the federal No Child Left Behind act, local students take the PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment) tests.

In a press release issued Wednesday, May 29, SDL confirmed that the alleged cheating involved their personnel, and not student cheating.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

EDITORIAL: Is a misdemeanor or felony a "Personnel matter?"

The School District of Lancaster declines to discuss what they describe as "possible PSSA testing protocol violations" on the basis "The results of any investigations are a personnel matter and cannot be shared with the public."

"Personnel matter" as we understand the term relates to the performance of employees in accordance with the policies and guidelines of their employers. But purposefully providing government officials with incorrect information is either a misdemeanor or a felony offense against the State law.*

If indeed the law has been broken and administrators and / or faculty members at Wickersham Elementary School are under suspicion, is this any more a "personnel matter" to be concealed from the public eye than if there was a likelihood that thousands of dollars had been stolen?

We believe that suspicion of breaking of laws on the part of school personnel should not be exempted from disclosure based on it being a "personnel" matter. This isn't an issue of incompetence or infraction of school regulations. This is a matter of crime against the state!

And if there is reason to believe that a misdemeanor or felony may have been committed, those suspected should be suspended, perhaps with pay, pending their exoneration or dismissal.

Stealing money would be a property crime. But falsifying scores to misrepresent achievement levels of students is to deprive youngsters of the education they deserve!

*State Statute:

§ 4911. Tampering with public records or information.
(a) Offense defined.--A person commits an offense if he:
1. knowingly makes a false entry in, or false alteration of, any record, document or thing belonging to, or received or kept by, the government for information or record, or required by law to be kept by others for information of the government;
2. makes, presents or uses any record, document or thing knowing it to be false, and with intent that it be taken as a genuine part of information or records referred to in paragraph (1) of this subsection; or
3. intentionally and unlawfully destroys, conceals, removes or otherwise impairs the verity or availability of any such record, document or thing.
(b) Grading.--An offense under this section is a misdemeanor of the second degree unless the intent of the actor is to defraud or injure anyone, in which case the offense is a felony of the third degree.

SD of L puts lid on Wickersham Investigation

On Wednesday, NewsLanc broke the story that the Pennsylvania Department of Education received complaints in early April about the School District of Lancaster's administration of PSSA tests.

According to Mike Race, Deputy Press Secretary of the Department of Education, "Test documents were not properly secured and the test was not administered within proper guidelines."

The Department has directed the SDL to investigate the matter and report back with their findings. The State requires the District to complete their investigation within 45 days.

In 2007, the number of students at Wickersham Elementary School that scored proficient in reading dropped from 50 percent to 48.5 percent. Scoring below 50 percent resulted in the school now being on a warning status. It has not been disclosed whether the investigation is limited to scores only for 2007.

Wickersham had apparently met "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) academic targets on the PSSA in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006. A banner hangs above the main entrance proclaiming the previous academic achievements. Meeting AYP requirements fall under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

In response to NewsLanc's request on Tuesday to interview Acting Superintendent Stephen Iovino, a short press release was issued to Lancaster media on Wednesday, May 28, which is posted below. The afternoon New Era covered the story in today's edition.

The SDL describes the occurence as a "personnel" matter as its reason for refusing to discuss details. This implies that one or more administrator and /or faculty member is suspected of falsifying scores for at least 2007. Despite several attempts by phone and in person, NewsLanc's reporter George Sheldon was not able to reach school principal, Dr. Bernard X. James Sr., to inquire if he is under suspicion.

Wickersham Elementary School is located just south of McCaskey High School at 401 N. Reservoir Street.

First view of Convention Center Interior

"Sidewalk superintendents" can catch their first view of the interior of the Convention Center at . No hard hats required!

EDITORIAL: We prefer to praise SDL but...

Although NewsLanc was born of the Convention Center controversy and has been outspoken in its opposition to the project, our goal is to fill a news and commentary vacuum resulting from the virtual monopoly of the local press. Nevertheless, we find it far more rewarding to praise what is right than to criticize what is wrong.

Our revelation this week of possible falsification of PSSA scores at a local elementary school by officials is done with sadness. Our president has had three children pass through and one attends the School District of Lancaster. We swell with pride and are fast to praise SDL achievements.

Yet it is apparent to us that Superintendent Designate Pedro Rivera will face almost insurmountable problems of incompetence, dysfunction and neglect on the part of certain individuals at various levels of the administration, from headquarters down to the elementary school level.

Over the past few weeks, we have reported and commented upon several important stories significantly before the Lancaster print media. Some stories have gone unreported elsewhere.

It is our hope and expectation that seeing NewsLanc scoop them will influence the business side of the Lancaster Newspapers to stop selective reporting that promotes its general business interests, and instead allow a more aggressive and comprehensive approach to informing the public.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

SDL Declined Interview, Claims "Personnel" Exemption

Over the past two days, NewsLanc has been investigating alleged cheating at the Wickersham Elementary School on PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Achievement) tests which are required under the federal "No Child Left Behind law." The tip stated that questions had been raised in the past over test scores for the school that seemed much higher than conditions would have suggested.

In response, NewsLanc reporter George Sheldon on Tuesday contacted Kelly Burkholder, Coordinator of Community Relations of the School District of Lancaster and requested an in-person interview with Acting Superintendent Stephen Iovino, Ed.D., "about PSSA test cheating at the school district."

Burkholder called back later and stated that she had passed on the information and request to Iovino and he said he would call back that evening. There was no call.

Subsequently E-mails request for an interview were sent to Iovino at 7:30 AM and again 11:00 AM.

Iovino responded via E-mail at ll:30 AM that "Kelly Burkholder will provide you with a press release (see below) this afternoon."

Dr. Bernard X. James Sr. is the principal of the Wickersham School.

SDL's Press Release re Cheating Scandal

From: Dr. Stephen A. Iovino, Ed. D. Acting Superintendent

The School District of Lancaster follows Pennsylvania Department of Education testing requirements to investigate all incidents of possible PSSA testing protocol violations and to submit a comprehensive report to Pennsylvania Department of Education officials. Possible test protocol violations involving a small number of students were investigated within the school district. The results of any investigations are a personnel matter and cannot be shared with the public.

Any investigation or actions taken by the District will be done to ensure the integrity of the PSSA testing program is in the best interests of staff, students, parents and the community.

Wickersham Elementary at Center of PSSA Cheating Investigation

Two parents of children in the School District of Lancaster confirmed to NewsLanc that the Pennsylvania Department of Education sent investigators into Wickersham Elementary School because of the student test scores reported. Both parents, fearing retaliation against their students, asked not to be identified.

"The AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) scores have been too far out of the lines," one parent said. "It has set off alarm bells. The scores are just not believable."

The website of Wickersham Elementary School boasts about their AYP: "We made AYP in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006! Diligence, hard work, and accountability have paid off. We have been student-centered and as a result, our scores have gone up."

The Pennsylvania Department of Education would neither confirm nor deny that they have sent their investigators to Wickersham Elementary School.

SDL members accused of cheating on PSSA Tests

Members of the School District of Lancaster have been accused of cheating on the PSSA tests, NewsLanc has learned. The PSSA tests are part of the "No Child Left Behind Program."

Information that NewsLanc has been trying to confirm with the SDL centered on the unusually high scores achieved over past years at the Wickersham elementary school.

Despite repeated contacts for an in-person interview, Dr. Stephen Iovino, Assistant Superintendent of the School District of Lancaster, has thus far declined NewLanc's request.

Only after NewsLanc's persistent and repeated requests, a one-line e-mail message from Dr. Iovino was received informing us that a press release would be issued sometime Wednesday afternoon.

Michael Race, Deputy Press Secretary, of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, confirmed that the School District of Lancaster is under investigation for alleged cheating on the PSSA tests.

Race said two complaints had been received by the Department of Education in early April about the School District of Lancaster's administration of the PSSA test. Race confirmed that the Department has directed the School District of Lancaster to investigate the matter and report to the Department with their findings. The Department requires the District to complete their investigation within 45 days.

NewsLanc will update the story as more information becomes available.

County Morgue Location Still Not Certain

It became clear during their Tuesday Work Session that the commissioners do not want to start a rezoning process on the property on Farmingdale Road until they are certain that they will be using that property.

When the time came for comments from those in attendance, Bill Bonanno of Ralpho Township took the Commissioners to task again for not moving forward with the county morgue project.

"I'd rather be thoughtful than rush," Commissioner Lehman replied. "This is the time to be thoughtful."

Routine business by the Commissioners included funding from a federal allocation of the county's first Community Homeless Advisor, who will be employed by the United Way of Lancaster.

The exact number of homeless in the county is not known, but could range up to 1,000 people.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Lancaster Drug Court: Something to feel proud about!

If ever there would be a Drug Court that would be successful, a visit last Tuesday to the Court of Judge David L. Ashworth convinced an activist in the field of drug policy reform and harm reduction that the program is located here in Lancaster.

Judge David L. Ashworth has the clean cut look of a 1950’s movie star, and his commitment to helping those before his court takes second place to no social worker. Married thirty years and the father of three daughters, Ashworth exhibits both compassion and a toughness of both mind and body, as witness his second degree black belt standing in Tang Soo Do Karate.

His routine Tuesday afternoon court session started with the announcement of the birth of a healthy baby to a couple participating in the program, along with the date of the annual picnic for court personnel and clients. Participants were called before the judge in groups of three and addressed by their first names in a caring manner.

Each was asked about his or her progress. The judge, well versed by his "team" of drug court offices, asked about regular attendance at support group meetings, about progress in receiving reimbursement when a car was rear ended (and proffering a helpful suggestion), checked on progress of faltering relationship with a volunteer sponsor with whom clients are encouraged to share their concerns and successes, responded to a request for advice about a possible job change by reminding that the prime consideration is "recovery comes first", and admonishing a recalcitrant male for excessive dirty urine samples "if you aren’t serious about recovery, don’t take up the space" as the offender was hand cuffed and taken back to jail.

He was also told how "48 hours in prison woke me up" from a male, and was saddened when a bright young lady, soon to graduate from the program, explained that she "can’t go to nursing school due to an earlier misdemeanor" even though her current charges were being expunged.

Yet, in Judge Ashworth’s own words as part of a posting at

"How do you measure success? Is it the number of graduates? Is it the methodically collected information outlined in the Process Evaluation Report prepared by a well respected PH.D. from Millersville University? Perhaps it’s the number of letters received by the "Team" thanking them for saving a life or reuniting a family. Or maybe success is measured best by the four "totally clean" babies born since the program was started. Whatever the measure, those of us involved in the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas Adult Drug Court have seen tremendous changes in the lives of those Drug Court participants (and their families) with whom we have worked over the last two and a half years.

"Is Drug Court a success? Only time will tell. For me, serving as the Drug Court Judge has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. I’ll leave the final analysis of whether it is a ‘success’ to those more learned in evaluating statistics…"

According to the Sixth Edition of Drug War Facts (, Drug Courts have been much applauded, however some concerns about their fairness and effectiveness have been expressed.

These include:

  1. Providing coerced treatment at a time when the needs for voluntary treatment are not being met creates the strange circumstance of someone needing to get arrested to get treatment.
  2. People who are forced into treatment may not actually need it. They may just be people who use drugs in a non-problematic way who happened to get arrested. Arrest may not be the best way to determine who should get treatment services.
  3. Drug Courts are a much less expensive way of handling drug cases in the criminal justice system, thus they may result in more people being arrested and processed, many of whom would not have been arrested or would have been diverted. And it is true that the number of drug arrests has grown dramatically since the early 1990s. Thus, drug courts may be expanding the number of people hurt by the drug war.
  4. Drug Courts are creating a separate system of justice for drug offenders, a system that does not rely on the key traditions of an adversary system of justice and due process, a system where the defense, prosecution and judge work as a team to force the offender into a treatment program.
  5. Drug Courts typically rely on abstinence-based treatment. For example, methadone is sometimes not available to heroin addicts.
  6. In addition, Drug Courts rely heavily on urine testing rather than focusing on whether the person is succeeding in employment, education or family relationships, and in avoiding re-arrest.
  7. Drug Courts also sometimes mandate twelve-step treatment programs which some believe to be an infringement on religious freedom.

Further Excerpts:

Drug Courts invade the confidentiality of patient and health-care provider. The health-care provider's client is really the court, prosecutor and probation officer, rather than the person who is getting drug treatment. Pertinent accompanying factoids are: "The last decade has seen the rapid growth of specialized court forums in the states. The first drug court was created in Dade County, Florida in 1989; all but ten states followed that example within the next decade."

Source: Rottman, David, et al., Bureau of Justice Statistics, State Court Organization, 1998 (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, June 2000), p. 207.

"Even offenders who do not succeed in drug court appear to be less criminally active than they were previously. This may be due to the benefits of treatment or the supervision, sanctions, intensive surveillance, and specific deterrence of the drug court."

Source: Gebelein, Richard S., National Institute of Justice, "The Rebirth of Rehabilitation: Promise and Perils of Drug Courts" (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, May 2000), p. 5.

In a law review article, Colorado Judge Morris B. Hoffman writes, "Reductions in recidivism are so small that if they exist at all they are statistically meaningless. Net-widening is so large that, even if drug courts truly were effective in reducing recidivism, more drug defendants would continue to jam our prisons than ever before."

Source: District Judge Morris B. Hoffman, Second Judicial District (Denver), State of Colorado, "The Drug Court Scandal", North Carolina Law Review (Chapel Hill, NC: North Carolina Law Review Association, June 2000), Vol. 78, No. 5, p. 1533-4.

In a law review article, Colorado Judge Morris B. Hoffman writes, "By existing simply to appease two so diametric and irreconcilable sets of principles, drug courts are fundamentally unprincipled. By simultaneously treating drug use as a crime and as a disease, without coming to grips with the inherent contradictions of those two approaches, drug courts are not satisfying either the legitimate and compassionate interests of the treatment community or the legitimate and rational interests of the law enforcement community. They are, instead, simply enabling our continued national schizophrenia about drugs."

Source: District Judge Morris B. Hoffman, Second Judicial District (Denver), State of Colorado, "The Drug Court Scandal", North Carolina Law Review (Chapel Hill, NC: North Carolina Law Review Association, June 2000), Vol. 78, No. 5, p. 1477

The visiting activist hesitantly offered the Judge two copies of Drug War Facts and suggested that he might be interested in reading the section on Drug Courts. The judge replied: "I intend to read the entire book!" No one would doubt that he will.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Controversial Conestoga Halfway House Set to Move

By George Sheldon

Barnabas House, the faith-based halfway house in Conestoga, is planning to move. Just established within the past month, the transitional housing facility provides a temporary home for four men, three of whom are on Megan's List.

"We've already been offered another property that is on a bus route," Tom Armstrong said.

For the past two weeks, emotions have run high in the usually quaint, peaceful town of Conestoga. The community uproar started when former State Rep. Tom Armstrong rented an apartment on Main Street to house the offenders that have been recently released from prison.

On Monday, May 17, a crowd of over 300 jammed the Conestoga Fire Department to attend a citizen’s informational meeting. The majority of the boisterous and often unruly residents clearly did not want the halfway house in their community.

The 'Not in My Back Yard attitude' was clearly on display from those that expressed themselves with vulgarities and shouts.

Ben Vonderheide, who has been involved in an ongoing custody battle that is chronicled on his Web site,, owns the property where the Barnabas House is located. On the Web site, Armstrong is shown in a video saying, "We learned that you (Vonderheide) may have some issues with your son's custody, and we did not want to do anything to create a difficult situation in the custody issue."

Because of the recent controversy in Conestoga, the planned new location of Barnabas House has not been released, nor has the date of the intended move. Armstrong, who provided an extensive and exclusive interview with on Thursday, believes moving his ministry has become more complicated because of the reaction of the Conestoga residents.

"No one wants this kind of attention," Armstrong says.

For the past days, hushed vigilante threats of "burn them out" have been circulating throughout the town. The property owner across the street from Barnabas House has posted several "No Trespassing" signs on the lawn, and has sent a letter to the residents demanding they stay off the property.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lancaster Residents Respond to DA's Appeal

As first reported on on Tuesday, May 20, Monica Mosely, Assistant District Attorney, told the Lancaster County Commissioners that there was a real need for three more Youth Aid Panels in the city and township, while the rest of the county was adequately covered.

Mosely today told NewLanc that by noon on Thursday, May 22, she had received over 150 inquiries from residents expressing interest in volunteering for the program. (The Intelligencer Journal carried the story on its front page on Thursday.)

"The response has been overwhelming," Mosely said. She added that it will take some time to process all the requests for information and participation.

Because juvenile offenders make a contract with the community to make amends for the offense they committed, volunteers must be from the local community, and not just county residents. In Lancaster City and Township, Mosely is seeking to establish five youth aid panels, one for each of the five magisterial districts.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Are Sex Offender Laws Counterproductive?*

"Human Rights Watch appreciates the sense of concern and urgency that has prompted these laws. They reflect a deep public yearning for safety in a world that seems increasingly threatening. Every child has the right to live free from violence and sexual abuse. Promoting public safety by holding offenders accountable and by instituting effective crime prevention measures is a core governmental obligation.

"Unfortunately, our research reveals that sex offender registration, community notification, and residency restriction laws are ill-considered, poorly crafted, and may cause more harm than good:

"The registration laws are overbroad in scope and overlong in duration, requiring people to register who pose no safety risk;

"Under community notification laws, anyone anywhere can access online sex offender registries for purposes that may have nothing to do with public safety. Harassment of and violence against registrants have been the predictable result;

"In many cases, residency restrictions have the effect of banishing registrants from entire urban areas and forcing them to live far from their homes and families.

"The evidence is overwhelming, as detailed in this report, that these laws cause great harm to the people subject to them. On the other hand, proponents of these laws are not able to point to convincing evidence of public safety gains from them.

"Even assuming some public safety benefit, however, the laws can be reformed to reduce their adverse effects without compromising that benefit. Registration laws should be narrowed in scope and duration. Publicly accessible online registries should be eliminated, and community notification should be accomplished solely by law enforcement officials. Blanket residency restrictions should be abolished...

"Many child safety and rape prevention advocates believe that millions of dollars are being misspent on registration and community notification programs that do not get at the real causes of child sexual abuse and adult sexual violence. They would like to see more money spent on prevention, education, and awareness programs for children and adults, counseling for victims of sexual violence, and programs that facilitate treatment and the transition back to society for convicted sex offenders.

"As one child advocate told Human Rights Watch, 'When a sex offender succeeds in living in the community, we are all safer.'"

*Excerpted from Human Rights Watch: "No Easy Answers. Sex Offender Laws in the US"

Reporter George Sheldon joins

A lifelong Lancaster County native, Sheldon is well-known as a local writer, author, and photographer.

Sheldon's writing credits include the publication of over 1,000 articles. He has also published 31 books, with two more scheduled for publication later this year.

George is looking forward to meeting's readers when he is handing out newsletters in the greater Lancaster community.

County Morgue Plans Still Not Submitted

The answer to a citizen's question at the Lancaster County Commissioners' Meeting on Wednesday, May 21, revealed that the new morgue project is lagging.

"How far are we?" Bill Bonanno of Rapho Township asked. "What's it going to cost?"

"I don't think anything has been formally submitted to the township," Don LeFever, the County Solicitor said.

Bonanno expressed concern over rising costs due to the delays.

The new county morgue is planned for Farmingdale Road in East Hempfield Township. However, the township's zoning will need to be changed to allow the new forensic center use. A new facility is needed since the sale of Conestoga View, the present location of the county morgue.

"We could have another 150 North Queen Street where the prices keep rising," Bonanno told the commissioners.

Lefever responded: "We have been in ongoing communication with (Lancaster County) Solid Waste (Authority), which is the owner of the land. We are aware of the timeframe within which the design and construction needs to begin based upon the extension we obtained for our current occupancy at the present location from the current owner of the Conestoga View facility."

The Commissioners revealed they have met with state representatives to seek state funds to "offset part of the cost" of the new forensic center.

WATCHDOG SPECIAL: News, Smut, Smut, Smut , Smut

That is how the five columns of the front page headlines in today's Intelligencer Journal were allocated.

One of the most important stories of the decade – the decision of Lancaster General Hospital to build a major satellite facility in Ephrata – got a single column. The sad but all-too-frequent story of a male teacher having an affair with a fifteen year old female student got the other four across the top of the front page.

Relegated to far less prominent locations by the editors was the fact that Ted Kennedy has a cancerous brain tumor and that Barack Obama has won an absolute majority of elected delegates.

And lest the prurient interests of the editors and readers go unsated, the lead column on page three is devoted to "Naked pilot, attendant charged after romp in woods."

Ernie Schreiber of the New Era: Look out! On the race to the bottom, Ray Shaw may be gaining on you.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Youth Aid Panels Successful but Need Volunteers

During a short and routine Lancaster County Commissioners Work Session Meeting on Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Monica Mosely remarked about the difficulty in enlisting volunteers from the City and Lancaster Township to serve on the Youth Aid Panels.

Panels meet with juveniles who have committed a first time, non-violent offense as a part of a program whereby offenders can perform public service to make amends, thus avoiding a criminal record. Mosley indicated that the recidivism rate is very low, which indicates a very successful program.

Mosley said persons who speak the language of the juvenile are especially needed.

Panelists receive several week of training and commit to remain for at least a year. Mosley indicated many volunteers remain for years.

Mosely mentioned that three of the city's major churches have not responded to requests to help find community volunteers. Nor have they mentioned the current need in their church newsletters.

Mosley appeared at the work session to submit a budget adjustment concerning the youth aid programs. She indicated the county is generally well covered, but a need for five panels in the City and Lancaster Township has not been met.

EDITORIAL: Rational vs. Irrational Fear

Fear can be good. Ten thousand years ago it helped humankind to survive from predators in the jungle where every sound, every movement could foretell danger and potential death. And when rational, it can yet save us today.

But fear can also be bad, because it can play upon survival instincts which are incapable of discerning between degrees of danger. And there are those who will use our instincts to mislead us.

Every moment of every day, millions reside in Manhattan and Washington D. C. with the recognition that that their lives can be snuffed out by the stolen or crude atomic device set off by terrorists. For forty years, the populations of the USA and the Soviet Union lived under the same real threat.

For most of us, driving our cars exposes us to dangers a hundred times greater than those posed by sex offenders, especially those who have spent years in prison, who are now much older and more responsible, and are being observed.

With the USA having the highest rate of incarceration in the world - even greater than the most authoritarian and repressive regimes - there are two million people in our prisons and most of them will be released one of these days. They work in ways that impact our homes and offices; they are the parents of friends of our children; they live nearby; and what we don't know almost invariably does not hurt us.

The good people of Conestoga and the rest of us need to learn to avoid being manipulated by our inherent fear, and by others. As FDR said during his first inauguration, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."

Over 300 Attend Boisterous Conestoga Meeting

CONESTOGA, PA - Emotions and passions overflowed Monday evening in Conestoga when over 300 residents packed the community firehouse to discuss safety concerns over a property that is the residence of four convicted felons, three of which are registered sexual offenders on Pennsylvania's Megan’s List. (See photos.)

The May 19th meeting was organized by local residents, and was not conducted by any official government entity. For the past week, the sleepy community located 7 miles southwest of Lancaster has been engulfed in controversy over their newest residents.

"There's sex offenders in there," one woman said, but declined to give her name as she stood in the 3100 block of Main Street in Conestoga pointing toward the property. Her claim about the residents is easily verified by checking the Pennsylvania State Police Megan’s Website. Flyers had been distributed this past week throughout the quiet bedroom area inviting residents to "Please come and voice your concerns to your town!"

And they did just that. A long procession of cars jammed Main Street as residents arrived for the 6 pm meeting. At one point, the line of vehicles was estimated to be over one-half mile in length. Seating was provided for 260, but it soon became standing room only in the Conestoga Fire Company's oversized equipment bay. The rear doors were opened in the firehouse to accommodate the swelling crowd.

"Please keep your emotions in check," the crowd was repeatedly asked as the meeting commenced a few minutes late. It lasted just over two hours. Nothing was resolved at the meeting, which at times was unruly when several residents became argumentative and boisterous. Three times during the evening, the oversized crowd was warned that the meeting would close early because of the rowdy conduct.

"We're concerned about the fear and anxiety of the citizens," Cpl. John Michener of the Southern Regional Police Department said to the assembled crowd of residents. "Understand that the courts have decided to put these people back into society."

"We understand your concerns," Craig Stedman, Lancaster County District Attorney, told the Conestoga residents. "We support Conestoga anyway we legally can."

Stedman informed those at the meeting there is no law in Pennsylvania that restricts where offenders can live after they have served a prison sentence.

Tom Armstrong, a former state representative who setup the halfway house on Conestoga's Main Street, was often jeered and interrupted as he spoke to the crowd. Armstrong said the men in the halfway house were "highly screened" by him.

Providing statistics about incarceration and rehabilitating convicted offenders did not quell the crowd. Many residents seemed to express a "not in our neighborhood" attitude. Several openly said, "get them out of here." Many were also agitated when they heard Armstrong say that up to 30 residents could eventually live in Conestoga.

Those in attendance were disappointed to learn that at this point, nothing can be done to stop the transitional housing use of the property. Jim Thomas, the Township's solicitor, told those at the meeting that on Friday, May 16, Conestoga Township's Zoning Officer Jim Hindes issued a noncompliance notice to the property owner, Ben Vonderheide. The property owner now has 30 days to respond to the noncompliance notice. When that happens, a hearing will be scheduled by the township's zoning board.
Thomas also said that he has directed the township supervisors and Hindes not to answer any questions about the current transitional house.

The residents were urged to attend the zoning hearing (when it is scheduled) and express their concerns at that time.

One of the offenders living in the property attended the meeting, and asked to speak to the crowd. Richard Owens passionately spoke to the residents, telling them "I respect the concerns of the people."

He said that so far he has been treated with respect, dignity, and graciousness by the townspeople. He told his story about his offense, which occurred 27 years ago. While in prison, he earned college degrees, and has become immersed in scripture and keeps asking himself "how can I change?" He pleaded with the community to "judge the man and not the label."

"I can't change what happened," Owens explained. He said that he had to stay in the county prison for one extra year because he had "no where to live." He served the maximum sentence and jumped at the opportunity to be a part of Armstrong's faith-based housing opportunity.

While many in the crowd seemed moved with Owens's story and work toward redemption, it was not long before they returned to their boisterous conduct, making often longwinded and meandering statements of why they believe transitional housing should not be in Conestoga. Despite repeated requests to ask questions about safety from the community organizers conducting the meeting, the majority of those that spoke up were obviously against having anyone on Megan's list living in a residence in their community.

When the meeting closed, many mingled and continued discussing the issue. Several vowed that the fight is not over, and are planning to attend the next Supervisor's meeting in June.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

New Era Breaks With Establishment, Urges Defeat of Charter as proposed

The New Era on May 17th published a thoughtful and provocative editorial highly critical of the proposed Home Rule Charter as currently constituted.


"Many here hoped home rule would bring progressive reform. Instead, it promises just the opposite – a government regressive and deformed."

"But the charter up for a vote in November's election is filled with flaws – major flaws that would wreck the balance of power in this county and open it to a form of political bossism not seen since the 1920s."

"It robs voters of a direct voice in choosing the county's executive branch."

"It subverts the independent authority of the district attorney and controller. It politicizes now-independent authorities. It puts subpoena powers where they do not belong."

"In its present form, the proposed home-rule charter deserves defeat at the ballot box."

"It's not too late. The commission members have until Sept. 4 to make substantive changes."

A further sign of a return to responsible journalism would for the Intelligencer Journal or the Sunday News to set forth an equally thorough and forceful a defense of the Charter as now formulated.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Is There a Better Plan to Relocate the Train Yard, Expand F&M's Campus, Connect City Streets to Northwest Lancaster, Yet Safeguard School Lane Hills?

A citizen's group comprised largely of School Lane Hills residents agrees with Franklin & Marshall College that the current Norfolk Southern freight car staging area needs to be relocated to improve and revitalize the northwest section of the city and allow for continuity in campus expansion.

However, The Rail Road Action & Advisory Committee (TRRAAC) maintains that the project and all of its proposed benefits can also be achieved with a modified plan, one that would not negatively impact the long existing School Lane Hills neighborhood.

TRRAAC offers twelve reasons why there is a "Better Location."

1. The alternative location will accomplish all of Franklin & Marshall's Goals and Objectives.

2. It will keep 12 additional acres of taxable property on the City, School District and County tax roles.

3. Millions of tax dollars will be saved and diesel emissions avoided by not trucking millions of cubic yards of debris to the Frey Landfill and by decreasing the amount of land to be remediated in the expansion of the F&M/LGH campus.

4. It will allow for more time and thoughtful consideration to be given to the potential need for remediation of the old Municipal Dump.

5. It will save taxpayers the unnecessary expense of having to build a private access bridge over the Harrisburg Pike in order to access the disconnected piece of the rail yard, and the public will not be inconvenienced during construction.

6. The alternative location will give Norfolk Southern the ability to stage one long train of empty cars for the return to Enola, saving fuel and decreasing diesel emissions.

7. It will not move yard engine activities to the stretch of track that runs immediately behind and within 50 feet of homes bordering the tracks in the Barrcrest and Gentry Heights neighborhoods.

8. It will not add to the current blockages of Farmingdale Road, Good Drive and Rohrerstown Road while one-mile-long and/or "empty" trains are being assembled.

9. It will remain in a more suitable, long-standing industrial area, instead of near Long's Park or the proposed Crossings at Conestoga Creek.

10. It will continue to be serviced by a full-time, professional fire department, with prior experience dealing with hazardous material (HazMat) events on the current rail yard, rather than volunteer fire companies that are already stretched thin.

11. It will not put the Rt. 30/Harrisburg Pike interchange within a 1/2-mile impact radius and a much larger stretch of Rt. 30 within a 1-mile impact radius, eliminating evacuation routes for many in case of a HazMat event.

12. The alternative location, while achieving all of the objectives of the college and others, will not place long-standing, pleasant, tax-generating, residential neighborhoods in danger of decay. To endanger these neighborhoods does not enhance the project in any way.

For additional information, visit

Convention Center Bookings Down; Street Cameras Up

No bookings were made in the month of April for the Convention Center, its Director of Sales & Marketing Josh Nowak said Thursday.

The total number of opening-year events stands unchanged from March at 12. Seven consumer shows, two trade shows, and three other events have been booked reflecting roughly $24,000 in revenue.

The target number of bookings for 2009 is 58.

Nowak said that the first booking is for the second week of March 2009.

Joe Morales, an ex-Convention Center Authority member and now a member of Lancaster City Council, gave a brief presentation on security cameras on behalf of the "Lancaster Community Safety Coalition."

Morales said that the City of Lancaster now has more than 60 security cameras in operation in various parts of the city.

"Lancaster's number of cameras actually exceed the number of cameras in Philadelphia," Morales said.

Similar cameras will be installed in the blocks surrounding the Hotel & Convention Center in the coming months.

The Coalition, the City, and the Covention Center Authority hope and believe that cameras will help deter crime in the blocks surrounding the Convention Center.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

NewsLanc "Rents" Page From Lancaster Post

To reach a larger public, NewsLanc has entered into an arrangement with the Lancaster Post for a page in its May 16th and possibly in future editions.

NewsLanc has no editorial input into any other portion of the Post, and the Post retains total control over the tabloid's contents.

"Crossings" Court Appeal in Murky Waters

It would be ironic if the court appeal to overturn the approval of The Crossings at Conestoga Creek was successful while the apparently far more egregious improprieties committed by the High Group and indirectly 'Boss' Dale High pertaining to the Convention Center project went unpunished.

If developers and officials did not informally discuss possible major requests before gearing up for formal applications and public announcements, both the applicants and the municipalities would waste much time and money. Informal exploration isn't usually a matter of obtaining promises; it is to learn whether the concept is "dead on arrival" and thus not worthy of pursuit.

The appeal contends in part that explorations of possible federal grants were undertaken by the Manheim Township Commissioners prior to the re-zoning application, thus claiming bias in favor of the High Real Estate Group project.

In part, the suit cites as evidence a letter from Commissioner Carol Simpson to U. S. Rep. Joseph Pitts prior to the rezoning with reference to "We are working in close partnership with High Real Estate Group to advance the project." Is Simpson at fault for using "partnership" in its current devalued meaning of cooperating with a legitimate request, or is she evidencing an inappropriate alliance that pre-ordained subsequent approval?

It appears that the very likelihood of the re-zoning hinged upon obtaining federal funds for reconfiguring the interchange at the Harrisburg Pike and Rt. 30 at Park City West. Both the Township and High would be well served with the information. One could even argue that it was the commissioners' fiduciary responsibility to look into the possibility of a federal grant.

NewsLanc has no way of yet knowing the nature and extent of possible misconduct and thus will not pre-judge this matter. However, the irony for 'Boss' Dale High is his firm's excesses may have been relatively minor when it came to the "Crossings" project, and yet the approval may be reversed. On the other hand, their actions pertaining to the convention center project were egregious in so many ways that the project should have been rejected by School Board, City, County, State and the Authority, and an investigation undertaken by the then-District Attorney Donald Totaro of whether Penn Square Partners knowingly made false statements to government officials.

As they say, "What goes around comes around."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Crossings Land Use Decision Appealed

An attorney representing two aggrieved East Hempfield Township residents filed a notice of appeal of of the Manheim Township Commissioners' recent approval for the Crossings at Conestoga Creek project with the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas today.

In his appeal, attorney Bill Cluck raises several issues related to standing and procedure with regard to Manheim Township's recently-concluded "Conditional Land Use Hearing" on the controversial proposed shopping complex.

He also specifically accuses Manheim Township Commissioners Carol Simpson and Michael Flanagan of conflicts of interest and asserts that they should have recused themselves from the hearing.

The appeal can be read in its entirety here.

Commissioners Express Views on Potential County Health Department

In response to questioning from Newslanc at their weekly meeting, Wednesday, the County commissioners shared their inclinations and reservations with regard to the proposal to establish a County health department.

Craig Lehman, the Lone Democratic Commissioner on the 3-member board has gone on the record in support of such a department.

Lehman and other supporters have said of the proposed agency that it would be very helpful in coordinating health services, particularly during emergencies.

But Republican Commissioners Dennis Stuckey and Scott Martin have expressed reservations and concerns.

"I still have questions that need answered," said Martin, adding that he is continuing to research the issue.

"I want to see if this can be set up in a way that... prohibits unnecessary growth," he said, cautioning that he does not want to see the department grow from a public health department to a "public health care agency."

"Sometimes we create government programs and they last a long time and continue to grow and grow and grow," Martin warned.

Lehman said, "If the budgetary issues can be resolved, I hope that we can continue to have a serious conversation about this."

Lehman added that he is optimistic that "with a budgetary perspective... we can avoid the exponential growth we've seen in some other counties."

Chester, Philadelphia, Allegheny, Montgomery, and Bucks Counties have Departments of Public Health. Neighboring York County is also considering such a proposal.

Commissioner Stuckey was not available for comment and was not present at Wednesday's meeting because he is traveling with the Agriculture Preserve Board.

City Council Approves New Streetscape Design Standards

The Lancaster City Council gave final approval to a plan for a downtown "Streetscape District," at its meeting, Tuesday night.

The ordinance "set[s] standards for what the streetscape should look like" by implementing , and directing all future development within the district to comply with, certain design requirements, including brick-banded sidewalks, lighting, and planting.

"The main purpose of the ordinance," said Public Works Committe Chair Tim Roschel, "is to aid in improving the visual quality of the city."

Roschel explained that the Streetscape District encompasses an area bounded by Lemon, Prince, Farnum, Church, and Duke Streets.

"It's a streetscape design within a small downtown business district," he explained.

The total cost of the project is expected to be approximately $3.5 million dollars, according to the City's Director of Public Works, Charlotte Katzenmoyer.

Katzenmoyer said that several federal and state grants are available and that ultimately the city's share of the cost will be 60% or $2.1 million.

This money has already been allocated in the form of a bond under the city's capital projects funding, she explained.

At their next meeting, the Council members are expected to approve an application to the Lancaster Higher Education Authority on behalf of Franklin & Marshall College for a $30 million in bonds in order to construct a new residence hall and for other purposes.

Keith Orris, F&M's Vice President for External Affairs said the college expects to have the new residence hall ready to go by 2010 but acknowledged that the College still needs to find a way to provide housing for the estimated 210 students who are living off-campus.

F&M's proposal for a "student housing overlay district" was withdrawn earlier this year after a torrent of negative public reaction.

Orris said that the search for a solution is going forward, but refused to give a time frame as to when a new proposal will be put forward.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Amtrak parking plans revised to serve more cars

In response to an inquiry from NewsLanc, Chris Neumann of the Lancaster County Planning Commission revealed today that proposed plans for renovations to the Lancaster Amtrak Station now call for 255 parking spaces, 70 more than had been shown on a plan last year, and approximately 130 spaces more than are currently present.

The revised plans are under going final review by Amtrak.

As NewsLanc pointed out in our December editorial, most of the the proposed additional spaces were for employees of the Amtrak Britcher Communication and Signal Training Building, while the number of commuter spaces remained about the same. Furthermore, due to plans to eliminate the current short term parking, people were going to be made to walk almost a city block to and from the station!

Neumann also advised that officials from the City, County Planning Department, Manheim Township Planning Department, Amtrak, Red Rose Transit Authority, and James Street Improvement District recently met to discuss means for providing temporary parking during construction.

They agreed to estimate how much temporary parking is needed, to identify potential vacant lots, to contact the owners of these lots as to their availability, to ascertain how much it would cost to lease these lots, and to "find funding" to pay for the leases.

Officials have estimated that parking may be reduced by as much as a third during construction, which is scheduled to begin this summer and last well over a year.

NewsLanc had also criticized officials for not being aware of the impending closings, and thus failing to devise plans to provide alternate parking for travelers.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Inequity may doom Home Rule

In a nation where gerrymandering is a tradition and an art form, it is highly unlikely that Democrats will vote in favor of a Charter that reduces their representation in county government from their traditional 1/3 to a mere 20%.

If the Charter called for six commissioners with two coming from another a minority party, this would not be an issue.

Of course Democrats are significantly outnumbered by Republicans in the county. But it is unlikely that Republicans will be nearly as monolithic in their support as will single issue Democrats be in opposition. And that likely will tip the scale for defeat.

EDITORIAL: Intell "Bad Compromise" vs. 'The Tyranny of the Majority'

The May 12 Intelligencer Journal editorial "In our view: Bad compromise" inveighing against any exception for public tobacco smoking is a classic example of a self-righteous majority endeavoring to force its views on others who do not or, due to addiction, cannot share their desires.

According to the editorial: "The Patriot-News of Harrisburg reported that as early as today legislative leaders may vote on a deal that ...would allow smoking in sections of casinos, bars where food sales are less than 20 percent of total sales and private clubs. Smoking would be banned in work places not otherwise exempt including offices, school class rooms, health care facilities and restaurants."

The proposal seems very reasonable to us. It protects non-smokers in areas that they normally frequent but allows smokers isolated places where they may congregate.

It is reasonable to protect non-smokers from inhaling smoke in areas they normally attend. But it is tyrannical to say smokers may have no place for themselves!

If we are to adopt tobacco prohibition on the rationale of protecting people from themselves, why not outlaw how much food can be sold to the obese, the eating of meat (it's bad for people and the environment), and fight overpopulation by limiting children (as do the Chinese) to one to a family?

Our country was founded upon tolerance. We pay a huge price already for the misguided war on marijuana and other relatively benign drugs.

We can't all be perfect. And hopefully we won't all walk arm-in-arm in response to every fad or health notion. When people are not harming anyone but themselves, let's provide them with factual information but then demonstrate understanding, respect and human kindness by allowing them some slack.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Local Heroin addiction treatment now readily available

Viewers interested in learning about the commendable progress in dealing with Heroin addiction and its related dangers are referred to "Guest Post: Treatment of Heroin Addiction Greatly Improves in County" that appears on Page 7 of the May 9th Lancaster Post.

The article is written by NewsLanc President Robert Edwin Field who is also Co-Chair of Common Sense for Drug Policy, a foundation operating national and internationally with its main headquarters here in Lancaster County.

Friday, May 9, 2008

EDITORIAL: Free street car fares. Hurray!

Jack Howell, president of the Lancaster Alliance and board secretary of the Streetcar Company, says that fares on the proposed trolley system will be voluntary. Although we believe street cars are a bad idea, voluntary fares is a good one and echoes NewsLanc's suggestion for the trolley buses.

But there will be nothing free for the tax payers about the street cars. The public will have to pony up over $14 million to build and equip the system and then there is the predicted $300,000 a year of operating loss. Also street cars will back up traffic along the route.

Are free fares a bait and switch device to curry public support so that taxpayers' pockets can be picked?

COMMENTARY: Full Time Employment Opportunities Overstated

According to the New Era of May 7: "Interstate Hotels, which will operate the Marriott hotel and the county meeting center, is expected to hire 120 to 200 people beginning next February. A March opening of the facilities is planned.

"Mark Moosic, general manager of the facilities, said most of the jobs -- as much as 80 percent -- will be full-time positions. The number of employees will depend on the number of hotel guests and convention center functions. He expects the number of hires to be closer to 200 than to 120, he said."

According to hotelier Robert Edwin Field (president of, it is unlikely that a majority of these jobs will be "full-time positions."

1) The hotel will generate full-time positions for its managers, sales staff, maintenance personnel and some housekeeping, food and beverage, and front staff personnel. Since occupancy will vary significantly, there will be a considerable need for part-time room attendants, front desk employees, and food and beverage (especially banquet) serving staff.

2) The convention center will generate full-time positions among its managers, sales and custodial staff. Because bookings will be only for a few days at a time, will vary from week to week, and be seasonal, much of the rest of the staff will be part-time.

3) Many front desk and housekeeping workers at hotels are college students and women who are only available part-time. Banquet staff members are almost all part-time employees.

4) Benefits for full-time employees cost about $3 per hour, a consideration that induces hospitality industry management to engage part-time personnel.

5) With the advent of the Marriott, the staff at the Brunswick will likely be reduced due to less occupancy, thus offsetting job gains at the Marriott.

Because hotels and convention center generate jobs that can be taught and because of the hotel and convention center's location within walking distance of potential employees who lack vehicles, it will provide employment opportunities for many.

Trolleys Require Own Right-of-Way

As indicated in the two photos of street cars in Budapest, Hungary, trolley cars can be an effective means of transportation when run in their own exclusive lanes.

The street shown is the equivalent of eight lanes: two lanes for vehicle parking, one in each direction; four lanes for vehicle movements, two in each direction; and two lanes down the middle for trolleys and their passenger islands.

The streets proposed for the Lancaster street car system have only four lanes.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Progress Continues at Convention Center Site

At a Facilities Programming Committee meeting of the Convention Center Authority, Thursday evening, the Construction Manager, Tim Sullivan, reported on recent progress at the site.

Among recent accomplishments, an electrical vault has been installed on Christian Street, a debris shield has been installed at King Street, the painting of the convention entry ceiling is underway, the first pour of the eleventh floor is scheduled to take place on Friday, May 9, and the steel support structures for the Watt & Shand facade are beginning to be removed, according to Sullivan.

Sullivan said that approximately $45 million, or 45% of budgeted hard construction dollars have been expended as of May 1.

Mark Moosic, the General Manager of the Hotel & Convention Center, reported that he and his team are assembling an "Arts Advisory Committee" in order to explore the idea of placing various artwork in various rooms and public areas of both the hotel and convention center.

Moosic also raised the issue of the naming of certain rooms in the Hotel & Convention Center and submitted at least nine possible names.

Committee member Julianne Dickson objected that nearly all of the names were of "dead men" and went on to suggest that Interstate Hotels & Resorts be a bit more inclusive in terms of selecting prominent names.

Dickson's surprising retort drew laughter from the committee and the few audience members.

"I can appreciate that," said a taken aback Moosic.

Authority member Laura Douglas, who is not a member of the Facilities Programming Committee, suggested that members of the marketing team be involved in the selection of names for rooms.

Authority member R.B. Campbell, also not a member of the committee, joked that rooms should be named after him.

Perhaps we should give Dale High a personal "Taxpayer Memorial Restroom."

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

PRESS RELEASE: Weekend of Support Events for Tibet

LANCASTER, PA - On the weekend of May 10th community members of Lancaster will gather to support and learn of the plight of the Tibetan people. China's domination of the state of Tibet is at the forefront of the international media cycle as the summer Olympics approach. The world is listening to their cries for justice. Local community members will join for a weekend of peaceful protest, music and fun as they join together to raise our voices as one against the Chinese occupation of the peaceful and autonomous nation of Tibet.

On Saturday May 10th, there will be a fund raising event for Students for a Free Tibet at Simple Gifts Farms in Washington Boro. Tibet Scholar Thomas C. Laird, author of "The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama", will speak about the current situation in Tibet and show his slides from his years of living in the Himalayas. There will be music by many local artists including The Cultivators, Root and Wing, and local sitar player, John Protopapas. There will also be a Silent Auction with contributions from many local businesses.

On Sunday May 11th at 1pm at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster (538 W Chestnut), Thomas C. Laird will speak about the historical events leading up to the current situation in Tibet as well as frankly discuss his experience writing a book with the Dalai Lama

The people of Tibet have long been oppressed and they never have had a more promising moment in the global spotlight. The world is watching and listening. European leaders are threatening to boycott the opening ceremonies. Members of our community are pressuring our president and our elected officials to take a stand. For more information visit

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Home Rule Charter Wins Final Approval in 8-3 Vote; Fate Rests with Voters

The 11 members of the Lancaster County Government Study Commission voted 8-3, Tuesday afternoon, to present a finalized Home Rule Charter to Lancaster County voters in the fall.

Commission member Sam Mecum pointed out that the board has had its disagreements, but said, "The entire document is a compromise," comparing it to the drafting of the United States Constitution.

"It was messy," said Chairwoman Carol Phillips, "but then I understand that democracy is supposed to be messy."

A number of Commission members pointed out the provisional nature of the charter. "If it's not working successfully in five years, change it," said Commission member Bill Saylor from Millersville.

Commission member James Miller agreed, saying, "This charter isn't what any one of us would have sat down and crafted... but what I can say in all honesty is paramount here is the charter."

Among its changes the Charter calls for a five-member Board of County Commissioners, a strong County Administrator, consolidation of certain row offices, establishment of an Office of Management and Budget with more frequent reviews of financial information by various county officials, and a section on citizen initiative.

The Commission decided to change the title "County Executive" to "County Administrator" to avoid misperceptions about the position.

During their meeting last Saturday, the Commission also decided to strengthen the section on citizen initiative, which previously did not give residents the ability to place issues directly on the ballot, as is usually the case with initiatives.

The Charter now distinguishes between "Limited Initiative" and "Full Initiative."

"Limited Initiative" is when residents collect 1,000 signatures in favor of proposing a given ordinance. The ordinance then appears before the County Commissioners for a vote. Failure of the Commissioners to vote on the resolution results in passage by default.

In "Full Initiative," certain subjects can be placed on the ballot for a vote in the next general election if a petition is submitted containing "at least ten (10) percent of the number of voters in the County voting for the County candidate receiving the highest number of votes in the most recent Countywide, municipal general election" and the Commissioners vote not to approve it.

The subject matter of citizen initiative is limited, however. Section 6.02b of the charter states, "The power of initiative shall not extend to the current budget or capital program, to the appropriation of money under the current budget or capital program, or to the salaries of those employees of the County in collective bargaining agreements."

Section 6.03c, offering a further limitation, states that initiatives may only limit tax increases "when an increase in the rate of any tax imposed by the County for the current year exceeds ten (10) percent of that imposed during the previous year."

The three members voting against the recommendation of a Home Rule Charter, Gregory Sahd, Jim Huber, and Jim Bednar expressed their skepticism that the current structure of County government is deficient.

Jim Huber, Commission member and former County Commissioner, opined, "It is not so much the number, as the experience and qualifications, of the Commissioners [that matters]."

Bednar said, "This charter is like putting lipstick on a caterpillar and calling it a butterfly."

Disagreeing, Commission Vice-Chair John Smucker argued that the Charter will transfer power from state and county government to the people, and "put[s] into place safeguards on excessive County debt."

Phillips explained, "the charter reflects the collective thinking of many many people" and said, "I will continue to ask the people of the County to invite us into their neighborhoods and the press to get the word out so that the decision on November 5 will be an informed decision."

The finalized version of the Charter, as well as supplemental documents, meeting minutes, and interview transcripts, are available on the Study Commission's website at

If approved by the voters on November 5, two additional County Commissioners would be elected in November 2009 and a County Administrator would be appointed by March 2010.

County to Hire Stevens & Lee for HR Director Search, Department Evaluation

The County Commissioners are expected to approve a contract, Wednesday, to hire a division of Stevens & Lee "to assist with an overall assessment of Lancaster County's Human Resources Department... and to assist with the search for a Director of Human Resources."

Bonnie Ashworth has been serving as the Interim Director of Human Resources since the dismissal of Jane E'Del in early February.

County Clerk Andrea McCue said the assessment is being undertaken in order to "ensure that policies and procedures are being applied consistently throughout County government."

She also said that a search for a Human Resources Director should be delegated to an outside firm in order to ensure a fair and impartial process.

Timothea Kirchner of Stevens & Lee said she expects the entire process to take 4-6 months.

Kenneth Adams of Willow Street, attending Tuesday's Commissioners worksession, called it "concerning that the name of Stevens & Lee back in action within Lancaster County government" and asked the Commissioners to "do your utmost best to be sure that all dealings in this matter do not violate the Sunshine Law."

The contract is with Financial S&Lutions, LLC of Reading, a division of Stevens & Lee, and is in the amount of $35,000.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

SPECIAL REPORT TO NEWSLANC: Hospitals' Financial Failures May Lead to Sale

"With chronic revolving door CEOs and poor financials at both Lancaster Regional Medical Center (LRMC) and Heart of Lancaster Regional Medical Center (HLRMC), Health Management Associates (HMA) has decided to sell both hospitals to another healthcare corporate entity*, Tenet Healthcare Corporation (THC).

"A high-ranking HMA corporate executive, who requests anonymity, has stated that both LRMC and HLRMC (both for-profit hospitals) cannot compete in Lancaster County with Lancaster General Hospital (LGH). Case in point, the most recent balance sheets of all three hospitals denote the relative financials in that LGH (a not-for-profit hospital) garnered a $106 million profit while LRMC only garnered $1.5 million and HLRMC had a financial loss of $200,000.

"In regard to Ephrata Community Hospital (ECH), it is apparent to this HMA corporate executive, that the imminent merger of LGH and ECH again reiterates the public appeal of LGH and its many satellite offices. Essentially, ECH recognizes that it is better to 'get in bed' with LGH than try to battle them to eventual financial ruin.

"The recent hiring of Rebecca Brewer as interim CEO of both hospitals is purely for the purpose of appearances of LRMC and HLRMC as the purchase/transition to THC is underway. There is evidence of the imminent purchase to THC exists such as the recent mailing of both hospitals' last three years' Board of Trustees meeting minutes to the THC corporate headquarters in Dallas, Texas.

"What is also beguiling is the recurrent theme of both LRMC and HLRMC merging services and campuses under a one HMA hospital consolidation plan? The Lancaster New Era and the Intelligencer have both reported that this merger was to occur in the near future. However, with the recent transfer of Michael Cowling from the CEO position at both LRMC and HLMRC, it is now being reported that the consolidation of both HMA-owned hospitals will be slowed down under the leadership of CEO Rebecca Brewer.

"In actuality and according to this HMA executive, the consolidation will not take place. According to that executive, 'It was a mistake to enter the Lancaster County market. When you go against a strong competitor like LGH, there has to be multiple joint ventures and employment agreements between Lancaster County physicians and the HMA hospitals.'

"HMA has employed over 80 physicians in Lancaster County, but the great majority of these physicians almost immediately bring their surgeries, lab work and other ancillary services to LGH and its satellite offices. This executive also added, 'We need to divest ourselves from Lancaster County at a loss and that HMA should have never entered the Lancaster County market. HMA does well in small Southern towns in which only one hospital serves the community. We need to remain in these markets only.'"

* NEWSLANC has no second source concerning a sale.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

McCaskey High Feeds Teenagers at Remarkably Low Cost

Even major fast food chains are hard pressed to sell a full lunch for under $4, so the challenge to McCaskey High School to provide a nourishing midday meal to about 70% of its teenagers for $1.25 is daunting.

For restaurants, food cost as a percentage of price usually ranges from 30% to 35%. So a restaurant charging $4 would be spending as much just for the raw food as McCaskey has to spend for handling, preparing, serving, cleaning up and managing!

On April 29, NewsLanc's publisher (who has experience in the restaurant business) observed the following at the tidy and clean kitchen, the cafeteria, and the dining room at J. P. McCaskey:

The hot meal of the day consisted of a brownish concoction described as Asian Chicken, with beans on the side, a choice of string beans or raw carrots or a piece of fruit or 6 ounce juice, plus milk.

A gal was heard to say "The chicken looks good" and a guy retorted "The chicken looks like sh--." The daily hot special, if not necessarily appetizing, was wholesome and nourishing, the portion sizes ample for most girls if marginal for many boys.

Under a federal government subsidy program, over 70% of the McCaskey students qualify for reduced-price meals and pay only $.40 for the $1.25 fixed price lunch, with some qualifying to receive it free. As an alternative to the meal, they could have chosen a hot dog on a bun or a Rib-B-Que, for which there seemed to be little demand. (To look at it was to understand why.)

According to Donna Perry, Cafeteria Manager, instead of the subsidized hot meal the students could choose from four cold sandwiches, an alternative hot sandwich, or hot dogs which are popular.

Non-subsidized food includes a salad bar that looked reasonably good charging $2.50 for a plate or $1.25 for a bowl. (Later, a student warned that the salad bar was not properly replenished and students with a later lunch period did not find it appetizing.)

Also there are sandwiches and wraps comparable to what is offered daily on the shelves of convenient food stores priced as follows: Tuna fish, egg and cheese on English muffin - $1.25; turkey and cheese - $1.15; peanut gutter and jelly - $1.00; and a variety of wraps - $1.75.

Hot fixed price $1.25 lunches for the week of May 5th consist of: Monday - Chicken Rondolet on roll, sandwich fixings, baby carrots, fresh fruit; Tuesday - "Breakfast for lunch," home fries, scrambled eggs, sausage, bread, fruit; Wednesday - Hot ham & cheese on roll, baby carrots w / dip, fresh fruit; Thursday - "stir fry bar," chicken or beef stir fry, rice, roll & butter, fruit; Friday - Pizza, vegetables w / dip, fresh fruit.

The menu for the fixed price hot $1.25 feature for each day in May can be found here.

According to Matt Przywara, CPA, Business Manager of the SD of L, "The food service operation is self-supporting. The income taken in supports the cost of all meals (subsidies & monies received by students.)" Grades 9-12 pay $1.25 for a full paid lunch; $.40 for a reduced lunch; $.80 for full paid breakfasts and $.30 for reduced breakfasts.