Wednesday, December 31, 2008

LETTER: Broken promises

"WGAL is reporting that the hotel and convention center plans to hire 150 people, at $8.50 to $15 an hour. It was not made clear how many of these jobs would be full-time or part-time.

"So far, the project will cost taxpayers well over $140 million, nearly half over 40 years, plus interest. In addition, taxpayers will need to subsidize the operation of project with well over $1 million a year, every year,

"How can this possibly make any kind of economic sense?

"Where is the return on investment of OUR taxpayer dollars? Especially since the entire project will pay no real estate taxes whatsoever for at least 20 years, and the largest part will be tax-exempt forever.

"From the LCCCA web site:

'Project Benefits

"'In late 2000, the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority commissions an independent study to evaluate and quantify the community benefits of the project. According to the analysis, the convention center and hotel will:

* Create 520 to 590 construction jobs.
* Create 200 to 300 full-time jobs to staff the hotel and convention center.'

"What ever happened to their promises?"

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

EDITORIAL: New Era rail yard article shameless

A Dec. 30 lead story is headlined "Rail move set to go, but legal battle looming.
F&M says work to begin mid-January. Opponents eye injunction to stop it."

The article mentions neighbors concerns about the release of friable asbestos upon the excavation of the dump, but then uncritically publishes F&M's response.

It is only in the last two paragraph that the article addresses the other major TRRAAC issue: Alternative locations have not been properly evaluated. (In a report several weeks ago, the New Era didn't even mention the location issue.)

We note the artful phrasing:

"F&M's Web site also addresses the two alternative sites proposed by TRRAAC that would move the relocated rail yard farther east, away from residential areas.

"Those sites, the Web site says, 'were considered even before TRRAAC came into existence, and both sites were rejected because they failed to meet the important design criteria ... and project goals.'"

They cite "F&M's Web site". What about TRRAAC's web site that discusses the matter in detail and at length?

As a feeble excuse, the article says "TRRAAC's president, Dan Gillis, and other TRRAAC officials were out of town for the holidays and unavailable for comment this morning."

TRRAAC has posted on its web site and sent out press releases stating its concerns about the choice of this location rather than others. The Sunday News has published a column by TRRAAC setting forth its concerns. TRRAAC hardly needs F&M's public relations representatives to speak for them!

We believe that F&M and LGH are and have been unwilling to allow a nuetral third party evaluation of the merits of relocation to other potential sites. Hopefully either the courts or a government agency will step in to correct the matter, or LGH will re-evaluate its blind support of F & M's president John Fry and order an independent evaluation.

It is newspaper propaganda like this on behalf of F&M and LGH, fellow members of the Big Five as is the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc., that confounds and alienates many subscribers and advertisers.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

LETTER: Convention Center "Commitments"

"From the Lancaster Sunday News published on November 23, 2008, page D-2, under "Briefly"

'Interstate Hotels & Resorts, the company managing the center and the adjoining Marriott Lancaster at Penn Square hotel, said it has more than 90 commitments for conventions, meetings and other functions at the new center.'

"For those of us who have been following the taxpayer-financed hotel and convention center project, this statement came as something of a surprise.

"To date, Interstate Hotels and Resorts (the sole manager of both the 'private' hotel and the public convention center) has told the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority board about no more than two dozen committed events. IHR has never mentioned how many events would be held in the hotel's part of the 'shared space' (supposedly this is privileged private business information). Could it be that IHR is driving events to benefit the hotel, where groups that book a block of rooms can avoid facility rental fees?

"At the LCCCA Public Relations, Marketing, and Hospitality Committee meeting on December 18, 2008, representatives of IHR attempted to clarify their November announcement. LCCCA board members were told that the '90 commitments' figure included 'events' booked at both the hotel and the convention center well into the future, as well as blocks of rooms booked together in the hotel that do not include any meeting space rental.

"Our observation is that the only reason for defining 'room blocks' as an event is so the combined facility looks far more successful than it actually will be.

"When asked how it is determined if an event is booked in the convention center or in the hotel's spaces, a representative from IHR clearly said that it is always the customer who chooses what space they want to rent. We question the truthfulness of this statement, since the primary job of any salesman is to sell a specific product to a customer.

"Representatives from IHR, in response to a direct question from an LCCCA
board member, did say that 62% to 63% of the events booked so far in the
hotel and convention center is new to Lancaster County. That means only 37%
to 38% of the events in the combined hotel and convention center will be
stolen from existing privately-owned hotels and meeting facilities in
Lancaster County.

"As of the end of November 2008, construction of the combined hotel and convention center was 70% complete, but this includes 60 days of 'slippage' behind the original schedule. Consequently, the opening of the facility for business has been delayed for several weeks, until April 21, 2009. This has caused the cancellation or rescheduling of several events, including a major consumer show.

"Through November of 2008, IHR released their updates on a calendar year schedule. As of December 2008, IHR changed to a fiscal year, to match the LCCCA's calendar and align with the opening of the facility. IHR's fiscal year 2010 (April 21, 2009 through March 31, 2010) includes the following events booked specifically for the convention center so far:

"Trade Shows: goal = 5, scheduled = 3 (total days = 5)

"These are events for a specific purpose, such as a business group or fraternal organization; 'Trade Shows' generally are not open to the public, and are usually held two or more days during the week.

"Consumer Shows: goal = 11, scheduled = 7 (total days = 19)

"These are events where merchandise is sold to the public, and are usually held over a weekend.

"Other Events: goal = 52, actual = 11 (total days = 25)

"These are smaller events, often private, including business meetings, weddings, and private celebrations.

"Included in the 'Other Events' categories so far are:

4 Meetings or Conferences (13 days)
4 Competition Events (8 days)
2 Galas or Ceremonies (2 days)
1 Entertainment Event (2 days)

"Why is this shortfall so significant?

"According to figures distributed at different public meetings over several years (including as recently as November 2008), the LCCCA needs to collect nearly one million dollars in revenue IN ADDITION TO the anticipated revenue from the 'hotel tax' to be able to pay its bills. This is complicated by the fact that no one knows exactly how much it will cost to operate the convention center; it could easily be far more money than preliminary estimates. In addition, revenue from the 'hotel tax' is down significantly.

"About half of the revenue collected from operations of the convention center will come from facility rentals; the rest is expected to come from event services, such as booth and equipment rental. As of November 2008, IHR has booked only $216,600 in convention revenue, or only 42% of the budgeted $515,805. Without enough additional sales to provide the budgeted amount of convention revenue and its associated event services, the LCCCA will encounter an operational deficit before the end of 2009.

"Consequently, the LCCCA may be forced before the end of 2009 to enact a provision of the Convention Center laws, and claim the portion of revenue from the "hotel tax" which currently helps fund the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau (which could also receive reduced State funding due to the financial crisis). This will place the Lancaster County Commissioners, all of whom have publicly expressed opposition to additional funds for the project, in a difficult position: if the Commissioners do not approve an increase in the 'hotel tax', the PDCVB will be forced to severely curtail its promotion and support for tourism and the hospitality industry in Lancaster County - most likely including the three full-time PDCVB
employees whose job it is to bring meetings and conventions to Lancaster County, primarily to the downtown hotel and convention center.

"December 2009 could easily become an interesting milestone in the continuing saga of the taxpayer-financed hotel and convention center project."

EDITORIAL: Fear mongering?

Bold Dec. 28th headline at : "Christmas Tally: Retail Sales Plummet"

"Retailers' sales fell as much as 4 percent during the holiday season, as the weak economy and bad weather created one of the worst holiday shopping climates in modern times, according to data released by Spending Pulse."

In other words, despite the bad weather and the weak economy, holiday sales achieved over 96% of the level of the prior year! To some of us, this news is encouraging considering all that the economy has gone through over the past three months.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

'Curious Affairs' by movie critic Dan Cohen

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is a welcome departure for a director known for offbeat thrillers; David Fincher. It’s also a high point for Brad Pitt, and a nearly heroic gamble for the two studios behind it, Warner and Paramount.

This is a quixotic, meditative movie with a sensibility unlike any other in recent memory. Its stubbornly adult story telling took me completely by surprise. A rambling fable about the fleeting nature of love and life, it's most effective in its quietest moments, which are many...

Continued at

Countywide shake up!

An earthquake of a Magnitude 3.4 was felt in parts of Lancaster County shortly after midnight on Saturday, December 27th.

A report from the U.S. Geological Survey Earthquake Hazards Program can be found here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Comments re Library System 2006-07 budget

The following observations were made from the Library System of Lancaster County "Operating Expenses, Years Ended December 31, 2007 and 2006."

(NewsLanc has requested a copy of the proposed 2009 budget, will pose questions to System Executive Director Susan Hauer, and report further at a later date.)

Salary increases: Page 5 of the County funding request lists several assumptions made, among them that "salaries reflect a 2.3% inrease from 2008, based on coast of living indexes reposted by the U.S. government". Also, one new position will be added in the IT department for a developer.

Business information budget: Appears the cost of a database was shifted to the District (the 15 independent libraries) --which frees up funds for the System.

Expenses: Per Supplemental Information in the next to last page of the audit report, you can see some expense detail for 2006-07, some of which might raise eyebrows: I would want to see the 2008 Budget figures and ask what these expenditures were for rather than outright blasting them.

a) Conferences and continuing education $21,124 ($10,410 in 2006)
b) Board expenses $3,470 ($6,223 in 2006)
c) Parking & milage $4,146 ($11,570 in 2006)
d) Dues & memberships $4,550 ($4,292 in 2006)
e) Furniture & equipment $73,692 ($82,188 in 2006)
f ) Maintenance - Equipment $16,176 ($18,301 in 2006)
g) Contracted services - other $32,216 ($18,028 in 2006)
h) Library Programs $64,970 (175,161 in 2006) ---this directly benefits member libraries

In addition, the System is located in an expensive first class off building located at 1866 Colonial Village Lane, Suite 107, Lancaster, PA 17601, which is a questionable use of funds considering its non-public functions.

Executive Director Susan Hauer reportedly is compensated more than the mayor of Lancaster and county commissioners.

Concerns about System spending does not negate the equal or even more important problems of under funding of libraries by muncipality, county and state and the problems of inefficency and governance due to the fragmentation of System and District into 16 pieces rather than creating a unified libary county authority as is common elsewhere.

Survey of prices at prison commissary

At their Dec. 17th meeting, County Commissioners Scott Martin assured a member of the audience that the new vendor’s prices for the prisoners’ commissary are comparable with those at Walgreen's and other local merchants.

NewsLanc obtained a list of the prices charged prisoners for their sundry items and arranged for comparisons at local stores.

Most prices charged do not seem to be unreasonable. Some of the prices are less than the prices at other local public institutions. For example, items 1204, 1205 and 1208, priced at $.65 to inmates, are priced at $.75 in the vending machine of a local government break room.

Inmates must pay $1.05 for most of the candy bars. Local convenience stores and pharmacies are charging $.80 to about $1.00.

Some of the personal hygiene items are far more expensive at the prison. For example, Vo5 shampoo costs an inmate $4.05 but can be purchased at Rite Aid for $1.29. Both are 15 oz. bottles.

It is difficult to compare prices of food items since the price list does not indicate brand names or quantities. The price for a six packs of donuts is similar to what is charged at Turkey Hill or Sheetz.

The county will receive 37% of revenue from the sale of sundries. In turn, the money is contributed to an inmate fund for the purchase of items to benefit the prison population.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Debate re CC common sales and marketing


"I have been warning the convention center authority that Interstate having a contract with the authority and the PSP can't serve both well since the authority is EXPECTING a deficit.

"Interstate will be tempted to PUSH expenses to the public side of the project and lower expenses to the PRIVATE side of the project. If it's toilet paper or wine, the public's property could be shifted to the hotel side any time of the day or night. There's nothing to stop it and frankly all the financial reward to do just that."


The position above reminds us of the charge of conflict of interest leveled by convention center sponsors against PKF Consultants when they performed the 2006 feasibility study. We believe that institutions such as PKF and Interstate Hotels and Resorts are far too large and have too much at stake to compromise their standards to placate local interests.

Also the current Convention Center Board under Art Morris and with some exceptionally knowledgeable and devoted members will serve the public, not special interests.

Based on our experience in the hospitality industry, we believe that S. Dale High was correct in insisting that there be a common sales and marketing entity for both the convention center and the Marriott hotel.

Even NYT subject to steep drop in revenue

It isn't only the Lancaster Newspapers that are becoming thinner, month by month.

Published reports indicate that even the advertising revenue for the vaunted New York Times fell about 21% in November as compared to a year earlier. This is after a 16% drop in October.

Classified ad revenue, one of the most profitable segment of newspapers, fell by a full third!

The one bright spots was an increase in the Internet as a contributor to revenue from unde 11% to over 12%, month to comparable month. The question is whether Internet revenue can ever grow sufficiently to maintain the print medium over the decade to come.

Few enterprises can experience such drops in revenue and remain profitable. Lancaster can no longer look to the Steinman enterprises to continue to altruisticly and financially take the lead.

Hopefully Lancaster General Hospital, our last relatively public spirited and highly profitable institution, will step up to fill the leadership and funding gap.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

LETTER: Nine community weekly papers may close

"The Journal Register is the old Ingersol group... They were facing backruptcy in the early 1990s because they had so much debt in junk bonds.

"These people are ruthless, don't give a damn about newspapers other than to make money. It is sad that they were able to acquire so many publications. The debt from those acquisitions is now their albatross.

"I suspect we'll see some other groups that have had major acquisitions in the last decade facing the same problems. The shrinking of classified ads, the end of real estate and auto ads (some of their biggest costomers) turned those investments sour."

LETTER: Why newspapers are dying

"I wonder if Lancaster Newspapers is not already in default mode, already assuming that its readers are getting the important news from other sources.

"The front page of today's New Era has a huge story -- 'Extra! Extra! Read all about it, folks!' -- about people who wear shorts year-round. I am relieved that Cindy Stauffer's byline lists her as a staff writer, because if this is the best that the New Era could come up with for their front and center news today, it would be troubling to think that Ms. Stauffer thinks of herself as an investigative reporter.

"As for 'Nation & World' coverage, one-third of the page is ads. There is no coverage of Caley Anthony, no coverage of the N.Y. Senate seat, and only a slim short piece making reference to Illinois Gov. Blagojovich.

"Looks like if we want any real national or international news, we'd better be online, watching cable new, or buying a Big City Paper.

"And you wonder why newspapers are dying???"

Why not free downtown parking year 'round?

Presumably the City went to the great expense of installing parking meters throughout downtown for two reasons:

1) To ration scarce parking space, in some locations to half an hour, others an hour, and others two hours.

2) To raise revenue. (Just this year the City raised the cost from $0.25 for 15 minutes to $0.25 for 12 minutes to general annoyance.)

So why during the busiest time of the year, the Christmas shopping season, has the administration put hoods over the meters?

If it makes sense to provide free parking for two hours and forego the revenue in December, wouldn't two hours free parking make even more sense the rest of the year when merchants are eager to attract customers?

Limiting street parking to two hours effectively prevents all day parking. ('Meter Maids' mark a tire with chalk.) Free parking makes downtown competitive with the suburban shopping centers.

Let's keep the bags or get rid of the meters.

LETTER: Convention Center optional carpeting

"It is not unusual to have concrete floors and rented carpeting. Carpeting only makes sense when you know what the core events are going to be. It needs to be replaced every five years.

"However, many of the large venues have a mix of floor finishes. At Long Beach, for instance, most of the halls do not have carpet. At the Gaylord houses, they all are carpeted. But if it is carpeted, you are charged for floor protective plastic, billed by the foot. After all, you'd be bringing in scissors jacks, genies, and forklifts.

"In Anaheim, for example, you rent the carpet that is rolled out to order where you want it. As per my notes a long time ago, it is the rental of pipe and Drape, staging (and carpeting) and catering that makes the money, not the venue. The CC should not own the carpet, it would be brought in...besides, there is wildly insufficient storage for all the staging, drapery, carpeting, seating risers, etc. Rod Shumaker will get all the business."

Monday, December 22, 2008

Don't lose hope

Bad times are the seeds for better times, provided the government follows well charted Keynsian economic policies.

Auto and trucks wear out over time. Sooner or later they will have to be replaced. And when the recovery starts, the demand will combine both the normal with the postponed.

Families are formed, grow and then shrink again. Their housing needs alter. They put off the purchase of a new home until things look brighter, and then suddenly the market picks up, and once again homes are sold at strong prices and new construction takes off.

Obviously this applies to clothing, home furnishings, roads and highways and just about everything else.

Better times are on their way, perhaps earlier than anticipated, provided we don't screw up. We don't think the incoming administration will do so. The economy may receive a psychological boost come inauguration day. And at this point of the cycle, it is mostly about confidence.

NewsLanc opening for reporter drawing blank

We don't understand why an affiliate of one of the most successful firms in the county ( has not received a single inquiry concerning the following well paying opening, but we sure wish we could find the right person. If you know a good candidate, please bring the opportunity to his / her attention, even if working for the competition.

Competitive wages and benefits are available for a qualified journalist. Must be self starter. Healthy skeptism an attribute. Here is an opportunity to make a difference!

Resumes should be sent to . Experienced journalists may call 717-940-1221 to discuss opening. All inquiries treated with discretion.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

More re support your local newspaper(s)

Excerpted from the New Yorker, Dec. 22, 2008. "News You Can Lose" by James Surowiecki

"Newspaper readership has been slowly dropping for decades—as a percentage of the population, newspapers have about half as many subscribers as they did four decades ago—but the Internet helped turn that slow puncture into a blowout. Papers now seem to be the equivalent of the railroads at the start of the twentieth century—a once-great business eclipsed by a new technology...

"Does that mean newspapers are doomed? Not necessarily. There are many possible futures one can imagine for them, from becoming foundation-run nonprofits to relying on reader donations to that old standby the deep-pocketed patron. It's even possible that a few papers will be able to earn enough money online to make the traditional ad-supported strategy work.

But it would not be shocking if, sometime soon, there were big American cities that had no local newspaper; more important, we're almost sure to see a sharp decline in the volume and variety of content that newspapers collectively produce."

What we should teach every child

Jacques Gibble, guest education columnist for the Dec. 21st Sunday News, states:

"I agree that telling a student he is doing well when he is not is immoral and has a chilling effect on long term growth. But for many years our schools have operated on the belief that academic success is mainly controlled by inherited ability...My reading of the research is that 'smart' can be learned. Refocusing a child's beliefs from ability to effort can increase his engagement in learning. When a child believes that his efforts matter, he shows greater persistence in learning and improves his outcomes."

One of the most pernicious infuences on the lives and education of our senior generation was that intelligence levels were determinative in outcome. We were fixated on IQ scores.

According to research reported by author Geoff Colvin, author of "Talent is Overrated", highly successful people are those who are well taught and concentrate for long periods of time on learning particular skills.

Talk show host Charlie Rose relates how all of the successful people he has interviewed have had one thing in common: They say they work extremely long and hard, and most insist that extraordinary effort, not talent, is the key to their success.

Rose's interview of Colvin can be viewed at .

Friday, December 19, 2008

Even the good guys can get it wrong

All three then county commissioners came to agree that the sale of the Conestoga Nursing Home was conducted with inappropriate haste.

Yet many will recall how enraged and outspoken then Sunday News columnist Art Morris was that in private hands the quality of service would greatly suffer.

It appears his concerns and those of many others were at least premature. According to the Dec. 18 New Era, the Conestoga View Nursing Home was recently rated four stars out a maximum of five by an agency of the federal government.

Morris concerns were deep and sincere. But it served the purposes of convention center adversaries of Dick Shellenberger and Molly Henderson, with the cooperation of then District Attorney Donald Totaro, to make a mountain out of a mole hill and all but run honorable public servants out of town.

Museum Tower Condos needed. But will location work?

The announcement of high rise condominiums by a first rate team of developer Steve Risk, architects John De Vitry and Ken Hammel, and real estate broker Marilyn Berger bodes well for downtown Lancaster.

The Museum Tower Condominiums would be built above the combination museum and parking garage to be constructed on the vacant northeast corner of Queen and Chestnut.

The sizes will range from a minimum 1,150 square feet to as large as 4,000 square feet.

We believe there is a need for upscale condominiums in downtown Lancaster and, if an entire floor were to cost in excess of $2 million, under appropriate conditions we suspect that well heeled buyers would be waiting in line.

But unlike the potential that existed with the historic and beloved Watt & Shand building, the Museum Towers will need to compensate for its lack of ground floor space and not quite prime location. Further, were the opposite Brunswick Hotel still a Hilton with vibrant restaurants and ongoing entertainment rather than playing poor cousin to the Marriott, it would serve as an attractive amenity. Instead, the neighborhood lacks style and vibrancy.

Donald Trump understands the importance of a sense of 'presence.' Without a ground floor with a sumptuous lobby, security and meeting rooms, and without a dramatic entrance fitting for Lancaster's foremost downtown address, the facility may lack the allure required by those wealthy empty nesters who are interested in moving from their fashionable suburban homes to a prestigious downtown condominium.

It will be interested to see if the project moves ahead and, if so, to what stratum of the market it is directed.

If this location doesn't work out, may we suggest the current Bulova building site? Moreover, for those willing to wait a few years longer, there may be another opportunity for condos in the former Watt & Shand.

Sales at CC vs libraries

The sales and marketing competence by Interstate Hotels and Resorts for the Convention Center Project is precisely what is absent from the fragmented sixteen libraries, albeit if combined into one organization they would approximate the size of the convention center project and serve a far greater number of people.

As things now stand, a library may have a single full time or part time sales and marketing person. Few contacts are made and little money is generated through the individuals' efforts. The local boards and the head librarians are clueless about fund raising so there is no real supervision, professionalism and team effort.

Combine all libraries under one countywide authority, and the dynamism and professional methods of the Convention Center / Hotel Project could be emulated, and private and foundation money would flow.

Pros marvel at convention center sales competence

Shortly after the end of the Convention Center Marketing Committee meeting while awaiting the start of the monthly full Authority Board meeting, two veteran hotel and commercial real estate executives chatted in the corridor about how impressed they were with the performance of the Convention Center project sales and marketing staff.

When Josh Nowak, Director of Sales & Marketing, announced there had 158 tours of the incomplete facility and outside sales calls and 687 phone solicitation in the month of November, at least the response of one of the pros was skepticism about the quality of the phone solicitations.

But Manager Mark Moosic and Nowak explained that these calls were substantiated by detailed reports with data being entered into the computer systems. Only discussions with qualified individuals made up the 687 phone solicitation figure.

(When interviewed by NewsLanc later, Moosic explained that Interstate Hotels & Resorts believes that "What gets measured, get’s done." He added they hold sales meetings at 8:30 AM and again at 5:00 PM each work days in order to plan ahead and keep spirits high.)

Monica Thomas, Director of Meeting & Convention Sales of the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention & Visitors Bureau, also made an impressive presentation establishing the close working relationship between the two organizations.

Thomas also mentioned a major sales success in attracting a volley ball tournament to Lancaster County that will take place over three days and generate an estimated 1700 room nights.

Moosic indicated that February through April are the critical months for booking trade and consumer shows for fiscal year 2010 which commences in April, 2009. The target for bookings by April, 2009, is $302,950. If that is achieved, he anticipates another $109,000 by end of year for a total of $403,850 of rental revenue for the first year. The figure is based upon an estimate that 75% of total rental sales for the year should be on the books by the opening date.

Convention Center Executive Director Kevin Molloy suggested, from his experience, that sales during the remaining months are likely to be greater than the standard 25%for the first year of a convention center’s operations.

Nowak reported that now that the interior of the convention center is coming together, visitors are impressed with its features and potential.

Moosic stated that 62% of the business written to date had not previously come to the area.

Nowak reported that consumer shows were very interested, but it is a matter of "hurry up and wait." Apparently due to the harsh economic times, "The approval process is more elongated than we have ever experienced before", often requiring approval of executive directors and boards.

An inquiry was made from the audience about a report concerning how many "overflow rooms" were being generated for the year. It was explained that "overflow" meant rooms not staying at the host Marriott hotel. While this is useful in suggesting business that might go to others, a more important figure would be the total number of room nights generated inclusive of the Marriott. At the request of the Committee, Molloy agreed to seek permission from Penn Square Partners to include that information.

The difficulty of understanding the division of commissions for meeting room and food and beverage sales between the Center and due to the need to reference at least two documents was mentioned. While the Convention Center receives 5% commission which increases to 10% at a certain level on sales that take place in the common area between the hotel and the center, the Center receives all of the earnings for concession sales that take place exclusively in the center. Having only had access to the prime lease agreement, this was new information for NewsLanc and good news for the public

The committee meeting was attended by board members Art Morris, board chair, Sharron Nelson, R. B. Campbell and committee chair Kevin Fry.

The monthly meeting of the board followed and dealt with routine matters. Perhaps what was most interesting was how long time opponents of the project complimented the board for its transparency and cooperation and the mutual and sincere exchanges of best wishes for the holiday season. Discord had been replaced by affection!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

EDITORIAL: Is media coverage complicit in suicide?

No matter how vile the crimes for which a prisoner has been convicted and / or currently stands accused, he or she is entitled to fair treatment and protection while in custody. We live in a nation of laws, not vigilantism.

How the media reports on sex related crimes plays a part in generating the attitudes of the citizenry including prison officials, guards, and inmates.

We credit the New Era for investigating possible prison abuse of inmates and wish them Godspeed.

But we also hold the New Era in part responsible for sensationalism about persons accused or convicted of sex crimes, of unnecessarily publicizing the identities and locations of those who have "paid for their crimes", and disproportionately focusing attention on sexual crimes, at times playing on fears and at other times publishing accounts which approach voyeurism and titillation. When we dehumanize individuals, we make them vulnerable.

We appreciate that the New Era has restrained from such practices over the past year.

As it has often been pointed out, the test of a just society is how it deals with those least popular. Media: Please take note.

Did authorities contribute to inmate's suicide?

On Dec. 17, the New Era stated "Lancaster County Prison inmates relentlessly taunted a suspected child molester, urging him to kill himself, right up until the moment he did so four weeks ago in Lancaster County Prison."

Soon after the Nov. 19th suicide and long before it was mentioned in the print media, NewsLanc received reports of the death from sources who suggested David Villafane had been physically abused over a two week period and that prison authorities falsly told Villafane that loved ones, whom he sought to contact, had died.

On Dec. 5th, NewsLanc published a letter ("Cover Up at the Prison?") that opened "I have learned that the mother of the prisoner who allegedly committed suicide in the Lancaster County Prison is quite alive. I have not confirmed this but hope to tomorrow. This is a huge, horrible cover-up by the prison and LNP. How about some truth to power newslanc?"

NewsLanc is not in a position to explore these allegation and has deferred coverage of possible prison abuse to the New Era. We hope that the allegations will be thoroughly explored by independent authorities.

County prisoners to get better prices

At their Dec. 17 meeting, the County Commissioners "piggy backed" a contract already existing between the County of Lehigh with Oasis Management Systems for inmate commissary services at the Lancaster County prison for a three year period.

The county will receive 37% of revenue from the sale of sundries. In turn, all of the money is contributed to an inmate fund for the purchase of items to benefit the prison population.

According to Commissioner Scott Martin "piggy backing" enables the county to utilize terms and conditions in contracts from other counties, providing "economies of scale" and reducing administrative costs by about a thousand dollars per contract. It is permitted by state statute and county code.

In response to a question from the audience, Martin assured that the new vendor’s prices are comparable with those at Walgreen's and other local merchants. As an aside, an unidentified member of the audience challenged the accuracy of the statement. NewsLanc is requesting a copy of the price list and, after making a comparison with local prices, will report back.

Commissioners avoiding new taxes is a dubious achievement

At their Dec. 17 meeting, County Commissioners Dennis Stuckey, Scott Martin and Craig Lehman congratulated their department heads and staffs and, seemingly, themselves for having cut expenditures in order to achieve a balance budget for 2009 without the need for a tax increase.

But two members of the audience, taking different tacks, objected to such "fiscal responsibility" at the very time when social needs were greatest.

Robert Edwin Field (NewsLanc’s publisher) cited Keynesian economics as indicating that government should be willing to run deficits during times of high unemployment and idle equipment and, if a balanced budget is required by law, either practice "creative accounting" or increase taxes a small amount.

Bill Bonanno, an ALCOA retiree, said he "would have accepted a small tax increase if we would not have hurt the library and some of rehabilitation folks and people who are sick and handicapped. I know that industries have asked their employees if you would accept a cut to keep a fellow worker from being laid off. Two out of 3 said we will take a cut.

"As far as the library is concerned, I go there a lot. Every computer is filled by youngsters, housewives, and business people. There often a line to get on a computer."

Bonanno said he was upset about the financial handling of the library. He challenged the commissioners: "You go in there and try to go to the bathroom sometimes! There is only one bathroom and there is a single sink and a single commode. There can be five guys waiting."

The commissioners bestowed Letters of Commendation in recognition to county employees receiving awards: JDCAP "2008 Educator of the Year Award" to Matt O’Shea, School District of Lancaster Educator; "2008 National Juvenile Detention Association Bob Rader Line Staff Worker of the Year" to Maria Rodriguez, Detention Youth Care Worker; and the JDCAP "2008 Distinguished Service Award to an Individual Outside the Field of Detention in the State of Pennsylvania" to Commissioner Scott Martin.

Budd Rettew, President of Board of Director of Library System (which provides services to the independent 16 libraries) invited the Commissioners to the System's annual meeting on January 20th at 7:00 PM at the Gap Branch.

Bill Bonanno returned to recommend to the commissioners that the new morgue and forensic center be constructed on parcels of land being subdivided by its owner in their current vicinity near Conestoga View Nursing Home.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bad news for the Convention Center Project

PKF Hospitality Research is forecasting a 7.8% drop in hotel revenue per room night sold (hence overall room revenue) in 2009 without recovery starting to take place until the second quarter of 2010. They described the current situation as "the fifth largest annual decline in this important measure since 1930."

Since the Convention Center will rely on the countywide hotel room sales tax to subsidize operations, this is a further blow to the financial feasibility of the project, assuming hotels in Lancaster are impacted per the national average.

PKF Hospitality Research is associated with PKF Consultants which, at the request of then county commissioners, in 2006 generated a feasibility study projecting that the proposed convention center and hotel would generate very large losses.

Will Intell / New Era follow Detroit model?

According to a Dec. 16 posting on the Detroit News web site, Detroit's morning and evening newspapers will publish on alternate days, Monday through Saturday, thus reducing production and distribution costs for both.

They will also push their online editions.

David Hunke, Free Press publisher, is quoted as saying "We're fighting for our survival."

Over the past decades, most evening newspapers have been discontinued. Old timers will remember the slogan "In Philadelphia, almost everyone reads the Bulletin."

Unlike the Detroit situation, the Sunday News, the morning Intelligencer Journal and the evening New Era are all owned by Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. On Saturdays and certain holidays, the Intell and New Era run a combined edition. There has been speculation that the time clock is running for the New Era.

The Detroit model may better suit Lancaster which is increasingly divided between liberals and conservatives, with Democrat voter registration likely to approach Republican within a decade.

The story can be found at .

NewsLanc opening for reporter

Competitive wages and benefits are available for a qualified journalist. Must be self starter. Healthy skeptism an attribute. Here is an opportunity to make a difference!

Resumes should be sent to . Experienced journalists may call 717-940-1221 to discuss opening. All inquiries treated with discretion.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What's happening around Lancaster this week

On Tuesday, Dec. 16, Wednesday, Dec. 17, and Thursday, Dec. 18, it's Reindeer Round-up at the Hands-on House Children's Museum of Lancaster. "Meet Rudolph and his relatives who call the top of the world home. No elf experience is necessary to become part of the team that takes care of Santa's (pretend) reindeer. Drop-in anytime. Ages 2-10 with an adult." Free with $7 admission. Hours are 12:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. The Hands-On House is located at 721 Landis Valley Rd.

"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, adapted by Gary Smith is playing at the Stahr Performing Arts Center in Lancaster.
"Performances: Dec. 10-11; 12, 19, and 26; 13, 20 and 27; 14, 21 and 28. To reserve tickets and for times call the box office, e-mail us at, or online." The Stahr Performing Arts Center is located at 438 N. Queen St.

The Lancaster Symphony Orchestra and Franklin & Marshall College are presenting Sounds of the Season "
Thursday - Friday at 7:30 pm and Saturday - Sunday at 3 pm. The whole family will get into the spirit with glorious sounds of the season from many traditions. An ensemble from the Lancaster Symphony Chorus will join the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra for carols and unforgettable music." Performances to take place in the Barshinger Center. Tickets are $42. For more information, visit or

The Ice Park at Clipper Stadium has hours Thursday (Dec. 18) through Sunday (Dec. 21). "
Skate under the stars in Lancaster's only outdoor ice skating rink! Open Thursdays through Sundays through February 28, plus special holiday week hours. Rental skates available. Call us for more information on group skating rates!" Visit for further information.

Candlelight tours of President James Buchanan's Wheatland estate are being held on Friday, Dec. 19 and Saturday, Dec. 20. "A Lancaster tradition; enjoy the holidays and history with a very special evening tour of Wheatland, the home of the 15th President of the United States. See website for admission." Tours start at 6:00 p.m. 1120 Marietta Ave.

The city is holding ongoing events called Downtown Lancaster for the Holidays. "
Come to Downtown Lancaster for the holidays! Experience the city with a variety of events, activities and shopping, including visits with Santa, horse drawn carriage rides, holiday movies and storytelling, plus stop at 200+ specialty shops, galleries, museums and restaurants. Fri. 5-9 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sun. noon-4 p.m."

Dec. 19 is a Music Friday in downtown Lancaster. "
Shops and restaurants spread throughout the 200 and 300 blocks of N. Queen Street host an evening dedicated to music! Different artists are scheduled each third Friday, both inside local stores and on the sidewalks. Committed performances include belly dancing, a jazz quintet, solo, acoustic, rock and American groups."

The Pennsylvania Academy of Music is having a Next Generation Chamber Music - All School Concert on Friday, Dec. 19 at 7:30 p.m. "
The Academy Children's Choir, Cambiata Choir, Academy Chorale, Girls' Chorus, Chamber Gourp, Philharmonia Orchestra, and Sinfonia Orchestra perform seasonal favorites." Complimentary admission. Reservations accepted two weeks in advance.

On Saturday, Dec. 20, "
The Parlor Gallery hosts a reception for the latest works by artist Christian Herr, titled New Strings, for a pre-holiday opening on December 20th. For more information, call or go online." 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 230 Laurel St.

On Thursday, Dec. 18 "from 10 a.m. - 12 noon. at Radiance, Jill Althouse-Wood leads us in her journaling workshop series, Deep Journaling. Jill is a writer and artist whose first novel 'Summers at Blue Lake' reached the shelves in bookstores nationwide last summer." 9 West Grant St. Visit the website for further information.

The Last Hurrah... A Library Dream Unfulfilled

It had been the aspiration of the then-President of the Lancaster Public Libraries, Karen Haley Field, and her husband and the project manager, Robert Edwin Field, that a fully renovated and expanded Lancaster Public Library on Duke Street would be in large part a gift of both their combined efforts and a major grant.

The proposed layout of the expanded first and second floors, the current basement, and the elevation of the rear entryway can be viewed in PDF through those links.

A grant that was to be at least $2.5 million that had reportedly been assured by Senator Gibson Armstrong never arrived and presumably ended up as a last minute addition to Convention Center funding to cover cost overruns. Therefore Karen and Robert Field proposed that the project be divided into a first stage of renovation to be followed at some future date with a second stage of expansion.

In November, the renovation portion of the envisioned project was unexpectedly and indefinitely postponed by the Board of Trustees, despite $600,000 in expenditures (in part funded by the couple), the availability of a million dollars in state and matching grant money, and a $3 million endowment fund that could have made a temporary loan, without any attempt to raise the balance of $1.3 million despite a feasibility report indicating its availability.

This has been a sad experience for the couple and a tragedy for the community. It is unlikely that the region will have a competent, vibrant group of libraries until the current virtual fiefdoms, fragmented into sixteen, plus a misguided System are merged into an authority and led by a single board of trustees consisting of experienced and proven community leaders.

LETTER: Lancaster Newspapers should support TRRAAC's request

The Sunday News, also the Intell and the New Era, should publicize the need for an independent study of alternative rail yard sites, as NewsLanc is urging in its latest 'Watchdog' commentary. The editors of all three newspapers received a written request for an investigatory story as recently as last month, and nothing came from this request.

It is not just the residents of School Lane Hills and Barrcrest who are incensed by the heavy-handed, undemocratic way that F&M’s president, John Fry, and second-in-command, F&M vice-president Keith Orris, have conducted this entire affair. There are many citizen whose lives are not affected at all by the rail yard move, who nonetheless are critical of the secrecy surrounding the early planning stages. Agreements were made between F&M, LGH and Norfolk-Southern behind closed doors. There were also meetings with Governor Rendell and Senator Armstrong, who obtained 10 million of state taxpayer money to fund the controversial project. (At the same time, they reduced the funding of other worthwhile community services including the Lancaster Public Library.)

No attempt was made by the corporation partners to consult with citizens and to ask for their ideas and opinions. This was not done even though the School Lane Hills and Barrcrest homeowners, several years ago, specifically had asked to be included in the early planning stages. Their request, as did this recent request for a newspaper investigation, was ignored. The only response was silence.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Streetcar advocates: Ignorant or deceptive?

(Better late than never department)

Addressing the Lancaster Rotary Club in February, 2008, Tim Peters who directs the "Lancaster Streetcar Company" indicated that many other cities, including Memphis, Little Rock, and even nearby Media, Pennsylvania, have implemented streetcar systems with success.

On an idle December Sunday afternoon, NewsLanc decided to research Peters' assertion via the Internet and came across a number of posting accompanied with scores of photos along trolley routes under "U. S. Streetcar Systems" by John Smatlak of the Railway Preservation Resources.

At, one discovers that the Memphis street car two routes either run through private right-of-ways or avenues so wide as to permit pedestrian loading platforms in their center. So Memphis has little relevance to the two lane streets and sharp 90 degree corners of Lancaster.

At, we also encountered private right-of-ways and spacious avenues in Little Rock. We also learned that round trip was $.50 an only $.25 for seniors, with children under five riding free.

As for the Media Streetcar system, doesn't exist. Perhaps Peters is thinking of the Norristown high speed system of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA.) It consists of modern rail cars and runs on its own right of way. It is one of the few suburban rail systems built in the early nineteenth century that have remained to current times.

In short, once again we discover that supporters of a streetcar system for Lancaster, at best, don't know what they are talking about, or, at worst, seek to delude the public.

Media genuflect to auto industry

With the auto industry the largest national advertisers, it is perhaps understandable, albeit yet regrettable, that media coverage so often allow auto spokespersons to talk nonsense without contradiction.

The prime example is the bugaboo that bankruptcy will lead to the closing down of GM, Ford and Chrysler and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs over night. This is patent nonsense.

Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code has long been successfully used to enable companies to share the pain of needed restructuring with stake holders - creditors, workers, stockholders - so that they can move ahead successfully. The moment one of the big three files under Chapter 11, its good credit is restored since subsequent debt has priority over past debt.

In his Sunday News Dec. 14 column headed "$73 per hour may be a bargain" - a notion so silly in itself that we won't bother to comment upon it - Gil Smart asks "But what happens if we don't bail out Detroit and the automakers go the Chapter 7 route - liquidation - rather than Chapter 11" Well what happens if sun doesn't come up tomorrow morning? (Physics aside.) The question is an inanity because stockholders, suppliers, lenders, and the union have no economic interest in liquidation. Their every muscle and sinew are bent towards keeping the auto makers in business.

Rather, it is those who are calling for a government "bail out" who are throwing an anchor rather than a life preserver to to the drowning industry. More debt just continues the feathering of nests from the CEO's on down to the workers and continues inept leadership. Restructuring will bring about reforms, and then the American brands will be able to survive and, if they are properly lead, ultimately flourish.

We refer to "American brands" above because GM, Ford and Chrysler are little else. The amount of American made content in the cars under their names is no greater than those in cars manufactured in the USA under foreign brands such as Volkswagen, Toyota and Mercedes. For example, Chevy's most popular and money making car, the Impala, is made from Asian parts and assembled in Canada. "As American as apple pie" used to their slogan. Sure...North American, as in Canada.

Library SYSTEM, not funding, half the problem

Yes, libraries in Lancaster County are disgracefully under funded, often run down, and unable to provide adequate education and recreation as compared to the rest of the country.

But there is a second side to the problem.

According to the Dec. 14 Sunday News article too cutely headed "Book bound by budget tightening", System executive director Susan Hauer justifies half of the money provided by the state and county being consumed by the System "because members libraries had counseled the library system to spend the additional funds on upgrades that would make the system and the services it provides more efficient."


Prior to the misbegotten creation of the now bloated System, most of the same services were provided by one of its members, the Lancaster Public Library (Duke Street), at a fraction of the current expense. But other independent libraries felt they were being paid too much. So the System was created.

Little wonder that Hauer, who gets paid more than the mayor of Lancaster and the county commissioners, tries to justify its disproportionate consumption of library funds.

With sixteen different libraries, the county has a (small 's') library system that is irreparably fragmented, with each entity vying with the others for a portion of the crumbs off of the (big S) System's table. For the most part, their independent boards of trustees are made up of typical citizens rather than business or community leaders, and they are unqualified and hesitant to speak out against Hauer.

Sixteen independent libraries under the thumb of the System they have created will never be able to efficiently serve the citizenry.

It is time for the commissioners to investigate what has taken place and to encourage consolidation of all libraries into one county authority. Then a blue ribbon single board of trustees will be able to both raise funds and make certain that they are properly utilized.

Commissioners: During recessions, thrift is waste!

Last month, a public spirited citizen, trained as an economist and a very successful businessman, delivered three copies of John Maynard Keynes "The General Theory of Economics" to the commissioners. Perhaps the point was too subtle, but the message was, according to Keynes, that cutting the budget during a recession is the worst possible thing that government can do!

The needs of the community are never greater than during hard times.

During times of large unemployment of people and under utilization of capital, government deficit spending is imperative and, since it utilizes idle resources, generates productivity that otherwise would be lost. It is not wasteful; it is thrifty!

There is a greater need for county services than during ordinary years.

Furthermore, balancing the budget during a sharp recession puts people out of work and thus adds to the adverse economic conditions.

Who really cares if the county runs a million dollar deficit in 2009 and again in 2010? That only amounts to $20 per countian each year. Moreover, if the commissioners continue to follow Keynes' advice, upon recovery they will raise taxes a little bit to pay off the debt.

Dennis Stuckey, Scott Martin, Craig Lehman: Follow your brains and your hearts and stop this "matcho" thing about cutting costs!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Why doesn't City charge plumbing / electrical inspection fees?

Mayor Rick Gray announced at Tuesday's City Council meeting that plumbing and electrical inspections will be out sourced to outside firms and the results would be an anticipated savings of $140,000 by eliminating city inspectors.

NewsLanc inquired to determine whether $140,000 savings would be real or, at least in part, illusionary.

According to Randy S. Patterson, Director of Economic Development and Neighborhood Revitalization:

"The City does not charge for plumbing inspections. We charge for issuing plumbing permits....We will continue to collect building permit fees. However, under the organizational/programmatic change, the cost of inspections will now be the responsibility of the property owner."

"The one exception will be residential properties. We will eventually have a Residential Building Inspector who will be certified to do single family residential plumbing inspections. This person will continue to be a City employee. We may, in the future, charge for inspections. However, at the present time we do not plan to require single family residential property owners to pay for inspections."

So NewsLanc's question is this: Why doesn't the City simply charge for inspections, since this is exactly what the non-city inspectors will do in the future? Then there would be no lay offs.

It appears that the reason for outsourcing involves issues other than saving money.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Center construction team falls 12 more days behind in November

Construction of the Convention Center has fallen further behind schedule, Construction Manager Tim Reynolds told a Convention Center Authority committee, Thursday evening.

Progress on the "critical path" is now a full 60 days behind schedule after site work fell behind another 12 days in November, according to Reynolds.

Reynolds attributes the "slippage" to poor weather, the Thanksgiving holiday, and the start of hunting season.

But he still gave assurances that the hotel & convention center as a whole will be ready to open by April 14, even if it means that the construction team has to add a second shift.

The project is now 70% complete with $84,341,787.74 in construction invoices as of Nov. 30.

Recent progress at the site includes streetscape work on curbs, including planting of trees, filling in of the c0ncrete gate on Christian St., installation of stair rails in the hotel tower, installation of washing machines, beer coolers, pathways for television cables, wireless devices, and piping for icemakers in the hotel tower, and Watt & Shand window installation, Reynolds reported.

Gail Tomlinson, Director of the Stevens & Smith Historic Site, announced that a large banner will appear on the side of those buildings before the end of the year to advertise to the public that the historic attraction will be "coming soon."

Asked whether he has made any progress in the inquiry as to what happened and who is responsible for a previously-reported misaligned freight elevator shaft in the convention center, which cost the Authority $86,000, Executive Director Kevin Molloy responded that he does not want to "kick the dog while it's still working" but remains determined to get answers in a few months.

Authority's current officers to continue in 2009

A special nominating committee of the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority met late Thursday afternoon and voted to retain its current slate of officers for 2009.

Sharron Nelson, who chaired the committee, explained that she contacted each of the parties involved and all agreed that the current arrangement is working well.

Julianne Dickson made the motion to re-nominate all current officers, and Nelson seconded.

Laura Douglas, who was also assigned to the nominating committee, was absent.

Art Morris is the Chairman of the board, Laura Douglas is Vice Chair, R.B. Campbell is Treasurer, and Kevin Fry is Secretary.

Also, Ted Darcus is chair of the Facilities Programming Committee, Kevin Fry is chair of the Public Relations, Marketing, and Hospitality Committee, and Laura Douglas is chair of the Finance Committee.

NewsLanc acquires Post circulation boxes

Fourteen Lancaster Post red distribution boxes are back on the streets, this time identified by temporary NewsLanc bumper stickers.

To our current readers, their presence is of little importance. But it is a way for drivers and pedestrians to become aware of NewsLanc, to sample our work, and hopefully to be attracted to our website.

COMMENTARY: Counterproductive punishment?

By Matt Henderson

Drug addictions are physical dependencies and those affected have very high relapse rates. Addicts in a state of withdrawal are not themselves and will sometimes lash out in antisocial or criminal behavior either in generalized frustration or in trying to find money to support their habit.

With this in mind, consider that when a person is incarcerated in the United States, they immediately lose their eligibility for federal Medical Assistance (Also called M.A. or Medicaid).

Rick Kastner, the Executive Director of the Lancaster County Drug & Alcohol Commission says that not only are the medical services offered in prison much less comprehensive, but when an individual is finally released from prison, they have to re-apply for benefits.

Many certainly suffer in prison with minimal care and upon discharge, it can take as long as six weeks to get an M.A. card, assuming they are able to produce the necessary identification documents, according to Kastner.

That window is a critical time - it's like 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. For many, it's all too easy to fall back in to old patterns.

"It would be much better if that coverage continues while a person is in County Prison... at least temporarily... they shouldn't lose it the day they go into prison," said Kastner.

The County Commissioners don't like the current system either, but for a different reason. Under the current system, the county must pick up the tab (for healthcare costs in general) as soon as a person is placed in jail.

In July, the Commissioners approved a resolution expressing support for a congressional bill that would extend federal benefits for prison inmates until they are actually convicted. According to available information, that bill (H.R. 5698 - the "Restoring the Partnership for County Health Care Costs Act of 2008") has not made it out of committee and onto the House floor for a vote.

One view has it that taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize anything more than the bare necessities when it comes to healthcare for convicted criminals. But is this really what's best for society? Relapse and recidivism rates place heavy burdens on the overcrowded prison, the overworked Drug & Alcohol Commission, the overstretched city and county budgets, and the overtaxed taxpayer. Perhaps it's time for us to look at rehabilitation of inmates as an investment in the health of our community.

[Editor's note: Last week the commissioners were told that 70% of prisoners are addicts. So not only would it be helpful to provide them with their regular prescriptions, but is this not an ideal opportunity to start them on the path to recovery through a methadone or Suboxone program? Then release for prison would be an opportunity to find work and rebuild family ties, rather than the slippery slope to ongoing addiction, possible over dosing, and crime.]

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Prohibition doesn't work, E-Town Prez tells Rotary

Prohibition doesn't work.

That's the message Elizabethtown College President Dr. Theodore "Ted" Long had for the Rotary Club of Lancaster on Wednesday afternoon with regard to drinking on college campuses.

Long called instead for what he considers a more realistic and comprehensive approach - one that relies heavily on education and carrots and sticks as opposed to a monolithic abstinence-only policy.

"We all - public officials, educators, families ... have a common interest. And that is promoting responsible behavior," he said.

"The facts on the ground are that students look for ways to get engaged in alcohol behavior. They always find a way."

"We have to define achievable outcomes," Long continued. "Is it an achievable outcome to keep everybody from drinking?"

His answer is no. "They do it in secrecy to avoid detection. It goes underground or off-campus," he said.

When educators become involved in law-enforcement only, it actually solidifies student opposition to those school officials, Long argued.

He went on to say that the law's emphasis on eligibility to drink improperly ignores the manner of use and focuses students' attention merely on whether they will be able to obtain alcohol.

And often when they do obtain it, "they binge drink, they overdo it," he said. "We encounter students in life-threatening situations, not before then."

Long said that he was not necessarily advocating for any specific policy, but mainly trying to start a social conversation about the topic.

He proposes that colleges enact levels of privilege and responsibility, with an aim toward monitoring and regulating alcohol's use rather than having a flat prohibition.

He explained that he does not advocate breaking the law, but thinks that there are more realistic and sympathetic ways of discouraging unhealthy behavior, which is the real objective.

Dr. Ted Long became the 13th President of Elizabethtown College on September 1, 1996. He holds a Ph.D in Sociology from the University of Virginia and has attended the Institute for Educational Management at Harvard University.

Bethel AME Church feeds the hungry

By chance and for a different matter, a reporter for NewsLanc arrived at the AME Bethel Church headquarters at Strawberry and Chester Streets at the moment when approximately 80 persons were passing from the lobby area downstairs to the food bank the church operates.

The economic status of most of these persons would not be evident from a chance meeting.

According to Rev. Edward M. Bailey, the food bank helps feed 3000 persons a month and some months as high as 5000. Demand has been increasing over the year.

Bailey pointed out that some of the recipients are the "working poor", persons who do not earn enough from their jobs to be able to fully support their families.

The predominantly African-American congregation conducts a number of programs serving the Lancaster community, one of which, a public health service, primarilly benefits Latinos and Caucasians.

Bailey says the church does not publicize its charitable works but, since the reporter stumbled upon the food bank, he did not object to a NewsLanc report.

Fighting West Nile Virus

The county commissioners this morning approved the expenditure of a $108,235 state grant on partnering with the Pennsylvania State University to control the spread of West Nile Virus by mosquitoes.

In 2008, 10 of 849 samples from 192 test sites throughout the county tested positive for the virus, according to Matt Mercer, the West Nile Virus Coordinator with PSU's Lancaster County Cooperative Extension.

While that may not sound like a lot, it's plenty reason for concern, said Mercer.

"We had positive samples from all areas of the county" and "Lancaster County is the only county in Pennsylvania which had horses die after being infected by the virus," he explained.

Two horse deaths occurred, one in Fulton Township and one in Leola.

It's not only rural areas of the county that are affected. A positive sample was taken from stagnant water at the Lancaster Stockyards just this past summer, he said.

Mercer encourages residents to eliminate the standing water that gives mosquitoes opportunities to lay eggs.

Mosquitoes need standing water for four days only to accomplish their cycle of laying and hatching eggs, he explained.

The state grant will go to pay for activities aimed toward the elimination of breeding grounds, the destruction of larvae, and spraying for adult populations.

In other business, Wednesday, the commissioners approved the expenditure of $377,806 in county funds to help purchase agricultural conservation easements in order to preserve 242 acres of farmland in Fulton, Ephrata, and Drumore Townships.

Lancaster County has preserved 1,008 farms, totaling over 80,000 acres, according to Matt Knepper, the county's Director of Agricultural Preserve Board.

Next week, the commissioners are expected to announce their decision regrading the disposition of the county's vacant 225 W. King St. building.

Convention Centers offering financial incentives

According to a Dec. 8 article in the McClatchy-Tribune Regional News, "Convention centers always wheel and deal to win trade shows and conventions, but the negotiations tend to be held behind closed doors.
Now, with the economy in a tailspin, a number of cities are rolling out sweetened financial incentives and broadcasting their availability

It goes on to quote Professor of Public Administration Heywood Sanders: "This is what it has come to... The rapid-fire expansion of convention center space nationwide made discounting quite common, and that's just been exacerbated by the current economic circumstance."

It was only a few years ago that Sander's addressed a group in Lancaster and argued against the proposed Convention Center project. His concerns were substantiated in the PKF Consultants feasibility study of the project.

A NewsLanc contributor comments, "What is even more troubling is that this is not new news. A Forbes article from 3 years ago says that the fire sale has been going on for years and will no doubt continue.

The contributor continues, "I have been asking for the last 6 years where in the budget of the LCCCA, or the PDCVB (the LCCCA's alternative treasury), where the slush fund monies are? Where are the funds going to come from to give the incentives that we will need to pay to compete for center business?"

Newspapers in financial trouble

Publisher and broadcaster Tribune Company, owner of the Chicago Tribune and the LA Times, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

NewsMax and CNBC News have reported that The New York Times is seeking to mortgage their office building in New York in order to cover a $400 million debt payment coming due in a few months.

These are signs of the extraordinary loss of revenue plaguing historic media as a result of the public seeking its news from the Internet, the resulting diversion of advertisement, and the impact of the year long recession.

Hopefully the executives at Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. will take heed and allow its editors to conduct news coverage in an exemplary fashion in order to earn the public's patronage and support. Self serving and unethical practices of the past have resulted in much bad will and eroded credibility among potential subscribers and advertisers alike.

They also should be considering whether bold restructuring steps are needed to prevent similar financial problems in their future, especially in light of the fall in world wide commodity prices that may impair the profitability of their holding company's other investments. Although the ownership structure may currently provide top executives with a virtual free hand, they will not indefinitely be spared the harsh discipline of the marketplace.

Concern over city's plan to eliminate plumbling inspector

At an otherwise fairly uneventful city council meeting on Tuesday night, a handful of local plumbers rose to express their concerns about the city's plan to eliminate the position of plumbing inspector as per the proposed 2009 budget.

Without a dedicated full-time city employee, contractors will tend to care only about the bottom line, said Mike Mull from Holtwood.

Mull and others expressed concern that safety and quality standards will suffer as a result.

In response, Randy Patterson, the city's Director of Economic Development & Neighborhood Revitalization said that the decision to eliminate the plumbing inspector was not an easy one and was forced by budgetary considerations, but that the permitting process is not changing and that there will be a dedicated contractor who is fully accountable to the city.

Patterson also pointed out that the city currently has only one plumbing inspector and that he is stretched thin, whereas a contractor will have many personnel.

Patterson estimated that the elimination of the plimber position along with an electrician position and the change to using contractors instead will save the city as much as $140,000 per year in salary and benefit payments.

In his remarks to city council on Tuesday, Mayor Gray announced that the city has received two state grants totaling $225,000 towards the cost of improvements at Brandon and Sixth Ward parks, and that the city will now have a "Public Art Manager," made possible by funding from the Lancaster Community Foundation.

In other business on Tuesday, city council officially had its first reading on increasing city property taxes from 9.18 to 9.64 mills for 2009. That increase, along with the proposed 2009 budget will be on the table for a vote at city council's next meeting on December 16.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

County directs state grant to Manor Twp. rail trail project

At their weekly worksession on Tuesday, the county commissioners agreed to transfer sponsorship of a $1M state grant to Manor Township "to convert five miles of abandoned trail bed along the Susquehanna river into a recreational trail for joggers, bicyclists, and horseback riders."

The five miles of railway to be converted run from roughly Turkey Hill Dairy to Safe Harbor in Conestoga Township, explained Matt Kofroth of the Lancaster County Conservation District.

The 408-acre corridor is part of Norfolk Southern's Enola Low-Grade line, but is not to be confused with the other 23-miles of rail line running east-west through the southern part of the county, about which there had been much controversy a few years ago.

The $1M had been secured by the county in 2006 as part of a $1.75 million grant under Pennsylvania's Growing Greener County Environmental Initiative.

Manor Township is having the property appraised and design work will likely begin next year.

Among the items on the commissioners' agenda for Wednesday is the expenditure of $377,806 in county funds to help purchase agricultural conservation easements in order to preserve 242 acres of farmland in Fulton, Ephrata, and Drumore Townships.

Monday, December 8, 2008

What's happening around Lancaster this week

Monday night (Dec. 8) at 8:00 p.m., a lecture titled "Learning from Katrina" will take place at in the Bonchek Lecture Hall of the Barshinger Life Sciences Building on F&M's campus. "Jed Horne, Pulitzer Prize winning author Topic: Learning from Katrina - Disaster as a Laboratory for the Urban Future Horne, formerly editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune is the author of Breach of Faith which addresses the human dimensions of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath." Admission is free. For a map of F&M's campus, click here.

December 10 - 12 is Countdown to Christmas at the Hands-on House Children's Museum in Lancaster. "Learn how to track Santa's trip around the world and make a reindeer hitching post. Ages 3-6 years. Morning and afternoon sessions." Admission is $14 for non-members of the museum and $12 for members. The Hands-on House Children's Museum is located at 721 Landis Valley Road.

"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, adapted by Gary Smith, is showing all month at the Stahr Performing Arts Center, 438 N. Queen St. "
A Christmas Carol is an exciting theatrical experience and celebration of the human spirit for the whole family. Performances: Dec. 10-11; 12, 19, and 26; 13, 20 and 27; 14, 21 and 28. To reserve tickets and for times call the box office, e-mail us at, or online." Tickets start at $10.

On Thursday, Dec. 11 at 6:30 p.m., the Lancaster Young Professionals will be holding their annual Holiday Event. "
Happy Holidays from Lancaster Young Professionals! We invite you to join us at the beautiful Conestoga House and Gardens for our annual holiday event. Enjoy drinks and hors devours provided by LYP. Also, holiday music will be provided by the talented Joey D." Conestoga House and Gardens is located at 1608 Marietta Ave.

There will be ice skating at Clipper Park Stadium on Thursday through Sunday (Dec. 11 - 14). 6-10 p.m. Thursday and Friday. 12 - 10 p.m. Saturday. 12 - 6 p.m. Sunday. Rental skates are available. Visit for advance tickets and more information.

Friday, Dec. 12 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. is A Pennsylvania Dutch Christmas at the Landis Valley Museum. "
This celebration is our gift to the community! Tour decorated buildings to see holiday customs of the past. Sing carols by the warmth of a bonfire and enjoy cookies and mulled cider in the Yellow Bar. Donations for the Lancaster Food Bank are requested and will be accepted at the Museum's Visitor Center." There is no charge for admission. The Landis Valley Museum is located at 2451 Kissel Hill Road.

Holiday festivities continue this weekend in downtown Lancaster. "
Come to Downtown Lancaster for the holidays! Experience the city with a variety of events, activities and shopping, including visits with Santa, horse drawn carriage rides, holiday movies and storytelling, plus stop at 200+ specialty shops, galleries, museums and restaurants. Fri. 5-9 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sun. noon-4 p.m." For a full schedule of events and other information, visit

This weekend is also Dutch Winter Wonderland at Dutch Wonderland Family Amusement Park on Route 30. "The whole family will get into the spirit of the holidays with themed rides, games, thousands of twinkling lights, entertainment, and family activities such as decorating cookies and sharing holiday wish lists with Santa. Fri. 5-9 p.m.; Sat. & Sun. 4-9 p.m." Admission to the park is $9.95 per person. Dutch Wonderland is located at 2249 Lincoln Highway East.

Also this weekend, you can take a Holiday Candlelight Tour at President James Buchanan's Wheatland. "
Join costumed docents for a holiday tour of President James Buchanan's Wheatland. Enjoy holiday decorations and learn about Christmas during the Victorian era in in this beautifully restored 1828, Federal style mansion." 1120 Marietta Ave. Visit for more information.

Friday, Dec. 12 is Lovin' Lititz Every Second! from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. Like First Fridays in downtown Lancaster, "
Join downtown merchants in a lively evening of shopping, live music performances, art exhibits, poetry readings, jewelry shows, special Lovin’ Lititz Every 2nd dinner menus & tastings, and much more!" Visit for more information.

From 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. on Dec. 12 is Reindeer Round-up at the Hands-on House Children's Museum of Lancaster. "Meet Rudolph and his relatives who call the top of the world home. No elf experience is necessary to become part of the team that takes care of Santa's (pretend) reindeer. Drop-in anytime. Ages 2-10 with an adult." Free with regular $7 museum admission. The Hands-on House Children's Museum is located at 721 Landis Valley Rd.

For more local events, check the community calendars at and

Dan Cohen reviews "Nixon / Frost"

NewsLanc's Santa Monica Reporter, movie producer / director / writer Dan Cohen, reviews "Nixon / Frost" at . Cohen's commentaries are world class.

Authority to nominate 2009 officers

The following appeared as a "Legal Notice" in the Intelligencer Journal on Dec. 8.

"Notice is hereby given that the Nominating Committee of the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority will convene a Special Nominating Committee Meeting on Thursday, December 11, 2008, at 4:30 p.m. for the purpose of recommending and nominating officers to the full Board for the year 2009. The meeting will be held in City Council Chambers, Southern Market, corner of South Queen and Vine Streets, City of Lancaster, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania."

Last year, the meeting was a travesty due to member and former Authority chair Ted Darcus' incorrectly insisting that the nominating committee chair was not permitted to nominate or second the nomination of candidates. Nothing in the Authority's By Laws or "Robert's Rules of Order" supported his contention, but the result was only Art Morris was the sole nominee for chair. The candidates for the other officers also were unopposed.

Whether Darcus did it on his own out of ignorance or was the 'cats paw' of powerful interests that wanted Morris at the helm (despite his being part of the minority City representatives) is a matter for speculation.

Nevertheless, it is likely that Morris would have been elected by the full board even if opposed. NewsLanc has often praised his leadership.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

NewsLanc bumper stickers now available

If you would like to place a NewsLanc bumper sticker on your vehicle, please send a request to . Kindly include your name and address including zip code.

NewsLanc is not for profit. Its ability to serve the community depends on the input and assistance of its audience.

Intell / New Era conceal TRRAAC's objections

The combined Dec. 6 edition headlines "$10M for rail yard move; New site's opponents slam Rendell's grant"

It would appear that either reporter Dave Pidgeon or the editor purposefully deleted reference to the principle TRRAAC objection: There has yet to occur a study by the authorities of alternate locations that may better serve the public's interest.

According to Bill Cluck, attorney for TRRAAC, Dave Pidgeon called him yesterday evening and Cluck "emphasized the need for independent study."

Instead, the article solely set forth Cluck's responses to questions from the reporter, the less persuasive NIMBY objections (Not in my back yard) with reference to the impact of the railyard on neighborhood property values and health.

NewsLanc is very disappointed to see the Lancaster Newspaper's reverting to the cronyism of recent years, whereby they spin the news to favor Franklin & Marshall, Fulton Bank, General Hospital, and Dale High. It seems that when the chips are down, they revert to form.

Friday, December 5, 2008

$10 million NOT for rail yard relocation?

According to a NewsLanc source deemed reliable, the $10 million is from the Capital Budget item inserted last July by Senator Gibson Armstrong. It apparently is for the extension of certain streets to open up the Northwest and reconnect it to the city. It is all part of the larger Northwest Gateway Project.

The source states this money will not be spent on the landfill or moving the rail yard. According to the source's information , PennDOT still has not decided whether to fund the $9 million for rail yard relocation this year.

LETTER: TRRAAC response to $10 million State check

"This announcement [of Governor Rendell delivering a $10 million check for rail road yard relocation] is a slap in the face to the taxpayers of the Commonwealth. Despite local opposition to the relocation of the rail yard into residential neighborhoods, and with virtually no public notice or opportunity to participate in the process, the Governor unilaterally has committed millions of dollars to support the rail yard relocation to enable Franklin and Marshall to move its athletic fields.

"Meanwhile, bridges are in disrepair, our highways need critical maintenance, state workers are foregoing raises, state colleges are facing significant mid year cutbacks and an across the board cut in the state budget looms, as well as likely massive tax and fee increases next year. Despite all this, the Govenor is providing $10 million for this ill-conceived boondoggle.

"All we at TRRAAC have requested from the start is an INDEPENDENT analysis of potential alternative locations for the relocation of the Dillerville rail yard. Instead, the funding process has been shrouded in secrecy and mystery. Repeated requests from TRRAAC were denied for the release of public documentation of the application and criteria for prioritizing the funding of this project over other more critical transportation needs.

"We are dismayed at the complete absence of transparency and the failure to provide the affected community with the opportunity to participate in decisions that impact our property values and quality of life."

McDonald calls for county investigation of Library System's role

Following negotiations with representatives of the Library System of Lancaster County on Thursday, the county commissioners indicated to NewsLanc that they are not likely to give the system its requested $150,000 increase.

The $2.15 million in the proposed 2009 budget reflects a 6.5% decrease from the $2.3 million the library system received from the county in 2008.

Jill Brewster, chair of the library system's financial board, said that the library system had crafted their budget before events in the national economy took a hard toll on their finances and that county departments have only been asked to take cuts of 3% each.

She said the library system would have liked more communication from the commissioners before they crafted their budget including the cut.

Bud Rettew, president of the library system board, said he is "very much fearful" that not only will library programs suffer, but that the commissioners would be setting a poor precedent for municipalities.

Commissioner Scott Martin rejoined that the county is dealing with cuts and flat funding from the state just like the library board is and that every single county department has faced cuts in the current environment.

"So it's a really tough sale," he said.

"I love libraries...but I also love children with mental retardation... and kids that are abused," he added, referring to the services other county departments provide.

Democratic Commissioner Craig Lehman said he thinks the budget is fair, although he would have been amenable to a cut of only 3% for the library system.

Commissioner Chairman Dennis Stuckey said that the recently-announced state spending freeze is another factor that will make it "very difficult to restore funding to previous levels."

He added that the board "ha[s] been very fair in our judgments in the money that we had to withhold or cut allocations to outside agencies" and also successfully avoided cutting jobs.

Others have questioned whether the library system is efficiently using the county funding it receives. Of the more than $2 million the system receives, only $150,000 of that will be distributed to the individual libraries for operational costs this year, according to their own admission.

Where does the rest of the money go?

That's a good question, says Steve McDonald, who is the Recorder of Deeds for the county but spoke to the commissioners in his capacity as a taxpayer.

"All the money the county is giving is going to fund a - for lack of better words - a bureaucracy," he said in apparent reference to the Library System, rather than to the 16 independent libraries.

McDonald added that there is little oversight over the process except by part-time volunteer boards for both the System and the 16 libraries who operate largely at the direction of paid support staff.

He noted that the system pays around $140,000 a year to rent spacious offices near Greenfield Road on a 10-year lease which expires in 2012 and said that their financial audits and statements reveal that not all state funding gets distributed to the libraries.

He went on to indicate that raises for directors of the individual libraries have been as high as 7%.

McDonald concluded by arguing that the commissioners should investigate how county money is being spent, that funding should be made "contingent on the services they actually provide," and that it might be helpful for the library system to become a county department.

Commissioners Stuckey and Martin agreed that the County Controller's office has the right to examine the finances of any entity receiving county funding, but, when questioned, refused to immediately agree that such an investigation is warranted in this situation.

Instead, each of the commissioners spoke in generalities about the necessity of watching where county money goes.

Lehman said he could not make a decision so quickly as to whether the points McDonald and others have raised are valid.

Stuckey added that the county has other priorities to deal with first.

NewsLanc will conduct further research and we will continue to raise this issue at public meetings.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

LETTER: Library System head earns more than mayor

I pulled the "Library System of Lancaster County" tax returns for the years '05, 06 and '07.

I compared the salary of Susan Hauer and discovered that her salary increased 12.7% from '05 to '07.

Is this what the Library System considers to be 'frugal'? At a 2007 salary of $87,797 she is making more than our state senators, all county row officers and all the county commissioners. Hauer makes $10,000 more than Mayor of Lancaster! Rick Gray has 417 (down from 439 I might add!) employees She has 23 employees and a relatively small responsibility and yet she thinks she deserves more?!

The bottom-line is that the Library System is out of control and is giving the poor libraries a black-eye with big-auto-maker-CEO style of begging for money.

A vital message from Lancaster General Hospital

Most deaths from drug overdoses are readily preventable if an ambulance is immediately summoned or the person rushed to a hospital emergency room.

However this often doesn't happen, because young people (and also adults) witnessing the event are afraid to become involved lest they expose themselves to criticism and possible prosecution.

Hospitals in cooperation with law enforcement authorities in many parts of the country have adopted what is called a "Good Samaritan" policy, whereby the identities of those calling an ambulance or dropping off a patient remain anonymous.

In response to its inquiry, NewsLanc received the following assurance from a spokesperson for Lancaster General Hospital:

"We have verified through our Emergency Medicine management that Lancaster General does not ask anyone who brings an overdose patient to the Emergency Department to identify themselves, as we want to encourage people to continue to bring people in for treatment who may be at risk of harm."

An overdose can be reversed in less than a minute with emergency care. Without the care, the person is likely to die. Moreover, the tragedy won't just be limited to the deceased and his or her loved ones. Everyone present will feel the guilt for the rest of their lives.

Anyone can find themselves involved in such a situation. Please share this message with your loved ones and others.

News & Commentary vs. Letters

When they contain information which is news worthy rather than just analysis, NewsLanc's often publishes correspondence for a few days under News & Commentary before moving then to Letters.

NewsLanc is meant to be a cooperative of knowledgeable individuals sharing their expertise and insights. Without such participation, it could be little more than a blog.

LETTER: Let trash authority pay

I noted in a recent story that you said in part, "…funding to conduct a study to determine whether a fourth boiler should be added to the county's incinerator in Conoy Township."

1) To be clear – there are two governmental bodies in this story – Lancaster County and Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority (LCSWMA) an independent authority.

2) The independent trash authority owns the incinerator in Conoy Township – not the county as stated in the story.

3) Since this authority owns the incinerator why are they coming before the county commissioners for this grant application? Why can't the authority apply for it directly?

4) The grant apparently has a 20% matching grant requirement , is the cash-rich, trash authority going to be paying that part of the study? This is really the most important of the questions!