Thursday, January 31, 2008

Morris re-elected chair of Authority; Ex Dir still sought

Art Morris was unanimously re-elected as Chair of the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority at its monthly board meeting, Thursday night.

Although candidates ran unopposed, there was an opportunity prior to voting for the nomination of additional candidates for the offices.

Morris expressed surprise that none of the approximately 30 persons in the audience chose to speak during the public comment periods. A wag in the audience offered "Don't get used to it" to the amusement of all.

Morris reminded the public that the Authority is looking into the propriety of its contracts with Penn Square Partners regarding naming rights.

Reading from the summary of the Public Relations, Marketing, and Hospitality Committee meeting, Morris said, "A short discussion took place regarding naming rights. Mr. Morris asked the committee to recommend a board member to work with him in consideration of the next steps, including a meeting with Penn Square Partners."

Morris went on to say, "At the request of Mr. Campbell, Mr. Morris agreed to talk with Ms. Chris Hauser, the solicitor, about the current meaning of the naming rights."

Also Thursday night, the members unanimously approved an agreement between the Authority and Hospitality Management Recruiters Inc. to extend the search for an Executive Director.

The motion included an amendment, proposed by R. B. Campbell, "authoriz[ing] the Chair to take whatever action the Chair deems appropriate to advertise for the Executive Director position."

Board member Kevin Fry said, "I would like the public to understand that we are working hard to find an executive director and we'll continue that work. We've had some good candidates and we've talked to some good people but, for a number of reasons, we've decided to continue our search.

Fry continued, "I just wanted everyone to understand that we're taking this very seriously and we want to hire someone who can find a good, qualified person, and that's the reason for this."

In other business, the Board approved engagement letters with Russell, Kraft, & Gruber of Lancaster for legal services, and Maher Duessel of Harrisburg for auditing services over the next five years.

The next full board meeting of the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority is scheduled for Thursday, February 28 at 7 PM in City Council chambers at Southern Market Center.

St. James serves breakfast to community's poor

Every morning, for more than 20 years, St. James Episcopal Church has been open for breakfast.

It all began when homeless people started knocking on the pastor's door offering to work for food.

That gave the church leadership the idea to start offering free breakfasts under what they're now calling the "Anchorage Breakfast Program."

Today, the Church, located at 119 N. Duke St. near Musser Park, serves an average of about 100 people a day, according to a volunteer coordinator Clark McSparren. A recent Thursday morning was particularly busy, with the count totaling 133.

"We serve coffee, tea, OJ, cereal, [and] oatmeal," McSparren said. "It's a cold breakfast."

McSparren said that St. James is the sole sponsor of this breakfast program, but he added that La Dolce Vita Courthouse Bakery down the street will often donate "sticky goods and breads."

Some of the volunteers helping out, like Charles Green, who is retired, have been volunteering for a long time. "I've been doing this for about 23 years," Mr. Green said. "I used to come here myself for breakfast."

Beth Kohler, a teaching assistant at Donegal High School, brought three students to help out. The students are in the school district's "Structure" program, which involves both academic study and "school to work" activities.

On this cold winter morning, the doors opened at 8:45 and a line quickly formed from the serving counter, across the room, and out into the hallway.

Most, though not all, of those availing themselves of the breakfast are homeless.

One young woman said that she has been homeless "since the end of September" because she could not pay her expenses after her husband stopped paying spousal support.

Another man said he was left homeless after a heart attack and expensive medical bills forced him into bankruptcy.

His friend interjected, "You gotta give up them cigarettes."

"I tried," he said softly.

One man was blunt about how he became homeless. "I'm in my position because of drinks and drugs," he said. "I made some bad choices - spent a whole paycheck on drinks and drugs, didn't care about paying bills."

"Some people we hang out with just wasn't good for us," another man added.

"A lot of people in here had real good jobs," the same person continued. "It can happen to anyone."

Next week: in Part 3 of our series, NewsLanc will report on the state of the
overnight facilities available for Lancaster's homeless population.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Density Does Work, Rotary Club of Lancaster is Told

The members of the Rotary Club of Lancaster listened to a presentation, Wednesday afternoon, by Metta Barbour, Executive Director of the Lancaster Coalition for Smart Growth.

The 5-Year old Coalition for Smart Growth, Barbour explained, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization devoted to promoting responsible growth management in Lancaster County.

Barbour spoke of the need for intelligently balancing the urgency of protecting agriculture and farmland with the inevitability of growth.

"'No growth' is not an option," she said. "Balance is the key to growth management in Lancaster County."

In order to achieve balance, Barbour continued, we need to set targets.

"Lancaster has enough land to accommodate about 20 years worth of growth at the current rate," she said.

The answer, Barbour suggested, is making development more "compact."

"Density can create vibrant, great places to live," she said. "Density that is well-designed creates great neighborhoods and attracts a growing market segment."

"As a matter of fact, trees can be one of the most important elements for communities," she said.

Barbour continued, "Density creates transportation choices when density is more than 7 homes per acre. Density means fewer trips, shorter trips, and less dependence on cars."

"Higher-density development also requires less infrastructure," she argued.

Barbour pointed to Summit Hills in Mountville as "an example of where density supports property values."

Lancaster Countians are concerned about high-density developments, evidenced perhaps most strongly by East Hempfield's recent rejection of a proposed Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) ordinance.

Others are supportive of such plans.

"Where will our kids go?" asked James Miller, who is also on the Lancaster County Planning Commission. "Do we as a Community want to provide housing and opportunities in Lancaster County for our future generations? That's the broader question that we should be prepared to answer as a community."

Supporters of Fired Naturalist Speak at Commissioners Meeting for Third Week in a Row

At the outset of the meeting, the Commissioners held a moment of silence in memory of former County Commissioner Paul Paes, who, Commissioner Chair Dennis Stuckey related, passed away on January 19th in his home. Paes served as a Commissioner from March 1973 to January 1976.

During public comment at the Wednesday morning session, Debra Scoen Lower Windsor Township in York County said, "I'm disappointed to see that Lancaster County has posted a vacancy for a Park Naturalist, presumably to replace Lisa Sanchez, and I'm very disappointed that five weeks after Lisa Sanchez was fired, no one has contacted Lisa Sanchez to hear her side of the story except for one meeting with her supervisor, who had already demonstrated his disrespect for her by dismantling her classroom."

"Lisa has declined to speak to the press, but she will speak to you," Scoen continued.

Commissioner Scott Martin said, "I would just like to say that I find it quite admirable to see so many people coming in and taking it as their civic duty to speak up and although we can't talk about anything that has to do with this issue, we truly appreciate your voices of concern."

Commissioner Craig Lehman, the lone Democrat on the board, said, "I would only add that it's a difficult situation for us because we cannot respond...I just want you to know that we respect what you all have to say and we are listening."

Tim Scoen of Lower Windsor Township responded, "I know you heard what we said. What we want to know is, will you personally take action on this issue?"

Lehman, appearing impatient, said, " I guess I would ask if you could give us the courtesy of giving us the benefit of the doubt, maybe, if that's possible....I think it's important for us as a Board and also for employees to know that when it comes to these types of issues, that the only responsible choice to have respects for all partied, is to do what we're trying to do, at the same time being respectful to you all - and maybe that isn't a good system - but if I have to take a hit from you all because of what I think is being respectful to all parties, I will do that.

Martin and Lehman said that they were surprised and disappointed to see that an advertisement has been posted for a new Park Naturalist.

Bill Bonanno of Rapho Township suggested that the Commissioners remove the job posting.

Just before adjourning, Commissioner Chair Dennis Stuckey said, "We'll look into that."

Study Commission Continues Work on Home Rule Charter

The Government Study Commission met at the County Courthouse in Lancaster, Tuesday afternoon, to further refine their draft of a Home Rule Charter for Lancaster County.

The members went back and forth on the precise wording of the proposed charter for three full hours, in front of four members of the general public.

The members of the Study Commission preliminarily decided, for example, that, if a Home Rule Charter is passed by the voters in November, there should be no waiting period before it can thereafter be revoked or revised. This was in opposition to the idea that there should be a five year waiting period before allowing the form of government to be changed again.

The members also refined the process whereby initiatives and referendums can be brought forward.

An initiative, under Article VI, Section 6.1 of this draft of the proposed Charter, is a process whereby citizens can place an issue before the Commissioners for their consideration. After entertaining the idea of requiring a certain percentage of voters or residents to have to sign such a petition, the Commission settled on making the requirement, "1,000 signatures of citizens of the County."

The Commission was prepared to make the requirement that it be "registered voters" who must sign an initiative but members John Smucker and Heidi Wheaton expressed concerns about disenfranchisement.

Article VI, Section 6.3 of the proposed Charter deals with the referendum process, which is different. Referendum, as defined here, is the power of the Board of the Commissioners to place questions on the ballot in both primary and general elections.

The Government Study Commission will meet again February 5 and February 12 at 2pm in room 502 of the County Courthouse.

Study Commission Chair Carol Phillips said she hopes to have a complete draft of the Home Rule Charter prepared by the end of the Commission's meeting on February 12.

COMMENTARY: Appointee Nelson Supports Convention Center Investigation

The Intelligencer Journal's of Jan. 30 reports the following from newly-appointed Convention Center Authority Board Member Dr. Sharron Nelson:

"If there were extravagances or improprieties — or nothing ... (we need to) know that so we can educate the public in terms of what happened and to make sure if it was inappropriate or too expensive, it doesn't happen again."


Nelson will be able to demonstrate her conviction tomorrow evening when the Convention Center Authority votes to choose its new officers. If she votes for Art Morris, Laura Douglas or R. B. Campbell for chair, the investigation of possible past improprieties or malfeasance by board members and / or staff should be in safe hands. (Highly competent Kevin Fry has not shown interest in the position. Julienne Dixson will be attending her first meeting.)

Since Ted Darcus was chair throughout much of the period to be investigated and for reasons obvious to those who witnessed his Draconian and wrong-headed tenure on the Board, he certainly should not be a candidate.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sharron Nelson's Selection Lauded but Timing Questioned

At Tuesday morning's County Commissioners' work session, former County Commissioner Sharron Nelson was unanimously appointed to the board of the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority. Nelson will fill the seat vacated by Thomas LeCrone.

Nelson was lauded by board members as well as the three members of the public who expressed their views.

Chair Dennis Stuckey opined: "When we get someone of the caliber of Sharron Nelson who is willing to serve, who has been there, who was a commissioner, who took an interest in the Convention Center, who knows the issue, I think it is prudent that we act quickly to get that quality of person there."

During the public comment period, Robert Edwin Field said he is "also an admirer of former commissioner Sharron Nelson" and that "Sharron Nelson is a wonderful selection."

Field expressed concerns, "Given the fact that members of the existing board have called for an investigation [of past dealings] ... given the fact that officers of the authority will be selected at their Thursday meeting and given that Dr. Nelson would be coming in at the last minute without having an opportunity to be abreast of the important things that have transpired ... this could lead to a choice of chair that could be detrimental to the County and the Board of Commissioners." (Field is president of

Also speaking from the audience, Bruce Clark indicated he agreed with much that Field said but was concerned that "deliberately delaying, you are taking away [the possibility] of Sharron Nelson being elected as chair."

Visitor Bill Bonnano added: "I am all for [Nelson] .... She has been going to convention center meetings. She is as smart as a whip, and honest and she is fair. You don't have a lot of time. The last time they chose someone they had a lot of time..."

Following the public comments, Commissioner Scott Martin added: "Just for the record, it is important to note that when we received the letter I believe dated January 13 that Dennis [Stuckey] specifically called Mr. LeCrone to understand his wishes on how he wants us to proceed and we have only acted in that manner as to what he thought his intentions were."

In his comments, Field also stated: "Because most of the [future] decisions have been contracted out ... what is really very important at this point is not just looking forward but looking back. I cannot go further into that since this is a public session, but I do urge that you do not make an appointment in such haste that can change the choice of who would be the Chair of the Convention Center."

When interviewed after the meeting, Field elaborated, "Given the three newly-appointed board members, my concern is that Ted Darcus might be returned to his position as Chair. His re-appointment would likely stifle any attempt for a meaningful investigation of questionable past payments of millions of dollars and bizarre contractual arrangements with Penn Square Partners that also are likely to cost the Authority millions."

Finance Committee Selects New Auditor for LCCCA

After modest debate regarding the pros and cons of each proposal, the Finance & Audit Committee of the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority voted unanimously, Monday night, to recommend that the full board act to hire the Harrisburg-based accounting firm Maher Duessel as the Authority's auditor for FY2009-FY2012.

The Authority will cease using its current accountant, Trout Ebersole of Lancaster due primarily to significant cost increases in their proposed rate structure over the next five years.

Committee Chair Laura Douglas, while acknowledging potential difficulties, in transitioning to another auditor, said it would be good to have "a fresh set of eyes" on the project.

Authority Secretary Shelley Weikert expressed grave concern to the Committee that helping train a new auditor will add to the amount of overtime she already works. "I'm really really being stretched thin," she said.

Interim Executive President Art Morris, assured her that the Board understands her concern and will see what it can do to hire additional help if necessary.

The Committee also discussed the shape of the Authority's finances, which Morris deemed to be "in good shape," despite the fact that the Authority is appealing to the State for $3.2 million in "contingency funds."

As for that effort, Morris reported that although the State has not yet acted on the request, "They're glad we're looking ahead."

Two members of the general public attended Monday night's Committee meeting.

Randolph Carney of Lancaster City said, "I'm amazed at how proactive Art has been... I wish you were the Executive Director eight years ago."

"I don't," Morris mumbled, triggering laughter.

Bruce Clark of New Holland proposed to the Committee that they consider the idea of putting a casino in the Convention Center, saying, "As much as we might hate doing something like that, it would attract a very large clientele of seniors and the retired."

The Board did not comment on Clark's proposal.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Gil Smart as Hamlet re Convention Center

On page 39 of "Molly S. Henderson v. Lancaster Newspapers, Inc., et al.," a blog posting by Sunday News associate editor Gil Smart from Aug. 2, 2007 is referenced. Smart's comments in response to 'Artie See' appear below:

"In the comments here, Artie See - whose writing I enjoy - notes that while we agree on many issues, he believed that 'we disagree on the *single* largest expenditure of taxpayer dollars in Lancaster County history…'"

"Well, maybe. I wrote about the convention center all of once in my column, way back in 1999, when we were still talking about a 61,000-square-foot facility (which, these days, seems almost quaint). I expressed some doubts that the promises being made then could be kept. Now that the project's been supersized, I'm virtually certain that the promises - the projections - won't be met.

"And I agree that there has been much wrong with the way this project has progressed. That there was no itemization of the billing from Stevens & Lee was, and is, ridiculous. That project proponents decided to simply ignore the Brookings Institution and others who suggest that the convention market is soft - and that the assumptions underlying this project may be invalid - is reckless.

"But while I may dislike various aspects of the project, the jury's still out on others - and perhaps on the project as a whole. I'm on the fence, in other words. And when am I, of all people, ever on the fence about anything?

"At the same time, I have some definitive ideas on how we got here in the first place.

"Lancaster Newspapers and Fulton Bank got involved in this project essentially for two reasons. The first was that both have multi-million dollar investments in the center city, and wanted to protect those investments. A falling-down structure just a few doors up from your corporate headquarters, on arguably the most important corner of the downtown crossroads, simply ain't good for business.

"Beyond this, though, I will argue that a genuine altruistic impulse was involved in their decision to get involved in the project. I can tell you, working here, that this is an old-style paternalistic company, and that's a very good thing for the people who work here. The company feels a sense of responsibility to its people, and to the community. And it was in part because of that sense of responsibility that LNP took on this project. Many of us who work for these newspapers wish it had been otherwise, for as my boss, Marvin Adams, has written on several occasions, *we have not covered this issue as we would have had someone else been running the show. We have absolutely pulled punches*. I can't tell you how many stories I've seen of this community or that community which has similar, successful convention centers. But where are the stories on communities where convention centers have failed?

"I can tell you of one, I've been there personally: Niagara Falls, N.Y. We stayed in a Holiday Inn directly across the street from the convention center; it was nice, but we were literally half a block from the 'hood. Boarded up buildings, liquor stores, you know the drill. Right next door to the hotel was this tree-lined courtyard, obviously meant to be an outdoor mall. Every single one of the shops was closed, out of business. Down closer to the falls itself was another outdoor mall, about a third occupied, including the smallest, saddest-looking Hard Rock Cafe I've ever seen.

"As I wrote shortly afterward, if this is the honeymoon capital of America, no wonder half of all marriages end in divorce.

"But on the other, Canadian side of the falls, the town is thriving. They've got a casino. And that has helped turn it into a tourist Mecca; the place was bustling where the American side was empty. I counted seven of those huge construction cranes - the likes of which now towers over the old Watt & Shand building - on the Canadian side. That is an undeniable sign of progress, of success.

"That is why I would wholeheartedly support the idea of putting a slots parlor into any Lancaster convention center/hotel. That is a persistent rumor that won't go away, probably a whole bunch of nothing. But if it were something - it would go a very long way toward making the whole venture here a success, putting it on more secure fiscal footing.

"I wonder, though, if those who have opposed the convention center on the basis of fiscal doubt would then support it - or whether they'd cast their lot with the anti-gambling moralists of the world.

"Could the hotel/convention center be successful without this? Perhaps - though it depends on how you define "success." I've had several local public officials assure me that there is all sorts of ancillary development waiting in the wings to make sure that this is actually going to happen, and that if it does this restaurateur or that retailer will certainly pull the trigger. And then we'll have all sorts of concomitant, *taxable* growth in or near center city. And then, even if the center/hotel itself doesn't meet projections, it still will have realized the goal of revitalizing Lancaster, and the financial impact of failing to meet projections could then be mitigated.

"Maybe. I've no idea how much of this waiting-in-the-wings development is real, concrete, committed, how much of it is theoretical. I do know that the job of luring retailers, restaurants and similar uses to the center of town is now in the hands of the James Street Improvement District and its director, Lisa Riggs, whom I've worked with on numerous occasions and about whom I can say, she knows what she's doing and she's good at it. It is not as if the city, at this point, is just permitting this thing to be built, sitting back and hoping they will come; the JSID in particular is out there beating the bushes. That is a hopeful development, and one wishes it might have materialized four or five years ago, rather than at this late date.

"And so this, then, is what I think about the convention center. A decidedly mixed bag. And I might have written about this at some point had it not been for the fact that I have, on occasion, been called upon to cover this. Now our staff writer Judy Strausbaugh, who has covered the convention center issue, is leaving to take a position down south, and I may have to begin covering this issue again. Personally, I'd rather spend the next year back in court. But as a general rule, I have tried to avoid opining about things that I have actually had to cover. And that's true of this issue in particular.

"Those who have suspected this are right: Anti-convention center opinion hasn't exactly been encouraged around here. Things might have been a little more, shall we say, fair and balanced had one of the newspapers, anyway, opposed it - or pushed harder for accountability. Even if all three newspapers supported it after long, thoughtful consideration, it just looks bad.

"A while back I wrote in the print edition of the parallels between this project, on the local level, and the Iraq war on the national level. Parallels in how the "product" was sold; you might consider Judith Miller and "The Watt & Shand Building will remain dark forever" (project opponents know exactly what I'm talking about) in the same vein. In both cases, the assertion that we had no choice but the current course of action was and is patently false.

"I have been a critic of how the national media treated the run-up to war, but locally I am *of* the establishment - a fact driven home to me when the establishment attorney kicked butt - as the establishment attorney would - and saved *my* butt in court last week (of course, as a buddy noted, had I not been of the establishment I wouldn't have written the story, nor found myself in court as a result, in the first place). I'm not going to come out shiny happy in favor of the convention center, because I'm not shiny happy in favor of it. But neither am I convinced that it is guaranteed to fail in the broad scope of its aims; not *merely* to meet its own fiscal projections, but beyond that.

"And even if it does - well, this isn't the war in Iraq. No one dies. At worst, taxes go up, perhaps way up; but if that were to happen, it in fact becomes - or could become, if the local "insurgents" managed it correctly - the death knell for the establishment as it is now constituted in Lancaster County. People here are going to remember, as well they should, whose idea this was, who pushed and pushed for it, the promises made. And there again is the parallel with Iraq, in that if it does fail, its proponents will be saddled with that failure, it will be hung around their necks like a yoke. I don't know that the establishment grasps this; I don't know that project opponents fully grasp it, either. Success *or* failure, the convention center marks a turning point, *the* turning point; and if it is to mark the end of an era, the question down here, as it is *up there* with the Iraq war, is the same:

"What comes next?"

History Collection Includes Hawkes's Brave Column

Numerous historic articles, communications and documents pertaining to the Convention Center Project are now posted at The collection is a treasure chest for future historians and generations to come.

Included is a Jan. 1, 2006 column by Jeff Hawkes of the Intelligencer Journal entitled "Local Newspaper Prints The Truth (mostly)" that was Hawkes's brave and perhaps last attempt to speak candidly, albeit cautiously, to ownership, the Power Elite and his readers.

Hawkes's article can be read at:

Friday, January 25, 2008

EDITORIAL: A public letter to Tom LeCrone

Mr. LeCrone:

Of course we are all sorry that personal circumstances have caused you to leave the Convention Center Authority Board, but you accomplished some monumental things during your few months tenure.

1) By insisting that a future Executive Director be chosen through a deliberative process, you safeguarded against a rush to mediocrity and ended the omnipotence of the position of board chair.

2) Your successful advocacy of an agreement that the LCCCA will always pay debt service before expenses will prevent any attempt to conceal a future fiscal crisis. A future authority board will have to ask the County Commissioners to waive that provision, and that will publicly vindicate the warnings provided by two brave former commissioners and many of us that the project is fiscally unsound.

(This was the first real debate and substantive vote with the results contrary to the position of the chair in years, and possibly since the Authority's inception.)

3) You were supportive of an investigation of the propriety of the $20 million dollars in past expenditures.

4) You sought an explanation of any business rationale and why past board members were apparently not briefed by counsel concerning "gifting" of millions of dollars in naming rights and future state grants from the Authority to Penn Square Partners.

5) And lastly, you recognized the unfairness of there being only three persons on a nominating committee where a nomination and a seconding was required for each office, making more than one nominee per office unlikely. And you would not stand still for Ted Darcus misleading you and the nominating committee by erroneously insisting that the chair was not permitted to nominate or second a nomination.

By invalidating the tainted committee meeting and requesting that Chair Art Morris convene a new nominating committee consisting of all seven board members, you proposed a fair and appropriate method for providing two or more candidates for each position.


It seems likely that next week's LCCCA Board meeting will be your last one. We hope you will demonstrate the same vigor in advocating a fair election and selecting the best possible chair, be it Morris or another, as has been characteristic of your entire brave, wise and productive tenure as a board member.

Thank you for your invaluable service on behalf of the LCCCA and the public.

Patronage at Community Homeless Outreach Center Nearly Triples Since Opening

A visit to the Community Homeless Outreach Center (CHOC) on the premises of the Water Street Rescue Mission reveals that the number of homeless and vagrants using that facility has appreciably increased since the facility's debut in late November.

CHOC Director Adrian Rodriguez reports, "We are actually averaging, as of last week, about 64 drop-ins per week."

Rodriguez went on to say that Tuesday was their busiest day so far, with 79 different people using the shelter.

The center is a daytime drop-in facility, open from 9:30 am to 4 pm offering showers, bathrooms, laundry facilities, water and coffee, small-item storage, and just a warm place to sit down for anyone in need of such services.

"We help fulfill some of the gap needs," Rodriguez explained, including assistance finding a job, referral to other social service providers, and securing housing.

Indeed, "Both national and local studies have shown that the quicker you get them into housing, the quicker everything else in their situation gets better," said Lenny Walton, Chair of the Center's Steering Committee. "One thing that people need is small, affordable rental housing and we really don't have that here in Lancaster County, " he said.

"The idea [of the Center] is to provide that linkage to the services that are already there," Walton continued.

Users of the facility are appreciative of having a place to come inside and hang out.

One gentleman indicated that his stay at the center is a "stepping stone" for him, as he recently moved to the area from Reading and is trying to find a place to live.

When asked where he goes at night, he indicated that some of the Center's partner organizations - mostly local churches, offer overnight shelter on a rotating basis. This week it's at James Street Mennonite Church in the City's northwest.

It is also primarily the churches and partner organizations who offer free meals. Water Street Rescue Mission also offers meals to residents enrolled in some of its programs. "Non-residents need a meal ticket by going to Chapel at 7:30 pm." an information sheet explained.

Another person, who has been without a home for about 3 weeks said, "I can take a bath, get coffee," and "they have mental health assistance."

"On Fridays, Adrian brings out the big tv screen and we can watch movies," he added.

A middle-aged woman said she has been using the facility since January 14th, after having lost her home in a legal dispute.

It has been observed that the Duke Street Library had been attracting some of the homeless, an observation Walton shared; but he thinks fewer have been there since the CHOC opened. "I think some of the people you're seeing may be there for the breakfast at St. James," he volunteered.

For their part, the library staff didn't seem to be bothered by the homeless population.

Director of Development for the Lancaster Public Library Paul Landry indicated, "The homeless are not a greater source of disruption than anyone else... I don't think we have any issues that other urban libraries don't have to deal with."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A rush to appoint would raise suspicions

In reference to the disclosure on Tuesday of Thomas LeCrone's intention to resign from the Convention Center Authority board, the Jan. 24 Intelligencer Journal reports:

"At the commissioners' weekly meeting Wednesday, Robert Field of Lancaster Township encouraged the new board to use that same process to appoint LeCrone's replacement." (The prior commissioners had solicited applications and interviewed several candidates before making a selection.)

"'That earlier process was widely viewed as fair and impartial,'" Field said. (Full disclosure: Field is president of

The Intell goes on to say:

"Commissioners chairman Dennis Stuckey said no decision has been made yet on how the commissioners will select LeCrone's replacement.

"'We need to put our heads together and talk about this and then go from there,' he said.

"'The commissioners might choose to publicly interview candidates,' Stuckey said.

"'Or, if the right person comes along, they might not.'"

Since LeCrone has agreed to remain until February 13, a rush to appoint a replacement within six days would suggest the intention of the commissioners to influence the election of Authority officers scheduled to take place on next Thursday, January 31.

LeCrone was chair of the Nominating Committee charged with selecting candidates for offices for an election at the January 31 Authority board meeting. An attempt in December by his committee was deemed invalid by LeCrone. The committee only had three persons and, since two were required to nominate, it made it unlikely that more than one candidate would be selected. Furthermore, committee member Ted Darcus inaccurately insisted that the chair could not nominate or second. LeCrone requested that Board Chair Art Morris convene a new nominating committee of all seven board members to select candidates.

LeCrone's resignation came as a bolt out of the blue to his close colleagues both on and off the Board.

Adding to suspicions was the appointment by Mayor Rick Gray of former City Council President Julianne Dixson to replace Joseph Morales, and reappointment of Ted Darcus to represent the City which took place simultaneously with LeCrone's resignation.

Has Penn Square Partners orchestrated a coup that will: (1) Return the discredited Ted Darcus to Chair of the Authority? (2) Thwart attempts by board members to investigate terms "gifting" potentially millions of dollars of what should be Authority funds to Penn Square Partners; (3) Forever close the door to the investigation supported by Morris and other board members of the spending of $20 million in tax payer money leading up to the start of the project?

One thing is certain: With Dick Shellenberger and Molly Henderson gone, nothing of significance will take place in Lancaster without the imprimatur and approval of the Power Elite.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Statistics Prof Dispels Myths, Warns Rotarians of the Malleability of Numbers

The members of the Rotary Club of Lancaster in attendance at Wednesday's weekly meeting enjoyed a lecture on statistics from Dr. Al Forsyth, who has taught statistics as an adjunct Professor at Millersville University, Franklin & Marshall College, and Penn State University.

Forsyth spoke about the importance of being able to understand statistics, since they are frequently adduced as evidence for many different claims. "Even our professionals are being fooled by not being able to read [statistical] reports," he said.

Forsyth is also distressed by what he sees as "a decline in public regard for scientific findings."

He presented examples of widespread claims that have been based on faulty statistics, including that "an aspirin a day keeps the doctor away," that "marijuana is a gateway drug," and that "there is a correlation between Female CEOs and lower stock prices."

"We tend to think linearly and much of the world isn't like that," Forsyth said.

He also pointed out that different people can read the same information and draw different conclusions from it based solely on their initial prejudices and interpretive tendencies.

Forsyth encouraged his listeners to visit to learn more about and take tests revealing their often subconscious prejudices.

He repeated that correlation does not necessarily equal causation. "Even where there is a strong correlation, it's still often inappropriate to assume causation," he said.

Forsyth said that the news media has to be particularly careful about how they present statistics in stories.

"There's also a disturbing trend toward paying attention to only one economic indicator at a time," he said.

Forsyth closed by saying that a proper respect for and understanding of statistical information is a key factor in helping achieve Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of social justice.

Commissioners hear about Authority board vacancy, fired naturalist

At the this morning's weekly public meeting of the County Commissioners, County residents spoke to the Commissioners about their concerns.

NewsLanc president Robert Edwin Field prefaced the reading of the statement below with an expression of concern about the dangers facing the fledgling Commissioners in prematurely appointing a replacement for Tom LeCrone, pointing out hasty and decisions made early in an administration can have dire and long term consequences.

He also said, "It is important that the openness that Art Morris has capably brought to that Authority be continued." He warned: "If, in fact, the nominee is going to be 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,' as we've seen in the past, confidence will be lost not only in the Authority but in this body as well."

Bonnie Miller of Manor Township agreed, saying, "I plead with you to be open. Right or wrong [the Convention Center] is going to exist, and the Community is going to try to support it, but please place someone on that Board who has knowledge of Convention Centers and has knowledge of what they're doing. Please do not make it a political appointment."

For the second week in a row, friends and acquaintances of former County Parks employee Lisa Sanchez turned out to ask the Commissioners to look into her apparent termination late last month.

Tim Mackey of Pequea Township said, "I'm appealing to you to intervene on her behalf and have her reinstated as a naturalist," extolling Ms. Sanchez as "born to teach.

Gail Meylin of Millersville added "She is passionate about the natural world, about sharing her knowledge, and gifted in her ability to do so."

The Commissioners listened respectfully but reminded the audience that they cannot, as a matter of policy, comment on a County personnel matter.

The commissioners approved an arrangement with Cumberland County for per diem payment per "resident" at the Youth Intervention Center and for the filing of a Grant Application for funds for the Lancaster Family Center for future years.

City Council Appoints Dickson, Reappoints Darcus to LCCCA

"The Mayor has submitted the name of Mr. Ted Darcus for reappointment to the Convention Center Authority for a term beginning January 22, 20008 to January 22 2012. As the former Chair and member of the Authority, we're happy to recommend his re-appointment," City Councilman and Chair of the the Council's Personnel Committee Nelson Polite said.

Darcus was then confirmed to the position by unanimous vote of the Council.

Polite then brought forward the nomination of Julianne Dickson to replace Joseph Morales on the Convention Center Authority, describing her as "a gold medal former Council President."

Dickson was also confirmed by unanimous vote.

Asked by a NewsLanc reporter why he decided to resign from the Convention Center Authority, Morales acknowledged a possible conflict of interest, saying, "From potential of a conflict as well as my commitment as an elected official, I felt that that takes a certain precedence over my role on the Authority Board. The timing was good and I felt that I sort of owed it to Council to give that my full attention."

"I probably could have stayed on, but my wife and my doctor made me slow down," he added with a smile.

In other business, City Council approved by unanimous vote a zoning amendment changing the classification of a 1.38 acre tract of land located on the south side of Seymour Street and the Northeast side of Fairview Avenue from commercial to residential. As NewsLanc had previously reported, Preferred Self Storage, Inc., and David Miller Associates requested the amendment in order to make way for the development of 19 residential units along Fairview Avenue in front of the storage facility.

Mayor Rick Gray announced that more than 23 citations were issued last week under the City's new Ordinance regarding "Keys in Locks."

"Residents are reminded," the Mayor said, "that an increase in the number of vehicles stolen in the City can negatively impact the insurance rates of everyone living in the City."

Gray also announced that construction on the Convention Center will "lead to closure of one lane of Vine Street for approximately two weeks" next month.

"The westbound lane will be closed and some parking will be removed between Duke and Queen Streets for a lane shift, but traffic will remain open in both directions," he continued.

Gray also announced the reaching of an agreement between the City and the management of the Lancaster Barnstormers "on certain conditions for the issuance of permits for fireworks displays."

Under the agreement, fireworks permits will be denied if the noise level is deemed "excessive," the Barnstormers will attempt "to provide a visually pleasing display while minimizing the impact of noise on the surrounding neighborhoods," and all displays must conclude before 11 pm, according to Gray.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

EDITORIAL: Message to Commissioners: What's the rush?

In light of county appointee Tom LeCrone's decision to resign from the convention center authority board effective February 13, 2008, NewsLanc suggests that you as County Commissioners go through the same interview process used by your predecessors in selecting a replacement. That earlier process was widely viewed as fair, thorough, and impartial.

Also, it would seem imprudent for a new board member to be named mere days before his or her first meeting, a critical meeting at which the board's officers will be selected. Typically, decisions are made by the board on the basis of business conducted earlier that month. Stepping in at so late in the month at such a critical time, when he or she has not attended the committee meetings for that same month, would not allow enough time to 'get up to speed.'

Mr. LeCrone has shown himself to be an exemplary member of the board, has given Feb. 13th as his resignation date, and he is 'up to speed' on the board's business -- why rush to replace him?

Amtrak: Station parking to shrink. Trolley cars anticipated

Following is a response from Karina Romero, Manager of Media Relations for Amtrak, to an inquiry from

  • Amtrak owns the parking lot at the Lancaster station but has contracted out the operation of it to Parc More

  • Current expansion plan will take the number of spaces from 169 to 300, almost doubling the size of the lot – we are maximizing the available space

  • Construction will take approximately 2 years and during that time available parking will be limited to allow for construction equipment

  • Other transportation options to/from the station include:
    • 2 taxi services, Friendly Cab & Yellow Cab – both have taxis parked at the station, awaiting the arrival of passengers (used to be an on call service)
    • Red Rose Transit – local transit system – makes stops around town including stops at the station and numerous other parking lots and garages

  • Long term plans include the possibility of a street car system which would travel between the train station and the convention center, making local stops but this option is years away – we do have a representative on the committee considering this project

Authority Board Upheaval: Forward to the Past

According to the Jan. 22 New Era, "The three commissioners — Republicans Dennis Stuckey and Scott Martin and Democrat Craig Lehman — agreed they will be looking for a consensus-builder to replace [resigned Authority Board member Thomas] LeCrone.

Simultaneously Mayor Rick Gray announced the re-appointment of former Authority chair Ted Darcus and Julianne Dickson, like Darcus also a former City Council president. Dickson will replace Joseph Morales.

Confirmation of the appointments is anticipated by City Council at their 7:30 p.m. meeting this evening at the Southern Market Center.

"We're not looking for anyone who would be divisive in any manor (sic)," Martin said.

The New Era went on to report: "The days of sniping are over and the days of cooperation have begun," [Mayor Rick] Gray said of his relationship with the new commissioners. "We're going to talk about this for the good of all citizens of Lancaster County."

Perhaps an Authority with board members who will once again unquestioningly go along with what is handed down from the chair and executive director? In short: stooges for Penn Square Partners?

If so, forward to the past. How very sad!

Tom LeCrone Resigning from Convention Center Authority

Commissioner Chairman Dennis Stuckey announced during Tuesday's Commissioners Worksession that he has received a letter from Thomas LeCrone announcing his resignation from the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority.

Stuckey read aloud LeCrone's explanation that his "activities and responsibilities have changed substantially since last March" and that LeCrone is " tending [his] resignation effective February 13, 2008 or as soon as the Board of Commissioners appoints [his] replacement."

Commissioner Scott Martin said, "I'd like to see people who are consensus-builders, people who understand that it's important that it's done in a financially prudent manner - because we all know it's here."

Democratic Commissioner Craig Lehman added, "I'd like to see someone who has experience serving in a similar role, someone who brings an ability to work in a public environment, and someone who has a history of working for the betterment of the community in general."

Asked by a NewsLanc reporter how soon the Board hopes to act to replace LeCrone, Commissioner Chairman Stuckey responded, "We may be able to do it by next week."

Lest We Forget: Rick Gray's "mugging" by PSP

The following are quotes from the Intelligencer Journal headlined "news" report (or should we say fantasy) of Aug.11, 2006:

"Lancaster city Mayor Rick Gray announced a plan Thursday to keep alive a hotel/convention center project by plugging a $20 million funding gap." The gap did not get plugged; rather it grew.

"... $2 million for the naming rights to the convention center." Half of which we now learn is to go to Penn Square Partners. Penn Square Partners will also get half of any additional State funding.

" Some $5.25 million of Gray's plan would come from what developers term 'value engineering'. This is a plan that calls for construction firms to be asked to build portions of the project with less-costly materials than originally proposed." The $5.25 didn't materialized. Instead, costs soared.

"$3 million from the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County when it purchases easements covering the Watt & Shand and Montgomery House facades." Sheer fantasy. The Trust denied the assertion right away.

"The project budget is now about $160 million and would be composed of almost $40 million in private funding and more than $100 million from public sources." The last we heard it was around $180 million and it may climb yet to $200 million. As for "$40 million in private funding", we have no idea what they were talking about. Last we heard, the commitment was about eleven million.

"Gray said that although the entire plan is not guaranteed, 'this is a plan you can reasonably expect to come to fruition.'" Well, it didn't!

Buried in the article was an observation from Thomas Despard, a local resident with decades of national real estate experience: "'No matter how good the intentions of project supporters, it is time for all parties to recognize that this funding gap cannot be responsibly bridged, and that by joining together as a community we can pursue several worthier alternatives." Truer words have seldom been spoken!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

EDITORIAL: Morris should stay as member

A contributor has written a thoughtful letter, "Art Morris Must Step Down."

NewsLanc agrees that the Convention Center Chair (and interim Executive Director) now finds himself in a serious conflict of interest, since his financial well being and his reputation for integrity depend on the outcome of the lawsuit brought by former county commissioner Molly Henderson.

His actions, consciously or sub-consciously, could be influenced by concerns about the future testimony of parties affiliated with The Lancaster Newspapers, Inc., a codefendant with Morris.

Morris clearly should not remain as chair because every move he makes, every action the board takes, will be under the suspicion that there may be ulterior motives. There have been too many reasons for such suspicions in the past before Morris took over from Ted Darcus and Dave Hixson.

Nevertheless, Morris's competence, experience and contributions are very valuable. If only a board member, he would not be acting in an executive capacity.

We urge that Morris decline to be a candidate for reelection as chair but retain his seat on the board, at least for the time being.

Friday, January 18, 2008

CC Authority to Revisit Naming Rights Contracts

In a surprisingly welcome moment during Thursday afternoon's Public Relations, Marketing, & Hospitality Committee meeting of the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority, Interim Executive Director and Chair Art Morris announced that the Authority will revisit the controversial contract that awards certain naming priorities to the Convention Center to S. Dale High and shares 50% of the resulting revenue with Penn Square Partners.

"The idea, really, is that, we have an agreement that covers this and we haven't really moved forward in looking at the issue in a complete way," Morris began.

Joe Morales agreed, "Certainly a closer look will have to be taken at this document" and explained, "For those unfamiliar, we have what is called a Condominium Document that was drawn-up very early on in the preparation of this project. And I think I'll be as diplomatic as I can in saying that there are a couple of provisions of this agreement that I think are not entirely in the best interest of this authority."

Morales then proceeded to read section 5.3 of that agreement, including the provision S. Dale High "shall have the right of first offer with respect to all naming rights."

But Morales hesitated. "As far as I'm concerned," he said, "we're fairly well bound by the legality of this document."

He continued, "I think that it will only by the - what's a good word here, largesse - of Mr. S. Dale High that any changes are made or even entertained so I would encourage this Board and this particular committee to enter such conversations with Mr. High to maybe allow this authority a greater deal of flexibility in negotiating naming rights."

"Any other comments before we open the floor?" Morales asked.

"No," Laura Douglass said through clenched teeth, drawing laughter from the Board.

Then Lancaster City resident Randolph Carney arose and said: "I recommend to this committee that you do not sell the naming rights. I know money's an issue, but of all the agreements, this is one of the worst. And it is to the great disadvantage of the taxpayers of Lancaster County. There is nothing in that agreement that says you must sell the naming rights...Just drop it."

Board member R.B. Campbell, in attendance but not on the Public Relations, Marketing, & Hospitality Committee, disagreed with Morales' earlier statement, saying, "I don't think it's appropriate for us to assume that this is a legally binding contract. None of us here are attorneys. I'm not saying it's not, but I think it certainly needs to be looked at by an attorney who has appropriately research this issue. Number 2: this agreement was entered into a number of years ago and very few of the current board members were present when this one negotiated."

Campbell went on to say: "I think, at a minimum, we need to know who represented the Authority, in negotiating this particular issue. and we need to talk to that person to get their best recollection of how the negotiations took place, and that may shed some light on this."

Morris stressed that "No decisions have been made. This is just a beginning point that, between meetings, we can look at the issue and come back to another meeting with a recommendation" He said he would consult with Authority Solicitor Chris Hauser on the issue.

Douglas suggested that Tom LeCrone be the member who is appointed to assist Morris in revisiting these contracts with Penn Square Partners.

Earlier in the meeting, Morris had stated:

"It was several years ago looked at and my understanding was that there was a sense that maybe there was not a significant opportunity for revenue. But I don't think the board in the recent year or so has really looked at this issue and decided how to go forward with it. One of the things that has been discussed in the past, and I think that most people who come to these meetings regularly, at least, and those on the board are well aware of, is that the revenue from naming rights are shared 50% between the unit owner of the Convention Center and the unit owner of the Hotel. Consequently, the idea of putting this out today was to get direction from the Committee and at least ask the Committee and others present whether you would consider recommending to the board the name of a board member - appointing somebody that could actually meet with me between meetings and one of the things I would suggest that we do initially is meet with the other party that would receive some of this revenue to start talking about how we could begin to look at this issue, whether it is a revenue opportunity and, if so, how can we work together with the other party to share the costs of looking at it and it requires hiring somebody to help us but it would be done in a shared-cost way."

Surprisingly, the suspect contractual arrangement whereby Penn Square Partners would receive half of any additional grants to the Convention Center was not discussed.

Earlier in the meeting, the Committee heard an update on marketing and sales efforts from Josh Nowak of Interstate Hotels & Resorts and Chris Barrett of the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention & Visitors Bureau. Nowak announced that there are now five event bookings, some which will bring approximately 3,400 people a day to the city.

Need to Distinguish "Traditional" From Planned Residential Development

In in his Intelligencer Journal column of Jan. 18 headed "Like it or not, it is time to talk TND," Jeff Hawkes leads by saying "In a democracy, the will of the people is sometimes going to frustrate common sense." There is no arguing with that. But as philanthropist George Soros has opined "A well informed public over time will tend to make better decisions."

Hawkes seems to be under the mistaken impression that TND is an innovation for achieving more dense utilization of ground and creating a village-like neighborhood. In fact, many municipalities have for decades made provisions for Planned Residential Development including a certain amount of commercial area to serve their residents.

Hawkes attributes the opposition to the proposed Traditional Neighborhood Development [TND] to irrational fear: "Residents whipped each other into such a frenzy of fear that they stampeded the East Hempfield supervisors into rejecting a concept worth considering and refining, and they did so before the voices of reason could clear their throats." But by published accounts, some criticism of the plan seemed quite cogent.

Reported East Hempfield citizenry's concerns as well as NewsLanc's Editorial "East Hempfield TND May Benefit From Adjustments" included: (1) the excessively high amount of permitted commercial usage that could have led to shopping centers to serve the region rather than small stores to serve the planned neighborhood and (2) the dubious concept of insisting on alleyways between the rear of townhouses which reduces density, eliminates common back yards, increases paving by a third, is environmentally unfriendly, creates security issues for the future, and drives up cost of construction and future maintenance.

In short, it is "Traditional" as proposed by the East Hempfield planners that has been challenged, not the concept of planned residential community allowing twice as much mixed type housing units (single family, single lot line, and townhouses) as the post World War II three-to-the-acre, single family housing developments.

Hawkes is right about the need for mixed used, higher density, village-like developments to avoid urban sprawl. But "smart growth" requires attention to the details, not genuflecting to a misleading name.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

City Planning Commission Receives Updates from Players LGH, RRTA, High

Lancaster General won final approval of its plan to add a 4,000 sq. ft. addition to its College of Nursing & Health Sciences at 410 N. Lime St., from the Lancaster City Planning Commission, Wednesday night.

The city planners approved the action with the qualifications that the College install a sewer module required by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and with an exception for the usual on-site parking requirement, as Lancaster General shuttles its students in from Burle Business Park.

The planners also heard a very preliminary plan from Red Rose Transit Authority (RRTA) and the Lancaster Museum of Art, who propose to purchase and subdivide a 1500 sq-ft. parcel of land in the rear of 215 N. Queen St. with the ultimate end of giving RRTA buses an outlet to Chestnut Street, and possibly building a parking garage on the current parking lot at the corners of Queen & Chestnut.

City Planning Commission member John Lyons pushed for, and won, a resolution, stating that "It is the sense of the commission that, when a plan is developed, that it include space for commercial space along chestnut and North Queen" - an idea to which all parties seemed amenable.

RRTA Executive Director David Kilmer spoke favorably about the idea of encouraging commercial retail space along the ground level of the proposed garage, in addition to having covered space for buses.

And then the city planners acknowledged the elephant in the room. Tom Smithgall of the High Real Estate Group, master developer of the Hotel & Convention Center Project, presented a video just short of four minutes showing "artistic conceptions" of what the facility will look like when it is finally completed - currently projected for Spring 2009.

Smithgall provided a broad outline of the project's specifications and on the project's progress so far.

Speaking of the representations, City Planner John Lyons said, "When you have this tower that springs out - it looks arresting." He went on to say, "We really want to see this succeed" and expressed hope that the project will also spur nearby commercial investment.

The City Planning Commission meets the first and third Wednesday of each month at 7:30pm in Southern Market Center in conference room 4.

Henderson's Counsel Won $3.5 Million from Citizens Voice in Defamation Action

The following item pertaining to the Citizens' Voice of Wilkes-Barre is from the web site of Kohn Swift & Graf, P. C. of Philadelphia, one of two law firms representing former commissioner Molly Henderson in her suit against the Lancaster Newspapers and others:

On October 27, 2006, in Joseph v. The Scranton Times, LP, et al., Luzerne County Judge Mark A. Ciavarella entered a verdict in favor of Plaintiff Thomas A. Joseph for reputation and economic damages in the amount of $3.5 million.

In a two-week bench trial, KS&G proved that Plaintiff Thomas A. Joseph, a businessman in Pittston, PA, and his business Acumark were defamed by The Scranton Times, LP's daily publication The Citizens' Voice.

In a series of ten articles published in June of 2001 through October of 2001, The Citizens' Voice falsely linked Mr. Joseph and his businesses to a variety of illegal activities. At trial, KS&G not only proved that the articles were false and defamatory but that The Citizens' Voice violated acceptable journalistic standards by negligently reporting, editing, and publishing these articles.

On November 6, 2006, Defendants filed a motion for post-trial relief requesting that the Court either enter a new judgment in favor of Defendants, reduce the amount of damages or order a new trial. Within two days, Judge Ciavarella summarily denied Defendants' motion.

Exclusive: Kucinich Challenging NH Primary

Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich is challenging the New Hampshire primary and calling for a recount.

A video from Black Box Voting allegedly shows a Diebold ballot counting machine being hacked by switching memory cards. The test showed everything normal, then they fed in 10 optically marked ballots -- 7 Yes and 3 No -- and got an official tally of: 2 Yes and 8 No.

The vote count showed as much as a 16-point departure from polls. The only other times the vote varied that dramatically was in Florida and Ohio.

A precinct analysis of the Diebold machines in NH -- which counted something like 70 percent of the precincts -- showed a dramatic variance from the precincts that were counted by hand. The hand counted precincts matched the polls. The Diebold precincts showed a distinct tilt toward Hillary.

A check was made to determine if the variation could be explained by demographics. The Diebld precincts tended to be urban and might have actually favored Hillary. So they did a mathematical analysis based on prior election results -- and they still found an unexplained tilt toward Hillary.

Since Kucinich did not finish in contention in NH, he is entitled to demand a recount but he will have to pay for it himself.

According to one of the persons involved in the vote examination "This could be one of those rare instances where we could check the count against actual paper ballots. The Diebold machines in NH are optical counters -- not touch screen machines. So paper ballots exist and can be checked precinct by precinct. Finally we can see if it matches or not."

NewsLanc had warned the prior Lancaster commissioners against acquiring used electronic voting machine that did not provide a paper trail, advice accepted by then commissioner Molly Henderson but ignored by Dick Shellenberger and Pete Shaub.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Newspaper's Leadership: Dumb and Arrogant

Any experienced business person would wince at the apparent business ineptitude and wanton abuse of journalistic prerogatives enumerated in the Henderson vs. Lancaster Newspapers suit.

For years, many have speculated about the business acumen of Lancaster Newspapers' chair, Jack Buckwalter. But to see offense upon offense as described in the law suit leads one to conclude that Buckwalter is both inept and considers himself and his company above retribution.

NewsLanc urges readers to take the time to read the suit in its entirety. It is spellbinding in its narration of the series of events and numerous journalistic misrepresentations! Here are but two excerpts:

"138. With the malicious intent of convincing the public of the truth of their intentionally false publications about Plaintiff, Defendants buried this single "correction/clarification" that related to an issue that Defendants had made the subject of five false but emphatic front page stories or Editorials deep into the interior of the May 9, 2007 edition of the New Era. Upon information and belief, hundreds of thousands of people read the five stories falsely accusing Plaintiff of participating in a 'secret sale' of Conestoga View but only a fraction of this same readership read the belated 'corrections/clarifications' that explicitly acknowledged the false statements that had directly accused Plaintiff of participating in a 'secret' sale of Conestoga View. Under these circumstances, as deliberately contemplated by Defendants, this 'correction/clarification' completely failed to ameliorate the falsity of the earlier publications and was ineffectual in repairing any of the damage caused to Plaintiff and to Plaintiff's reputation by the earlier false and defamatory publications."

"143. On information and belief, not only was Defendant Buckwalter, as the senior executive for Defendant LNI, requiring Defendant LNI's reporters and editors to attack Plaintiff for her actions that were contrary to the financial interests of PSP and Defendant LNI regarding the Convention Center and Hotel Project but, on at least one occasion according to former New Era reporter John M. Spidaliere, Defendant Buckwalter authorized the Editor Defendants to publish an article attacking Plaintiff that used a specific reporter's byline even though the reporter did not write the article."

It is natural to look at any plaintif's accusations with a degree of skepticism, but here we find repetition of misrepresentations by the newspapers both before and repeatedly after having published corrections in obscure, back page locations.

Buckwater should demonstrate the decency to enter retirement. Ernie Schreiber, editor of the New Era, should be shown the gate. The three newspapers should be allowed to compete for readership and take opposing positions, all without influence from top business management. And an ombudsman of unquestionable integrity and from a location far from Lancaster should be engaged to monitor ethics and pursue criticism and complaints from the public.

County Commissioners Get an Earful from Friends of Fired Naturalist

When the County Commissioners entered the Courthouse to conduct their weekly meeting, Wednesday morning, they found a packed room.

Some 30 County residents, many of them children, came out in support of a Lancaster County Parks Naturalist they say was unfairly terminated on December 21 of last year.

"I know her to be an intelligent, inspiring, dedicated member of Lancaster's park community. She is an asset that is simply too valuable to lose," said Linda Timberlake of Lancaster Township. "We're asking you to join us and reinstate Lisa Sanchez," she continued.

Commissioner Chair Dennis Stuckey replied to the group, "I would like to thank you all for coming out. I can grasp the passion with which you speak and I thank you for understanding that this is a personnel issue and we really can't comment on it."

The rumor with Ms. Sanchez's friends and supporters is that she was fired over a dispute she had with her boss, Lancaster County Parks director James Hackett, over the use of a classroom at the Lancaster County Environmental Center.

Other actions approved by the Commissioners at the meeting include the renewal of a contract between the Lancaster County Prison and Support for Prison Ministries of Lititz, Pennsylvania, to provide chaplain services at the Prison, and approval of a series of contacts between the County Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation and various providers of those services.

Director of Business for the Lancaster County Prison assured the Commissioners and those present that chaplaincy services are available to persons of any religious denomination and that participation is strictly voluntary.

It was also announced by the Commissioners that a special meeting will be held on January 31 at 7pm at the Farm & Home Center for the purpose of discussing the Sunshine Act. According to Commission Chair Dennis Stuckey, Doug Hill, the Executive Director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, and Terry Henney of the Pennsylvania Newspapers association will make themselves available to answer questions from the public about the Sunshine Act.

ANALYSIS: Higher Standard of Proof Required

Due to the media's First Amendment rights, former commissioner Molly Henderson's suit again the Lancaster Newspapers et al. will have to surmount a higher standard of proof than would have been required for a suit against an individual.

The controlling case in law is New York Times vs. Sullivan. The following is an excerpt from a Wikipedia article:

"New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, was a United States Supreme Court case which established the actual malice actual standard before press reports could be considered to be defamation and libel and hence allowed free reporting of the civil rights campaigns in the southern United States. It is one of the key decisions supporting the freedom of the press. The actual malice standard requires that the plaintiff in a defamation or libel case prove that the publisher of the statement in question knew that the statement was false or acted in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity. Because of the extremely high burden of proof on the plaintiff, and the difficulty in proving essentially what is inside a person's head, such cases — when they involve public figures — rarely prevail."

The circumstances under which Henderson is suing the Lancaster Newspapers differ from the Sullivan case since Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. is accused of biased reporting to promote its business interest as a partner in Penn Square Partners, the developer of the future Marriott Hotel. Motivation is an important factor to be weighed by a jury.

Whatever the ultimate outcome of the case, newspaper employees will be called upon to testify concerning what inappropriate influence, if any, took place. If the case actually gets to trial, barring an out of court settlement, it will probably be the 'best show in town' for those from Lancaster who care to travel to the Chester County Court House.

Henderson Sues Outside Lancaster County

NewsLanc has learned that former County Commissioner Molly Henderson's lawsuit against Lancaster Newspapers was filed in Chester County.

Lawsuits can be initiated and heard in any county in which the defendant does business. Lancaster newspapers are sold in Chester County.

It is regrettable that the Convention Center Authority's and Penn Square Partners' lawsuits against the County Commissioners were not tried in a neutral county. If so, upscale condominiums in a mix-used building might be underway on the Watt & Shand site rather than the convention center project.

"Justice, Justice" - Henderson Sues Newspapers!

At long last justice may be done! Molly Henderson has brought suit against Lancaster Newspapers for their biased misrepresentation of her over the course of the battle pertaining to a county guarantee of convention center debt.

She is asking $50,000 plus punitive damages. It is the punitive damages that the monopoly newspapers need to fear because they could amount to millions; if justice be done, tens of millions.

Perhaps the biggest question is whether the suit can be heard outside of Lancaster County, so that Henderson's claims can be judged by citizens who have not been bombarded by years of biased and self-serving reporting.

According to the Intelligencer-Journal (and they should know!), "The lawsuit alleges Lancaster Newspapers management, reporters and editors conspired to discredit Henderson in a bid to get her out of office to protect the
company's financial interests as a partner in the hotel portion of the project."

The article also names John M. Buckwalter, Raymond Shaw, Ernest J. Schreiber, Marvin Adams, Gilbert Smart and Helen Colwell Adams. Also accused are Arthur Morris, a Sunday News columnist and also now the chair of the Convention Center Authority; John H. Brubaker III and David Pidgeon.

Time will tell whether being named in the law suit will cause Morris to withdraw as a candidate for reelection as chair of the Authority.

As NewsLanc repeatedly has indicated, the Intelligencer-Journal and the Sunday News would be good and worthy newspapers if it were not for the
interference of corporate management when parent company interests are at stake. The New Era will be unredeemable until their editor-in-chief and certain panderers and hatchet men, so called "reporters," are replaced.

NewsLanc will be reporting further on this matter as details become available.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

COMMENTARY: Commissioners Set to Approve Funding for Prison Ministry Program But...

County Commissioners Dennis Stuckey, Scott Martin, and Craig Lehman are expected to act Wednesday on a proposal from the Lancaster County Prison Board to extend a contract with Support For Prison Ministries of Lititz in the amount of $73,080 for chaplain services at the County Prison during the year 2008.

While prison chaplain programs are widespread and useful, they raise concerns about the interface of religion and government. The Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized that no governmental actor is to take any position endorsing or disapproving of either a particular religion or of theism generally.

While it is important to permit all inmates access to clergy and to the materials they need to exercise their own religious convictions, caution needs to be taken not to cross the fine line between facilitation and coercion - especially in such a captive environment.

NewsLanc suggests that the excellent people at Support For Prison Ministries re-think their "Mission and Purpose" statement posted at its web site in order to make it more ecumenical and to avoid offending Muslims, Jews, other religious groups as well as non-believers. The Mission and Purpose statement lists:

* Touch lives with Christian love
* Present the Gospel in clear and understandable terms.
* Nurture new believers in faith and discipleship.
* Facilitate contacts with churches and Christians on the outside.
* Help develop prison ministry teams in local congregations.
* Provide training to the local church, community and interested persons.

Commissioners Assign Board Memberships

At their weekly work session, Tuesday, the County Commissioners appointed Dennis Stuckey to the Agricultural Preserve Board and to the board of the County Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation.

Craig Lehman was assigned to the Board of the Lancaster County Conservation District and to the Workforce Investment Board.

Additional assignments will likely follow.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Expanded PAM Campus Key to Downtown Upsurge

The ultimate attractiveness and prosperity of downtown Lancaster depends far more on the expansion of the Pennsylvania Academy of Music (PAM) and facilitating of upscale flats than the $200 million Convention Center Project.

There can be no question of the pure intentions and devotion to the community of those supporting PAM.

NewsLanc salutes the officers of the Board of Trustees: Paul W. Ware, Chair; Ely Gonick, Vice Chair; Ronald Fink, Secretary/Treasurer; Michael Jamanis, President; Frances Veri, Dean.

Other distinguished members of the Trustees are Robert Falk, Jr, M. D; J. Gary Langmuir; Georgina Russo; Dorothy Lyet; Gregg Marco; Margaret Neff; Caroline Steinman Nunan; Michael O'Day; John Reardon; William Regitz; W. John Soost; David Weston, M. D; Willie Ruff.

The benefits of the expenditure of around $30 million dollars in private and public funds on a signature building can only be fully realized if it is the core of a campus serving outstanding high school music students from across the nation and around the world.

This will require dormitories, cafeterias, practice rooms, communal areas, recreational facilities and possibly an additional concert hall. We need not look far to find the ideal facility: The Brunswick Hotel!

The Brunswick has struggled throughout the decades due to a lack of downtown hotel business but is ideally suited to be a key part of the PAM campus.

Not only is there an adjoining former movie theater, but it has over 200 guest rooms, vast meeting and banquet areas, restaurants, an indoor pool and adjoining parking.

Furthermore, PAM could start off with one or two floors as dormitories and gradually expand into the entire facility.

NewsLanc encourages PAM Trustees to evaluate the acquisition of the Brunswick. And as an expression of our belief in the potential of an expanded PAM, NewsLanc pledges a hundred thousand dollar donation for this worthy purpose.

EDITORIAL: East Hempfield TND May Benefit From Adjustments

Traditional Neighborhood Development ordinances have come into vogue in recent years. They are an attempt to recapture some of the design aspects of cities and towns from the past. Yet they can unnecessarily increase construction costs, generate high maintenance expenses for municipalities and home owners, and undermine public safety.

Part of the problem is caused by the requirement of alleys between the rear of row houses to allow access to garages and for the storage and collection of refuse. This eliminates common back yards in which children can play and neighbors can visit.

Furthermore, it increases the cost of constructing streets and curbs by perhaps a third and creates additional paving to maintain. Additional paving means less grass for water percolation and more storm water run off, both detrimental to the environment.

And because of the minimal traffic through alleys, these narrow drives can become hang out areas and thus are potentially dangerous. Today's model TND may become a slum in two decades!

Planned residential developments often permit ten percent for neighborhood commercial space. Examples of allowed uses are Turkey Hills, dry cleaners, barber shops and beauty parlors.

By permitting 20% or more commercial use, there is a likelihood of neighborhood and even regional shopping centers, thus drawing traffic from afar, creating traffic that is dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists, and detracting from the residential ambience of the neighborhood.

It is difficult to accommodate more than eight row houses (or townhouses) per acre in a normal subdivision and only five or six are possible in a TND. In comparison, standard zero lot line housing (one side of the house is on the property line and the lawn and drive are on the other side) may also permit five or six dwelling units to an acre. Single family homes seldom are more than three to an acre.

Thus row houses lose their economic edge and reason to be in a TND if adequate residentially zoned land is available nearby.

In Pennsylvania, the power to plan and zone lies with a quilt work of municipalities ranging in size from cities to exurbia boroughs. The counties only have the power to recommend.

NewsLanc encourages professional planning, not fads. What is good for suburban Manheim Township where land is scarce may not be appropriate for a rural community. A variety of design alternatives can better fit market conditions.

Having decisions made by fragmented government bodies increases the chances of amateurism.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Letter: Disagrees with NewsLanc

In a Letter to the Editor published today (Sunday, January 13, 2008) [your president] stated:

"Regardless, will join with others in trying to make the project as successful as possible."

I have publicly promised to not do anything that would harm the "success" of the project. However, actively working to make the project successful is the same as saying that the end justifies the means. And in this case, the means are and were very, very wrong.

I don't have to spell out to [your readers] just how wrong the planning and implementation of this project has been. Millions of dollars which have been spent without documentation or explanation. Lawsuits which were ended only on the threat of counter-lawsuits by the LCCCA, which would have bankrupted the litigants. The 2001 and later agreements, which are so biased AGAINST taxpayers. More than doubling the size and cost of the original plans, while telling the public the redesign was to save money. Forcing the public to pay to support the "shared space," for $100/year from PSP. The 2003 "hostage" bank loan. The repeated threats from the Penn Square Partners. The refusal of the hotel to pay real estate taxes, as promised. Starting work on the site over a year before construction bonds were sold. The attacks against elected officials who dared to ask questions. And on and on and on and on...

The direct cost to taxpayers so far is estimated to be over $141 million, not counting operational losses (which could total tens of millions of dollars every decade). This outrageous amount of money can never be returned to taxpayers in any way, shape, or form by whatever small amount of "economic development" the project might incidentally spin-off. A detailed read of the complex agreements and financing plan makes it seem like the entire purpose of the project is to make lots and lots of money at taxpayer expense for High Industries, Lancaster Newspapers, Fulton Bank (they still hold one hotel mortgage, and possibly will hold the other), Wachovia Bank, and Interstate Hotels.

Add to this the permanent damage which has been done to downtown Lancaster. The loss of half a city block of taxable property. The loss of several irreplaceable historic buildings, including Watt & Shand, which was on the National Register of Historic Places. A monolithic hotel tower taller and more massive than the Griest Building, completely out of character for downtown Lancaster. And worst of all, yet another concrete monstrosity that discourages foot traffic.

To ignore or accept all of this - and so much more - is the same as approving of it.

To say "it is what it is" or "what's done is done" is the same as saying "the end justifies the means." We all know it does NOT.

Meanwhile, the management agreement between the LCCCA, PSP, and Interstate Hotels makes it quite clear that the public has NO possibility of helping "to make the project as successful as possible." Interstate Hotels and Resorts owns and controls ALL of the booking, scheduling, and fees. About the only thing the public could possibly do is pass leads on to Interstate....

And let's be honest: the planning and implementation of this project have clearly been sinful. Those of us who claim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior cannot support either sin or its fruits. No Christian in good conscience can work to support ANYTHING that is built on sin.

I can accept that we may need to agree to disagree on this issue.

Editor's note: An example of Newslanc working to make the project successful will be an offer to purchase certain naming rights, provided Penn Square Partners relinquishes its claim to 50% of the proceeds.

Sunday News's Words to Remember

A Jan. 13 Sunday News's Words to Remember editorial "We gamble and lose, Pennsylvania's foray into slots plays like an episode ripped from a TV crime show," deplores the infiltration of gambling in Pennsylvania by organized crime.

It goes on to say: "We have opposed slots from the beginning because of their potential to corrupt, both individually and systemically, and because state-sanctioned gambling as a short-term fix for long-term tax issues -- in this case the reviled school property tax -- is just bad public policy."

These are words to remember. Because the day may come when casino gambling will be urged to save the publicly-owned Convention Center and the Marriott Hotel in which the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. is an equal partner.

At which time the Sunday News may rationalize "If all other cities of our size have slots, why shouldn't Lancaster?" And it may be hard to argue with that position in order to salvage the otherwise doomed project.

There has long been an undercurrent that casino gambling is to be introduced in the Penn Square Partner's controlled common area as an attraction for the convention center project. NewsLanc has no evidence that is true. Only time will tell.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Nominations for Authority Offices Invalidated

Nominating committee chairman Thomas LeCrone has requested that Convention Center Authority Chair Art Morris "expand the nominating committee to include all board members" and "schedule another nominating committee meeting."

A meeting in December of the three member committee ran into two impasses:

(1) With only three members, it was unlikely that more than one candidate would be nominated and seconded for each office, thus defeating its purpose of providing the Authority board with a choice of candidates.

(2) Former Authority chair and current nominating committee member Ted Darcus mislead the committee by declaring that LeCrone as committee chair was not allowed to nominate or second a candidate!

The result was only Morris nominated for Chair, virtually assuring his re-election.

When confronted days later by a NewsLanc reporter days later with evidence that a committee chair is permitted to nominate, Darcus tried to excuse himself by saying he was just asking a question. But a recording of the proceedings posted on NewsLanc proves otherwise.

Morris had requested a recommendation from LeCrone and had seemed inclined to follow LeCrone's lead.

NewsLanc has sent an inquiry to Morris and anticipates receiving a response soon.