Friday, February 29, 2008

LETTER: Newspaper's Coverage of Authority Meetings Lacking

Dave Pidgeon from the Intelligencer Journal was at the LCCCA board meeting last night (Feb. 28th). This was the first board meeting he had attended in quite a few months.

I've noticed that Lancaster Newspapers' coverage of LCCCA meetings has been lacking for quite a while.

I wonder if NewsLanc's prompt and thorough reporting about the LCCCA's activities has prompted the Lancaster Newspapers to belatedly take action?

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Intell published an article on the meeting but, typical of the newspaper's biased reporting on matters pertaining to the financial interests of its publisher, failed to mention that Art Morris and Kevin Frey will be meeting with Penn Square Partners to discuss the Partners' controversial claim to half of Naming Rights proceeds. See article below.

EDITORIAL: Mental-Health Court – Yes; Remote Court TV – Maybe Not

President Judge Louis Farina and others deserve credit for exploring two innovations for the treatment of those accused of crimes.

According to the Feb. 29 Intelligencer Journal, Farina has "a court driven task force [which] plans to set up a mental-health court in Lancaster County." Clearly a large portion of prisoners, some estimate 20% to 25%, have mental health problems. Simply putting them behind bars isn't going to rehabilitate them. Perhaps, quite the contrary.

A sophisticated mental-health court may be able to come up with a way to improve their mental health, sometimes simply by having tests run and proper medicine prescribed. While incarceration may often be appropriate, it might not always be the best approach. In any case, it may be only part of a more holistic approach to rehabilitation.

The Intell also reports that the county wants to outfit District Judges with video conference equipment so that they can save money and add to safety by conducting hearings for prisoners who would be viewed from a special room at the county prison. Remote hearings would be limited to arraignments, summary charges for failing to pay fines, bench warrants, search warrants, arrest warrants, and emergency protection from abuse orders.

Here NewsLanc has concerns. First of all, dealing with prisoners from a remote location can be a slippery slope, with the practice expanded over time to far more complex matters with irremediable dire consequences. Secondly, we live in an age where Constitutional protections for prisoners are being whittled away, in large part in an effort to carry out the War on Drugs. (It was announced yesterday that US prisons now hold over 1.6 million prisoners!)

And lastly, somehow we don't feel that prisoners would be as able to express themselves when out of the physical presence of a judge. Their humanity is diminished by the television camera. And prisoners would be at the mercy of technicians who can show or not show them, allow them to speak or turn them off. Also they would be in a more intimidating environment.

Ask yourself: Would you feel more comfortable pleading your case in the physical presence of a judge where you appear as a full size, palpable human being, or would you be comfortable being perceived as an inanimate image on a screen, much like the Simpsons?

Democracy and human rights are not always inexpensive.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

7 Convention Center Bookings to Date; LCCA Retains Law Firms

At their full board meeting, Thursday night, the members of the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority voted unanimously to approve contract extensions with two law firms for ongoing legal consultation.

The first is a renewed engagement letter with Fenningham, Stevens, & Dempster dated February 21, 2008.

Authority Solicitor Chris Hausner explained that Fenningham, Stevens & Dempster is the firm the Authority has been using for 3 years in order to handle ongoing litigation.

The Authority also approved an engagement letter with Stevens & Lee for legal services through August 31, 2008.

Hausner explained, "Stevens & Lee had been solicitor for the authority last year. And When they stepped down... the Authority continued to utilize Stevens & Lee on occasion for those matters in which Stevens & Lee had participated to such an extent that it was more cost-effective for them to address certain things than it would be for the us to hire a new solicitor and have to bring them up to speed on that."

Chair Art Morris remarked, "We are hoping that we will not have to use these services."

In other business, Kevin Fry, chair of the Public Relations, Marketing, and Hospitality Committee, revealed during his report that the Convention Center has seen 7 bookings to date.
The target for 2009 is 58 total event bookings.

Campbell and Morris to Confront PSP on Naming Rights

LCCCA Board member Kevin Fry, who is also Chair of the Authority's Public Relations, Marketing, and Hospitality Committee, announced at the board meeting, Thursday night, that board member R.B. Campbell has been selected to accompany Authority Chair and Acting Executive Director Art Morris in negotiations with Penn Square Partners over the status of certain controversial contracts regarding naming rights.

NewsLanc continues to question why it is that these contracts "gift" half of the proceeds from the sale of naming rights to Penn Square Partners and also give S. Dale High himself the "right of first offer" with respect to naming rights.

NewsLanc also challenges PSP's claim to half of future State grants and the High Group subsidiary's only paying a 10% commission on the food concession when standard industry practice is 30% or more.

Fry said that Morris and Campbell will make a presentation to the Marketing Committee on Thursday, March 20 about the substance of those negotiations.

Commissioners punt on "rails-to-trails" project

In response to a question from NewsLanc regarding whether they have considered taking steps to move forward the stalled "rails-to-trails" project on the old Norfolk Southern rail line in the southern end of the County, the Commissioners acknowledged that they have not.

While Commissioner Craig Lehman agreed that the rail trail would be a wonderful and attractive "amenity" for both residents and visitors, he said, "I don't see any other way to go forward" than to wait for the relevant municipalities to work towards a solution.

The previous Board of Commissioners unsuccessfully attempted to acquire the 23-mile stretch of land by eminent domain in 2005, but were successfully challenged by the municipalities in court. The County attempted to appeal the decision in 2006 but the ruling was upheld by an appeals court.

EDITORIAL: Katzenmoyer Asleep at the Switch

A month has gone by since NewsLanc revealed Amtrak's plans this spring to reconfigure and enlarge the parking areas at their station and that for approximately a year there will be a substantial reduction in available parking spots, perhaps by as much as a third.

When asked by NewsLanc what plans she has to deal with the additional overflow of commuter parking, City's Director of Public Works, Charlotte Katzenmoyer acknowledged ignorance as to what is to take place and said she would have to ask the County.

Note to Katzenmoyer: The Amtrak Station is in your city and so are the neighborhoods to be affected. Start doing your job.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Former Commissioner Nelson Decries Party Politics, Stresses Managerial Competence

The guest at Wednesday's weekly meeting of the Rotary Club of Lancaster was Former County Commissioner and recent Convention Center Authority appointee Sharron Nelson.

Dr. Nelson offered some opinions on what it takes to be a good leader.

She decried the prominent role political ideology plays within government, calling instead for competent managers.

"I think we all must understand that ideology has little application at the County level," she said.

"Most of the County's role," she pointed out, "involves the delivery of mandated services."

"Local politics is about roads and bridges and crime and snow removal. It is about schools and garbage collection. Don't let ideologies confuse you about what's important in most of our lives," Nelson continued.

"Competency means more than family relations when managing a business," she said, arguing that County Government calls for many of the same qualifications.

"Lancaster County is now the fourth-largest employer in the area...We can no longer afford to elect or appoint but the most competent people to manage a 300-million dollar budget."

In order to illustrate her point that competence should trump ideology, she told a story about two politicians.

"One," she began, "actually attended church every Sunday, taught Sunday school, was highly active in Habitat for Humanity and believed that to even think sinful thoughts was wrong."

"The other was a divorced man with an estranged daughter and son who was once a liberal union president and then flip-flopped to being a supply-side conservative."

"You know which was which," Nelson said. "Which would you choose as your child's Godfather and which was the more effective president? Confidence in a proven union leader, Ronald Reagan, trumped the honest Christian values of Jimmy Carter when it came to predicting a successful presidency."

She also cited the election of 1800 in which Thomas Jefferson was running against Aaron Burr. Jefferson, who had substantial experience as a Virginia Legislator, wrote the Declaration of Independence, and played a pivotal role in lobbying for a Bill of Rights, was painted by his opponents as an atheist or a deist while Burr was the son of a minister and studied theology in college.

"Fortunately, competence trumped shared values in the House of Representatives in the tie-breaking vote," Nelson said. Jefferson went on to become a commanding President while Burr was nearly hanged for Treason for attempting to establish his own nation on the frontier.

Dr. Nelson explained, "I'm not saying that values don't count, but that values cannot be translated into effective governance without proven leadership skills."

With regard to the Commissioners, she opined, "Clearly under our 3-Commissioner system, the Commissioners cannot easily discuss or mutually investigate matters that they are about to consider without the possibility of violating the Sunshine Law."

"By increasing the number to 5 or 7 or whatever," she continued, "they could legally re-organize into subcommittees, each of which would be responsible for different aspects of the overarching responsibility, this giving them an opportunity to gain a more collective command of the ideas and exchange views and information."

"I think in the long run this would ensure more informed public debate and certainly more informed decision-making," Nelson concluded.

Asked by an audience member whether she feels the County Executive should be elected or appointed, Nelson opined that such an individual should be appointed, citing the concern that if both the County Executive and the County Commissioners are elected, it could lead to excessive political conflict.

Nelson said that Lancaster County needs good managers to help it address all of the issues it must deal with in our changing world.

"We in Lancaster are ideally situated to serve the urban markets in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington," she said, citing the County as a tourist destination.

"Our much-maligned Convention Center can capitalize on that if we work together to make it a success."

County Commissioners Address Infrastructure Projects

At their weekly meeting Wednesday morning, the County Commissioners voted to approve the Planning Commission's application for state funding for the "Rooftop Greening Project."

As reported yesterday, the State Department of Environmental Protection and Office of Energy and Technology Deployment will make as much as $479,000 available to the project.

"Roof greening," the practice of covering the roof or exterior of a building with vegetation not only helps prevent flooding, but also conserves energy by helping thermally insulate the buildings, according to Senior County Environmental Planner Mary Gattis-Schell.

The Commissioners also voted to approve over $400,000 in funding for renovations to various county bridges including the relocation of the Rettew Mill covered wooden bridge to Middle Creek Road, repairs to the Rock Hill steel truss bridge, repairs to the Black Barron Road bridge, replacement of the Breneman Road bridge, and replacement/relocation of the Eshelman Mill Road bridge.

County Engineer Keith Harner explained that each of these bridges has shown signs of deterioration and need to be "brought up to code" in order to comply with state mandates and to ensure public safety.

Construction on the Eshelman Mill Road Bridge and Breneman Road bridge is expected to commence in 2009.

During public comment, Mayor Leo Lutz of Columbia Borough raised his concerns about the presence of Route 441, which runs through downtown Columbia.

The County Planning Commission, he explained, had previously placed the relocation of Route 441 in their Long-Range Transportation Plan to be completed by 2012, but just recently bumped the project off the agenda in favor of bridge repairs and other projects.

He handed the Commissioners a petition signed by 670 residents of Columbia borough asking that the relocation of Route 441 be prioritized.

Lutz argued that the volume of traffic creates a noisy, dangerous environment in the heart of Columbia's historic and downtown district and is stunting both residential and commercial growth in the area.

Commissioner Chairman Dennis Stuckey promised Lutz that he had arranged a meeting with Representative Dave Hickernell to address the issue of funding for the project.

Lancaster Square Not a "Concrete Eyesore," Just Not Feasible

According to the Feb. 27 Intelligencer Journal, "plans to demolish portions of Lancaster Square are being finalized and pieces of the concrete eyesore could start coming down this summer."

Elsewhere similar-appearing projects built in the 1960s continue to be successes and are a source of community pride. So the problem with Lancaster Square was not the design, with the four star Hilton Hotel and the Hess Department Store serving as anchors, but because the sponsors of the project had failed to adequately explore the feasibility of both major uses.

There simply wasn't sufficient business to sustain the Hilton Hotel due to the paucity of commerce downtown. And tourists preferred to vacation closer to farmland and the Amish. Occupancy was abysmal, Hilton withdrew its franchise, and the mortgage lender took over the property. For years rooms and meeting space were mainly leased to the federal government for training purposes.

The opening of a downtown department store was so contrary to the national trend to suburban shopping centers, that the Wall Street Journal wrote a front page article heralding the Hess opening as the first such event in twenty years. After several years, the store was converted to light industrial use.

Finally, with the introduction of multiple cinema complexes, the movie theater between the Hilton and Hess could no longer compete and has remained empty since.

The scope and investment in Lancaster Square is only rivaled by the current convention center / hotel project. History may be about to repeat itself, since the only feasibility study for the current project (PKF in 2006) predicted huge losses, for many of the same reasons that had doomed the earlier Hilton and Hess.

So how many years will it be before the Intelligencer Journal will describe the Convention Center project as a "concrete eyesore"?

Demolition to Occur on Lancaster Square this Summer

Mayor Gray announced at Tuesday's City Council Meeting that "the city is working with ARRO Engineering on a Public Works project to finalize engineering and design work in preparation for selective demolition of some of the east side of Lancaster Square."

"The intent of the demolition," he continued, "is to open up the square, reduce the scale of the superstructure on the east side of the square and to do some minor beautification on the square."

"This would set the stage for future development on the east side of the square," Gray said, adding that the city anticipates design work to be completed by the end of April, bidding to be completed by late May, and demolition to begin in July.

Gray described the concrete structure across from Binns Park as an "eye sore."

City Director of Economic Development Randy Patterson noted that the planning and demolition would be primarily federally funded but would also involve a County contribution.

Also Tuesday evening, Mayor Gray presented two Lancaster City police officers, Michael Grace, and Christopher McCormick, with commendations for life-saving and heroism for extricating two individuals from a burning vehicle on August 25 of last year.

City Council President Louise Williams also thanked them for their heroism and they were given a standing ovation.

A NewsLanc reporter inquired as to what plans the City has for dealing with overflow parking at the Amtrak Station during the forthcoming reconfiguration of the parking areas. President Williams referred the reporter to the City's Director of Public Works, Charlotte Katzenmoyer.

Katzenmoyer revealed that the City has not been a party to the discussions as to what is to occur at the station. She added that she would have to consult with the County as to what will be occurring, particularly with regard to the parking situation, and what remedies might be pursued.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

County Planning Commission Seeking Roof Greening Dollars from Harrisburg

Among the items up for discussion during tomorrow's County Commissioners meeting is a proposed contract between the Lancaster County Planning Commission and the Pennsylvania Departments of Environmental Protection and Energy and Technology Deployment for funding for the "Lancaster County Roof Greening project."

The contracts could secure as much as $479,333 for the project over the next two years, according to Scott Standish, Director of Long Range Planning for the County.

"Roof greening" is practice of planting vegetation on the roofs and exteriors of buildings to help collect water and save energy.

In fact, "Roof greening," explained County Senior Environmental Planner MaryGattis-Schell, "can collect as much as .56 million gallons [of stormwater] a year that would otherwise end up as runoff in our rivers."

The practice is fairly innovative, with only a few other cities in Pennsylvania having experimented with the technique, according to Standish.

But with fuel costs and environmental concerns on the rise, the state is eager to invest in projects of this nature.

Millersville University will partner with the Planning Commission in implementing and assessing the project goals.

COMMENTARY: Morris Blinded By Own Integrity

At a Finance Committee meeting of Feb. 25th, LCCCA Chair Art Morris found it difficult to understand why he, a contract employee of Lancaster Newspapers, Inc., should not represent the Authority in negotiations with hotel developer Penn Square Partners (PSP).

A subsidiary of Lancaster Newspapers Inc. is an equal partner in PSP, which, in a manner that is mysterious to long time Authority Board members, had clauses in contracts which 'gifts' PSP with multi-millions of dollars from future state grants and naming rights that would be expected to belong to the Authority.

At the time that the contracts were approved, some board members argued they were not given time for review and pleaded for a continuance. Ted Darcus, who then was chairman, and three other City-appointed board members showed disdain for their request. Joe Morales said that it was sufficient that counsel had reviewed them! Darcus did his usual routine of obfuscation and arrogance to sidestep penetrating questions and objections. He then called for an immediate vote.

Morris, who seems blinded by his own sense of integrity, does not recognize that, for different reasons, neither he nor Darcus are appropriate representatives of the Authority in negotiations over state grants and naming rights. From past statements, it is even doubtful that Morris is supportive of the Authority attempting to renegotiate the outlandish naming rights give-away. Morris should recuse himself and delegate the negotiation to a delegation of board members R. B. Campbell, Julianne Dixon, Laura Douglas, Kevin Fry and Sharon Nelson.

Morris' defense that he also reviews construction vouchers is not relevant since the Authority is not (yet) contesting the terms of the construction contracts.

Although yesterday's discussion only pertains to the sharing of future State grants for the Convention Center Project, Morris had previously agreed to discuss with PSP their claim to 50% of the proceeds from the naming rights, with their share amounting to perhaps $5 million or more.

Below is a transcript of the pertinent discussion:

Randy Carney (audience member): I understand that members of this board are or may be negotiating with Penn Square Partners for a more equitable distribution of future funds from the state?

Morris: At the - and you might remember this, Mr. Carney - at the meeting when we discussed the contingency, we mentioned that there was a differential in percentages and that we were working with Penn Square, through a request through the senator, and working with Penn Square towards that end. That they had expressed a willingness to at least talk to us and that's where it presently stands.

Carney: Okay, have you done any negotiating yet or....

Morris: Well, it's going to come about when the money's available. When we know the money is going to be forthcoming, there will have to be some formal request and at that point is when I would anticipate formalizing that but it's been publicly acknowledged that that percentage has been discussed with them and they've expressed a willingness

(Morris is interrupted)

Morris: and frankly I think the Senate is supportive of that too.

Carney: I have to be honest with you. I've been approached by several members of the public.... Who would actually be negotiating with Penn Square Partners?

Morris: I would be doing the process.

Carney: There is a concern that because you have been writing a column for the Sunday News that that might represent a conflict of interest. How do you react to that?

Morris: A conflict of interest regarding?

Carney: .... Well regarding ... Penn Square Partners is 50% Lancaster Newspapers, 50% High. We all know that. And also because you have also been a sort of part time employee of Lancaster Newspapers as a freelance writer. Certain individuals have expressed a concern that you may not exactly be an impartial negotiator.

Morris: ... I have already discussed this with the solicitor and any member of this Board can do the same thing.... I deal in a lot of little ways with Penn Square Partners ... including approving change orders.

Just for the record, I write quarterly. I'm paid $75 a column.... I told them that I could not continue to do this on a monthly basis because I'm so busy....

I have not written about the Convention Center in any way shape or form. I've written about County Government. I've stayed away from that.

I'm not connected to them other than I get a stipend.

Laura Douglas (Board Member): I don't think their concern is the money as much as it is the relationship – the perceived relationship.... In order to ensure not just the actual transparency but the appearance of propriety, if there was someone else who attended the negotiations along with you...

Morris: ... I have no problems with somebody sitting in.... The current agreement is 50/50, so it's ironic that the mere fact that we have an opportunity to get a higher share is perceived as a conflict. Let me think it through and I'll come back and I'll talk to the Chair of the Finance Committee about what it makes sense to do.

Monday, February 25, 2008

F & M promises no traffic thru School Lane Hills

Concerning the planning and future development of the current athletic fields, a Franklin & Marshall official has informed NewsLanc that "the College would be extremely sensitive to the adjacent neighborhood and would take all necessary steps to protect the attractiveness and character of School Lane Hills."

In her communication, Nancy Collins, Vice President for College Communications, Franklin & Marshall College, went on to commit, "Extending Wilson Drive or another street as a through street to Harrisburg Avenue would be detrimental to this goal, and therefore is not an option the College will pursue."

The full communication is reproduced below:

Dear Matt:

Thank you for your query about the Baker campus. I am responding for all the people you contacted at Franklin & Marshall College.

Over time Franklin & Marshall College plans to relocate its athletic fields from Baker campus to north of Harrisburg Ave., opposite the main campus. We are currently working with a real estate consultant to identify and evaluate options for the Baker campus. If property development is pursued, the College would be extremely sensitive to the adjacent neighborhood and would take all necessary steps to protect the attractiveness and character of School Lane Hills. Extending Wilson Drive or another street as a through street to Harrisburg Avenue would be detrimental to this goal, and therefore is not an option the College will pursue.

If the College pursues any type of development, we would need to comply with all local ordinances and regulations that apply to zoning and land development, just as any other property owner would. We would also engage the public when there are specific plans that can be discussed.

Franklin & Marshall has established a record of pursuing high-quality projects that contribute to the well-being of Lancaster, and we intend to sustain that commitment.

Best regards,

Nancy Collins
Vice President for College Communications
Franklin & Marshall College

Some Cities Offer A Cautionary Tale

The following is excerpted from the the Miami Herald McClatchy-Tribune Regional News:

Feb. 23, 2008 – Hopes were high in 2000 when St. Louis raised nearly $200 million to build a new headquarters hotel for the city's convention center.

"St. Louis has accomplished something that has eluded most other cities for years," tourism director Bob Bedell said after final approval of the plan. The 1,100-room hotel "will put our hospitality industry into the first tier of convention cities."

Eight years later, the Gateway City is still waiting for that status upgrade. Meanwhile, the headquarters hotel is flirting with bankruptcy and not expected to cover the debt payments until 2012.

F&M Withdraws Controversial Student Housing Overlay District Plan

According to an announcement by County Planner Danny Whittle at Monday's meeting of the Lancaster County Planning Commission, Franklin & Marshall College has withdrawn its petition for a zoning amendment in the City's northwest between College Avenue, Harrisburg Pike, Charlotte Street, and Orange Street.

The Amendment would have permitted more than the currently-allowed 2 or 3 persons to share the same residence within the district.

The County Planning Commission had originally been scheduled to review the petition and offer its recommendations at Monday's meeting, but the item was removed from the agenda in light of F&M's withdrawal of the measure.

The County Planning Commission's role is strictly advisory, as is the City Planning Commission's. Ultimately, the zoning amendment would have to be approved by Lancaster City Council.

The decision follows a raucous meeting last week in which over a hundred residents came out to a City Planning Commission meeting to express their reservations about dense populations of college students in their neighborhood.

Nancy Collins, Director of Media Relations at Franklin & Marshall College said late Monday, "After listening to the concerns of citizens and after receiving constructive suggestions from supporters of the district, our team decided to withdaw the petition as submitted."

Collins said that the College will continue to work with city officials for a solution agreeable to all parties.

She would not comment on how long it would take to renogiate the terms of the proposal.

Open Primaries Are Preferable

The Feb. 25th Intelligencer Journal's editorial, "The Party's choice" defends the exclusion of independents from voting in Pennsylvania's Democratic and Republican primaries.

The Intell endorses closed primaries, and asks: "Why should people outside the party decide who the party's nominee should be?"

A week ago, former U. S. Senator and former Chair of the Republican National Committee "Bill" Brock of Tennessee spoke on C-Span and decried the excessive partisanship and divisiveness now characteristic of the U. S. Congress. Where Democrats and Republicans used to play softball games after hours and often would reach across the aisle to achieve bi-partisan support, Brock maintains that today Congress is unduly polarized.

He blamed what has occurred in the House of Representatives largely on the redrawing of congressional district boundaries over the past two decades, whereby the parties were virtually assured that districts would be safe either for Republicans or Democrats. (It is rare for an incumbent Congressman to be defeated in an election.)

Brock said the result of gerrymandering was that legislators did not have to be concerned about winning the general election, but instead had to defend themselves against challenges from single issue ideologues in the primaries.

Brock indicated that only about 17% of those registered vote in primaries, and primaries tend to draw the more extreme segments, be they liberal or conservative. The result is, over time, the contrived districts have selected representatives who neither are receptive to working across party lines or to compromise.

An advantage of "open primaries," whereby independents can vote as Democrats or Republicans in the primaries, would be to dilute the influence of the extreme fringes of the party and to assure that those chosen in primary are more likely to reflect the views of the preponderance of the more moderate party constituency.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Local boy makes good!

The New York Times's What's Online "Suburbia's March to Oblivion" by Dan Mitchell quotes Sunday News columnist Gil Smart as follows:

"The idea that the American experiment with suburban sprawl would end badly is not a new one. But the work of Mr. Nelson, as amplified by Mr.Leinberger, shows that 'the traditional suburban model may be even less sustainable than we imagine,' writes Gil Smart, a columnist with The SundayNews of Lancaster, Pa., and writer of that newspaper's blog, Smart Remarks.

"But Mr. Smart has one criticism of the idea. If, he writes, 'McMansion suburbia is on the far side of the bell curve, it ultimately becomes even harder to construct new *urbanized* developments than it already is becauset he people who own those McMansions will have an obvious incentive to fight tooth and nail to protect their equity. Assuming they have some.'"

Saturday, February 23, 2008

EDITORIAL: The 'Problem of Evil' in Lancaster

It is puzzling that the continuing revelations of abuse, greed and likely malfeasance sanctioned by the Power Elite in Lancaster have not caused wide-scale public condemnation and civic actions.

A recent blatant example is the $5 million or more rip off of the public via a bizarre contract clause that 'gifts' half of the proceeds for the sale of naming rights for the publicly owned and funded convention center to Penn Square Partners, developer of the adjoining Marriott Hotel. The Partners are subsidiaries of the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. and The High Group.

In an article in the Feb. 14 edition of The New York Review, eminent historian Tony Judt writes: "Why does the abnormal come to seem so normal that we don't even notice it? Probably for the depressingly simple reason that Tolstoy provides in Anna Karenina, 'There are no conditions of life to which a man cannot get accustomed, especially if he sees them accepted by everyone around him.'"

In a town where almost all local information is controlled by The Lancaster Newspapers, former benefactors turned predators, and their bed mates WGAL-TV, "the abnormal come[s] to seem so normal." There is no media voice to cry foul.

Thus there are no exploits, be they the Totaro witch hunt, misrepresentations concerning the convention center project, or diversion of $5 million from public to private parties, to which we cannot get accustomed, especially when we see them accepted by everyone around us.

Wake up Lancaster!

"Convention Centers: Is the Industry Overbuilt? 2008"

Below are excerpts from the above-named article that appeared in the HVS monthly report on the hospitality industry:

"Many existing exhibition facilities are not operating at or near full capacity. Even as demand slowed throughout the first part of this decade, supply continued to expand, resulting in facility utilization rates near historic lows. Public policy makers, private developers, and concerned citizens wonder: Is the industry overbuilt?"

"New facilities are most likely to succeed when positioned competitively with respect to market conditions, management, pricing, technology, booking policies, location, amenities, destination appeal, and existing tourism infrastructure. But many other facilities will not succeed as the industry matures. To properly assess the feasibility of a convention center or other public assembly facility, it is more important now than ever to evaluate carefully its competitive advantages that lead to its demand potential, given its competitive position in today’s market."

"The estimated utilization factor [for convention centers] in 2007 is only 16.47 percent, based on preliminary figures."

The Lancaster Convention Center will be 217,290 square feet, including half of 66,745 square feet of common areas with hotel. The report states: "Large shows were much less frequent, with only 23.1 percent of events reporting a size greater than 199,999 square feet."

The upshot: By the year 2011, it will be apparent whether the Lancaster Center will perform significantly better than the negative predictions of the PKF Feasibility Study of 2006.

Friday, February 22, 2008

SDL to renovate most of its schools

According to information presented at a Community Meeting at George Washington Elementary School on the evening of Thursday February 21, the School District of Lancaster plans to spend close to $300 million over the next couple of years for renovations and additions to 16 out of its 21 schools.

The renovations would be paid for with construction bonds, explained SDL Business Manager Matthew Pryzywara and no tax increase would be necessary for the 2007-2008 or 2008-2009 school years, but thereafter there would be a $37.19 tax increase each year until 2014 on an average assessed home value of $118,614.

The renovations at George Washington Elementary School are estimated to cost $15 million and will include a handful of new academic classrooms, multimedia projectors in all classrooms, a new full-size gymnasium, a new kitchen and cafeteria, additional parking, auditorium restoration, interior finishing, elimination of trailers, and installation of new lights, heating, sprinklers, plumbing, and air conditioning, according to DLR, the developer for the project.

The addition to Washington Elementary will add between 25,000 and 30,000 square feet of space, according to DLR's presentation.

Washington Elementary is one of the schools being renovated under "Phase I" of the School District's Capital Improvements projects. Phase I includes the most impoverished schools and will also include the Lafayette, Ross, and Wharton schools.

Approximately 1/4 of the funding for these projects has been secured through state grants with the rest being paid for by the School District.

Acting Superintend Stephen Iovino described the renovations as essential upgrades to keep the schools attractive and competitive.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Northwest Residents Sound Fury at F&M Student Overlay District Plan

City Council chambers were packed Wednesday night.

Over 150 concerned residents primarily from the city's northwestern quadrant turned out for the City Planning Commission's hearing on the proposed "student housing overlay district."

The Planning Commission's task is to hold hearings and then it has the opportunity to recommend that City Council either approve or disapprove of the amendment.

The zoning revision, requested by Silverang Halowell Development Company in partnership with Franklin & Marshall College, would allow more than the currently-permitted 2 or 3 unrelated persons to share a residential property provided that each has his or her own bedroom with each bedroom being a minimum of 100 square feet, according to information disseminated by F&M at the meeting.

The boundaries of the overlay district would be the area between Harrisburg Avenue, Prince Street, Orange Street, and College Avenue.

Franklin & Marshall is requesting the zoning change because in 2007 it adopted a policy that all students must live in College-approved housing and realized that it could not accommodate "approximately 240" students in its dormitories and other current housing facilities, according to Keith Orris, Vice President for Administrative Services and External Affairs with the college.

That's because the college has more students living off-campus than it realized

"We realized that the majority of our students living in the neighborhood are in fact living in unsafe, unmaintained, illegal buildings in the neighborhood," said Orris.

"The ordinance also specifies that properties for students must have a history of student residence," he continued. Although there's an exception - a property called Twin Towers at Charlotte & James does not have a history of student residence but the college and the developer felt this was a unique opportunity to develop that property and adapt it for this purpose.

The units will be centrally managed by the developer and his subcontractors and "all units that students are living in will be sprinklered, and have modern kitchens and bathrooms."

But it's designed to be a temporary solution. By the conclusion of the 10-year contract period between the college and the developer, F&M hopes to be able to house all of its students on campus.

Planning Commission member John Lyons asked, "Assume you succeed, what happens then?... What do you see happening at the end of the 10 years?"

The developer, Kevin Silvering, who plans to invest some $17 million dollars into the construction and renovation of approximately 35 residential units, explained that this is an opportunity to improve that section of town and create family real estate down the road.

Silvering is a graduate of Franklin & Marshall College and had worked previously with college President John Fry on projects at the University of Pennsylvania - a revelation which raised eyebrows with some in the audience.

Addressing the behavioral policy, Silvering explained, "They're not going to be allowed to have parties - there's a very strict non-alcohol policy and their lawns will have to be kept clean of litter"

At least one person in the audience laughed derisively at the suggestion, saying in a low voice that students are going to do it anyway.

Another concern is parking.

Silvering said that they will be able to achieve 80 parking spaces in various lots within the vicinity of the properties.

Planning Commission members Sam Wilsker, Bruce Evans, and Jean Weglarz all expressed concern both that the parking may not be sufficient and that they'd like to hear more by way of an "exit strategy" before recommending approval of such a plan to city council.

When it came time for public comment, at least a dozen people lined up at the microphone and proclaimed, in no uncertain terms, their disapproval - even contempt - for the proposal.

"Your students will not walk 500 feet," one gentleman said, arguing that the designated parking lots would be empty and that students would instead be parking anywhere they can as close to the college as they can, creating a nightmare for residences and businesses.

"Our neighborhood has become a nightmare," said JoAnn Amelia DuBois of the 300-block of North Mary. "We now live in a community that has been marred by nightly drug activity, drinking, cars that race down the street... College students are not good neighbors," she said.

She concluded by saying, "If this ordinance is passed, I will move."

Another woman who lives on Elm Street also said she would move.

Former Mayor Charlie Smithgall said, "I think this plan was ill-conceived to start with" and "it's going to kill our neighborhood."

Frank Cummins, who lives on West Walnut Street, relates that he moved here from Falls Church, Virginia and was "told that the area was revitalizing itself and that the ultimate goal [for the area] was a community that had more single-family dwellings."

"I wonder how F&M can tolerate the drinking, the noise, the foul language that emanates from the fraternity houses," he said.

"It should not be necessary for residents to have to deal with student discipline problems," said Bonnie Palman of Charlotte Street.

At the conclusion of the 3-hour session, the Planning Commission voted not to make any recommendation but to table the resolution until their next meeting on March 5.

A presentation to City Council will also be made on March 11.

If approved, the first phase of the off-campus student housing program would start in August 2008, although the information disseminated by F&M notes that "Construction activities in several properties have already started."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pitching Streetcars

The Rotary Club of Lancaster listened to a presentation on the idea of trolley cars for downtown Lancaster at their weekly meeting Wednesday.

The speakers at the event were Tim Peters and Jack Howell who direct the Lancaster Streetcar Company.

The Streetcar Initiative is "composed of many important leaders from many important organizations," Peters explained by way of introduction.

They propose installation of a streetcar system in downtown Lancaster that would run "from the AMTRAK train station down North Prince Street to Vine, across Vine stopping at the Visitor's Information Center, and then coming up Queen past the Convention Center, up Queen Street, returning to the AMTRAK station where it started," according to Peters.

"We've even daydreamed about extending it to Park City or to McCaskey," he said.

"One of the things that the streetcar will do," Peters continued, "is pull together a lot of the separate, disparate places and activities downtown."

"Imagine a visitor to the Hotel and Convention Center asking the concierge what's downtown," he said, going on to explain that the Concierge could then direct that individual to the streetcar just outside, which would take the visitor to any of a number of city attractions, which could also include Fulton Operahouse and Clipper Stadium.

"Studies have shown that people will only walk about 3 blocks to get somewhere in the city," Peters pointed out.

He indicated that many other cities including Memphis, Little Rock, and even nearby Media, Pennsylvania have implemented streetcar systems with success.

Peters said a streetcar is preferable to a bus because "a rubber-wheeled streetcar would require replacement every 5-7 years," "it will not attract the corporate sponsorships we're seeking," and "it would not send the message of permanence like a rail."

"With a bus," he said, "you're never sure it's going to come by."

According to Peters, the total cost of the project will be $20 million and the Streetcar Company is currently petitioning both the Federal Government and the State of Pennsylvania for grants.

The Streetcar Company would be the primary operator of the system, although Red Rose Transit would also be involved.

Peters said, "We're looking for 3 and a half to 4 million for the naming rights to the system."

In response to a question about why they expect the streetcar system to attract any more riders than the current Red Rose buses, Peters responded, "we have several constituencies we believe will use the system," pointing out that its ridership would be produced by its various popular downtown destinations, including Clipper Stadium, the Convention Center, and the Amtrak Station. He revealed that the Streetcar Company also plans to construct an "intermodal" trolley station and parking garage at the AMTRAK station.

Another listener raised concerns about congestion.

Jack Howell responded that the Trolley Car should actually help relieve downtown congestion. "Which would you rather have?" he asked, "this?" (he held up a model of a streetcar) "or this" - he tossed a handful of change from his pocket onto the stage, apparently to signify automobile traffic.

Peters suggested that streetcars are "working in other cities" and pointed also favorable results from a telephone poll Franklin & Marshall College conducted about resident attitudes toward such a proposal.

Tim Peters served as President of the Rotary Club of Lancaster from 1993-1994 and Jack Howell is also President of the Lancaster Alliance, a consortium of local business leaders who seek to invest in the future of Lancaster.

Commissioners Opine on City's Nonprofit and Social Services Tax Burden

Asked by a NewsLanc reporter, Wednesday, whether the Commissioners will consider Mayor Gray's recent proposal that the County make some contribution to the city in-lieu of taxes due to the number of nonprofits in the City, due to the social services the City provides, and due to the number of unfortunates who tend to seek refuge in the City, Commissioner Chairman Dennis Stuckey replied that he is aware of the City's request, but said "We haven't discussed it" and would not comment on whether or not the Board would consider such a move.

But Commissioners Lehman and Martin did have "personal opinions" to offer.

Lehman, the lone Democrat on the 3-member Commission, said, "I would like to see the State give counties the option to put a 1% sales tax on the ballot and have that 1% sales tax revenue approved by the voters be used for property tax relief at the County level, farmland preservation, and I'd like to see that nonprofits be reimbursed County-wide. I don't know whether Lancaster County voters would approve it, but that certainly would be what I'd like to see happen and I may be making a proposal to that effect in the near future."

For his part, Commissioner Martin told the NewsLanc reporter in an interview following the meeting, "No... I think it starts a slippery slope. Should the County of Lancaster start making in-lieu of tax payments for every single nonprofit and municipal office?"

Martin went on to say that "It shouldn't be looked at as whether the County is taking care of the City's problems or whether the City is taking care of the County's problems," calling it instead a "partnership." He cited such County projects as grants approved for the County Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, proposed actions on the County Prison, Clipper Stadium, and the County's guarantees of bond revenues for the Convention Center project as ones that primarily benefit the city.

Did the Commissioners violate the Sunshine Act?

At the outset of their public meeting, Wednesday, the Commissioners apologized for their having held a meeting last week after Commissioner Chairman Dennis Stuckey and County Clerk Andrea McCue had told some that the meeting had been canceled due to the weather.

The Commissioners each admitted that they made a mistake last week but refused to comment on whether the meeting was "illegal."

Chris Hart Nibbrig of West Hempfield Township, a NewsLanc contributor, used the opportunity to opine that it was in fact illegal "because it violated the Sunshine Law."

"Lancaster Newspapers was here last week and witnessed you three violating the Sunshine Law."

"Lancaster Newspapers spilled gallons - tankers - full of ink on the Sunshine Law," Hart Nibbrig said. "The headline was six columns across the front of the page - GUILTY," he continued, calling it "the issue on which you three rode into office."

Hart Nibbrig made the connection between the Lancaster Newspapers and the County Commissioners by getting each of the Commissioners to admit that he had accepted campaign contributions from Dale High, President of the High Group, a partner of the Lancaster Newspapers in the construction of the Hotel & Convention Center project.

"Six official actions were taken and six official actions had to be re-taken today because the meeting was illegal," he proclaimed.

One of the issues from last week's agenda that was reconsidered Wednesday morning is a set of revised rules for the County Parks.

Ron Harper Jr., of East Cocalico Township, a community activist, and a handful of other attendees questioned provisions in the Park Rules banning the carrying of firearms within County Parks and language stating that "No person shall swim or bathe in any creek, stream, river, lake, pond, swamp, or man-made retention basin contained wholly within the Park System."

Harper argued that, as phrased, it requires that all portions of a waterway be within a County Park in order for the County to regulate it.

Others present argued that the County has no business regulating this kind of activity at all.

Harper also argued that because Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and parallel provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution, afford citizens a right to keep and bear arms, that the County Parks rules should accommodate the right of individuals to carry handguns with a concealed carry permit.

Commissioner Scott Martin agreed and the Commissioners eventually agreed to table the resolution for further discussion until next week's meeting.

Commissioner Craig Lehman said, in reference to the controversy over last week's meeting, "mistakes happen - I will admit to mistakes when I make them and I'm willing to own up to it."

Martin told the public that the County will make an announcement soon regarding procedures for canceling or delaying a meeting due to inclement weather.

Don Lefever, the County Solicitor, admitted in an interview that the meeting the Commissioners held last week was inappropriate, but said, "I'm not sure I'd characterize it as illegal."

"The Sunshine Law," Lefever continued, "includes a mechanism whereby action taken at an improperly-called meeting can be declared void by disclosing that the meeting took place and then taking steps to remedy it."

FBI Moves Luna Case to Philly;
DA Has No File or Interest

by Matt Henderson

On February 20, NewsLanc interviewed Lancaster District Attorney Craig Stedman concerning the controversial murder investigation by the authorities of Assistant U. S. Prosecutor Jonathan Luna.

Stedman said that he understands that the Luna case was now being handled by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia.

He said it's out of his hands and that he "has every confidence in that office" and that "they have the manpower and resources – even more so than we do – to handle an investigation."

He speculated that perhaps the investigation was moved from the FBI office in Baltimore to the Philadelphia office "because of the kinds of concerns you're raising" but stressed he "doesn't have a file on the case" - that it all happened under former Lancaster District Attorney (now County Judge) Donald Totaro and that Stedman doesn't know much more about it.

(Editor's note: Stedman was the second person in charge of the District Attorney office and did not "know much" about the most important local murder of a public official in perhaps a century and doesn't have a file on the case?)

In short, Stedman expressed no interest in pursuing the matter, content to point out that the federal authorities took control of the investigation before he came into office.

CONTRIBUTOR: The Zoning Change F & M is Actually Proposing

I was at the City Council committee meeting where this proposal was first introduced. The newspaper has been doing a TERRIBLE job of explaining this proposal to the public.

F&M does indeed want to require ALL students to live on campus. Period. F&M has had far too many issues with students living in apartments that don't meet City housing codes, and the consequences of students living out of the control of the college.

The problem is, it will take F&M AT LEAST ten years to build new dormitories AND renovate older dormitories to meet current housing standards. F&M wants to deal with these issues long before then.

The plan is basically this: F&M's developer will purchase and RENOVATE enough properties that currently house students to provide all of F&M's overflow housing needs. These will not only be brought up to City housing codes, but also to F&M's much stricter standards. In exchange, F&M has signed a ten-year lease with their developer, guaranteeing him a return on his investment. As the students are gradually transitioned into new on-campus housing, the developer will be free to sell off these renovated properties one at a time, hopefully at a good profit since the properties will be improved and well-maintained.

Off-campus students will be REQUIRED to lease housing from F&M; they will not be permitted to live under their own arrangements, unless they can prove they have family within commuting distance. As F&M brings more on-campus housing online, these lease arrangements will be phased out.

This zoning change would also apply to any other institution of higher learning that wants to create a similar program. LGH, the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design, and the Lancaster Theological Seminary would all be able to do the same thing F&M does.

The advantages of this plan are many, including (but not limited to):

- NO taxpayer money is involved, these properties will pay real estate taxes based on their IMPROVED value.

- Students will no longer be allowed to live anywhere that is not controlled by F&M.

- Current privately-owned student housing will be upgraded, resulting in higher real estate values for the surrounding area.

- When the renovated buildings are sold on the open market, they will bring an improved quality of apartment to the NW section of Lancaster. Some may even be converted back to single-family houses by the developer.

Plus, the developer has promised that NO current single-family dwellings would be turned into apartments.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Newspapers' Share of Ad Market Plummets

According to the Feb. 19 USAToday, car dealership ad spending on newspapers has plunged over the past decade from a 52% share in 1996 to 27% in 2006.

Over the comparable period, the Internet has become a competitor and in 2006 had 12% of the auto ad market.

Surprisingly, both radio and TV have increased their share, from 16% to 18% for the former and 17% to 20% for the latter.

A severe drop in advertisement revenue has lead to curtailment of staff and coverage for daily papers throughout the nation. This is especially apparent in the near elimination of investigatory reporting, Lancaster included.

Symptomatic but more highly publicized has been the virtual civil war between subsequent owners and successive managers of what was long considered one of the nation's great newspapers: The LA Times.

Since the Steinman family has long been in control of the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. and likely has no debt burden, our region has been somewhat buffered against drastic cut backs including the shutting down of evening newspapers so prevalent elsewhere, although economies in reporting are apparent.

Perhaps financial pressure from publishing was a factor in the newspapers participation in Penn Square Partners and the use of its monopoly position to push through the ill conceived convention center project.

Nor has there been an editorial written or many words, if any, printed about how half of the naming rights to the convention center have been 'gifted' to Penn Square Partners, in which Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. has a half interest.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Our apologies.....

In the recent article Council of Churches Provides Winter Homeless Shelters we failed to note that Shaarai Shomayim Synagogue also participates in the program.

We regret the omission and thank visitors who pointed it out.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Call for Congressional Investigation

Bill Keising, author of The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna, commented to concerning the Feb. 17 articles in the Sunday News as follows:

"We have to get to the bottom of all the issues surrounding the death of Jonathan Luna if we want to solve his murder. It's unacceptable that the FBI refuses to investigate this case properly. We obviously need Congressional hearings to understand the roles played by all the parties involved."

He's right to look towards Congress. It doesn't seem likely that one will take place either by the complicit FBI or by district attorney Craig Stedman here in Lancaster where the murder took place.

It's Not the $35,000 Dummy, Its the Murder!

The Feb. 17th Sunday News articles on the missing $35,000 in evidence from the Baltimore Court House the day before the early morning murder of Assistant U. S. Attorney Jonathan Luna misses the point:

Luna was murdered in Lancaster County. There is an abundance of evidence that the FBI was complicit in illegal activities that Luna knew about. Yet former District Attorney (and current County Judge) Donald Totaro declined to investigate the murder on his doorstep. (Click here for details.)

And so far there has been no indication that his elected successor, Craig Stedman, plans to re-open the investigation.

Totaro would defend his neglect of duty by claiming that the murder also falls in the jurisdiction of the FBI. But when hard evidence points to FBI involvement in improprieties about which Luna was charged by a judge to report upon the very next morning and when the FBI conducted a misinformation campaign after the murder, it was incumbent upon Totaro to investigate the matter. Any DA worth his or her salt would have leaped at the opportunity.

Now the Luna murder is likely to become the subject of a major motion picture. Totaro will properly be exposed as incompetent, or worse. And Lancaster County will be portrayed as a bunch of hicks who turned their backs on the murder of a young black justice department official.

Over the past two years, the Sunday News has reported commendably on the Luna matter, including editorializing about the brazen effort of the FBI to pressure the Lancaster County coroner to reclassify the homicide as suicide despite multiple stab wounds in Luna's back.

Let's hope that the Sunday News will now call for Stedman to conduct the investigation that Totaro refused to do, and which Luna and those who grieve for him and seek justice deserve.

5th Estate 1, Commissioners 0

Kudos to Ron Harper, Jr., of for taking the County Commissioners to task for canceling their meeting 9:15 AM meeting on Feb. 13th due to weather conditions and then convening it later in the morning.

According to the Feb. 17 Sunday News, the commissioners have consented to allow discussion and a new vote on all matters at their next meeeting.

While also mentioned the incident in its coverage (which was second hand because the reporter also was told the meeting was canceled), Harper demonstrated the moxie to challenge the validity of all decisions.

As Harper pointed out, apparently the commissioners were not apt students at the special public seminar on the Sunshine Law that they organized and attended just a couple of weeks earlier.

Another example of carelessness of government officials was the failure two weeks earlier of the Drug & Alcohol Board to note on the building's front door that the scheduled meeting had been moved to another location. In that case, the public was deprived of a report on very important matters. objected in print and by private correspondence to the Drug & Alcohol Board's violation and published a letter on one of the matters discussed from a participant. But we fault ourselves for not being assertive enough.

If this occurs in the future, Newslanc will follow Harper's lead and demand the meeting be voided and a replacement scheduled.

Wake up the Sunshine Law!

More re Faulty Electronic Voting Machines

From the New York Times of Feb. 16:

"Black voters are heavily represented in the 94th Election District in Harlem's 70th Assembly District. Yet according to the unofficial results from the New York Democratic primary last week, not a single vote in the district was cast for Senator Barack Obama.

"That anomaly was not unique. In fact, a review by The New York Times of the unofficial results reported on primary night found about 80 election districts among the city's 6,106 where Mr. Obama supposedly did not receive even one vote, including cases where he ran a respectable race in a nearby district."

What ever the cause, accidental or sinister, the electorate should not have to depend upon electronic voting machines without a verifiable paper trail. Our current Commissioners should junk the used electronic voting machine purchased by their predecessors and that Pete Shaub claimed were such a bargain.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

County Office Building Fiasco: Too Many Cooks?

Despite several tries, New York City couldn't fix the Central Park ice skating rink. Floors at the newly opened McCaskey East were in danger of collapse. The future Lancaster County Office Building hobbles towards completion and suffers expensive cost overruns.

Why are government run projects plagued by problems compared with projects sponsored by the private sector?

In most of these cases the problem lies with a state law that prohibits awarding construction projects to a single general contractor. Instead, Pennsylvania requires four or five "Multiple Prime Contractors" ... a general, plumbing, electrical, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and, where applicable, elevator contractor.

In contrast, private developers usually engage a general contractor during the design stage, benefit from the GC's expertise, and hold that general contractor responsible for bringing a quality project to completion within budget and time constraints. Another approach is to solicit bids on the completed plans and specs from several general contractors. The general contractor, in turn, engages the other contractors and is responsible for their work.

With multiple prime contractors, the general contractor may be charged with coordinating the job but is neither fully empowered over the other contractors nor held financially liable if things go wrong. In short, no one is really fully in charge.

An experienced government building official told a NewsLanc reporter that, "So long as the plans and specs were properly drawn and each individual contractors held accountable, there should be little problem."

But an experienced private sector builder took issue, pointing out that plans and specs always contain contradictions and it takes team work among all contractors, architects and engineers to work out the "bugs" before and during the construction phase. "Without one party - the general contractor - fully responsible and liable to get the job done correctly and on time, it is very difficult to get contractors and planners to work cooperatively and to resolve legitimate differences. Instead errors are not discovered and / or corrected which result in both delays and considerable extra costs."

The County Commissioners apparently understand the problem. To their credit, they have engaged a construction manager to intercede with architects, engineers and contractors to try to resolve problems, contain costs, and get the project completed.

In turn, the State should eliminate the requirement of multiple prime contractors, and the county and city should follow suit. Then public projects could be run as efficiently and economically as private undertakings.

As for the Central Park Skating Rink that had sat idle for a couple of years, a young Donald Trump found a way to take over the project from the City, awarded a single contract to a company specializing in building and servicing ice rinks, and the rink was up and running within months.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Giant Rolls Out Strategy in West-End Supermarket War

Yesterday, we reported on Stauffers of Kissel Hill's plans to expand their current supermarket and garden facility by an additional 46,000 square feet.

Just around the corner, the Giant on Columbia Avenue has some expansion plans of their own up their sleeves.

Having already been remodeled in 1992, 1994, and 2001, this year they plan to expand the current 48,900 square-foot facility by 27,000 sq-ft for a total of 75,900 square feet.

"The larger size will allow us to offer our customers many new features including enhanced prepared foods and a broader assortment in just about every department in the store," said Tracy Pawelski, Director of Public Relations for Giant Food Stores, LLC.

"Work is expected to begin within the coming weeks," she said, but declined to elaborate on the construction timetable or provide an estimated completion date.

"Once finished," she said, "the store will have an updated decor that we hope will truly enhance our customers' shopping experience as well as exciting new amenities that are in line with our newer prototypes of this size."

"Giant has one of the lowest average ages in the industry so our stores are frequently undergoing a facelift that keep our stores fresh and modern," Pawelski continued.

"We can assure our customers that we will remain open for business during the construction process and will do everything possible to minimize the inconvenience that the store expansion might cause."

Unsung hero protects our school kids

A car begins to turn right from Walnut onto Nevin Street as a child is traversing the crosswalk.

"Stop," she warns, raising her hand.

The driver continues to inch forward and begins making the turn, apparently confident that he will pass behind the boy.

"Stop! Hold it!" she screams, finally commanding the driver's respect.

Her name is Elsa Camacho and she stands in the middle of that busy intersection at Reynolds Middle School from 7am - 8 am every weekday morning.

It's a thankless job. She's been a crossing guard since 1972, starting out in New York City and moving to Lancaster in 1984.

Her motions are graceful and precise. She never misses a beat and she rarely gets to speak.

A NewsLanc reporter approached her to hear her story, Friday morning.

"I have a headache!" she yells from her post, only part-jokingly.

In the course of directing traffic, she frequently encounters irritable motorists.

"I got spit at, flipped at, I got a car thrown at me that I had to jump out of the way," she shared. Those problems are isolated and occured more frequently when she was working in the Bronx, but they still happen from time to time - even in Lancaster.

"It's not an easy job," Camacho admits.

But she is careful to point out that those instances are the exception rather than the rule.

"I love the respect that the majority - that 99% - of the people give me."

About her motivation, she adds, "I like that the kids are getting there safe."

She's retired now and does this as a part-time job.

Shortly before 8 am, she excuses herself with a sense of urgency, hops in her car and heads to her next post - the corner of Queen & Church adjacent Carter & MacRae Elementary.

"She's very reliable," says George Aldae, an attendance officer at Reynolds School.

"She seems to know the employees," he continues.

"She's there no matter what the weather."

An Invitation to Our Viewers

Each week over a thousand people visit

We would welcome more of them writing to us to express agreement, disagreement, to provide alternate views, to suggest new subjects, and to submit articles for consideration.

If is to grow to serve five thousand a week and be a worthy supplement to the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers, it needs to reflect the input of scores of viewers and be a cross road of ideas, controversy and even dissent.

Our address is

Thank you.

LETTER: Stuckey, Martin and Lehman Violate Sunshine Law

At Wednesday's County Commissioners' meeting, Chairman Dennis Stuckey informed the public that the meeting was canceled. A few hours later, Stuckey, Scott Martin, and Craig Lehman held a public meeting at which they deliberated and took official action. That meeting was illegal, which means the current Board of Commissioners VIOLATED THE SUNSHINE LAW.

Imagine if the previous Board of Commissioners violated the law in such an obvious and brazen manner? The previous board didn't even technically break the law and the Lancaster Newspapers ran the story like it was World War III.

Notice how LNP is treating this Sunshine Law violation. Shhhhhhhh.......

It is especially striking since the current Board rode into office on the flimsy platform that they weren't the previous Sunshine-violating board. These guys even had a taxpayer-funded public meeting a few weeks ago discussing the Sunshine Law. Evidently, they learned little.

Five weeks after raising their right hands, this board has already broken its first law. This is not exactly what I would call an auspicious beginning.

This story was first reported by Ron Harper, Jr.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Stauffers firing first shot in war of supermarkets

Construction is under way at Stauffers of Kissel Hill on Rohrerstown road.

The current 32,000 square-foot facility, which houses both a garden center and supermarket will be expanded to a 78,000 square-foot one, according to Paul Stauffer, Director of Marketing and Branding, and company executive.

"We'll bring the complete shopping atmosphere to the shoppers in Rohrerstown," he said. The expanded facility will also include a bistro, eat-in area, banking center, and nursery.

Construction began in September 2007 with the expanded garden center and nursery expected to be complete in April and construction of the new supermarket is expected to be completed by September of this year.

The price tag for the entire project is $18 million.

"When we're finished, it will be the best supermarket in the area," boasts Stauffer. "It will be a super garden center."

However, the Giant Supermarket on Columbia Avenue across from School Lane Hills has its own expansion plan and intends to compete for the best supermarket title.

More on this to follow.

EDITORIAL: Empathizing with Senator Larry Craig

According to the Associated Press, "The Senate Ethics Committee said Wednesday that Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, acted improperly in relation to a sex sting last June. Craig, here on Capitol Hill in September, had sought to withdraw his guilty plea after his arrest for allegedly soliciting sex at a Minneapolis airport.

"In a letter to the Republican senator, the ethics panel said Craig's attempt to withdraw his guilty plea after his arrest at a Minneapolis airport was an effort to evade legal consequences of his own actions."

Like Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, we have serious questions about the validity of the accusations brought against Senator Craig and believe, had he gone to trial, the charges have been tossed out by a court of law. Craig says he initially pled guilty with the hope of avoiding publicity.

We here in Lancaster have seen how two Commissioners agreeing to a minor violation in order to terminate a witch hunt enabled the monopoly newspapers to hound them from office. So many of us empathize with Craig, even though we detest much for which he stands.

What did the Ethics Committee find dishonorable or unethical about Craig pursuing his legal rights to withdraw a guilty plea?

The underlying ethical (opposed to legal) question is: Is consenting gay adults seeking to meet each other in a bathroom different than heterosexuals chatting up a member of the opposite gender in a bar, fitness club or church social?

The fury behind the persecution of Craig isn't that he may be gay (which is no crime), but rather because he is a gay basher and a leading exponent of family values. However, if hypocrisy were grounds for expulsion, the Senate would have difficulty achieving a quorum.

As a former prosecutor and district attorney, Specter recognized the injustice involved and spoke out. (Would that former district attorney and now judge Donald Totaro were more like Specter!) Specter deserves a lot of credit. Other senators should be ashamed of themselves.

County Planning Commission Seeks Public Feedback on Transportation Issues

The Lancaster County Planning Commission is seeking public input in crafting its Long-Range Transportation Plan. The public is encouraged to take a brief survey on the Commission's website to help them better understand which transportation issues residents consider in most need of improvement.

The Commission intends to then analyze that feedback and draft a plan that will address the County's transportation needs through the year 2035.

Some of the more frequent concerns expressed so far, according to reports published on the Planning Commission's website include aligning transportation invesments with land use planning, increasing funding for public transportation, and relieving traffic congestion.

What do you think? Tell the Planning Commission by taking their survey here:

Additional information can be found by visiting the home page of the Lancaster County Planning Commission at

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

County Appoints Ashworth as Interim Director of Human Resources

The County Commissioners held a delayed meeting after much confusion and misinformation due to the inclement weather, Wednesday, in which they approved a set of updated rules for the County parks and hired Bonnie Ashworth as the Interim Director of Human Resources to replace Jane E'Del, according to a reliable source.

E'Del was dismissed last Friday, in a move Commissioner Chairman Dennis Stuckey assured the public "had nothing to do" with the recent spat over the December dismissal of now reinstated County Parks Naturalist Lisa Sanchez.

Ashworth had previously served as the Interim Director of Human Resources before the appointment of Jane E'Del in November 2007.

Aging Population Presents New Challenges;
"A Boomer Turns 60 every 7 seconds"

Jeff Weis is the co-owner and general manager of "Home Instead Senior Care," an organization which aims to provide comfortable, human-centered, in-home assisted living care to seniors and those with special needs.

He spoke to the Rotary Club of Lancaster, Wednesday, about what he calls "the boomer tsunami" and its implications.

"A tsunami begins with an earthquake," he said, "and the earthquake for the boomer tsunami was the end of World War II."

"Since 1990, the U.S. population has tripled, but the number of adults age 65+ has increased 11-fold," he said. "These folks represent 14% of the population today."

They're called the "baby boomers," which Weis defined as "the 78 million of us born between 1946 and 1964" and the cost of their care, including their promised social security benefits, will exert a tremendous strain on the national economy.

"A boomer turns 60 every 7 seconds," Weis remarked, and "By 2020, the number of seniors will be equal to the number of 25-30 year olds."

This presents a number of challenges. Many seniors have not saved for retirement and will therefore be totally dependent on the government and on their families for support, weis argued.

"Senior fraud is also a very scary problem that is becoming much more prevalent."

The aging population will also exert tremendous strain on the healthcare system, Weis said, and the healthcare system will return the favor with extraordinary costs.

He said he thinks it's important for consumers to be educated and for hospitals to be more transparent about their billing structures. He quoted former Bush economic advisor Alan Hubbard as having said, "It's absolutely indefensible that consumers don't have access to hospital prices."

By way of solution, Weis proposes rewarding individuals for entering the Geriatric field, increasing the availability of assisted living situations, supporting innovations in technology that help us keep track of our loved ones, and celebrating and appreciating senior citizens.

How Ignorant of History and Quickly We Forget

In a Feb. 13th editorial "Hold on to your hats," the Intelligencer Journal editors state: "The U. S. government, showing its tenacity in learning nothing, has instructed its officials abroad to defend the trials in part by reference to the Nuremberg Trials, a horrible example of both victors' justice and subjecting military men to retroactive laws and international tribunals - nothing the U. S. has any interest in encouraging at this time."

Concerning the Nuremberg Trials, is no one to be held responsible for conducting aggressive war and for murdering eight million civilians just because of their religion, race, color and sexual proclivity?

Without ex post facto justice, what message would be sent to warring parties concerning their need to conduct themselves by the rules of the Geneva Conventions?

Relatively few persons were condemned to death and not many went to jail. By and large, the Germans neither then nor now harbored animosity over the trials. In contrast, the Soviets (or the Nazis!) would have lined up thousands against the wall and shot them down. And the Soviets would have sent a million more to work camps in Siberia to slowly starve to death or die from exposure, as they did in their solely occupied territories. (Some were repatriated years later.)

And lastly, as deplorable as many of us may believe was our invasion of Iraq, it did have some patina of legitimacy due to resolutions passed by the Security Council of the United Nations. There is a difference between foolishness and genocide.

Below is an excerpt on the Nuremberg Trials from Wikipedia, emphasis from the original:

The trials were conducted under their own rules of evidence; the indictments were created ex post facto and were not based on any nation's law; the tu quoque defense was removed; and some claim the entire spirit of the assembly was "victor's justice." Article 19 of the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal Charter reads as follows:

"The Tribunal shall not be bound by technical rules of evidence. It shall adopt and apply to the greatest possible extent expeditious and nontechnical procedure, and shall admit any evidence which it deems to be of probative value."

However, as described above, the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers was unusual and led directly to the formation of the international tribunals. In most cases those who are not prisoners of war are tried under their own judicial system if they are suspected of committing war crimes; in restricting the international tribunal to trying suspected Axis war crimes, the Allies were acting within normal international law.

US Supreme Court Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone called the Nuremberg trials a fraud. "[Chief US prosecutor] Jackson is away conducting his high-grade lynching party in Nuremberg," he wrote. "I don't mind what he does to the Nazis, but I hate to see the pretense that he is running a court and proceeding according to common law. This is a little too sanctimonious a fraud to meet my old-fashioned ideas."[36]

Associate Supreme Court Justice William Douglas charged that the Allies were guilty of "substituting power for principle" at Nuremberg. "I thought at the time and still think that the Nuremberg trials were unprincipled", he wrote. "Law was created ex post facto to suit the passion and clamor of the time."[37]

The majority of commentators, however, felt the Nuremberg Trials represented a step forward in extending fairness to the vanquished by requiring that actual criminal misdeeds be proved before punishment could ensue; including some of the defendants and their legal team:

Perhaps the most telling responses to the critics of Jackson and Nuremberg were those of the defendants at trial. Hans Frank, the defendant who had served as the Nazi Governor General of occupied Poland, stated, "I regard this trial as a God-willed court to examine and put an end to the terrible era of suffering under Adolf Hitler." With the same theme, but a different emphasis, defendant Albert Speer, Hitler's war production minister, said, "This trial is necessary. There is a shared responsibility for such horrible crimes even in an authoritarian state." Dr. Theodore Klefish, a member of the German defense team, wrote: "It is obvious that the trial and judgment of such proceedings require of the tribunal the utmost impartiality, loyalty and sense of justice. The Nuremberg tribunal has met all these requirements with consideration and dignity. Nobody dares to doubt that it was guided by the search for truth and justice from the first to the last day of this tremendous trial."[38] is Not Unique!
Foundations and Donors are Funding New Journalism Ventures

According to the The Christian Science Monitor, 2/12/08:

"...The Voice of San Diego, a nonprofit online media outlet, doesn't have enough journalists to field a softball team. Yet it has managed to take on the powerful with the panache of a scrappy big-city paper.

"It provides 'the best coverage of city politics that we've had in years,' raves Dean Nelson, a journalism professor at San Diego's Point Loma Nazarene University.

"The success of the tightly focused Voice, which relies on donors, offers a ray of hope for a troubled industry. Plagued by shrinking circulations and advertising, newspapers are shedding staff and downsizing their offerings. Even the pages have gotten smaller.

"By contrast, several nonprofit newspapers – though rare and often tiny – have sprung up in recent years both online and in print, funded largely by foundations and individual donors...."

The entire article can be found here.

According to the New York Times of 10/15/07:

"As struggling newspapers across the country cut back on investigative reporting, a new kind of journalism venture is hoping to fill the gap.

"Paul E. Steiger, who was the top editor of The Wall Street Journal for 16 years, and a pair of wealthy Californians are assembling a group of investigative journalists who will give away their work to media outlets.

"The nonprofit group, called Pro Publica, will pitch each project to a newspaper or magazine (and occasionally to other media) where the group hopes the work will make the strongest impression. The plan is to do long-term projects, uncovering misdeeds in government, business and organizations...."

The entire article can be found here.

City Council Approves Grant Applications, Recognizes Black History Month

Lancaster City Council approved grant applications to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development for two different projects, Tuesday night.

A $245,000 grant application was unanimously approved for improvements to the Eastern Market Plaza and market building by Tabor Community Services, and a $300,000 grant application by Community Basics was approved for the "Park Avenue Apartments project" at 255 Park Avenue.

Community basics developer Tom Eisemann explained that his organization plans to install 23 1-bedroom units for seniors and those in disabilities in a property that was formerly a shoe factory.

Eisemann estimates the total construction cost to be "about $2 million."

City Council also voted unanimously to appoint Dr. Angela Cuthbert as an alternate to the Lancaster Zoning Hearing Board. Dr. Cuthbert, who recently moved to the city, teaches geography at Millersville University.

The Council also passed a resolution in recognition of February as Black History Month. Councilman Jose Urdaneta brought up the candidacy of Senator Barack Obama on the national stage, saying, "I think it's important to recognize the contributions of all of the people who made it possible for us to get to this point."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Applications for Property Tax Relief Under Homestead and Farmstead Exceptions Due by March 1

You may qualify for property tax relief under what are called the "Homestead" or "Farmstead" exclusions.

If you own your home and your primary residence is in the State of Pennsylvania, you may qualify for the "Homestead Exception."

If you claim as your primary residence a dwelling on a farm of "at least ten contiguous acres in area," you may qualify for property tax relief under the "Farmstead Exclusion."

Under the provisions, collectively called the Pennsylvania Taxpayer Relief Act of 2006, these exceptions would go into effect if your local school district decides to increase the earned income tax by 0.1%. The goal is to offset the additional revenue by targeting property tax relief to farmers and homeowners in the state.

The required form can be downloaded from the County website here:

The form should then be mailed to: Lancaster County Board Of Assessment Appeals, 50 North Duke Street, PO Box 83480, Lancaster, PA 17608

The deadline to file is March 1.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Council of Churches Provides Winter Homeless Shelters

It certainly is cold out there.

The Lancaster County Council of Churches agrees.

That's why a handful of its churches plus Shaarai Shomayim Synagogue are participating in the Cold Weather Overflow Emergency Shelter program for the homeless.

They offer a warm place for the homeless to sleep on a rotating weekly basis from December through March.

Last week, that place was Covenant United Methodist Church at Orange & Mulberry Streets.

There, at 7:30 pm sharp, the doors are opened to the crowd of homeless that has formed outside its side entrance.

George Bergey has been volunteering with the homeless shelter program for three years.

"We have 32 cots," he explained, "and, as you can see, they come in here and turn in their tickets from the Community Homeless Outreach Center."

The Outreach Center, which opened in November on the premises of the Water Street Rescue Mission, helps coordinate the flow of homeless to the city's various shelters.

After being asked to empty their pockets for security purposes, they enter a single, large, somewhat sterile, room with cots arranged in rows.

The cots were donated by the Red Cross, Bergey reveals, and the sheets by Lancaster General.

Some lay down immediately while others help themselves to the water, hot chocolate, coffee, and Goldfish crackers the Council of Churches has provided.

Many look very tired, dirty, and disheveled, while others are surprisingly well-dressed.

"It's an emergency shelter, " Bergey explains, "and the hope is that they can start to become self-sufficient and get their own living arrangements."

He relates that the shelter nevertheless rarely sees fewer than 30 people a night.

"See that man over there in the corner just hanging his head? He comes here a lot and just sits there - we think he must be in pain or something," Bergey says.

Asked what compells him to volunteer, he says, "We all have different motivations for it. My motivation is that I consider it a Christian responsibility to see how far we can go to help folks out who are less fortunate than us."

Bergey left around 8:30 but there are others who stayed the night on Friday night, including Sue Orth and Michelle Strohm.

They are parisonhers of Zion Lutheran Church in Leola and have been helping out for weeks in a number of local shelters.

Cheryl, who declined to give her last name, is another parishoner of Covenant United, who has been volunteering for two years.

"There but for the graces of God am I myself," she said of her motivation. "One or two paychecks and you can be there yourself."

One resident of the shelter, whose clothing appeared very well-worn and who had a number of missing and darkened teeth, related that he became homeless after losing his ID cards for his previous job.

Asked what he does during the day, he said he sometimes goes to the Duke Street Library and uses the computers there to fill out online job applications.

Another somewhat older gentleman said he has been homeless for 7-8 months after having left his job because he had a stroke and continues to suffer from complications.

"I became homeless because of drinkin' and druggin' and just lack of responsibility'" a third admitted.

Yet another shared that he had previously worked for a printing company for a number of years, but lost his job after a verbal dispute with his employer. Now he's finding it difficult to obtain another job.

"I'm a seasonal employee in a warehouse right now," he said. "I couldn't work third shift because the shelters aren't open during the day."

"Right now I only eat one meal a day," he admitted.

While these individuals were willing to talk about their experiences, many others remained quiet and at least one seemed psychologically disturbed, sharing his thoughts on ninjas and the apocalypse.

At 9:30, just before turning the lights out, Associate Pastor Don Zechman entered the room and offered a prayer for the well-being of his homeless guests, including a reading of the Ten Commandments from the Old Testament.

"The church needs to be open and active in the community. I think that's really important for us," he said.

Many of the residents asked to be awoken at a particular time of the morning to get up and go to work or breakfast.

Tomorrow is another day.