Monday, March 31, 2008

Craig Lehman re Special Interest Contributions

The following is NewsLanc reporter Matt Henderson's interview on March 19 of Commissioner Craig Lehman concerning the $46,000 in election contributions he received from special interest groups, many of which have no apparent reason to be supporting a candidate for Lancaster County Commissioner:

Q: How do you respond to the revelation that much of your campaign, unlike Molly Henderson's, was funded by statewide political action committees, people involved with Penn Square Partners, and individuals from outside the County?

Lehman: I think I have the most diverse camp – fundraising list – of any candidate in the race and I can stack it up with anyone.

In fact, if you go back and look at the report, you'll see that I reported every individual who contributed. And I challenged all the other candidates to do the same.

Q: What interests did statewide PACs have in supporting a candidate for County Commissioner? You know, on the list there were political action committees and interest groups from Harrisburg, Philadelphia... unions and such from outside the area. What interest do they have in supporting a candidate for (Lancaster) County Commissioner?

Lehman: Maybe they got to know that I bring a degree of professionalism to every job I've ever done. And maybe they were simply supporting someone they had confidence would do a good job. That's what I would like to think.

Q: Were these PAC contributions solicited, perhaps, by Mike Sturla or Senator Gib Armstrong?

Lehman: I did all my own fundraising. I can't say I didn't have some help. That would be inappropriate, but for the most part I did all my own fundraising.

Lehman added: "They [PACs/interest groups/donors] saw me as the most qualified candidate. That's what I would like to think.... You'd have to ask them."

Sunday, March 30, 2008 to Shut Down

In a letter dated March 26, publisher Ron Harper, Jr. announced that will "shut down" on April 30, stating "Economic realities have forced a difficult decision...It's time to move on."

Harper relates: "With meticulous documentation (and, frankly, not a little ingenuity and courage), 5thEstate has provided you with the information you need to make decisions based on your best interests. And if it meant 'taking on the big boys,' well, that is something that 5thEstate has done, despite having less than a tiny fraction of the resources of the local 'establishment' media."

Harper points out: "I have personally spent endless hours, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income, thousands of dollars on equipment, copies and gas - just going to meetings. All this - so that this site could have something worthwhile reading. It is work that has been unpaid except for rare donations from readers."

However Harper does imply a possible future involvement in local journalism: "This may not be the end of our journalistic ventures in Lancaster County, however. I hope to continue with something new soon."

LETTER: Thibault Distancing Self from Convention Center Vote

Based upon the Sunday News account of the MT senate candidates appeared to me that Paul Thibault is changing his tune:

1) He is retreating somewhat on the bond guarantee and is now raising concerns that the project has exploded in size, scope, dollars.

2) He is attempting to place blame and his own Convention Center position on the dysfunctional system that the state heaps on 3rd-class counties.

This must be followed up and he must not be allowed to run for cover.

He knew full well that he was doing nothing more than committing this county, and his successors, to a project that was not ready for prime time...

If he was so concerned about the rising costs, he should have come out and supported Dick and Molly who were doing nothing more than objecting to that fact.

As for blaming the state, this sounds so much like Charlie Smithgall's constant cry that the federal government is to blame for the Lancaster Square debacle. When do we take some responsibility for ourselves?

This guy wants to be our Senator? He would not get my vote for dog catcher.

EDITORIAL: Better to Regroup

Given that Convention Center Chairman Art Morris had described a meeting with Penn Square Partners as "fact finding" and had limited discussion as to naming rights, it is wise for the meeting to be rescheduled for a later date when preparations can be given more attention.

Hopefully Morris and the Board will choose a delegation of members without past ties to either Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. or the High Group, and the representatives will seek to renegotiate every contract provision whereby the Partners unfairly derive income that, by good logic and general practice, should belong to the Authority and, indirectly, the public.

LETTER: Rotary / Media Dropped Ball

Other than NewsLanc, the media did not show up at last week's Rotary Club meeting to hear the other side of the Hazelton story. I think it is a real travesty considering they had devoted many front page stories, editorials and press from all three papers that had previously attended, as well as coverage on three TV stations.

When we find that the facts accepted in federal court and provided by Hazelton are in total contradiction to what Mayor Barletta stated, one asks "Don't you like to identify liars? Or is it okay for the Lancaster Press to print information that is untrue; not just differing opinions, but wrong factually?"

Editor's note: We wonder if this lapse in coverage was in response to the local Rotary Club barring media except by invitation. We at NewsLanc deeply regret that so educational and important an event as the address by Vic Walczak, the Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, went otherwise unreported. Hopefully, Rotary's board will re-think its exclusionary policy and open its weekly meetings to all media.

Can F & M Keep Its President's Promise re School Lane Hills?

An Intelligencer Journal article of March 25 headed "F & M sheds light on rail plan" reports: '[John] Fry also hoped to quell 'unfounded' rumors that Wilson Drive will be extended across Baker Field to Harrisburg Pike. 'We have no plans at all nor would we even consider, extending Wilson Drive.'"

Such a promise by the current president of F & M is undoubtedly sincere but, as is indicated in a Letter entitled "Challenges Veracity of F & M letter to Intell / New Era", it will be Manheim Township, and not F & M, that would make that decision.

School Lane Hills lies mostly in Lancaster Township, so its residents will have little sway. And street stubs for Wilson Drive and another street already connect to the southern Baker Field boundary line.

Friday, March 28, 2008

LETTER: PSP's "Rape and Pillage of Taxpayers"

This week marks the one year anniversary of the sale of nearly $64 million dollars in convention center construction bonds. If these bonds are not refinanced, they should be paid off in March of the year 2047. I strongly suspect that most of us in this room today will not be here to witness that event.

Many of the members of the current board of the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority have been working diligently to force this project to fit into the constraints placed upon it by previous boards and previous executive directors. But make no mistake, you are tightly bound by the agreements that created and govern this project, sections of which clearly take unfair advantage of taxpayers and their hard-earned dollars.

I am sure that many of you have read the agreements by which you are bound; unfortunately, I am afraid that some of you may have not. I wonder how many of you would have agreed to serve on the LCCCA board if you had carefully read these agreements before you said "yes".

I should not need to spell out to you the specific issues I am talking about. But let there be no doubt that as long as taxpayers are being unfairly taken advantage of by the agreements which bind this project, the convention center can never be a success. It doesn't matter how "successful" the media and project promoters claim the project may become; the end cannot possibly justify the means.

I'm sure that every single one of you believes that you are serving on this board to the best of your abilities. But simply accepting the rape and pillage of taxpayers by a project which you are responsible for is nothing less than a failure in and of itself.

LCCCA Executive Assistant Resigns;
Naming Rights Meeting Postponed Indefinitely

It was announced at Thursday's meeting of the Convention Center Authority that Shelly Weikert, who has provided administrative support to the organization for nearly five years, is resigning.

Weikert indicated that, while multiple reasons are involved, she is relocating to Las Vegas because she enjoys the area and "I have a hospitality degree and it's the hotel capital of the world."

She relates that she first came to the Convention Center Authority in July of 2003 as a temporary assistant. In August of 2003, she was hired directly as an Executive Administrative Assistant, and transitioned to the role of an Executive Assistant in 2004.

Weikert will be retained over the next month on a contract basis to help the Authority deal with the departure.

As for the "fact-finding" mission Art Morris and R.B. Campbell were to undertake this week regarding the issue of naming rights, they relate that the meeting has been postponed indefinitely.

Said Campbell, "With all the developments that we have with personnel, it wasn't critical we have the meeting right now."

He went on to explain that Morris, as Acting Executive Director, "has a lot on his plate right now" and that, with the departure of Weikert, the Authority is finding itself increasingly strained.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hazleton Mayor Prejudiced, Pennsylvania ACLU Legal Director Tells Rotary

Last August, the Rotary Club of Lancaster invited Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta to speak on the subject of his city's crackdown on illegal immigrants.

It is said that Rotary gave him a standing ovation.

Today, they heard from someone who says that Mr. Barletta's claims linking immigrants with increases in crime and burdens on social services, are unfounded.

Vic Walczak is the Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, a position he has held since 2004. He was co-counsel in the nationally noted 2005 challenge to the teaching of Intelligent Design in the Dover Area School District in York County. He also lead the charge against Hazleton's anti-immigration ordinance in 2006.

He is also the son of a Polish Holocaust survivor and he experienced martial law in Poland when he traveled to Poland before attending law school at Boston University.

Prompted largely by the murder of Derek Kichline by two undocumented immigrants in May 2006, Mayor Barletta and the Hazleton City Council decided that immigrants as a group were causing a rise in crime and draining the city's resources, Walczak explained.

But actual statistics do not bear out any such claim, he argued.

Over a 6-year period in Hazleton, 428 violent crimes were committed, Walczak related. "Four were committed by illegal immigrants."

"Studies show that the vast majority of immigrants come to this country, they work hard, and that when you have a large influx of immigrants, crime actually goes down. First-generation immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than citizens," he continued.

He also argued we should look back historically and realize that we're not proud of certain eras which were characterized by hostility to other groups such as Catholics, Jews, Asian Americans, Italians, and others.

Walczak believes that the real impetus behind the anti-illegal immigration movement is "to demonize Latinos" and, unfortunately, "appearance and accent becomes a proxy."

Mr. Walczak also gave his talk to a "Community Immigration Forum" hosted by the ACLU of Pennsylvania and other sponsoring organizations at Southern Market Center, Wednesday night.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

June 2009 targeted completion date for $48M County Building Renovations

At their weekly meeting this morning, the County Commissioners heard a brief presentation on the status of the renovations to the County office building at 150 North Queen Street.

Mike Myers, Operations Manager for KCI Technologies, the firm managing the construction, revealed that the targeted completion date for the project is June 2009.

The County has seen the price tag for the project increase a number of times and the projected cost is currently $48,396,242.

Commissioner Chairman Dennis Stuckey called the June 2009 target "surprising and disappointing" but indicated that things need to be done right, and that the largely inherited project must be seen through to completion.

The Commissioners publicly thanked all County employees for their patience and understanding during this time of transition.

Also Wednesday, Commissioner Stuckey announced that the weekly public meetings are now being recorded on video and that the County is considering making such video available on the County website.

"So, just to let you know, everything you say in this room is being recorded - even your conversation amongst yourselves, probably," Stuckey eerily remarked.

EDITORIAL: Rick Gray's Mythical $20 million; Art Morris's forgotten two million

In August of 2006, Mayor Rick Gray gave an interview to WGAL-TV in which he proclaimed "What we have done is close the funding gap" of $20 million. The "gap" had caused Penn Square Partners to announce that the convention center project was being aborted.

The interview is well worth watching.

Because most of the $20 million in so called savings turned out to be illusionary, the gap actually increased. Furthermore Gray projects $2 million in naming rights, which may have been a low estimate.

Gray claimed there would be $5.2 million "from negotiations with contractors," but building costs actually went up.

Gray also indicated there would be $3 million in easement payments from the impecunious Historic Preservation Trust, which the Trust promptly denied.

Gray said there would be $7 million in savings for the parking garage, but the cost of the parking garage ended up being paid by the public and users rather than the Partners.

What is LCCCA Chair Art Morris thinking about when he questions whether there will be naming rights proceeds, especially given the more than $2 million being charged for naming rights in comparable other locations?

And why is Morris proposing to go hat-in-hand to seek "clarification" from Penn Square Partners when it is obvious that Penn Square Partners misled Gray about the gap being closed?

Penn Square Partners obtained one-sided clauses that mysteriously appeared in its contracts with the Authority, inappropriately diverting millions of dollars of taxpayer money to the hotel developer.

Morris should leave his hat at home and bring a bludgeon for a real negotiation.

EDITORIAL: Lehman Contributions Demonstrate Power of Convention Center Supporters

As revealed by, almost half of the funding for Craig Lehman's county commissioner campaign came from special interest groups that clearly had no direct stake in the Lehman campaign. It is reasonable to assume that they sent their checks on behalf of Senator Gibson Armstrong who is a prime mover behind the project. Representative Mike Sturla may also have helped solicit funds for Lehman.

There is nothing necessarily illegal about raising money in this way. However, the public can justly ask itself: what was promised in exchange? What benefits that otherwise may have flowed to Lancaster were lost?

And doesn't this make Lehman beholding to the supporters of the Convention Center project and more likely to favor a County bail-out of the misbegotten project at a later date?

Furthermore, won't such heavy handed intrusion of statewide lobbyists and players in a local campaign intimidate other elected and appointed officials from bucking the Power Elite and discourage potential candidates for elected and appointed offices?

Citizens Group Airs Concerns about Railyard Plan

News broke recently that Franklin & Marshall College, in partnership with Lancaster General Hospital and Norfolk Southern Railroad company, are considering moving the Dillerville Rail Yard switching station from its current location between the college and Clipper Magazine Stadium to an 11-acre stretch of land between the Little Conestoga Creek and Harrisburg Pike.

An organization of seven residents calling themselves The Railroad Action Committee (TRAC) gave a presentation to some 130 neighbors at Grace Baptist Church on Marietta Avenue, Tuesday night, laying out why they oppose the plan.

Each of the TRAC members argued that the proposed move jeopardizes the health and quality of life of residents in the residential areas immediately surrounding the site.

"This is not an anti-F&M or an anti-LGH campaign," said Kathy Ashworth, a TRAC member who lives on Farmingdale Road. "It is a campaign against the against the project as it has thus far been proposed and described."

"This will forever change the personality of our neighborhoods," she continued.

The group cited noise, light, diesel particulate matter, ground vibrations, personal safety, and disaster risk as major concerns.

Also, the proposed site currently has an industrial waste landfill, which would need to be dug up and filled in, and which the residents fear contains linoleum and asbestos.

Ashworth suggested that one of the college and hospital's primary motivations for wanting to relocate the switching yard is to increase property values around the Armstrong site the two entities are jointly developing.

TRAC proposed that the developers consider alternative options with the current track configuration, including housing the tracks or even having them go underground.

"What we need is a win-win situation and I don't think the proposed solution will do that for us," Ashworth said.

The group also circulated petitions to governmental representatives at all levels to conduct and environmental impact study on the proposed project.

F&M and Lancaster General Hospital are expected to hold a public information session in June in order to present a more detailed plan.

More details to follow.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

ACLU to Host Community Immigration Forum, Wednesday

All are invited to attend a "Community Immigration Forum" on Wednesday, March 26 from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm in City Council Chambers at Southern Market Center in Downtown Lancaster.

Topics of discussion will include the experiences of immigrants in our area, legislation in Pennsylvania related to the issue of immigration, and problems with the federal immigration system, according to information disseminated by the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Sponsors of the event include: the American Civil Liberties Union of PA, the Church World Service/Immigration Refugee Program, Friends of Farmworkers, the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, Lancaster City Councilor Jose Urdaneta, the Lancaster City Human Relations Commission, the Lancaster County Human Relations Commission, the Lancaster NAACP, Lutheran Refugee Services in Central PA, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, and Spanish American Civic Association of Lancaster.

County Expected to Approve Polling Place Changes, Give Update on 150 N. Queen St.

Three local schools have apparently decided that they no longer wish to be used as polling places.

Citing safety concerns, the governing bodies of Taylor Elementary School of Columbia, Lancaster Christian School, and St. Anthony's Catholic School of Lancaster have opted not to permit their usage as polling places starting with the state's Primary Election on April 22, Chief Elections Clerk Mary Stehman said this morning.

Those previously voting at Taylor Elementary School - Columbia's Sixth Ward - will now vote at the Columbia School District Administrative Center at 220 North Fifth Street.

Those previously voting at Lancaster Christian School in West Lampeter's "Windy Hill District" will now vote at the Mill Creek Bible Church at 270 Strasburg Pike.

And those previously voting in the school cafeteria of St. Anthony's Catholic School will not vote in the lower level meeting room of St. Anthony's Catholic Church, which is located at 503 East Orange Street.

In West Donegal Township's Second District, the polling place is being moved from the old school building at 1 Municipal Drive in Elizabethtown to the township municipal building in the same complex. This change, Stehman explained, is being made because the school building is very primitive and lacks heat.

Finally, voters in Akron Borough's West District, who previously voted at the Akron Borough Muncipal Office, will now vote at the Akron Church of the Brethren at 613 Main Street. This change is being made because the local Judge of Elections determined that the original building was too small given the expected turnout, Stehman explained.

Commissioner Craig Lehman said he understands the safety concerns schools have but called it "a sad commentary" that they hesitate to host the cornerstone activity of democratic government.

"I think schools are the perfect place to have a living classroom about our country," he continued.

"But I support them. I have an eight-year-old in third grade and I would rather have them err on the side of caution than not."

He and Commissioner Scott Martin also suggested that they would support a national voting holiday.

At their weekly meeting tomorrow, the Commissioners are expected to entertain a presentation on the status of the project at 150 North Queen Street.

They are also expected to act to acquire by eminent domain 0.11 acres of land immediately adjacent the Auction Road Bridge in Penn and Rapho Townships. The bridge is being widened and the land, Acting County Engineer Keith Harner explained, is in the floodplain of the stream. The County will offer one land-owner $3600 and another $5,000 in compensation for the acquired land.

Monday, March 24, 2008

COMMENTARY: A Pact With the Devil?

For those of us who found Ted Darcus's actions as chair of the Convention Center heavy-handed and ignorant, it has been difficult to reconcile his despicable actions at the LCCCA with the splendid service he has long provided the youth of our community.

One of Darcus's most outspoken critics experienced a revelation when he paid a visit to the three year old Bright Side Baptist Church on Hershey Avenue at Wabank Road. There across a good portion of one wall was a listing of the major donors for the $5 million church and community center.

Although primarily an African-American institution, it appears that Bright Side was funded almost entirely by the White elite, with names such as Buckwalter, Steinman and High prominent as major donors.

Unlike as with the LCCCA and Penn Square Partners, all of the money for Bright Side came from private sources. There were no government grants involved.

Not only has Darcus long worked for Bright Side, but he was one of the prime fund raisers for this estimable cause.

Is it a coincidence that soon after the funding was raised largely from Lancaster's Power Elite that Darcus took over the helm of the LCCCA and rammed the project through despite considerable opposition and all logic?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Morris Downplays Expectations of Naming Rights Confrontation

At Thursday's meeting of the Public Relations, Marketing, & Hospitality Committee of the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority (LCCCA), Executive Director Art Morris said that he and member R.B. Campbell will be participating in a meeting with Penn Square Partners next week over the issue of naming rights.

But Mr. Morris downplayed the idea that the meeting will involve renegotiation of the controversial provisions which award half of the proceeds from the sale of naming rights to Penn Square Partners, the developer of the Marriott Hotel.

"It is not a negotiation of any kind. It's simply a sit-down to talk about how we got to where we are," Morris said.

He added, "I am not sure that we will even be able to get to any naming rights arrangement even if we want to because of the very short window at this point for us ordering things like signs for rooms and for the facility itself and so the chances of arriving at any kind of naming rights agreement arrangement, in my mind, is very low."

"There may have been some confusion. If there's been any and I'm at fault for that, I regret that, but there's been no attempt – it's simply an attempt to sit down and chat."

He added that the talks will also involve a provision involving the 50/50 sharing of "air rights" over the Hotel tower.

Pressed by a NewsLanc reporter following the meeting as to the purpose of the proposed meeting, Morris refused to acknowledge that it has anything to do with the questions that have been raised publicly about the propriety of the said provisions, insisting repeatedly that the meeting is only for "fact finding."

"Why are you fact-finding?" the reporter asked. "Isn't it because you acknowledge potential improprieties?" Morris would not elaborate.

R.B Campbell subsequently told the reporter that, while it is primarily a fact-finding mission, it does have to do with the questions that have been raised publicly about the propriety of the current contracts. The intent, Campbell explained, is to bring the current members of the board up to speed on contracts which were negotiated before most of them took were appointed.

Earlier in the meeting, NewsLanc Publisher Robert E. Field had asked the committee to address four matters of profound concern: contracts ensuring the sharing of 50% of the proceeds of naming rights with Penn Square Partners, the sharing of 50% of future state grants with Penn Square Partners, abnormally low commissions from concessions sales, and the gifting of the right of first offer with respect to naming rights to S. Dale High himself.

Committee Chair Kevin Fry responded that he would raise the issues at the full board meeting next week.

It was also announced at Thursday's committee meeting that 10 bookings, reflecting $150,600 in rental revenue, have been achieved to date for the Convention Center in 2009. The target for 2009 is 58 bookings and $506,077 of revenue from rentals.

Asked by committee chair Kevin Fry whether he is happy with the booking pace, Josh Nowak of Interstate Hotels & Resorts said that he is encouraged by the numbers so far.

Lehman campaign received $46,000 from special interests / out-of-towners

NewsLanc has reviewed the final official filings of contributions to the Craig Lehman and Molly Henderson commissioner campaigns and came up with many revelations:

Overall, NewsLanc calculates that the Lehman campaign raised $100,131.11 and the Henderson campaign raised $104,277.69.

Lehman raised $10,750 from Political Action Committees from outside the area. Henderson received nothing.

Lehman received $10,500 from Mayor Rick Gray’s campaign committee and $5,000 from Representative Mike Sturla’s campaign committee. Henderson received nothing.

Lehman received at least $9,600 from individuals directly or indirectly linked to the convention center project: S. Dale High - $5,500; C. Dale High - $2,000; Nevin Cooley - $500 and Beverly Steinman - $1,600.

Lehman raised $10,500 from individuals, some from lobby or financial firms, some likely from ‘friends’ and family. Henderson raised $3,350 from what appears to be ‘friends’ and family.

In total, Lehman raised $46,000 from lobbyists / special interests / and persons from outside the county. Henderson raised little if anything.

What Henderson did do was contribute $60,000 to her campaign. Lehman contributed $6,250.

A Tale of Two Neighborhoods

The headline in the March 19 Intelligencer Journal aptly refers to downtown Musser Park as "The 'jewel' of E. Chestnut St." At the celebration of the park's "rebirth," Mayor Rick Gray reminded a crowd of invitees that the City put up $200,000 of the $600,000 cost of upgrading, with the balance raised from neighbors and friends of the park.

NewsLanc doesn't begrudge Musser Park a penny of the money. But we do draw attention to the orphaned Rodney Park in South West Lancaster, with most of the area covered with crumbling macadam and hardly a blade of grass or a tree. Unlike the fashionable area surrounding Musser Park, the homes and neighborhood around Rodney park are decaying and the area has one of the highest crime rates in the city.

Just a hundred thousand dollars could return some grass, trees, lighting and benches to the site. Perhaps the City could put up the first $50,000. Then let's see if public spirited well heeled citizens, although comfortably living at a distance, will kick in the second $50,000. NewsLanc pledges $10,000 to the cause.

Perhaps Mayor Gray will provide the leadership to get this done.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

EDITORIAL: Aspirations No Substitute for Proper Vetting

The 160-plus individuals who attended the School District of Lancaster's school board meeting on Tuesday evening all shared aspirations for providing a better scientific education for youngsters. A show of hands indicated 90% or more audience support for the proposed charter school.

With few exceptions, speaker after speaker approved of the program, many saying "What do we have to lose?" (The answer not given: At least $5 million and the education of youngsters if the school does not pan out.)

As indicated by an extensive article posted last week, NewsLanc is neutral concerning charter schools, believing their feasibility depends upon the knowledge and reputation of their sponsors and the intended principal, adequate funding, and special needs. We reviewed the proposed Science School web site but found little if anything of substance posted.

After failing to generate information through a Google search, NewsLanc engaged professional investigators to spend two or three hours searching public records concerning the out of town board member who was supposed to bring experience to the project. Their search also turned up little information, let alone anything to suggest much experience, special competence or leadership accomplishments.

Apparently what NewsLanc suspected from the paucity of available information was determined in detail by the research conducted by the school system's staff and advisers.

Let us pursue our aspirations. But let us make sure that we are not being manipulated by those who would exploit our aspirations for our children either out of naivety or their own ambitions and profit.

Thousands Brave Elements for Chance to See Hillary Clinton

Thousands of people lined up outside Pucillo Gymnasium in Millersville late Tuesday afternoon to attend a "Town Hall Meeting" with former First Lady Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

They endured rain, wind, and temperatures hovering around 40. Many waited for nearly three hours in these conditions. In the end, a little more than 3,000 people got to see Mrs. Clinton while hundreds of others were shut out - forced to either listen from outside or leave.

Roughly half of the attendees appeared to be Millersville students, while most of the remainder made the trip from their respective portions of the County.

And not all were Hillary Clinton supporters. Advocates of Republican candidate Ron Paul displayed large signs from the roof of a parking garage and chanted campaign slogans.

Banners and signs, both for and against Hillary Clinton's candidacy were paraded up and down the nearly 1/4 mile-long line of people waiting to gain entry to the gym.

Others were selling Hillary Clinton button pins, as freezing and increasingly impatient people danced in the cold.

But it was worth the wait for those who made it inside.

But the others too seemed equally committed.

Matt Johnson, a Lancaster City resident, was trying to register voters for Obama.
Hillary Clinton is "a rugged politician," he said. "She knows what she's doing."

He feels that Clinton and Obama would make "about equally good presidents" and that Obama's liberal colors and unique ability to inspire a coalition tip the scales to Obama for him.

Richard Payne, a Millersville University senior shared that he doesn't vote but supports Hillary in the primary. "I think she's the only candidate with the gusto to make a real change," he said.

He continued that he doesn't think Obama has enough experience to be the next commander in chief.

Tina Hilsee described her support for Hillary Clinton as "more of a gut thing than a policy thing... She's a middle-aged woman and so am I," she said, going on to say that "Hillary is more seasoned than Obama."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

School District rejects Charter School

With only one vote to the contrary, on Tuesday evening, the school board voted to deny the application for the Lancaster County Science Academy.

The board based their decision in part on an adjudication generated by School District of Lancaster staff and advisors.

Prior to the vote, it was disclosed that three potential substitute locations were under consideration. So the loss of the opportunity to lease the original site was stricken from the adjudication.

Approximately 160 people attended the meeting with at least twenty taking the opportunity to speak. When asked by a show of hands to indicate whether they supported the Charter School application, about 90% raised their hands.

Most speakers favored the school. But they appeared to speak from their hearts, talking about their aspirations for the children. Almost no one provided information concerning the qualification of the founders of the Charter School or cited any successful experience.

Commissioners Set to Approve Amtrak Funding

At their weekly meeting, Wednesday, the County Commissioners are expected to approve $233,350 in additional County funding for renovations to the Lancaster Amtrak Station.

The additional funding completes the $400,000 in matching funds the County of Lancaster needs to pay in order to secure state and federal funds for the project.

Federal funding in the amount of $9,600,000 comes from two sources - one program which awards funding for transportation enhancements and another which rewards projects that reduce congestion and help improve air quality.

State grants will provide five times the County match, or $2 million.

The total cost of the renovations will be "in the neighborhood of $12 million," according to Senior Transportation Planner Chris Neumann.

This does not include $1.5 million the County has already spent on engineering and design services for the station.

"We hope to have the project under construction this fall," he said, Tuesday.

When finally completed by 2010, the new Amtrak station is expected to include retail stores, restaurants, new Amtrak offices, expanded parking, a separate waiting area for bus passengers, upgrades to the heating and air conditioning systems, and streetscape improvements.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Hillary Clinton to Speak in Millersville, Tuesday

According to information available on Hillary Clinton's campaign website and on the web page of the Lancaster County Democratic Committee, Hillary Clinton will be speaking on Tuesday, March 18 in Pucillo Gymnasium at Millersville University.

The event begins at 5pm and is scheduled to last until approximately 8pm.

The event is free and open to the public. Those wishing to attend are asked to RSVP at to help organizers understand how many will be in attendance.

A campus map is available at

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Anonymity vs. Doing Well By Doing Good

According to the Internal Revenue Service, as reported by Central Penn Business, the following five Central Pennsylvania foundations gave out the most money in 2006:

1. Ferree Foundation, $1.83 million

2. Graham Foundation, $1.74 million

3. Tyco Electronics Foundation, $1.50 million

4. James Hale Steinman Foundation, $1.49 million

5. John Frederick Steinman Foundation, $1.44 million

Foundations are usually funded in anticipation of death or by bequests. Some local philanthropists give as much but do so anonymously.

But there are those who trumpet giving, especially through naming rights, in order to conceal their avaricious business practices. It's like putting perfume on a skunk.

Trolley Car Propaganda: An Update

The September 9th Sunday News ran a long article extolling the virtues of bringing trolley cars (they call them "street cars") back to Lancaster. The article is available here.

NewsLanc comments on the article's assertions:

1) The formation of the Lancaster Street Car Co., a Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation, is recognition that no "for profit" company would be willing to invest in the trolley system.

2) How does a trolley "stitch the city together" any better than a bus? If "fifty-cent fares" are the key, we could simply subsidize loop buses. Better yet, provide them for free. The subsidy would not be much different than providing trolley cars, and free trolley bus service would surely spur downtown development.

3) "The 2.6-mile loop would cost an estimated $14.1 million." Guess who will pay the $14.1 million. If you say us taxpayers, you got it! A similar length street car system in Charlotte, NC was budgeted at $20 million and actually cost $40 million.

4) The idea is that it would be "financially sustainable." But the published projections by the sponsors indicate an annual loss of about $300,000. Research trumps wishes. The existing trolley bus that follows much the same route carries an average of only eight passengers per trip, so isn't it likely the deficit will be $500,000 or more? So who gets to pay the deficit? Again, taxpayers.

5) But wait. "...backers will certainly look for philanthropic dollars..." Dollars sunk in mindless trolley cars are no longer available for other worthy projects.

6) "...backers will chase advertising dollars..." But trolley buses also run advertisements.

7) " exempt status to provide donors with tax advantages and help solidify corporate partners..." Tax exempt status means indirect tax payer subsidy. There ain't no free lunch!

8) "...fine tune the route and design of the proposed system, with an eye on minimizing traffic disruptions." They acknowledge that running trolleys down the street and stopping every time someone wants to get on or off disrupts traffic. In Charlotte, NC, trolleys run off the streets on a separate right-of-way.

9) "Streetcars would operate at about 10-minutes intervals around a north-south loop along Queen and Prince streets, from the city Amtrak station to Southern Market Center at South Queen and Vine Streets." These main streets are already congested several hours each day. Traffic is expedited through coordination of sequential traffic signals. With street cars stopping for passengers, traffic will no longer be able to flow at a steady pace.

10) "There are, backers acknowledge, a lot of legitimate concerns about the project. Traffic is a major worry...[they] may in fact reduce traffic volume, if people park at the edges of the city and use the trolley to get around town." The Amtrak station is the "edge of the city?" Plans for station parking expansion are modest and, at most, will only relieve current station parking problems. So where are commuters to park? It is hard enough now for residents to find street parking for their cars.

11) "Conventioneers and visitors ... might want to visit Clipper Magazine Stadium or go antiquing in the 300 block of North Queen Street." Conventioneers will come to Lancaster to watch our local baseball team? Nonsense! If shoppers want to stretch their legs and look around town, they will walk a couple of blocks to antique stores.

12) "It can be built quickly, inexpensively, right into the street to get around without a car more easily." It requires $14.3 million minimum (and, if like Charlotte, NC or the convention center early estimates, the budget will likely double) to create the infrastructure for the trolley line. It costs nothing towards added street infrastructure cost to simply run a distinctively painted loop bus.

13) Trolley buses running much the same route only average eight passengers a trip. That hardly pays the driver's wages. Most potential passengers will be from Lancaster. If they won't take a trolley bus, why will they take a trolley car?

14) "This is not some harebrained idea," said Jack Howell of the Lancaster Alliance. Seems that way to us.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sensible street cars vs. dumb

NewsLanc has heard favorable comments about the Charlotte, N.C. streetcar system. To find out more, it interviewed Ron Tober, Executive Director of Charleston Street Trolley, Inc. and learned the following:

In Charlotte, street cars will run in their own right-of-way, not in city streets.

They share rails with a high speed transit system, so they only operate week days between commuter peak hours plus all day and evenings on week ends.

The route is approximately 2 miles, similar to Lancaster’s proposal.

Although the original cost estimate was $20 million (the same as for Lancaster), it ended up costing $40 million.

They operate one rebuilt vintage trolley and three replicas.

The fare is $1.30.

The regional transit system (similar to Red Rose) operates the street cars.

Trolley operations are subsidized as part of the overall transit system subsidies.

They are very popular with tourists.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Letter: Offended by headline concerning Black girls

I was offended at your Editorial of March 12 "48% of Black girls, 14 -19, infected with STD!"

It is bad enough lifting an AP story, but to do so off the discredited Intelligencer Journal is really surprising coming from a website that prides itself on independent journalism and reporting. But the worst part of the "editorial" is the headline, which screams as fact that 1 out of 2 black girls is infected with a sexually transmitted disease.

Unless there is thorough and verifiable research to back up this claim, and there clearly wasn't in the AP story, I find this headline patently offensive. To propagate as fact that one out of every two black females is a walking carrier of disease is absurd.

I'd re-think that headline right away. I think some of your black supporters in the clergy and elsewhere would take great offense to your choice in this regard.

Editor's Response (revised):

The Associated Press article indicates the source as "researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." It went on to say, "They released the results Tuesday at an STD prevention conference in Chicago." The writer is correct that initial press reports about studies on occasion are overly simplified, distorted and sensationalized. But we consider it unconscionable to make such an unlikely assumption and thus not provide information of great import for the health of our community.

We do not agree that the headline is "offensive" in itself. It is the information that is jarring. However, as is often the situation when disturbing statistics are attributed to African Americans are concerned, the causes have to do with economic class, not race. We question whether there would be such a difference in the rate of STD infections among black girls in affluent suburban schools.

Even if the report exaggerates by 100%, we would be dealing with an epidemic. Tragically, the first reaction by policy makers and the public is denial. And denial either leads to misguided, repressive policies or continuation of unsound practices.

A major cause for the jump in STD's is the practice of oral sex at a time when boys and girls are discouraged to marry early and girls rationally fear pregnancy. The youths often do not understand that condoms serve to protect from STD's as well as from pregnancy, and that they need to use male condoms for both vaginal and oral sex.

Furthermore, we seldom make condoms available to youths. Especially at an age where they are likely to have frequent sex, they cannot afford to purchase them. They should be made unobtrusively but readily available without charge at all high schools and other youth centers, and sexually active boys and girls should be counseled to make use of them.

Until officials, the public, and especially the African-American community recognize the severity of the public health problem resulting from unprotected sexual contact, many will continue to advocate only abstinence when they should take a more holistic approach for protecting young people.

To avoid offending, we could bury the statistic in the body of the article or omit all together the information so crucial to the well being of inner city youngsters in particular, and youths in general . That may retain viewers, but it wouldn't help protect boys and girls from diseases, possibly even HIV / AIDS.

Concerning the Intelligencer Journal, it and the other Lancaster newspapers have long taken an enlightened and progressive stance when it comes to public health. We at NewsLanc salute the Intell for publishing that story. And we stand by ours.

Commissioners respond to concerns about civil liberties re: "Court TV"

At Wednesday's meeting of the County Commissioners, NewsLanc expressed concern regarding reports that the County court system wants to have the ability to conduct certain legal proceedings remotely by teleconference.

Reporter Matt Henderson asked whether the addition of such technology might introduce a slippery slope in a political and legal environment where Due Process rights of the accused have been increasingly under fire.

"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 television screen?" he asked, quoting from NewsLanc's previous editorial on the matter.

The Commissioners responded only that the courts will have to exercise the discretion to use the technology appropriately.

Commissioner Scott Martin said that the project is not uncommon in other areas of the country, and that "this project has been working hand-in-hand with public defenders and their associations and attorney's associations across the state."

He said the technology is being considered as a remedy for "things like the cost it takes to bring someone back from a facility that's halfway across the state for a five-minute hearing and what the cost is to the taxpayers."

He said that the use of the technology is at an experimental stage at this point.

"Crime costs taxpayers a lot of money," Martin concluded.

Craig Lehman, the lone Democratic Commissioner, said, "We can't dehumanize people through the use of technology, but I think we have to be reasonable in that the use of technology does have benefits."

NewsLanc understands the benefits of technology, but cautions, as Samuel Johnson is reported to have once said: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

EDITORIAL: 48% of Black girls, 14 -19, infected with STD!

It must be obvious now that something is terribly wrong with the way we educate our youngsters when 25% of all girls, 14 -19, suffer from Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and the percentage for black girls is 48%.

Reported in an article by Associated Press medical writer Lindsey Tanner appearing in the March 12 Intelligencer Journal, she goes on to say "Some doctors said the numbers might be a reflection of both abstinence-only sex education and teens' own sense of invulnerability."

Sex education expert Nora Gelperin who writes for says, "Sexuality is still a very taboo subject in our society. Teens tell us that they can't make decisions in the dark and that adults aren't properly preparing them to make responsible decisions."

The naivety of American policies toward sex and drugs is apparent to those who are in contact with health experts from Western Europe and Canada. In the USA, we produce outstanding research, then ignore the enlightening conclusions and allow politicians to determine foolish policies by pandering to religious ideologues. In Europe and Canada, the advice of researchers is both sought and more relied upon, the results being far better harm reduction education concerning practices that put people at risk.

Common Sense for Drug Policy (CSDP) is located in Lancaster. (Full disclosure: The publisher of is a co- founder and Vice Chair.) CSDP's Director of Research, Doug McVay, is currently attending a UN sponsored conference on drug policy in Vienna. For an example of how much more progressive are European approaches to problems of sex and drugs (both legal and illegal), spend fourteen minutes listening to McVay's interview of former British Drug Czar, Mike Trace at .

Abstinence from all forms of sexual contact may be considered desirable by some, but is hardly likely for most girls in their later teen years. Along with moral guidance, they need practical advice and, when at risk, access to vaginal and oral condoms to protect themselves.

City Weighs $25 Administrative Ticket Plan

Lancaster City Council is considering implementing an "administrative ticketing system" in order to deal with summary property violations.

Such offenses as accumulations of trash on one's lawn, furniture on one's front porch, littering, and graffiti are covered under the bill, being called Administration Bill No. 2-2008.

The first step in the process involves the issuance of a $25 violation ticket. If the fine is not paid or a hearing is not requested within 15 days, the amount increases to $30. Failure to pay within 30 days results in the city's issuing a citation, which includes a charge of at least $50 plus penalties almost always well in excess of $100.

The city may also direct the property owner to abate the violation or be charged for the cost of the city's cleaning up the problem itself.

City officials insist that the ticketing procedure is a way of educating the public and providing extra leeway in the punitive process, not a way for the city to make money.

"We're probably going to lose money off of this, frankly," Mayor Rick Gray admitted at Tuesday night's City Council meeting.

"What it does is it provides a simpler step... rather than going to a district justice,you give people one step up from a friendly reminder and that's a $25 ticket," he explained.

A few local landlords raised concerns that they would be the ones ticketed and cited rather than the tenants.

Mayor Gray and Charlotte Katzenmoyer, the city's Director of Public Works, both insisted that the city can determine who the owner of a property is but not necessarily its tentants.

"It is our intent to work with property owners... if there are any problem tenants," Gray said.

A landlord can also write provisions into their leases with tenants regarding who would pay for tickets and citations, suggested Council President Louise Williams.

Gray also explained that there is a an appeals process through which one can argue that a given ticket is unfair in a particular circumstance.

He welcomed public feedback and encouraged anyone concerned about the procedure to contact his office.

City Council is expected to vote on the proposal at its next meeting on March 25.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Charter School's success depends on vision, mission, school principals, and sponsors

In anticipation of discussion next week by the by the board of the School District of Lancaster concerning the proposed Charter Science High School, the following is based on interviews of sources and research conducted by NewsLanc.

Charter schools are part of a so-called “choice movement”: the idea being that urban school districts should offer choices.

In the past, the only choice was between the public and the private sector, which consisted of parochial and private schools. Charter schools were somewhat in between: They are public but not under the direction of the public school district. They have certain performance expectations in order to retain their charter and were meant to be subject to review by the local district and the state’s department of instructions.

Data on their performance is very much mixed, so generalization cannot be made as to whether students going to them will perform better or worse. Performance has not so much do with whether they are charter schools but instead with the quality of the school principals and charter school boards. When they have good leadership, they have a better chance of being successful. The quality of principals is also a major factor in the performance of public schools.

Another issue is how well conceived is the vision and mission of the individual charter school. (Vision: What the purpose of the school is and what they expect as an outcome.)

For example, parents who may not be happy with the district for one reason or another then gather together to create a charter school and take all of the political and legal steps necessary to achieve that end. However, it turns out that the reason for setting up the charter is more negative rather than based on a clear vision of what the charter school is to become. Unfortunately, that often occurs.

A possible example was the Ron Brown charter school established by sponsors described as “well meaning people but inept” in Harrisburg that closed within three years.

Charter schools can be a financial burden for the public school district. For example, the pro-rate share of funds transferred to the charter school per student form the school district may be $10,000 per student. However, if the student is later reclassified by the charter school as requiring special education, then the charter school may charge the school district perhaps $22,000. The school has no redress.

Staying with finance issues, let’s say that the school district has a budget of a hundred million dollars but they are servicing $75 million of historical debt. (Debt service might have resulted from past poor management of property construction or improvements.) When the $11,000 per capita is paid to the charter school, the school district is not permitted to retain from the $11,000 a pro-rate share to service existing debt service. So, in effect, the school district remains with the entire burden of the debt service and the charter school gets a free ride. This places an added burden on those paying school taxes. (Of course, the charter school may have its own debt service.) Also, the school district carries the entire load of the basic infrastructure costs.

Sometimes school districts can play games themselves. They may attempt to export lower performance students and students who require expensive special educational support.

There are accusations that charter schools “cherry pick” talented youngsters. In theory, charter schools cannot say, “we won’t take you.” But parents do tend to self-select and charter schools thus can drain the students of greatest potential from public schools.

There are three motives for people in urban areas sending children to charter schools: 1) They think they will get a better education. 2) They think their kids will be safer. 3) They anticipate smaller class sizes.

In fact, there is no generalization that can be made concerning whether charter school students achieve better results in such areas as graduation rates, test scores, and college enrollment. Success depends on the quality of the leadership.

By definition, charter schools are not for profit. However, those who seek the charter may be community lay people who wish to have more control to have more control over the school and are disenchanted with their schools. Or they may be profiteers, who use the charter school as a means to divert funds for their political or financial advantages.

And there are circumstances when the public school district has retained so much authority over the charter school that the charter school was hamstrung from succeeding. For a possible example, visit “Viewpoint: Chester-Upland's Troubled Schools” by David W. Kirkpatrick at

Currently, there is litigation in the Upland-Chester School District in Delaware County and elsewhere in the state concerning enrollment caps and accountability issues. Essentially, the charter schools claim that school district and the State Department of Education do not have a right to review their performances. They claim only charter schools boards have jurisdiction. The State Department of Education maintains that charter schools must meet performance goals.

There is also litigation over charter school claims that they should not be subject to enrollment caps that had been part of their arrangements with school districts. The charter schools maintain that they must have autonomy to achieve their core missions.

Districts are learning that a lot of things they are taking for granted are now being challenged by “profiteers” on the grounds that they are not bound by past agreements. In some cases, challenges can come from altruistic lay boards.

In evaluating proposals for a charter school, it is important to know whether the sponsors are community-based (Is it a charter school that has been generated by local concerns?), whether a well-qualified sponsor from outside the region, or whether it is by profiteers from the outside who see this as an opportunity to come in and exploit the situation. (There are many ways for non-profits to divert funds in a manner that is not socially beneficial. It is important to check the histories of the sponsors and its staff for business competence and integrity, especially as managers of educational institutions.)

And even when locally sponsored, it essential to know the level of experience and competence of the sponsors. How clear is their vision? Home grown sponsors can often be financially naive and unsophisticated.

Another problem with local, homegrown charter schools is that they often run into fiscal problems because they are underfunded and don’t know how to play the system the way the profiteers do. Outside charter schools run by businesspeople know how to milk every cent out of government and other sources of funding at the expense of other schools. They may not have a social justice bone in their body. When school districts ask them for information or try to hold them responsible, they go into court for an injunction. Two or three years and millions in litigation cost can ensue.

Information concerning Enola Railroad Corridor vision

NewsLanc acquired a map and description of the benefits of a collaborative county / local municipal approach to the Enola Railroad Corridor from the Lancaster County Planning Board. It can be viewed HERE.

Did local Rotary Club violate Rotary International's regulations?

The action on March 5 by local Rotary Club president Alexandra Weisensale to summarily and discourteously eject NewsLanc reporter Matt Henderson who had been routinely covering speakers at Rotary meetings appears inconsistent with the spirit and arguably the letter of the Rotary International Regulations.

NewsLanc inquired of Rotary International: "Are Rotary meetings held in secret or is media coverage permitted?"

The response received on March 11 was:

"Responsibility of the Rotary Club...

Each club is expected to

1) Maintain positive news media relations...

5) Cultivate the understanding of nongovernmental organizations, community leaders, young people, and other special interest groups who should be aware of Rotary, its mission, scope, programs, and activities...

7) Obtain full representation of the news media in its membership ...

Rotary and News Media Relationships

Clubs and governors are urged to undertake appropriate action to improve relationships between Rotary and the news media. ...

1) Invite news media personnel to speak to clubs on the role of the media...

2) Hold training sessions, discussion groups, or forums on public and media relations outreach for Rotarians, and invite media personnel as speakers or panelists...

3) Create club-based professional development opportunities for young journalists, and ask awardees for their feedback.

5) Increase efforts to bring news media representatives into club membership.

RI Public Relations Award

The RI Public Relations Award recognizes clubs and districts that demonstrate outstanding media coverage of Rotary activities in their areas and have implemented programs that demonstrably improve the image of Rotary in their communities."

Monday, March 10, 2008

City, County to Meet in April to Discuss Amtrak Contingency Parking

The Chair of Lancaster City Council's Public Works Committee, Tim Roschel, told NewsLanc today that a meeting between city and county officials to discuss contingency parking at the Amtrak station is being scheduled for "some time in early April."

The meeting will likely include Mr. Roschel as well as Charlotte Katzenmoyer, the city's Director of Public Works, and James Cowhey, the Executive Director of the Lancaster County Planning Commission.

A construction bid is set to be awarded for the renovations to the Amtrak station as early as this summer.

Ultimately, those renovations will include an expansion in parking from the currently available 169 spaces to 300 spaces, according to Amtrak's Manager of Media Relations, Karina Romero.

But during this expansion, parking will be reduced by as much as a third for a period of "approximately two years," Romero said.

In light of this information, NewsLanc had inquired as to how the city plans to deal with the resulting likelihood that Amtrak passengers and their family and friends will inundate the surrounding neighborhood in search of parking spaces.

Roschel indicated that he will inform NewsLanc of future developments on the subject.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Intell / New Era side with NewsLanc on Rotary controversy

In a courageous "In our view" article, the editors of the combined March 8 edition of the Intelligencer Journal / New Era state: "It would be a shame for the Rotary, for all its long history and good works, to get on the wrong side of a First Amendment tussle. Openness has been good for Rotary in the past and can only be good for it in the future."

The editorial also points out, "...this newspaper has frequently reported on Rotary lunches, without a specific invitation, and to this point we’ve not been informed of any change in the club’s policies."

However, the editorial prefaces the main subject by opining, "…we believe NewsLanc more often than not speaks biased and uniformed opinion to a few Web surfers and radio listeners, but, hey, it’s a free country.”

The editorial concludes "Fields (sic) solicited our support on this matter. Keeping Voltaire in mind, he has it.” (At the outset , they attribute to Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” )

Robert Edwin Field, NewsLancs publisher, expressed gratitude for the support of the monopoly newspapers on this free speech issue.

In response to the criticism, Field said that NewsLanc prides itself on its accuracy and that the “few Web surfers” amount to well over a thousand visitors most weeks and the number is growing at over 10% per month.

As for charges of bias and uniformed opinion, Field echoed the words of a much (and deservedly) criticized New York politician of the 19th century by responding: “Say what you want about me, but please spell my name right.”

Friday, March 7, 2008

Mayor Riley Sings Praises of Convention Centers

Mayor Joseph Riley of Charleston, S.C., told NewsLanc in an interview following his speech to the Hourglass Foundation, Thursday night, that Charleston's Convention Center project has been a resounding success.

While the majority of people, including the local newspaper, favored the project, the support was far from unanimous.

Litigation against the project continued for about 4 years, even reaching the state Supreme Court.

"I'm sure we faced more lawsuits [than is the case in Lancaster]," Riley said.

It would have been a lot less controversial if it had been a much smaller facility, he acknowledged, but he's glad that proponents stuck to their guns and saw the idea through.

When the 117,730 square-foot facility was finally completed in August 1999, "it made all the difference" to the downtown, according to Riley.

"Cities need energy," he said. "It was like turning on a sprinkler on a porch lawn."

Earlier in the evening, Riley had said that he considers the former Watt & Shand building a prime location for stimulating commercial investment in downtown Lancaster.

But there are important differences between Lancaster and Charleston.

Charleston has a marketing area of 600,000 while the marketing area for Lancaster is between 350,000 and 400,000.

Charleston is a port city and, as such, its downtown area has long been a tourist attraction.

The city of Lancaster attracts relatively few tourists, as witnessed by the sad history of Lancaster's only downtown hotel.

The Charlestons Convention Center is approximately half the size in overall square footages as the one being constructed at Penn Square.

Charleston is also the final destination of east - west Interstate 26 which connects to north-south Interstate 95.

Photos of Rodney Park Reveal Neglect

The little park that isn't

If you visit Rodney Park in the city's
southwest at Rodney and Third streets, you might wonder what has happened to this almost two acres of ground that was deeded to the city in the 1920s and once was a vibrant neighborhood park.

Today, rather than being a source of pride, it adds to the blight of one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the city.

Here is some of what you will see: a community building; an overgrown, weedy patch of bushes next to the building; an in-ground shallow pool for children; old macadam paving that has crumbled over time; an ancient, ugly swing set with some mulch underneath; and a chain-link fence that encircles the macadam-covered grounds. A portion of the park originally was a basketball court, but the hoops and backboards are long gone.

Now its sole use is for spill-over parking during senior citizen events at the community building.

The city is working on a comprehensive city parks and open space plan. We applaud that. As part of that plan, there is a resident survey on the city’s Web site. The deadline for completing the survey is March 16. The city will use the information from the survey to form policies, goals and objectives for parks and open spaces, according to the Web site.

Because there is resistance to the basketball court by some parties, an expanded tot lot and some much needed grass, a couple of trees, and a park bench or two would be much welcome in a neighborhood almost devoid of landscaping.

NewsLanc estimates that an expenditure of $100,000 would bring about a remarkable change and add many times that amount to the value of nearby real estate. In short, the outlay would be offset by stabilizing the value of neighborhood homes and the revenue from real estate taxes.

We hope the survey and the open space plan is compiled and used quickly so that it won’t be a wasted effort. With our population becoming increasingly overweight and unhealthy, everyone, including municipalities and governments, needs to get health and fitness more to the forefront.

See the additional post with more photos of Rodney Park.

Did Rotary President violate club's basic principles?

According to, "Rotary Club members are taught something called 'The Four Way Test' that they are urged to apply before 'we think, say or do anything.' According to the International Rotary's website, the test 'should be to develop and maintain high ethical standards in human relations.' "

"How did kicking a reporter out of their Lancaster Rotary Club meeting 'build GOOD WILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS' and how did throwing out Henderson, who had quietly observed the meetings for weeks, 'develop and maintain high ethical standards in human relations'?"

These questions were posed by 5thEstate to current president of the local branch, Alexandra Weisensale. Visit for her reaction and to read the entire article.

EDITORIAL: Escaping a mental cage

"Infidel" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an extraordinary autobiography of a women's journey from a childhood and youth in Somalia, Kenya and Saudi Arabia as a devout fundamentalist Muslim (which included genital mutilation) to an escape to Holland to avoid a forced marriage where over a number of years her entire perspective on life gradually evolved. The New York Time's described Ali as " unflinching advocate of women's rights and an unflinching critic of Islamic extremism."

Relevant to the Lancaster situation is the following comment: "As I myself know too well, it takes a long time to dissolve the bars of a mental cage."

The bulk of the Lancaster public remains unreceptive to the accurate and alarming information provided by local political activists and former commissioners about shocking abuses of a greedy Power Elite. This is a result of many years of receiving distorted and biased information from the monopoly newspapers and the quisling WGAL.

Recent revelations of improprieties are not enough to "dissolves the bars of a mental cage." Rather it will take years of providing an alternate source of reliable information and local understanding for local perceptions to gradually evolve.

Let's recognize that progress will be incremental and efforts must be never ending. Already the rays of light that many of us have shone are having a constraining effect upon business management interference with news and editorial coverage at the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. and may be deterring additional greedy schemes by the Power Elite.

Let us welcome all efforts to accurately inform the public. The job is too big and will take too long for any one of us.

Charleston Mayor Speaks on Urban Development

Joseph Riley Jr., the mayor of Charleston, S.C., spoke to an audience of about 200 at Liberty Place in Lancaster, Thursday night.

The topic of his talk was urban design, revitalization, and livability.

Riley spoke of the need for development to be conducted in a way that is contextually and historically sensitive, and also beautiful and inspiring.

"When you bulldoze and tear things down, you rob the city of a memory," he said.

Showing slides of some beautiful development projects the City of Charleston has undertaken or facilitated, including a waterfront recreation area and modern plazas with water fountains, Riley said, "We should never allow anything to be built that doesn't add beauty to our city."

He said that since many residents live their entire lives in an insular environment, it's important to try to provide them with opportunities to experience beauty and serenity locally.

Riley showed a photograph of a city worker on his hands and knees with a torch, modifying the precise shape of some slate stones in a walkway. Riley presented this as the paradigm concept of his speech - attention to detail.

"Cities have been and always will be the economic centers," he said.

He likened cities to ecosystems, arguing that development that is out of scale or context can affect an entire area.

Just because you have an open space doesn't mean that you just build anything there, Riley said, arguing that development must have a rhyme and reason.

He showed a number of slides featuring striking examples of residential and commercial development that was architecturally harmonious with the immediately adjacent structures.

Charleston receives about four million visitors a year, Riley said.

He cautioned, "You don't build cities overnight. ... What I showed you was over a period of 30 years."

Finally, the mayor stressed the need for citizens to be actively involved in the future of their cities and towns. "I can't think of a project we've done in Charleston that wasn't made better because of citizen participation and engagement," he said.

First elected mayor of Charleston in 1975, Riley is serving his ninth term.

The talk was hosted by the Hourglass Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded in 1997, whose stated mission is "to champion and facilitate effective growth management in order to make Lancaster County an even better place to live, work and visit."

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Construction Expected Soon on Future Home of City YMCA

Construction is set to begin on the city YMCA's new home, which will be located at 265 Harrisburg Avenue, between Clipper Magazine Stadium and the Lancaster Arts Hotel.

The city YMCA has occupied its current building, at 572 North Queen, since 1967.

Executive Director Jeff Kenderdine explained that the new, 42,000 square-foot facility will feature more usable space than is currently available and will feature "physical and aerobic fitness rooms, a full gymnasium, natatorium, indoor walking/running track, child watch area, youth & community rooms, and administrative offices."

Kenderdine also said that the new building will be environmentally friendly and energy efficient, resulting in "dramatic operational savings."

According to Kenderdine, construction is expected to begin on the new facility in late spring, and continue for "roughly a year," which puts the projected opening in early 2009.

The YMCA purchased the facility from an insurance subsidiary of the Irex Corporation. The total cost of construction, including the purchase of the building, is $13 million, Kenderdine revealed.

For over 150 years, the YMCA has sought to provide family-friendly wellness and educational programs to the youth of Lancaster City and County.

Rail Trail a Boon to York County for Over 10 Years

Despite years of effort, the hopes for a rail trail along the old Enola Low Grade Line in the southern portion of Lancaster County, the vision has still not come to fruition.

The municipalities went so far as to sue the county to prevent the 23-mile stretch of land running through their backyards from being converted into a recreation area.

Many residents seem to fear that the trail would become a collection point for trash and for unsavory activities of various kinds.

But this doesn't seem to be the case just next door in York County.

County and non-county residents alike have benefited from the presence of York County's Heritage Rail trail since the project began to take form in 1994.

After the railroad operator, Penn Central Railroad, declared bankruptcy in 1970, the County of York purchased the rail corridor in 1990 through an agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, according to information published on Web site of the York County Parks Department.

The first mile of rail trail was completed in 1994 with the help of two Boy Scouts working on Eagle projects, said Gwen Loose, project coordinator for the York County Rail Trail Authority.

Today, the completed trail is 21 miles long, running from Lafayette Plaza in the City of York to the Maryland-Pennsylvania state line near the Borough of New Freedom.

According to a 2004 survey of rail trail users commissioned by the Parks Department, 93.6 percent of respondents rated the cleanliness of the trail as "Excellent" or "Good," 79.2 percent "Strongly Agreed" that "York County parks and trails are important to your community and a wise use of your tax dollars," and a full 99 percent said they "support the development of additional multi-use trails in York County."

The York County Rail Trail Authority reported that 300,000 people used the Heritage Rail Trail in 2004.

The average duration of a trail outing is two hours, and biking is the most frequent trail activity with 71.7 percent of respondents calling it their primary activity, the 2004 survey revealed.

Could we Lancaster County residents reap similar benefits from the 23-mile stretch of abandoned rail line in the southern end of our county?

New York Times's prasies F&M's John Fry

A very laudatory article appears today (March 5) in the Face Book section entitled "A College President Whose Credentials Stress Taking Care of Business."

The Times reports: "Like a small but growing number of college and university presidents, Mr. Fry earned his stripes outside the classroom, on the business side of higher education. When he became Franklin & Marshall’s president six years ago, he arrived with unusual experience in administration, finance and neighborhood development. "

After listing a formidable array of Fry's accomplishments to date, the article goes on: “There are two speeds in Lancaster,” said Louise L. Stevenson, a professor of history and American studies. “There is Lancaster speed, and there is Fry speed. And Fry speed is fast.”

The article is an informative and an enjoyable read. It can be found at:

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Rotary gives NewsLanc the 'boot'

Reporter Matt Henderson has been covering Rotary Club meetings for months.

However, at the meeting of March 5, 2008, the current president of the local branch, Alexandra Weisensale, approached Henderson and informed him that he would not be allowed to stay because "Rotary is a private club and the press is welcome by invitation only."

It is hardly likely that Weisensale would show the door to reporters of WGAL, FOX 43, or the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers.

Rather Weisensale's action is a follow-up to the cancellation last year of Newslanc's publisher Robert Edwin Field's scheduled address to the club on the topic of political activism. Although personally invited by Rotary Club top officials, the invitation was withdrawn reportedly because of pressure from members.

When asked today to comment, Field said, "Normally, Rotary Clubs are open minded and solicitous of different view points. Apparently, the local Rotary has recently fallen under the influence of powerful business influences that place their own interests above the freedom of the press ."

Hopes for Rail Trail in Hands of Municipalities

The past few years have been frustrating for advocates of the "rails to trails" initiative along the old Norfolk Southern Railroad line running through seven municipalities in the southern end of the county.

The previous board of commissioners attempted to create the rail trail unilaterally, by taking the 23-mile strip of land by eminent domain.

But the municipalities fought back in court, winning a judgment against the county in November 2005. A subsequent appeal upheld the lower court's ruling.

Currently the land still belongs to Norfolk Southern, but that is about to change.

"The subdivision plan for the Enola low grade line was approved by the County Planning Commission in 2007," James Cowhey, executive director of the Lancaster County Planning Commission, told NewsLanc.

The subdivision will break the former low-grade line railway bed into six lots, and each lot will be conveyed from Norfolk Southern to each of the six municipalities in which the lots are located, Cowhey said.

The deeds should be recorded in the next six to eight weeks, he said.

Then, it will be time for each municipality to decide whether there will be a rail trail.

"I believe once they are in ownership of the Enola Line, the municipalities will feel more confident about a future use for that area that may include public access of some kind," Cowhey said.

"A future rail trail is still part of the vision in our Parks and Open Space Plan," he said, but cautioned that "prodding from the County in the past only worked to harm relationships between the County and the municipalities and set back efforts to have a trail in place.

"For now, we will stand ready to assist the municipalities should one or more of them decide to make the area available for public use," Cowhey continued, but ultimately "the impetus for the trail after conveyance must come from the municipalities."

Mayor Pushes for Angled Parking in Parts of City

At Tuesday's meeting of the City Traffic Commission, Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray laid his proposal for angled (as opposed to parallel) parking on the table for consideration.

Gray wants to try angled parking spots, into which motorists would have to back in, on College Avenue between Lemon Street and Harrisburg Pike, Lemon Street from College Avenue to Lime Street, and on Plum Street from Liberty Street to Reynolds Street.

He revealed that speeding is one of the most common complaints he hears from city residents.

The proposed modification is designed to both increase parking space and discourage speeding, he explained.

Angled parking would result in narrower streets - something Mayor Gray is intentionally encouraging.

"From what I've seen, people tend to slow down as the lanes become more narrow," he said.

Bob Seiffert, a local contractor, expressed concern that such things as snowstorms and temporarily-parked delivery trucks might obstruct traffic to a greater extent with a narrowed street.

The Commission listened attentively and assured Mr. Seiffert that his concerns would be taken into consideration.

Others among the handful of residents present at Tuesday's meeting seemed supportive of the effort.

The city plans to experiment with the proposed change soon by blocking off certain stretches of roadways under consideration for the alterations and using duct tape and other temporary markers to simulate the narrowing of the road and the layout of the parking spaces.

Another issue on the agenda concerned a proposal to make East Grant Street "one-way from North Lime Street to North Shippen Street."

A number of residents spoke to that issue as well.

"The [current] two-way is inconvenient at times but I would never want it to be changed because it forces people to slow down," said Peggy Fritz, who lives on the corner of Shippen & Grant.

The only thing that keeps us safe is the prospect of two-way traffic forcing people to slow down and stop," she continued.

The traffic commission tabled that resolution and is expected to act on the proposal to make Grant Street one-way at their next meeting in May.