Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A trillion here; 600 billion there. Who knows?

According to the Intelligencer Journal editorial of Sept.30: "The failure of lawmakers to pass the bailout resulted in a 777-point loss on the New York Stock Exchange. That downturn - resulting in $1.2 trillion in losses - cost investors, who own shares in pension funds, retirement accounts and the like - much more than the $700 billion bailout would have cost."

It's now a day later and the Dow Jones average has reclaimed 485 points.

So can we be certain that the bailout is essential? Or has the market gone through another 20% 'correction' and was the 777-point drop the final "blow off" that signals the bottom of the market? (A bottom occurs when the doubters have largely sold their stock so the amount available is far less.)

Sorry. NewsLanc doesn't know the answer. Otherwise we would be otherwise occupied buying or selling futures!

Happenings in and around Lancaster this week

October 3rd is First Friday in downtown Lancaster. "First Fridays occur on the first Friday evening of every month year round. Over 90 art galleries and shops extend their hours and stay open to 9:00 PM - some even later!" A lot of people come downtown for First Fridays, so come meet, mingle, and enjoy. For additional information, visit http://www.lancasterarts.com.

Want to try Yoga? On First Friday (Oct. 3), "Experience the uplifting energy of Kirtan, a form of group chanting from ancient India. Afterwards enjoy a sampling of delicious Ayurvedic vegetarian foods, flavored with exotic and healing Indian spices." This is at "The Yoga Path" at 428 N. Duke St. Admission is $10 at the door. For more information, visit http://www.yogapathlancaster.com.

Also Friday, October 3, the Leola Freeze & Frizz is showing the movie National Treasure: Book of Secrets starring Nicholas Cage. The free movie is showing at 7:00 p.m. Attendees should bring their own lawn chairs or blankets. Food is available for purchase but may not be carried on to the premises. The Leola Freeze & Frizz is located at 250 New Holland Pike in Leola. For more information, call 717-656-4491.

The Freeze & Frizz will also be showing the movie 3:10 to Yuma at the same time on Saturday, October 4th.

Wednesday October 1st, "Listen to Robert Vitalis'
lecture on “America’s Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier.” Vitalis is Professor of political science and former director of the Middle East Center at University of Pennsylvania. The talk is at Barshinger Life Sciences Center Lecture Hall on the F&M campus. Free. 4:30 p.m."

"Did you ever wonder how the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra
prepares for a performance? If so, join Lido and the orchestra for open rehearsals at the Fulton Opera House. You will learn about the musicians, orchestra, composer and the music. Arrangements by Beethoven, Mozart, Hubay, Beethoven and Mozart will be performed. Arrive at 3 p.m. to meet the musicians and engage in pre-rehearsal dialogue. Performance at 3:30 p.m. at Fulton Opera House, 12 N. Prince St. 717-291-6440 x 231. Free."

Starting Friday, October 3 and continuing through the month is the haunted attraction, Jason's Woods. "No one does Halloween like the Legendary Jason’s Woods! Celebrating 23 years, featuring 9 hair-raising haunted attractions with breathtaking special effects. Free fabulous pre-show entertainment including LIVE bands, DJ’s, magic shows and more! 2 all new attractions for 2008!!" Ticket prices vary from $12 to $40. Jason's Woods is located at 99 Stehman Rd. in Conestoga Township. Visit http://www.jasonswoods.com.

At the Pennsylvania Academy of music, Friday night, violin virtuoso
Ann Fontanella will perform Early Romantic music. The performance is at 8:00 p.m. Ticket information can be obtained by contacting the Pennsylvania Academy of Music.

On Saturday October 4th, Columbia and Wrightsville will hold their
20th Annual Bridge Bust. "Voted one of the Top 10 Craft Shows in Lancaster County Magazine for 2007! More than 300 antiques, art, craft and food vendors are returning to this popular event across the historic Route 462 Veteran’s Memorial Bridge connecting Columbia and Wrightsville." From 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Adult tickets are $2 and children under 13 attend for free. For more information, visit http://www.parivertowns.com.

This weekend is Fall Farm Fest at Dutch Wonderland. "Get down on the farm as Dutch Wonderland hosts the annual Fall Farm Fest! Guests will get an up-close look at life on a farm through interactive demonstrations and hands-on activities." These special events are included with park admission. Dutch Wonderland is located on Lincoln Highway East (Rt. 30). Park hours this weekend are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.dutchwonderland.com.

The Hands-on House Children's Museum of Lancaster is putting on a 5k and half-marathon on Saturday. Proceeds will benefit the museum. First prize for the half marathon is $300. The course is described as scenic and passing a covered bridge and single-room schoolhouse. It starts at the museum at 721 Landis Valley Rd. Registration is $40 for the half-marathon or $20 for the 5k. Registration is $5 more if the runner does not register in advance. Visit http://www.handsonhouse.com/news_race.asp for further information.

Saturday October 4th is the "Harvest Breakfast" at Central Market in downtown Lancaster. "
Come to downtown Lancaster for a celebration of Lancaster County’s harvest, with music, children’s activities, cooking demonstrations, and food tasting."

For more local and regional events, visit http://www.padutchcountry.com/events_calendar.

Data Sheet Compares Tax Rates in Home Rule vs. Non-Home Rule Class 3 Counties

The following was recently posted on the website of the Government Study Commission. Prepared by commission member Jim Miller using data from the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development and Franklin & Marshall College's Center for Opinion Research, it is a property tax rate comparison between comparably sized Pennsylvania counties that have adopted "Home Rule" and Class 3 Pennsylvania counties that have not, including Lancaster.

The analysis indicates, among other things, that the average adjusted millage rate of non-Home Rule Class 3 Counties (Dauphin, Chester, Berks, Luzerne, York, Westmoreland, and Lancaster) is 5.40, while the average adjusted millage rate for similarly-sized Home Rule counties (Lehigh, Northampton, Delaware, Lackawanna, Allegheny, and Erie) is 5.18.

The data sheet can be found here: http://www.co.lancaster.pa.us/lancastergsc/lib/lancastergsc/Per_Capita_Tax_Comparison-JAM.pdf

On the agenda for Wednesday's Commissioners meeting

At their weekly meeting tomorrow, the Lancaster County Commissioners are expected to present Letters of Commendation to 10 paramedics and EMTs from Lancaster EMS and Susquehanna Valley EMS for volunteering to help evacuate special-needs patients from the City of New Orleans in advance of Hurricane Gustav on August 29.

The Commissioners are also expected to approve a project change order for restorations to the Big Conestoga #2 Bridge, also called the Bitzer's Mill Covered Bridge near the intersections of Routes 222 & 322 in West Earl Township. The project is already complete and the bridge is open, but with paperwork processing, a cost of $1,825 is being added for the materials and equipment needed to paint the bridge for a total cost of $76,325, according to Assistant County Engineer Barry Garman.

Also, just as the Commissioners opened a period of public comment on the future use of the 225 W. King St. county building, they are also going to announce a public comment period tomorrow in relation to about eight acres of land the County owns along old trolley tracks adjacent to the Sunnyside Peninsula. Commissioner Scott Martin said he is uncertain how the County first acquired the land. Further information will be provided at Wednesday's meeting.

With regard to 225 W. King, the Commissioners noted that they have received "multiple letters of interest."

Finally, the Commissioners announced that they are hiring a special counsel at a rate "not to exceed $270/hour" if needed to deal with "potential litigation regarding insurance matters" but refused to elaborate on the nature of the issue.

Monday, September 29, 2008

EDITORIAL: Wachovia is gone. Lending consequences remain!

Over the weekend and as presaged here, the Federal Reserve intervened to enable CitiGroup to acquire the failing Wachovia Bank.

Nevertheless, tax payers of the City of Lancaster must live with the consequences of the Wachovia's irresponsible guarantee of convention center and hotel bonds, something that other financial institutions had declined to undertake.

Successful capitalism relies upon bankers acting prudently, not seizing momentary profits while disregarding the future likelihood of default. Sadly, for some the system broke down.

If the current and future commissioners stand firm and refuse to raise the hotel room sales tax to further subsidize the Convention Center at the expense of tourist business, the cost to county residents should not be that great. The county guarantee is for only 50% of convention center debt service. Due to an agreement achieved by the heroic outgoing county commissioners, Convention Center Authority funds must first be applied to pay debt service. So the county is in a strong position.

CitiGroup, which now will guarantee the bonds, will not want to own and operate a convention center, especially one in Lancaster!

On the other hand, the city tax payers have provided a 100% guarantee of the huge Marriott Hotel debt. And they are fully on the hook. Woe is Lancaster!

Wachovia Bank acquired by Citigroup

Update: Wachovia Bank fell from $10 at Friday's closing to $1.84 at closing on Monday.

According to the San Antonio Business Journal:

"Citigroup Inc. has agreed to acquire Wachovia's banking operations, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp."

"The FDIC, in a press statement, stressed that 'Wachovia did not fail; rather, it is to be acquired by Citigroup Inc. on an open bank basis with assistance from the FDIC.'

"Under the agreement, Citigroup will absorb up to $42 billion of losses on a $312 billion pool of loans."

"The FDIC will absorb losses beyond that."

"Citigroup (NYSE:C) has granted the FDIC $12 billion in preferred stock and warrants to compensate the federal regulator for bearing this risk."

Is leadership failing School Lane Hills Association?

The communication below received from Bob Desmarais of the School Lane Hills Neighborhood Association (SLHA) seems to distance the organization from what should be a core concern. We worry whether Desmarais has been either distracted, is not up to his position, is overly concerned about offending anyone (especially John Fry), or has been co-opted by establishment forces.

At the sole SLHA meeting several months ago, Desmarais rejected the idea that an attorney should be engaged to represent the Association at a public meeting concerning relocation of the rail yard that was held at Franklin & Marshall. This was a huge blunder with devastating consequences for the home owners.

Subsequently, no further meeting of SLHA has been convened nor has there be meaningful communication.

Lastly, Desmarais had privately promised to pursue efforts to 'vacate' the Wilson Drive stub at the Franklin & Marshall athletic field and thus return title to the road bed to the home owners with frontage on the stub. This would greatly reduce the chances that Wilson Drive someday would be extended to the Harrisburg Pike . We are unaware of any action that he has taken.

We encourage residents of School Lane Hills to attend the Oct. 7th meeting and, in addition to being briefed concerning the status of the railyard plan, to consider whether there is a need to select more pro-active leaders for its own organization.

"To Our Association Members,

"TRRAAC has offered the attached flyer informing of a meeting on October 7th. SLHNA is not responsible for the statements made in the flyer and is providing the information as a courtesy to our neighboring organization.

"School Lane Hills Neighborhood Association
c/o Bob Desmarais
1410 Newton Road
Lancaster, PA 17603-2461

LETTER: TRRACC Community Meeting

Tuesday, October 7, 2008 at 7:00 PM
Grace Baptist Church
1899 Marietta Avenue

Dear Neighbor,

As you may know, Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster General Hospital and Norfolk Southern plan to move a large portion of the Dillerville Rail Yard from Dillerville Road to land directly behind the Harrisburg Pike Post Office. What you may not know is that this project is NOT a "done deal," but we must act immediately.

The project will affect us all - - Old School Lane Hills, Madison at Barrcrest, Windsor Court, Barrcrest, New School Lane Hills, Homestead Village and surrounding neighborhoods, schools, businesses and communities. Not to mention that the tranquility and programming at Long’s Park will be disrupted by on-going switching station noise. The project could begin as soon as October!!

The Railroad Action and Advisory Committee (TRRAAC) has recommended to F&M alternative sites that meet all the project goals – except providing access to pork barrel government funding. By insisting on moving the rail yard OFF THEIR CAMPUS to a long-standing residential neighborhood, (on top of a former municipal dump that contains asbestos fill), F&M is clearly putting its financial interests above our health and quality of life.

When this project begins, you can expect:

• ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY TRUCK TRIPS A DAY - - six days a week from 6:30 AM until 5:30 PM for at least eight months - - hauling tons of waste that include asbestos- containing materials that could release carcinogens into the air we breathe every day.

• ANOTHER WAVE OF TRUCKS hauling clean fill to the site over a period of many months to elevate the base for new tracks.

• A HUGE, FIFTEEN TRACK WIDE rail yard to be built on this 13-acre site.

• Once the project is completed, at least THIRTEEN TRAINS EACH DAY hauling materials that will include hazardous materials for generations.

• Potentially longer waiting time at local railroad crossings, due to longer trains.

• Noise, pollution, and much more train traffic for generations.

If you haven’t visited the existing switching station between Harrisburg Pike and Manheim Pike when trains are present, do so as soon as you can. Watch the train activity, smell the diesel and decide for yourself whether a station with more than seven times the number of existing tracks would affect your quality of life, health and property values.

We strongly encourage you to attend the Urgent Community Meeting on Tuesday, October 7, at Grace Baptist Church on Marietta Avenue to hear the facts from environmental engineer Gary Brown. And find out what you can do to help protect your neighborhood.

The rail yard relocation is not a "done deal," BUT WE MUST ACT IMMEDIATELY. Otherwise, the rail yard will be in our back yards forever.

For more information, please visit The Railroad Action and Advisory Committee at www.trraac.com. Email us at info@trraac.com .

We look forward to seeing you on the 7th!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Pttsburgh: Promised convention center boom hasn't come

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,Sept. 28:

"For years, promoters of the new $373 million David L. Lawrence Convention Center championed the project as the key to attracting larger shows and boosting tourism.

"But nearly five years after its full opening, the center, three times the size of its predecessor, appears to be struggling to fulfill that promise, even as its operating losses grow larger..."

Rotary Club reneges on promise

On September 25, the Intelligencer Journal published "Corbett talks issues at Rotary Club meeting."

Despite past assurances from Rotary Club officials that NewsLanc would be included in invitations to the Lancaster Newspapers to cover events and despite NewsLanc's written request, Rotary did not invite NewsLanc to cover last week's address by Attorney General Tom Corbett.

Considering that from 4,000 to 5,000 Lancastrians read NewsLanc each week, Rotary's action (which is in defiance of national Rotary Club policy) suggests that it has come under the sway of those who resent a popular and candid alternate press. To their credit, the local newspapers have criticized Rotary for restricting coverage.

It is a sorry sight indeed when a civic organization that is normally considered a pillar of civility and fair play is reduced to such undemocratic, small minded actions.

PUBLISHER: Asking for and giving forgiveness.

In a column headed "Acknowledge wrongdoing" in the Sept. 28th Sunday News, Rabbi Jack Paskoff explains that Rosh Hashana, the start of the Jewish new year, is a time when Jews "seek out the people we have wronged, ask forgiveness, and do our best to change our behavior to avoid a repeat offense."

Later in the column he observes "These exercises sound very personal, but I want to suggest that they have a global implications as well. Can Jews forgive Germans? Can Armenians forgive Turks? Can Israelis and Palestinians forgive each other?"

Perhaps Rabbi Paskoff should have provided some local examples:

Should the Intelligencer Journal reporters and Editor Ray Shaw ask forgiveness of the public for their indiscretion in illegally accessing restricted State web sites?

Should the Lancaster Newspapers ask forgiveness for their mistreatment of former Commissioner Molly Henderson and their prejudicial coverage of the convention center project?

Should ex-convicts who violated our laws and social mores concerning sexual conduct ask the forgiveness of their victims and the public? (Many have.) And, when they do, should the public and the print media exercise forgiveness by allowing ex-cons to be assimilated into local housing without wide scale publicity so they can rebuild their lives?

If so, perhaps then those among us who have been so affronted and pained would accept the challenge of forgiveness, and community healing would take place.

As for NewsLanc.com, we know that on occasion we may err in our coverage. We welcome corrections and acknowledge them publicly. And if we wrong someone, we express our apology both privately and publicly. We have been so taught by our tradition and our rabbi.

EDITORIAL: Letter by "Streetcar supporters" not convincing

A "Letter" of about 675 words (What happened to the 150 word target set by Editor Marv Adams?") appeared on page one of the Perspective Section of the Sept. 28 Sunday News.

Let's examine some of its assertions:

"We want to meet the needs of a broad public. This public ranges from downtown employees who could park in perimeter lots, school children reaching after-school activities, First Friday patrons, 15,000 residents within three blocks of the route, and many more. We are proposing about 15 boarding stations along a 2.3 mile route, with an expected ten minute interval between arrivals."

How is this nearly as desirable as the service provided by the faux trolley buses that currently run much of that route, serve the same potential riders, and can pick up patrons at any corner?

"The path of streetcars delineated by steel rails tends to have a calming influence on rubber-tired vehicles, and traffic flows more smoothly when a city commits to solid enforcement of traffic regulations."

Calming traffic? More likely the trolleys would slow down and often halt traffic as they pick up and drop off customers . Furthermore, they cannot drive around delivery vehicles that partially block the lane. Finally, most drivers consider their slow progress on North and South streets to be too "calming" as it is.

"This project must not be a burden on the taxpayer. We are proposing a system whose capital cost is covered largely by state and federal grants..."

From whom other than "taxpayers" do they think the state and federal governments get their money?

"Fares will be voluntary, which enhances ridership, reduces auto usage, and meets the needs of elderly people and those with infirmities."

If voluntary fares are a good idea (and perhaps they are), why not permanently provide them for the the trolley buses?

"The project will be designed to reduce, not aggravate, traffic congestion."

How? Do they propose to provide the streetcars with wings?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

LETTER: Hotel room tax likely to be increased

"The currently anticipated 'hotel tax' revenue which is dedicated to the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority would barely be enough to cover the current cost of the construction bonds, plus the ANTICIPATED operational losses of the convention center. Everyone who has taken a close look at the projected figures agrees that the
current 'hotel tax' will most likely not be enough to cover the ACTUAL operational losses.

"The current 'hotel tax' is 3.9%, plus 1.1% dedicated to the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau, for a total of 5%. The LCCCA gets to keep 80% of the 3.9%, the rest also goes to the PDCVB. Total 'hotel tax' collections in 2007 were about $6.1 million, of which the LCCCA is supposed to have retained about $3.76 million (all of which went directly to Wachovia for processing), and the PDCVB got $2.34 million (note that a significant portion of the PDCVB's budget goes toward promoting the convention center).

"Increasing the 'hotel tax' to the maximum allowable 5% for the convention center (plus another 2% for the PDCVB) would provide the convention center (via Wachovia) with the full $6.1 million, or $2.34 million more than current (these figures are expected to climb every year, depending on the economy of course). This should be enough to cover any actual future operational losses, with some cushion.

But given a combination of negative events (increasing interest rates, the potential need for additional borrowing to complete project construction), additional funding could very well be required well into the future.

"The LCCCA is a joint authority of Lancaster City and Lancaster County, with no taxing powers of its own. But since Lancaster City is also responsible for guaranteeing the hotel, it is most likely that Lancaster County will be held fully responsible for the convention center.

"The Redevelopment Authority of the City of Lancaster (RACL) is building the hotel, and will own it for at least 20 years; this is so the Penn Square Partners can get out of paying their real estate obligations, primarily to the School District of Lancaster. Over half of the expected $75 million cost of building the hotel is from State grants, assuming all of the money actually comes through. Part of this is the $14,513,726 construction mortgage held by Fulton Bank, which is to be repaid by $1million a year in State 'Act 23' grants over 20 years.

These grants are supposed to be dependent upon future State sales and income tax revenues from the project;
if this falls below the anticipated $1 million a year, Lancaster City will be forced to pay the difference. Lancaster City taxpayers will also be forced to pay the School District of Lancaster its full amount of real estate taxes on the hotel IF the building is ruled to be taxable once it opens.

"There is also the $24 million which the Penn Square Partners are committed to pay toward the construction of the hotel. Currently, PSP has taken out a $5 million construction loan, for which they are held liable; if the PSP defaults, the lender (I think it's Wachovia, but I'm not sure) will be able to take possession of the hotel.

The big question is if the PSP will be able to convert this contruction loan into a mortgage. If the PSP is successful, there is supposedly no risk to Lancaster City; the agreement between RACL and PSP specificies that the lender will indemnify taxpayers. However, if the PSP is unable to take out a long-term mortgage for the
balance of the $24 million, RACL will continue to hold title to the building (as it does now), and could be held responsible. Since RACL has no taxing authority of its own, Lancaster City taxpayers will be on the hook.

"There is one more VERY big 'if':

"No one has mentioned what would happen if the hotel consistently loses

Former McCaskey assistant football coaches lead winning teams

A viewer e-mailed us "Turnaround time" from the Harrisburg The Patriot News of Sept 25.

The accompanying message said: "Mentioned in the article are three current head coaches who used to assist the McCaskey football team under Scott Feldman -Todd Mealy, Penn Manor; Matt Ortega, York High; and Rob Diebler, Steel High. All three are undefeated this year and Diebler won a state title last year.

"Coaching is critical."

The article can be accessed at: http://www.pennlive.com/patriotnews/stories/index.ssf?/base/columnists/1222307732138570.xml&coll=1

Viewer asks would Wachovia's demise halt CC funding?

NewsLanc received a letter expressing concerns that the potential failure of Wachovia Bank might halt funding for the Convention Center / Hotel project.

We don't think this will occur. The bonds are sold and the money set aside for the project.

The people at potential risk are those who own the bonds. If there suddenly were no guarantee, they would not be able to sell them at the end of the two week duration. (These very short term bonds are what are called "low floaters.") In that circumstance, the bond holders would be stuck with them.

However, this is highly unlikely to occur. Whatever institution acquires Wachovia, be it through a buy out or via a "shot gun wedding" arranged by the Federal Reserve, will continue to serve as guarantor as a matter of successor in interest.

What is so disturbing here is that Wachovia should never have done that deal. They were well aware they were likely to be stuck with the bonds at the end of five years and would have to renew their guarantee and take a charge on their financial statement for a guarantee of non-performing bonds. Sooner or later they would be obliged to acquire the defaulting bonds.

With the assistance of others very experienced in finance and bank lending, we provided a half dozen Wachovia executives with detailed information, including the negative PKF Study, presenting the case why they should not provide the guarantees.

Wachovia's attitude from the local level all the way to the CEO appeared to be "Make money now and let someone else worry about it later." It is doubtful they realized that the "someone else" would be the bank's successor!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Convention Center guarantor seeks to be acquired

Bloomberg News: "Wachovia dropped to $8.90 at 6:12 p.m. today from its $10 close during regular New York Stock Exchange trading after the New York Times reported that New York-based Citigroup was in early talks to buy the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank. The Wall Street Journal said bids may come from San Francisco-based Wells Fargo and Spain's Santander.

"Takeovers can wipe out bank shareholders if they occur after regulators seize the company."

Wachovia's stock a year ago was over $50.

From what we saw from their Convention Center and Hotel project bond guarantees, there is little surprise about the bank's likely demise.

CC Project bond guarantor among "top 10 facing the most pressure."

From Bloomberg News, Sept. 26: "Washington Mutual showed that one of the big ones can go down, and if you are looking at who else in the top 10 is facing the most pressure, Wachovia is right there," said Stan Smith, a banking professor at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

Wachovia Bank is the guarantor of both the Convention Center and the Marriott Hotel bonds, the latter in turn guaranteed by the City of Lancaster.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Meter parking free in City on Saturdays

In response to an inquiry, Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray informed NewsLanc that, although the ordinance (and the signs/meters) only say that Sunday is exempt at parking meters, it's the City's practice not to ticket on Saturdays.

According to Gray, this informal policy of not ticketing on Saturdays was started under Mayor Charlie Smithgall and is still followed.

Gray agreed that the ordinance and signs should be changed to reflect the practice.

Exchange between Berwood Yost and NewsLanc Publisher

BERWOOD YOST: I don’t agree that the ridership survey is misleading.

The survey was designed to identify the potential ridership of such a system and general sentiments about the system and that is what it accomplished. Your focus on the executive summary fails to acknowledge the many different analyses presented in the report.

You also fail to acknowledge the completely open access the public was provided to the methodology. If this were an attempt to mislead, none of the supporting documentation we provided would have been made available for public inspection.


We will publish your response with the article.

I hope you will reflect upon your responsibility to produce material that illuminates issues for the public, not fodder to be used by those who want to manipulate political thought. Lancaster suffered enough of that 'cherry picking' and manipulation of information over the convention Center project.

Whatever your intent, no matter how naive, you saw how the survey was mis-used. And you remained silent.

F & M Center's 2007 "Streetcar Ridership Survey" disingenuous

On Sept. 19, NewsLanc interviewed Berwood A. Yost, Director of the Center For Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College, about the "Streetcar Ridership Survey" reported in the July 1, 2007, Lancaster Sunday News.

Backers of a streetcar system for downtown Lancaster have cited this survey as indicating community support for such a project. Further, by judging from the survey’s cherry picked Executive Summary, one might certainly be left with this impression.

The Sunday News article stated: "The [survey], completed in April [2007]…concluded that 83 percent believe that a streetcar system could improve transportation between downtown destinations…"

When Marv Adams, Editor of the Sunday News, was asked whether the reporter had simply lifted the misleading statement from the "Executive Summary" or actually examined the related question, his response was "No comment."

Salient revelations from the Yost interview were:

1) The Executive Summary states "Most respondents (83%) feel that a streetcar system would improve transportation between downtown destinations." As set forth, this assertion is disingenuous because the question failed to mention that trolley buses already run on much the same route. Yost acknowledged that information about the trolley buses was not provided.

2) The Executive Summary fails to point out only 2% cited lack of public transportation when asked "What if anything keeps you from visiting Lancaster city more often?" Yost pointed out that the question was only asked of the people who do not come downtown frequently.

3) In response to the survey question "How likely would you be to ride a streetcar system if it were available in downtown Lancaster", only 1% indicated streetcars were "more convenient than buses." NewsLanc asked "Isn’t this overwhelming indication of a lack of interest in substituting streetcars for bus transportation?" Yost replied "You can interpret it that way. All of this is open for interpretation. You’re asking me to do something that I wasn’t asked to do."

4) NewsLanc observed that the survey didn’t ask whether they "favored using $14 million or whatever the figure is, in tax money, to install a street car system, and undertaking a $300,000 annual subsidy to operate the system." Answer: "It wasn’t something that we were asked to do." Yost further claimed that figures related to the cost of installing or operating trolley cars were not available to him at the time of the survey.

5) NewsLanc observed that the survey didn’t ask "Would you be more likely to come downtown and use public transportation if we replaced the buses with these historic-type trolley cars?" Yost responded "Because that’s not what we were attempting to do."6) NewsLanc followed up with "But the purpose was not to determine whether streetcars would be more desirable, would bring more people?" Answer: "No. I don’t think that was ultimately it."

7) Yost said the survey was commissioned by the Lancaster Alliance and the questions were prepared by him and reviewed and approved by Jack Howell, its president.

8) Yost stated that, G. Terry Madonna, Director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs, was "not involved" with the survey.

About the purpose of the survey, Yost said, "We were interested in people who were coming downtown - what they're doing when they get here and whether they would be looking for alternative means of getting around."

"You can quibble with the results," he continued, "but we weren't asked to come down with these recommendations - this is what we saw, anyone can review it and people can draw their own conclusions from it."

Yet, by what Yost chose to include in and omit from the Executive Summary, the bias shows.

Local group seeks understanding, support for people with mental illnesses

There sits in the national office of Mental Health America (MHA) a 300-pound bell. A bell likewise adorns its logo.

"It symbolizes ringing out hope," says Mary Steffy, Executive Director of the nonprofit's Lancaster County chapter.

Their small, inconspicuous office is part of the "Lancaster Community Center" complex at 630 Janet Ave. between New Holland Ave. and Lititz Pike.

"What's unique about MHA is that we're not just about specific mental illnesses... We are about promoting mental health, improving the lives of people with mental and emotional illnesses, and working to prevent those illnesses."

They seek to accomplish this in a variety of ways including community outreach, public education, prison outreach, holding support groups, and engaging in issue advocacy and lobbying.

Steffy is also on the advisory board for the mental health court Lancaster County is seeking to establish and she is fully supportive of the concept.

"Too many people in prisons have a mental illness and sometimes they get to be the de facto mental health hospitals," she said.

"They need to have treatment."

Support groups meet for anxiety disorders, depression in men, depression in women, postpartum depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, parents of children with mental or emotional disorders, and more.

Most of these support groups meet weekly and all are free for anyone.

They have also held more comprehensive sessions on things like anger management.

People find these groups in any of a number of ways, including walk-ins, referrals, and word of mouth.

She is careful to stress, however, that these groups are "non-clinical" and are not intended as a substitute for treatment. They are led by facilitators who are often recoverers of the given illness themselves or in some cases are social workers or psychology students.

Between July 2007 and June 2008, about 400 individuals attended one of these support groups.

On the political front, she is concerned recently with "parity legislation" - equalizing the ways insurers treat mental illnesses as opposed to physical illnesses.

She believes that is a false dichotomy and a lingering discrimination, since mental illnesses are accompanied by physical and chemical changes in the brain.

She said that local congressional representative Joseph Pitts voted against such legislation.

"It's incredible how much stigma and misunderstanding is still around about mental illnesses," she said.

Mental Health America of Lancaster County is a small organization with three full-time staff, four part-time staff and a board of 20 volunteers.

Their annual budget is roughly $406,515. 22% of their funding comes from the United Way, 30% from government grants, 20% from membership and fundraising drives, and 28% from other grants and contributions.

Their largest expenditure by far is on staff salaries and compensation.

Mental Health America of Lancaster County began as the "Mental Health Association of Lancaster County" in 1956 and later joined the national organization.

Mental Health America, the national organization, is about to celebrate its centennial anniversary. It was founded by Clifford Beers in 1909.

Steffy first became interested in mental health many years ago when her daughter had a seizure and from her experiences as a child visiting a relative in a mental hospital.

She is not a psychologist, but is clearly an effective administrator with a solid understanding of the subject. She joined Mental Health America of Lancaster County in 1981 and became its executive director in 1984.

More information about Mental Health America of Lancaster County is available on their website: http://www.mhalancaster.org.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

NewsLanc exclusive from SD of L Superintendent Pedro Rivera

In response to a request from NewsLanc, School District of Lancaster Superintendant Pedro Rivera sent the following response:

"The School District of Lancaster serves a larger and more diverse student body, so we must be more thoughtful and strategic in the way we support our children and the community."

"Sports play an integral role in many students' lives. Not only do sports teach students about winning and losing, they also give students a sense of belonging – a sense of being part of a team. Coaches are responsible for more than running practices and coaching games. They must teach all aspects of sportsmanship, responsibility, accountability, and teamwork."

"The District is highly committed to hiring an athletic director who shares that same vision. McCaskey students have tremendous talent. It’s our job to make sure they’re given the ability to use it."

"This same belief holds true for all districts, not just urban districts. Drugs and alcohol, teenage pregnancies, and other issues reach far beyond inner cities."

"Whether you’re a District employee, a parent or community member, it’s our job to provide our children with positive programs in which to participate in."

"I expect to see significant changes in our athletic program in the near future. I won’t accept anything less."

Gray tired of gun violence

Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray said he is tired of gun violence.

Just Tuesday, a 30-year old Philadelphia police officer, Patrick McDonald was shot and killed in North Philadelphia. Another officer was critically wounded.

Gray told City Council on Tuesday night that he intends to introduce an ordinance with the Public Safety Committee that would require handgun owners to report lost or stolen handguns within 72 hours or face fines of up to $1,000 and/or jail time of up to 90 days.

Gray also expressed support, Tuesday, for a resolution unanimously passed by city council expressing support for a state bill intended to improve conditions for dogs in Pennsylvania kennels.

The new regulations would increase the size of cages, require annual veterinary check-ups, and crack down on "puppy mills."

Gray said that he frequently hears from residents and potential tourists concerned about animal cruelty in general and puppy mills in particular.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Other inner city football teams kick butt!

An implication of the Sept. 21st Sunday News article "McCaskey's Challenge" was that McCaskey High School's teams are performing so poorly because the players are subject to all of the disadvantages and problems of inner city youths.

Football coach Scott Feldman is quoted: "It's hard to be good at [football], and we just don't have a lot of kids right now who are willing to do it. I don't think we'll have football at McCaskey in another couple years if we don't change some things."

Long time volunteer basketball coach Steve Powell is quoted as saying ".. you're not gonna escape it, this is a school district with basically minority young people. We have to make them understand what it's like to be a part of something. A lot of suburban kids already have that. Most of our kids don't. People don't want to hear it, but it's reality."

To test whether the problem was inner city kids, NewsLanc investigated the 2007 win / loss records of the other inner city high school football teams in our region. To wit:

Coatesville High School football 5-5 (5 wins, 5 losses)
Harrisburg High School football: 13-2 (13 wins, 2 losses)
Reading High School football 3-7 (3 wins, 7 losses)
York High (William Penn) 10-2 (10 wins, 2 losses)*

The above results seem to be at variance to the excuses being proffered for McCaskey's poor performance in football and possibly other sports.

Let's not blame the kids for teams not being competitive. Let's also examine the proficiency and expectations of the coaches.

* Editor's note: Our initial posting erroneously included the following as inner city high schools.

Downingtown East football 8-3 (8 wins, 3 losses)
Downingtown West football 10-2 (10 wins, 2 losses)

Judge castigates Intell for "total breach of ethical responsibility."

According to an account in the Sept. 22 New Era: Judge Dennis Reinaker "scolded former County Coroner Dr. G. Gary Kirchner, this morning, placing him on one year of probation for giving newspaper reporters his password to a secured law-enforcement Web site."

But perhaps of greater significance to our community, the New Era further reports that Judge Reinaker as saying:

"I would be remiss if I didn't also acknowledge the wholly inappropriate role played by the various newspapers. Their focus on the pursuit of news, on getting the scoop if you will, resulted in a compromise of their integrity and a total breach of their ethical responsibility as well. While immunity from prosecution in return for their testimony in this case may well have been necessary, it in no way mitigates their complicity in this criminal behavior."

NewsLanc has three concerns about the handling of the case:

1) We can think of no other reason for Attorney General Tom Corbett offering immunity to all five reporters rather than to just one than as a political accommodation to the local media.

2) Since Intell editor Ray Shaw's approval to violate the law was apparently obtained by the reporters, he should have been charged as a co-conspirator. If he indeed condoned the reporters actions, his offense looms larger than their's or the coroners.

3) Will Shaw now make a public apology and provide an explanation for his and the reporters' actions ?

We commend the New Era for fully reporting both the Corbett investigation and Judge Reinaker's comments.

What's happening around Lancaster this week?

On Thursday, September 25, PNC Bank is holding a free "open house networking breakfast." "Start your morning off by joining the PNC Bank Fruitville Pike staff for an open house networking breakfast. Bring cards and conversation." It's being held from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. at the PNC Bank at 1966 Fruitville Pike.

The Pennsylvania Academy of Music, as part of its American Inspired Series is holding an "All Gershwin Concert." "
A salute to the genius of the legendary George Gershwin on the occasion of his 110th birthday by recording artists Veri & Jamanis, duo pianists. Recreating their original Lincoln Center performance of Rhapsody in Blue, I've Got Rhythm, and Second Rhapsody." The concert is at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, September 26. Tickets are $45. Visit http://www.paacademymusic.com/concerts.php for further information.

Lancaster Mennonite School is having a "
Fall Festival and Homecoming" this weekend. "Friday will feature a golf tournament at the Lancaster Host Resort at 12:30, a pig roast/chicken BBQ, 12:30-8 at the Alumni Dining Hall; and a campus chorale reunion concert at 7 pm. Saturday will include various sports starting at 8 am and an alumni reception. Also featured will be an auction." For more information, visit http://www.lancastermennonite.org.

On Friday (Sep. 26) at 7:00 p.m., the Leola Freeze & Frizz is showing another free movie as part of its ongoing Outdoor Movie series. Friday's film is "Bee Movie" Attendees should bring their own lawn chair or blankets. Concessions are available for purchase but outside food is not allowed. The Freeze & Frizz is located at 2250 New Holland Pike in Leola.

On Saturday at 7:00 p.m, the Freeze & Frizz is showing the James Bond film "Casino Royale."

Friday, Sep. 26 is "Greek Day" at the Red Rose Restaurant in Lancaster. "
Originally started in 2004 to commemorate the return of the Olympic games to Athens, Greek Day has become a mainstay of the Red Rose calendar. Enjoy home-cooked authentic Greek food, such as spanakopita and mousaka (to name a few) and yummy pastries!" From 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. The Red Rose Restaurant is located at 101 East King Street.

Have a thing for mapping and surveying? This weekend at the Holiday Inn is the
Surveying and Cartography Regional Meeting hosted by the Philadelphia Chapter of Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. "Excellent opportunity for folks who share an interest in the acquisition, measurement, recordation and mapping of our country to intermingle, learn from each other, exchange ideas and make new friends." The conference is free to attend. For more information, including a schedule of events, visit http://www.lewisandclarkphila.org. The conference is being held at the Holiday Inn at 521 Greenfield Road.

The Lancaster County Department of Parks and Recreation invites everyone to a free garden swap on Saturday, September 27. "Participants can bring fruits, vegetables, jellies, preserves, birdhouses, books, tools, houseplants, perennial plants, but no invasive species, please." 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Lancaster County Environmental Center. For more information, visit http://www.co.lancaster.pa.us/parks/ical/calendar.asp?date=9%2F27%2F2008&calendar_ID=0

For more local events, visit http://www.padutchcountry.com/events_calendar.

EDITORIAL: Commissioners made right decision on election integrity

We applaud today's decision by the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners not to authorize the previously-anticipated purchase of 54 electronic eSlate voting machines with recently acquired grant monies.

NewsLanc presented information to the Commissioners last week casting significant doubt on the reliability of these machines, which do not produce a voter-verified paper trail.

Commissioners opt not to purchase additional eSlate machines!

In a surprising move, Tuesday, the County Commissioners acted not to authorize the expenditure of recently-acquired grant monies on additional eSlate computerized voting machines.

eSlate machines are the computerized touch-screens that are hailed by supporters as more efficient and criticized by opponents as not producing a verifiable paper trail.

During discussion of a contract to authorize the purchase of 54 additional eSlate and 10 additional eScan machines, Commissioner Craig Lehman, a democrat, offered an amendment to reject the purchase of any additional eSlate machines. And Commissioner Chairman Dennis Stuckey, a republican, voted with him on rejecting the eSlates!

Lehman began by telling Mary Stehman, the Chief Clerk of the Board of Elections, "I would just humbly submit that accessible voting booths should be reserved for those who need them and that folks who do not need them should not be using them... simply because they like the machine."

Stuckey had been largely silent on the issue when NewsLanc raised it at both the worksession and meeting last week.

But on Tuesday he said, "I take very seriously the concerns about people and their ability to vote and have that vote counted accurately."

"As a former accountant, I like the paper and I like the paper trail."

But Stuckey went on to say that he is not totally rejecting eSlates but that he "just prefers to get the eScans right now."

He held out hope that the state will approve a voter-verified paper trail for the eSlates for future elections.

Commissioner Scott Martin voted against Lehman's amendment on the grounds that to reject the eSlates would be to sacrifice accessibility in an election where record voter turnout is expected. He likewise expressed doubt that having additional eScan ballot readers in a polling place would significantly improve efficiency.

In fact, the Commissioners could have acted to purchase additional eScan machines with the grant monies but opted not to do so.

Stehman said she is "disappointed" but that the decision ultimately rested with the Commissioners.

The approved amended resolution authorizes only the purchase of 10 additional eScan machines and related equipment, for a total of $96,725.

This leaves $164,398.20 of the previously approved Interest-1 grants to pay for other election expenses and to expend at a later date.

LETTER: Good coaches can still succeed

I have no reason to doubt the facts presented in the Sunday News article regarding the hurdles faced by sports programs in inner city high schools like McCaskey, which are populated by overwhelmingly high percentages of low income or poor students, most of whom are Black and Latino students. Nor do I object to the presentation of these circumstances.

McCaskey is a much poorer and a far less diverse population economically and racially than when our children attended there. As the percentage of more affluent families continue to drop, it is not surprising that the network and support systems they were instrumental in providing for athletic as well as high achievement programs have similarly declined. For example, there used to be numerous after school and weekend leagues in sports like soccer and basketball that served as 'minor leagues' for the District's sports programs, as well as boosters and auxiliaries.

In addition, there has been a high rate of turnover in the leadership of the district, now five superintendents in about the last six years, as well as turnover of the principalship of the high school, along with a concurrent and significant loss of highly influential and financially well off board members.

Still, what distresses me about the article is that there appears to be something of a resignation that the odds are now too high to have sustained success in athletics, even in those sports where McCaskey has traditionally been a powerhouse.* Athletic participation always has been a source of motivation for inner city athletes to stay in school, and as a ticket to win a scholarship for college.

Moreover, success in high profile sports remains a source of community pride. In sum while the challenges are more demanding than in the past, I continue to believe that coaches in high profile sports with the ability and determination to win and to rally the community behind his or her program can still succeed. * The basketball program under Steve Powell's current leadership is a notable example.

* Emphasis added

Monday, September 22, 2008

LETTER: "McCaskey's Challenge" blames children

"I read the article and I agree the children are being blamed...

"How is this for irony. One of the former Lancaster coaches is now the Head coach at York High and they are undefeated this year and they only lost two games last year. This coach took a lowly football program and built it up.

"In Harrisburg, a new coach a few years ago built that program up and last year they were district champs and lost in the state quad A semi-final game to the eventual champs.

"Coatesville generally has a solid program."

"How can the football coach say 'If things do not change there will be no more football in a few years?' ... Football starts with adequate numbers and they
shrink. This year is no different.

"One more point of interest, the current Penn Manor coach is in his second year there after leaving McCaskey and his team is undefeated."

Pseudo-candidates waste opportunities

In his column "It's election time, and you can hear the silence roar", Dave Pidgeon of the Intelligencer Journal comments about not hearing "a peep" from Democrat congressional candidate Bruce Slater and Republican Joe Pitts.

From our personal observation, Slater may have simply loaned his name to the campaign while he devotes his time and efforts to his business and other matters. He isn't even interested in meetings to pick up major funding.

Perhaps the county Democrats are being realistic. But a congressional candidate does receive a potential "bully pulpit" for half a year. Wouldn't the party be wiser to choose someone who has the time, the interest and perhaps the funds to run an educational campaign that would at least help build the local base in support of statewide and national candidates?

An astute observer surprised us over coffee a couple of months ago by predicting that county-wide Democratic voter registration would equal Republican in another ten to fifteen years. That means that any Democrats with ambition who are fifteen or older should get off their duff and start pressing the flesh.

We know of one who has that well in mind.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

LETTER: McCaskey sports article a "cop out"

There is a lengthy article in the sports section of today's Sunday News that focuses on McCaskey's challenges in the area of athletics. It seems as though they are attributing the problems they face solely due to being an urban school district.

I understand this is some part of the problem, but failing to address a lengthy period of time during which the Athletic Director failed at his job and his supervisor was asleep at the wheel makes their argument seem like a cop out.

One of the most disturbing comments in the article was head football coach saying that if things don't change, he doesn't think there will be a football program in a few years!

Congratulations to NewsLanc for forcing this issue into the light of day. Lots and lots of kids will gain valuable life experiences due to your... efforts.

Editor's note: NewsLanc shares the writers concerns. We will respond after completing research concerning the article's contention that inner city high schools cannot successfully compete in sports.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

LETTER: NewsLanc erred re Intell reporters

"To the publisher,

"This is P.J. Reilly from the Intell writing. In your editorial, you state that reporters from the Intell, including me, were allowed to make a 'dubious plea bargain' in the Kirchner case. Please be accurate in your statements. No reporter was offered a 'plea bargain.' That indicates admission to a crime. In fact, none of us was even charged with a crime. It is certainly your right to opine all you want on whether we should have been charged, but, the fact is we were not and please don't make statements, such as we were 'allowed a dubious plea bargain.' That is grossly inaccurate.

P.J. Reilly"

EDITOR: P. J. Reilly is correct. There was no plea bargain per se. Rather, the reporters were offered immunity for testifying against the coroner. There is a difference, albeit somewhat nuanced. We regret our error.

But shame on Reilly and the other reporters for allegedly breaking the law and on Tom Corbett, Attorney General, for not prosecuting Intelligencer Journal Editor Ray Shaw as a co-conspirator.

Lancaster ranks near bottom of comparable regions

In a valuable Jaff Hawkes column in the Intelligencer Journal of Sept. 19 camouflaged under the heading "When the best, brightest are young, restless" (a sign of Hawkes ’or his editor’s usual timidity), Hawkes reveals that Lancaster region’s ranking by The Milken Institute of Best Performing Cities has dropped from the pitiful 161st place in 2007 to the pathetic 175th place this year.

Hawkes also points out that a study shows that over the four year period from 2001 through 2005, the growth of the region's Gross Domestic Productivity (GDP) (the value of all goods and services produced) only increased by 8.6% compared to 18.2% for York and even 10.5% for Reading.

Hawkes fails to ask the big question: How can a county that is so well located geographically, so resource rich, the seat of a state university and a highly respected liberal arts college (despite the antics of its president) have fallen to such depth?

Let us consider: If a farmer fails when his / her surrounding neighbors prosper, who is to blame? If a hotel fails when those around it succeeds, who is to blame? If a surgeon experiences far more fatalities than his peers, who is to blame?

Lancaster fails because in recent years it has been foolishly and tragically lead by an ignorant, self indulgent, short sighted establishment, whose members usually support one another!

Lame brain actions over the past years have included: The Convention Center / Hotel complex; the sale of Conestoga View without sufficient public input; the madness of placing the ballot proposal for a county tax to fund the library system during an "off year", the only time it was likely to lose; the acquisition and renovation of an office building for county government that will likely cost than double its budget; the baseless proposal for a street car system; the medial strip taking up the turning and emergency passing lane in a segment of Harrisburg Pike; and just this past week the approval of purchasing of voting machines without a verifiable paper trail.

These are all manifestations of "Lancaster exceptionalism" (because we are from here we know best) and an aversion to facts (let’s not pay attention to what is happening elsewhere and what experts have to say.)

It is time for Lancasterians to come to understand that past successes have been to a large extent due to the blessings of our abundant natural resources and proximity to huge markets, and the prior diversity of corporate and institutional leaders who acted as a check on ignorance and avarice.

If we are not to sink still further economically, we must demand intelligence and conscientious research by our leaders. Further, we had better rely less on the home grown boys and girls many grew up with and begin listening more to those recently arrived and / or those whose education and experiences transcend our county’s boundaries.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

October for LCCCA: Will Gib Trick or Treat?

The Lancaster County Convention Center Authority held its September board meeting on Thursday evening.

Chairman of the Board Art Morris reported that he expects to know the status of the $3.2 million contingency fund request from the state by the October board meeting. Morris noted that, in the event that the state funding does not come through, the Authority would still have five months to seek alternative solutions.

Morris has repeatedly said that he "continues to receive assurances from State Senator Gib Armstrong" that he is trying to come up with the funding.

Finance Chair Laura Douglas reminded the board, in her report, that the project remains over committed by $799,000 as of August 31.

Douglas has made clear that the Authority needs all of the contingency funding it has requested in order to be able to pay the center's construction costs. Operational success is another story altogether.

In other reports, the Facilities Programming Committee reported that the project is now 63% complete in terms of hard construction dollars.

Executive Director Kevin Molloy shared that the board recently approached Wachovia about "collateralizing" its construction bonds, which the bank agreed to do.

On the issue of the construction funding from the Wachovia bond sale, of which there is approximately $16 million remaining, the Authority has to decide where to invest that money since its current contract with MBIA expires at the end of the month.

To that end, the board passed a resolution directing its financial adviser to solicit bids.

Certificates of deposit and U.S. treasury bonds have been discussed as options.

These bids will be opened and discussed in a special 6 p.m. October 2 meeting.

The resolution also permits either Molloy or Morris to determine the appropriate course of action should a financial situation arise where the money might be in jeopardy.

CC marketing team struggles to add events due to geographic concerns

The Lancaster County Convention Center marketing team on Thursday announced four new opening-year bookings for the center.

Three planners backed out, however, resulting in a net increase from July to August of only 1 event.

Marketing Director Josh Nowak explained that a number of planners seem not to be very enthusiastic about our geographic location.

"I think our biggest challenge is the distance we are from Harrisburg," Nowak said.

He also noted that some meeting planners have allegiances to other areas of the state.

Nowak added that two "pretty strong tentatives for mid to late 2009" backed out and expressed interest for 2010 because they wanted to see how the Center performs in its first year.

For 2009, three trade shows, eight consumer shows and six other events are presently booked, bringing the total current number of opening-year bookings to 17.

Their goal, said Nowak, is to book 58 opening-year events, which leaves a balance of 41 to go.

The 17 booked events reflect $216,100 versus their August goal of $270,000 worth of booking revenue.

Nowak said that he also has $118,000 worth of prospects for 2009.

He admitted that the lack of additional trade shows has been behind expectations and disappointing.

Overall, however, LCCCA Public Relations, Marketing, & Hospitality Committee Chair Kevin Fry said, "The booking pace is good."

Editorial: "This greed was beyond irresponsible."

"This greed was beyond irresponsible" was how the Financial Times of London describes the cause of the greatest financial melt down since the Great Depression. It as accurately applies to the origins of our local Convention Center / Hotel project.

First a disclaimer before the revelations to follow: The convention center and hotels are realities and deserve public support and patronage. We do not bite off our nose to spite our face!

When three years ago future NewsLanc founder and publisher Robert Edwin Field first expressed his concern about the viability of the proposed downtown 300 room Marriott Hotel, he was told by the CEO of a very prominent bank with special insights into the project that "He wouldn’t loan a nickel for the hotel." (Field won’t say what bank, but you can guess.)

Later when Convention Center Authority and Penn Square Partners were shopping for an institution to guarantee the mortgage bonds, not only did statewide and national banks rebuff overtures, but a volunteer provided valuable analysis to enable Field and NewsLanc to speak knowledgeably to the County Commissioners and the Authority and to write accurately on the subject.

Wachovia Bank ultimately agreed to guarantee the bonds despite ample warning not to from the PKF Consultants Feasibility Study and from knowledgeable private citizens. Is there any wonder that Wachovia’s dubious lending practices has caused its stock to drop from over $50 a share a year ago to under $10 on Wednesday? (Will the bank survive the current crisis?) In contrast, PNC’s stock has remained stable over the year around $70 a share.

The only professional feasibility study ever produced (at the request of the county commissioners) was denounced and ignored by the Authority, conduct which exemplifies then Chair Ted Darcus’s irresponsible actions and brings in question his motivations. (At the same time millions of dollars were questionably spent and some believe corruptly used to ram through the project over overwhelming lack of public support. A Fox 43 News poll established that 78% of those with an opinion opposed county guarantees of convention center debt.)

As for "Greed beyond irresponsibility": Look to the Lancaster Newspapers Inc. and the High Group. Fulton Bank stopped investing in the project and thereby reduced its partnership share long before the project received approval. It then withdrew from Penn Square Partners soon thereafter.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Commissioners split in withholding immediate approval of revised Home Rule mailer

Representatives of the Government Study Commission (GSC) presented their revised postcard mailer to the County Commissioners in the hope of winning their approval, Wednesday.

The Commissioners had previously put the GSC "on notice" that they would not approve the bill for the postcard as it was previously written. The reason given was that the language of the postcard made it, in Commissioner Chairman Dennis Stuckey's words, "clearly an advocacy piece."

Upon being provided with a paper copy and a spoken summary of the changes, minority Commissioner Craig Lehman said that the changes "seem reasonable to me."

Stuckey and his fellow Republican Commissioner Scott Martin, however, said that they would have to review the proposed mailer with their solicitor before making a determination.

NewsLanc's reporter expressed surprise that Martin and Stuckey could not look at the paper in front of them and decide whether it seemed reasonable as an educational piece, and instead wanted to talk to their attorney in private.

Martin said that he wants to give the mailer more than a cursory examination.

One attendee of the Commissioners meeting noted that the Lancaster County Republican Party has been vocal in its opposition to the Home Rule Charter.

The Commissioners are expected to decide by the end of the day whether to withdraw their objection to the postcard mailer.

Commissioners brush off concerns about electronic voting

The County Commissioners shrugged off concerns about the integrity of electronic voting, Wednesday.

Their comments came in response to questions from NewsLanc asking them to reconsider their recent approval of funding for the purchase of additional voting machines, including 54 electronic "eSlate" machines.

Commissioner Scott Martin said, "The security process that the eSlates go through before an election and the zero tapes that must be measured is to the extreme. And those machines are locked and secured."

He also cited "very long lines [and] a lot of standing and waiting" as a justification for allowing voters the option of using the electronic eSlate machine.

He added, "I think, as long as we have that option in place, our goal is to make sure that we're not disenfranchising voters because of long lines."

Commissioner Craig Lehman, the lone Democrat on the Board of Commissioners, said, "I would certainly encourage voters to use the eScan machines, but I am not willing to sacrifice accessibility for those who need it."

Lehman went on to say,"I am hopeful that the state, at some point, will certify a verifiable paper trail for the eSlate machines."

He added, "I think the point that is valid is the issue of recount - having a paper trail in the event of a recount - which is why I'm encouraging voters to use the eScan."

NewsLanc's reporter retorted that the issue of long lines can also be allayed by purchasing additional eScan machines and that the concern about long lines is superseded by the concern about the integrity of the election in the first place.

The Commissioners did not comment further on the issue.

Mary Stehman and Diane Skilling of the elections office told us that eSlate votes are "stored in three separate places" within the machine, and that they are "extremely confident" in the security of the process.

$300,000 is a pittance for LGH!

On September 16, the Intelligencer Journal reported that Lancaster School Board Chairman Patrick Snyder said "...he's pleased with the proposed $1.5 million payment to the district" by the Lancaster General Hospital in lieu of paying real estate taxes. It represented a $300,000 increase from the year earlier.

Yet at the SD of L's School Board meeting that evening, a librarian from a grammar school explained patiently to the Board that his library has not received a single dollar over the past three years to replace worn out popular books or to purchase new ones. And it appears his experience is typical throughout the system's libraries due to financial constraints.

Another member of the audience implored the Board to offer appropriate compensation to attract a competent replacement for the open athletic director position in order to stop the free fall of both the physical fitness and sports programs throughout the District.

A $300,000 increase certainly is welcome but it amounts to less that 1/5th of 1% of LGH's $160 million in profits in 2007. In short, it is petty cash for LGH!

And it is so unfair for them to give so little. As was shown in NewsLanc's recent series, the LGH's vast profits, second highest in the state, are not just because of the acknowledged competence of its management and staff, but because of very special demographic conditions and its market dominance. So at least $100 million of their profits is coming from the regional public in the form of higher insurance payments, state and federal taxes, or excessive direct payments.

It is NewsLanc's contention that LGH can and should do much better, contributing at least $20 million to county-wide school districts in a manner that takes into consideration the average incomes of student families, and also donating more for public health efforts and other regional worthy causes that benefit the public at large and are especially important to the unfortunate.

When we go for years without purchasing books for our children to read, we certainly don't need to plow $160 million of the public's money into LGH management perks and unending expansion.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

LETTER: John Fry embarrasses F&M

"I have a simple question for F&M President John Fry and for the college's academic deans.

"F&M offers degrees in Government, Public Policy, and Pre-law. Exactly what are you teaching students in those majors when you violate the Constitutional rights of a local newspaper?

"When a major national political event is held on your campus, and for petty,
personal reasons the college president has barred Ron Harper, co-publisher of the
Lancaster Post, from campus, what are you communicating to your students?

"It is one thing to ban Mr. Harper from being a gadfly to John Fry, although even that looks pretty childish at this point. But it is quite another thing to prevent the man from doing his job and deny The Lancaster Post its guaranteed freedom of the press to pursue election coverage.

"You are planning to open a brand-spanking new Government and Public Policy Center, and I believe have engaged G. Terry Madonna to give a well known, respected face to your new endeavor. Too bad there is egg on the face of that department, and, Mr. Fry, you put it there."

Community members share their concerns with receptive SDL board

A number of city taxpayers brought forth concerns to the School District of Lancaster board, Tuesday night.

The School Board listened attentively to each of the presenters and often presented constructive responses. An attendee remarked that the atmosphere of the meeting seems to have improved lately.

One township resident, who has children in city schools, asked the board to consider very carefully its choice of new Athletic Director and to address what he considers the poor performance of the district's athletic programs, as evidenced by their win-loss records

"Our teams need not always have winning seasons, but they should be able to win a significant number of games," he said.

He went on to argue that this is a direct reflection of the lack of quality coaching of city schoolchildren.

Rivera replied, "I'd like to thank you for your continued feedback and know that it is a position that we hold close to heart... The athletic director will be responsible for engaging students in and out of the classroom, for building a sense of pride throughout the district, and encouraging students not only to come to school everyday but to be active participants in our school."

School Board member Michael Rowen added, "We were twenty minutes late [starting the meeting] because of this very topic, so we are taking it very seriously."

Another city resident and graduate of city schools, Ron Sultzbach, asked for the School Board's consideration.

Sultzbach is the head coach and owner of a minor league football team called the Atlantic Coast Patriots.

The team is seeking a venue to host its home games. Their season runs from March to June.

He indicated that they previously held games at Hershey Park but that it cost them $3,000 dollars to have six home games there. Since then, they've held a few games at Millersville University.

He said that they would like to play their games at McCaskey's field and that it would only be five or six home games a season. He went on to say that students would be invited to come watch the games for free with their Student IDs.

Sultzbach also thanked Rivera for meeting with him privately about the issue.

School Board President Patrick Snyder suggested that the board will consider the proposal and thanked Sultzbach for giving such advance notice.

Another individual who spoke Tuesday night is the media services librarian for Carter & MacRae elementary school, Matthew Buss.

Buss complained to the School Board that no funding in the past three years has been allocated for the purpose of purchasing new books.

"How are we to foster the love of reading and the love of learning when we can't even replace the most popular books or purchase new books by new authors with new stories to capture their imaginations?" he asked.

"Please help my library and all the libraries in the school district of Lancaster by finding some money to provide well-stocked libraries for the children in this school district," Buss petitioned.

The School Board did not immediately reply to his concern on Tuesday.

A local parent named Fran Rodriguez approached the podium and expressed two of her concerns.

One had to do with the crowded conditions in McCaskey High School between classes. "I have a Junior who attends McCaskey and every day he describes to me how, if anyone sneezes, coughs, let alone gets sick in the hallway, the proximity of one body to another in the hallway is just unhealthy," she said.

She advised the board to consider moving certain programs from McCaskey to other locations to alleviate the congestion.

She also noted that a list of tutoring services disseminated to parents included only one local service and that others were from outside the area, including Philadelphia and Baltimore..

She asked why prominent local tutoring service, Knowledge Is Power," is not on the list.

Rivera replied that the list of tutoring services is approved by a state office and that they cited a "clerical issue" with regard to why Knowledge Is Power did not make the cut.

"We don't get to pick and choose the list of providers that are going to be on that list," he said.

What's Happening around Lancaster This Week?

Millersville University is showing the film, "Innocent Voices," Thursday (Sep. 18) as part of its Humanities Film Series. Based on the true story of screenwriter Oscar Torres's embattled childhood, Luis Mandoki's Innocent Voices is the poignant tale of Chava (Carlos Padilla), an eleven-year-old boy who suddenly becomes the ‘man of the house’ after his father abandons the family in the middle of a civil war." The film is showing at 7:30 p.m. in Myers Auditorium. Myers Auditorium is located directly inside McComsey Hall, which is located along Frederick Street.

The Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce is having a job fair on Thursday, Sep. 18 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Eden Resort Inn & Suites at 222 Eden Road. "
Meet face-to-face with local employers from a variety of industries at Lancaster County’s largest employment recruitment event. Representatives from top area companies will be on-hand looking to fill full and part-time positions, from general labor to management. For more information, visit www.lcci.com/jobseekers."

Also on Thursday, Sep. 18, Franklin & Marshall College will host a talk by Joe Szabo, president and editorial director of Witty World International Features, He will discuss “America's Image Abroad in Political Cartoons.” Szabo is a graphic artist who came to the U.S. from Hungary in the 1980s, founded and edits WittyWorld International Cartoon Magazine and is preparing a book on America's image in cartoons. The free lecture will occur in Stahr Auditorium of Stager Hall at 4:30 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.fandm.edu.

Later that evening (Thurs, Sep. 18), Progressives for Pennsylvania presents, "Single-Payer Guaranteed Healthcare For All: A Mainstream Solution!" A panel of local experts will discuss the issue starting at 7 p.m. in F&M's Roschel Performing Arts Center at 628 College Avenue. Please RSVP by e-mailing progressives4pa@gmail.com or by calling Jerry Policoff at 717.295.0237. See the flyer for the event at http://www.progressives4pennsylvania.com/pdf/conference01.pdf.
Biographies of the panelists can be found here.

September 19 is a "Music Friday" in downtown Lancaster. "
Shops and restaurants spread throughout the 200 and 300 blocks of N. Queen Street host an evening dedicated to music! Different artists are scheduled each third Friday, both inside local stores and on the sidewalks. Committed performances include belly dancing, a jazz quintet, solo, acoustic, rock and American groups." Music Friday occurs between 6:00 and 9:00 p.m.

The Lancaster Barnstormers play home games on Saturday and Sunday (Sep. 19-20) against the York Revolution. Saturday's game is at 7:05 p.m. and will feature fireworks. Sunday's game is at 1:35 p.m. and will feature a team poster giveaway. For more information, including advance tickets, visit http://www.lancasterbarnstormers.com.

For more area events, see http://www.padutchcountry.com/events_calendar.

NewsLanc asks Commissioners not to purchase unnecessary additional electronic voting machines

NewsLanc strongly advised the County Commissioners, Tuesday, to refrain from purchasing any more electronic voting machines than might be necessary to accomodate disabled persons.

Publisher Robert Field told the Commissioners, "This is not a liberal or conservative issue."

"Fotune magazine, the New York Times, scores of prestigious think tanks and organizations have railed about the dangers of voting machines without the ability to verify the actual votes," he continued.

"If there is no place recorded that someone cast a ballot for A rather than B or C, then if the machine malfunctions or if there's any question as to the integrity of the machine, there's no way of finding out how people actually voted."

Field went on to reference recent Presidential elections in which there were significant disparities between exit polls and electronic machine vote counts in a number of hotly disputed precincts.

Readers can find a letter from Marybeth Kuznik, Executive Director VotePA, Statewide Alliance for Voting Rights and Election Integrity, echoing NewsLanc's concerns at http://newslancpa.blogspot.com/2008/09/election-expert-says-commissioners.html


Design Costs for Amtrak Station Increase by $20,000

One item quietly introduced during Tuesday's worksession, which will appear before the County Commissioners for approval Wednesday, is $20,000 in additional costs for the "design phase" of the Lancaster Amtrak Station renovations.

James Cowhey, Executive Director of the Lancaster County Planning Commission, said that the need for additional funding was not entirely unforeseen but not planned for and budgeted either.

He said that the cost is reflective of the amount of time that planners have spent on design work.

The $20,000 is exclusively Lancaster County money from the general fund.

This brings the total County contribution to the design phase of the project to $150,603. The total cost of the renovations to the station are expected to total roughly $12 million.

Groundbreaking is scheduled for the end of the year, with construction expected to begin in January or February, according to Cowhey.

NewsLanc will seek further clarification as to why it is taking planners longer than expected, costing County taxpayers more money.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Treasury Bonds or CDs?

That's the question the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority is considering as the term of its current Guaranteed Investment Contract (GIC) comes to a close by October 1.

The roughly $16 million "GIC" account is the master pot of money from which the Authority routinely draws down funds to pay its construction costs. It derives from Wachovia's sale of the construction bonds.

This "pot of money" made headlines this past summer when the financial rating of MBIA, the firm with which the money has been invested, was downgraded by the Moody's Investor's Service and additional collateral had to be pledged to protect the Authority's investment.

Since the term of the previous investment is coming to a close, the Authority must now decide where it wants to reinvest that funding. Should it try for higher interest with higher risks or should it take accept lower rates with less risk?

The higher interest route is to invest the $16 million in collateralized certificates of deposit.

The safer but lower-interest option is to simply purchase U.S. Treasury Bonds.

Executive Director Kevin Molloy said he was willing to take the risk of collateralized CDs, but Chairman of the Board Art Morris and the Authority's financial advisor, Steve Geisenberger, suggested that they would be more comfortable with the treasury bonds.

The finance committee voted, Monday night, to send a resolution to the full board authorizing the Executive Director to take whatever action necessary to protect the Authority's investment. Further discussion is expected at the board meeting, which is on Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

On the status of contingency funding, Morris reported that the Authority should know "by October 15th" whether the sought-after $3.2 million in contingency funds will become available.

NewsLanc asked about the level of confidence that these funds are indeed coming.

Morris referred to seemingly vague assurances from State Sen. Gib Armstrong that he is working on it.

"He has been supportive of the project, and I'm sure he's going to do his best to help us. That's all I can say," he remarked.

"I'll say this, he hasn't failed us yet," added Finance Committee member Ted Darcus.

Echoed committee chair Laura Douglas, "All we can do is keep our fingers crossed."

Douglas said that there is no word on when the remaining $1 million of the other $1.5 million requested contingency funding would become available.

She stressed that all or nearly all of the contingency funding (all $4.7 million of it) will be needed in order for the Authority to pay its bills without resorting to some other measure to acquire additional funding. Possibilities include taking out another loan or requesting an increase in the hotel tax.

Wachovia a big loser

Wachovia Bank Corporation, the 'geniuses' who stepped in to guarantee the bonds for the Convention Center and Hotel Project after so many others had declined and despite the negative PKF Feasibility Study, has had its stock drop from over $50 a year ago to under $11 today.

In comparison, PNC Bank was around $70 a year ago and is at around $70 now.

Over the past few years, the lending philosophy by so many bankers was to make any loan, slap on a guarantee and syndicate it in the form of bonds, collect big year end bonus, and let some other guy worry about the fall out some years down the road.

But the damage isn't just to the stockholders of the lending institution. This corruption of the normal safeguards of capitalism lures individuals and governments into unwise commitments. They too suffer from the the dreadful repercussions of insolvency and the lost opportunities to have used available funds more wisely.

Study Commission Reluctantly Revises Disputed Mailer

The members of the Government Study Commission (GSC) met and voted unanimously to make revisions to their disputed postcard mailer, Monday morning.

Despite the formal unanimity, however, many of the nine present members made clear their frustration with the Commissioners' recent revocation of funding.

At issue was language in the mailer that the three dissenting members of the GSC argued - and the Commissioners agreed - went beyond the Commission's ordained task of educating the public about the Charter to instead advocating for it.

Commission member John Smucker said at the beginning of Monday's two hour meeting, "I believe that as an independently-elected Commission, we are not necessarily bound by the action of the Board of County Commissioners... I believe that what we came up with is educational."

But he went on to say, "reasonable minds can differ" and "In the spirit of community compromise... I am not opposed to making some tweaks."

Member Sam Mecum agreed that the GSC is charged with "recommending" the Charter asked, "How can you recommend something without explaining why you think it's better or greater or increased or different?"

"So if I'm a citizen and I get a mailing that simply says, 'the Commissioners were increased from three to five,' I think rhetorically and logically, I would immediately ask myself, 'why?'" added GSC member Jim Miller.

"So if we can't explain why, how are we educating?" Miller asked.

Most of the comparative adjectives like "better" and "enhanced" were removed from the postcard, Monday, in the Commission's laborious wording revision.

For example, instead of stating that the charter provides "Greater Citizen Access & Involvement," the postcard now states merely that the Charter "addresses... Citizen Access & Involvement."

Instead of stating that the charter provides "Better Money Management," the new mailer states that the charter "addresses Money Management."

Instead of stating that the charter "Permits better purchasing methods to save taxpayer dollars," the mailer now reads, "Permits different purchasing methods to save taxpayer dollars."

The GSC also voted to indicate which bullet points on their mailer "can only be achieved by a Home Rule Charter," including increasing the number of Commissioners to five, mandating a non-partisan Board of Elections, allowing citizen controls over excessive tax increases, reducing the costs of government by consolidation of row offices and reductions in elected officials' salaries, and other points.

The GSC decided to keep the County Logo on its postcard.

It was noted that the Commission has previously used the County Logo on its letterhead and in its reports and Chief Clerk for the County Commissioners, Andrea McCue, said that these uses had previously been approved by the County Commissioners.

"The County Logo belongs to the citizens and we are a citizen's commission," said Smucker.

The consensus was that the use of the logo is permitted as long as the postcard is not an advocacy piece.

Mecum explained, "We believe that the County is obligated to fund the mailer with these changes."

Approximately $43,000 total will be spent on production and distribution of the postcard mailer to every household in the county.

"We intend to authorize the printing of the mailer today," said Smucker.

He noted that Commissioners Stuckey and Martin are opponents of the Charter and opined that it was inappropriate for them to pull the funding.

The Commissioners could not immediately be reached for comment as they were attending an economic summit. McCue said that the issue will be on their agenda for discussion this week.

Asked by NewsLanc as to whether his concerns had been allayed, GSC member Jim Huber, a signatory to last week's complaint to the Commissioners, said, "Some good changes have been made, but I'll have to look at it more closely."

The other dissenting members, Jim Bednar, and Greg Sahd were not present at Monday's meeting and could not immediately be reached for comment.

Secretary for the Government Study Commission, Sharon Sherban, noted that NewsLanc was the first to alert the GSC to the Commissioners' promise of investigation into the mailer last Wednesday.