Voter apathy and laziness at its finest. Recent election in Wilkes-Barre brought 25% of registered voters out.

    This past Tuesday was election day in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Offices up for election were Mayor,  District Attorney,  School Board,  Controller and City Council.  I realize that off year elections have low turnouts but 25% is ridiculous. Approximately 42,000 people live in Wilkes-Barre. Our Mayoral election had about 5,000 votes. For Mayor there were 5,000 votes.  That is sad in a city that has been rocked by corruption over and over again.
 
          City Council had a change of 3 members, including the first Republican in over 30 years. He is a amazingly smart man,  who has fantastic ideas and genuinely cares about our city. We also elected a woman in her early to mid 20s and she is fantastic. She was born and raised here.  Went to college here and is beginning her political career here.  We are lucky to have both of them.

           District Attorney was between our incumbent and a defense attorney.  Our incumbent does not prosecute cases.  Their opinion is that they are there to run the office, determine who tries which case.  We have a glut of unsolved murders,  as well as a charge against a man running for magistrate who is accused of forging signatures on the petition. We had gas gate,  which was 67,000 gallons of gas that went missing and no one was prosecuted. As well as another corruption case with the city contracted towing company.  The incumbent spent $130,000 as opposed to $45,000 for the challenger.  Was it the money or the laziness of voters?

             Controller was between a newer face in local politics and a face that runs year after year.  The newcomer won.  It is believed he will do a good job. Our city needs it.  We are broke,  crime ridden and littered with corruption.  Of the registered voters,  Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1. Republicans have a difficult time running here.

       The School Board race had 4 incumbents who were on both the Republican and Democrat ticket.  3 of those 4 voted to merge our schools. The city is outraged by this,  yet they got reelected.  There was a write in campaign that started 5 weeks before the election and was run solely on Facebook. There was an 11th hour wrote in campaign started. They received about 4% of the vote.  Very good here.  56% of Democrats voted straight Dem and 40% of Republicans voted straight Republican.  Despite the clamor for change. People went the lazy way and voted straight instead of seeing who the candidates were.

        Mayor was interesting. The Democrat candidate was a former Chief of Police, current City Council member and part of the administration’s that helped create the city’s issues.  He filed campaign contribution paperwork with several large errors,  was in trouble for not putting the proper labels on signage and publicly supported one of the judges convicted in the Kids for Cash scandal. The Republican candidate had a taxis sue,  which he was making payments on and never missed a payment.  He also was said to not have leadership experience. Apparently the Mayoral cannot attract more then 5,000 votes.

          It is very disappointing to listen to people talk,  write the paper or Facebook walls about how the city needs a change. Yet when their opportunity to change it arrives,  then cannot leave their house for the 15 minutes it takes to vote. This people do not suffer from apathy,  they are lazy. They cannot make a change because they truly don’t want to or care to.  I do not think that we can change these folks.  We are doomed to the same old same old because of these people. We can only make a difference if we get 50% of the registered voters out to vote.  Will never happen.  The valley with a heart will soon need a transplant.

       

Wilkes-Barre Area in a fight to save our schools.

        I would like to say this is a good story,  but it is not. This story is the setup for the final death knell for a crumbling city.  Wilkes-Barre was a coal mining city.  It is right next to the Susquehanna River,  the polluted part.  It has always been a home to the working man. I was born here in 1974 in a hospital that closed.  Anyone from the area would remember Mercy Hospital.  My 2 kids and my wife were also born in this hospital. Wilkes-Barre was a good city.  Over the years drugs,  crime,  corrupt politicians,  corrupt judges and recession has decimated it.  It is a shadow of its former self.  The mayor is proud of the service jobs he “created”,  while the city hemorrhages good jobs and people.  We are the home of the Kids for Cash Scandal,  the one where the judges put juveniles in a facility for a kickback and the home of the gas scandal.  67,000 gallons of gas went missing and not a soul was prosecuted.                      

        I graduated from one of our 3 high schools,  Meyers,  my wife graduated from our rival,  GAR. The other school in our area is Coughlin.  Meyers and GAR are neighborhood schools and Coughlin is downtown serving the outskirts of our city and the northern part.  There are about 42,000 people in Wilkes-Barre.  The median income is $20,000 below the Pennsylvania average. We are such a poor area,  every child gets a free lunch in school.  The kids cafe and other programs for poor kids are packed full.  My home is struggling.

        The Wilkes-Barre Area School District serves an estimated 82,000 people.  It has about 6,800 students,  about 40% of which are minorities.  We have 9 schools and 1 charter school.  Elementary schools are: Kistler,  Dodson,  Heights,  Dan Flood,  and Solomon,  which also has our only middle school.  Bear Creek Community Charter School is a public charter,  that just built a new school.  Our high schools are Meyers,  GAR,  Coughlin. Mackin,  a school that was closed,  is being redone and will temporarily house Coughlin 9th and 10th graders,  unsure of its later use. In 2007 we ranked 128 in the state in testing.  In 2011 we dropped to 423 out of 501.  Around 2006 Meyers was in danger of closing.  The engineering firms deemed it unsafe.  But a concerted effort by citizens saved it and money was thrown at it. It was a band aid.  The Wilkes-Barre Area School Board has had corruption issues as well.  Several years ago board members were caught accepting money for teaching positions,  among other things.  Very trustworthy group.

          Fast forward to 2014. At some point the superintendent was informed of safety issues at Meyers.  They quickly went to work to determine the extent of damage at all schools.  It was deemed the Meyers and Coughlin were in bad shape.  The district conducted a feasibility study.  They also had 2 groups working to look for a solution.  One was made up of teachers and school employees.  The other of citizens.  The 2 groups started their work,  looking for new sites and ideas of how to build schools or school to better serve our kids.  A couple weeks after the groups started meeting,  the board informed them that they had a $100 million limit and could 9nlt choose from existing school properties.  Essentially the groups had 2 properties to choose from. Coughlin is about 2.4 acres and Meyers is 7.7 acres. Coughlin is in downtown,  Meyers is a bit out of the center city. The groups came up with 3 proposals. 
1) keep all 3 schools.  Rebuilding or renovating Meyers.  Rebuilding Coughlin at its current site or at the Solomon site.
2)rebuild Coughlin and merge it’s students with Meyers. 
3)rebuild Meyers and put Coughlin students there.

            The feasibility study said Coughlin was shot.  The estimated rebuild was between $65-$75 million.  Meyer was estimated at at a rebuild cost of $75-85 million. Meyers renovations were estimated $85 million.  The parapet was falling down and the steel knuckles above the windows were rusted and needed replacement.  They said the floor shifted 12 inches,  yet there were no cracks anywhere.  It turns out the shift happened as it was being built. GAR needed $20 million worth of renovations. Tops for the 3 was $180 million.  The cap was put at $180 million to avoid referendum for exceeding maximum tax allowance. 

           That is the general story.  Here is where it goes a little awry.  On June 8 there is a board meeting.  The board decided to close Meyers,  build at Coughlin and put an extension on Kistler to house 7th and 8th graders. They threw out every suggestion and came up with a whole new plan.  They also were going to vote to submit Plancon funding on June 10. Plancon is Pennsylvania’s system for reimbursement for school building.  On June 10 the board voted 7-2 in favor of this plan.  This plan goes against all current literature and what all experts agree is best.  It goes against what countless University studies determined was best for children.  But here is where our story gets interesting.

Our district is going forward with this consolidation despite public outcry, statistics citing the utter failure of consolidation, the fact that they are flat broke and the fact that their plan changes daily. The are telling us they are broke but are paying for architects, engineers and the renovation of a school from their general fund. The money meant for the kids and teachers. About $11.5 million of the general fund has been spent on this. Throw on top of this the budget impasse in Pennsylvania and that the District must pay its charter school by November 1. Also that the $100 million bond is not guaranteed, in fact who would loan to anyone who is maxed out. This is a mess that will get worse.

A group of us, part of which is the Wilkes-Barre Area Save Our Schools, are trying to educate the public, while trying to to get the board to slow down. They are not listening to reason, in fact the board president got so angry at the last meeting the solicitor had to quiet him down. At the moment this board is drunk with power and does not believe the public has the right to question them. The board dismisses, makes fun of and general looks at anyone who doesn’t agree with them as the enemy. How can the public work with elected officials who view the public as the enemy? We have tried reason, pointing out the flaws, exposing untruths, forcing answers and trying to find their financial bottom line. They are reluctant to let the public see the books.

The last meeting was revealing. We found out quite a bit with a concerted effort by the public. People asked questions, people behind them asked follow up questions and any question not answered was asked again. The pressure is on. A process that should take 9-12 months is being shoved into a 6 month window. We are making process but it does not feel like it is enough. If we fail Wilkes-Barre fails. The exodus will continue and a once great city will fall into complete ruin.

2014, a year closer to the end of America?

         The title may seem conspiracy like or even reactionary, but it is not far off base. If we honestly look at some of the things that transpired this year, you have to admit that this isn’t our parents America. The land we live in has fallen quite short of what I thought we were. But this is a disappointment I have gotten used to. Republican and Democrat blaming each other, while both are suckling Wall Streets teat. More insane nut bags threatening our “monkey” President Obama, because his skin color is bothering them. Conservatives pining for the time when white American men were the only people who mattered. Cops not just being bullies, but now shooting and killing unarmed black kids, then saying they felt threatened. Then trying to understand how an adult justifies shooting 12 times at someone running away, while my 10 year old daughter tells the grown up it is wrong. Cops using an illegal choke hold to kill a guy who was selling “loosey” cigarettes, only to hear more adults justify it. Then trying to explain to my 10 and 13 year old kids what is wrong with these people without calling them dumb. This list can go on and on. But seriously, what the hell is wrong with us?

            Everyone screams that things need to change, but when your voice is heard the majority sit home. The American society has failed. We are in general a weak and lazy group. Not all, as I said in general. To show our unhappiness we sit home, to show our social disobedience, we sit home. Sitting home and not participating seems to be the universal answer. America is the way it is because of US, WE THE PEOPLE CREATED THIS MESS. Our apathy has left a shell of a nation for my children. When we can change something, we do not because the devil we know is better then the devil we dont. Unfortunately we have left the fox in the henhouse, we stopped paying attention. Now everything seems corrupted, anyone with the tiniest bit of power has eaten the poison apple. Who cares, no one was watching them. Cops are beating black kids, don’t break the law. Killing black people, don’t break the law. But a black kills a white and all hell breaks loose. Politicians, even the ones where I live are under investigation for being corrupt.

           I love the freedoms I have but I have been negligent of my responsibilities as well. As a democracy, we are responsible for the actions of our representatives, we stopped telling them what to do because they quit doing it. If I stopped doing my job, I would get fired. CONGRESS SHOULD BE FIRED!!! 9% approval yet 94% reelected, what is wrong there. This apathy goes right into how people think. It is easy to hate and be bigoted, doesn’t take any thought. Simple minded people hate people based on color and creed. Stupid and loud people hold a lot of power in this country. How did we allow this? Money is some cases, because in some warped world money means intellegence. Laziness in others, why debate a dumb person, they will never change. We all seem to listen to the loudest speaker, typically the most ignorant person in the room. So this because our education system failed us or just because we lost faith in everything?

             I don’t have any answers. I can’t tell you what is right or wrong. I can tell you that my convictions are changing. I have always been a very liberal Democrat. The liberal part has grown stronger, I believe we need to help one another, foster a sense of community and continue to help the weakest among us to rise above where they are. We are a wealthy country who needs to commit resources to our infrastructure, education, homelessness and better health care, as well as mental health. We need to reel in the police, educate, better training and better mental health screening, as well as holding them accountable for their actions. The same needs to be done with our leaders on all kevels, state, local and federal. As well as TV and radio personalities who spread vitriol and lies. Time for all to be held accountable for their actions. That is a start. To improve our government, term limits for House, Senate and Supreme Court Justices. Time to remove money from politics and deny personhood of corporations. Even the playing field, end lobbying. The Democrat part has been called into question. I agree with them more, but they are also guilty of putting money before the people.

         In general 2014 was another year we failed our children. I will not anymore, my children will see that I believe it is time to stand. There is a movement in this country, it has been building slowly but it is building. I think it will reach a crescendo soon and we will see massive change. It is a dangerous and beautiful time to be alive. We will take our country back. We need to reverse the trend and improve in all aspects. If not America Jay be doomed to fail. Happy New Year! HAPPY NEW AMERICA!!!!

Pay to play in Pennsylvania, a little more corruption for us.

            Top former officials of the Pa. Turnpike and a prominent ex-legislator were among 8 people indicted Wensday. Joseph Brimeier, retired 2011 as Chief Executive of the Turnpike Commission and former state minority leader Robert J. Mellow (D-Lackawana) are accused of illegally soliciting political contributions and misusing Turnpike funds. Others indicted were Mitch Rubin former turnpike chairman, George Hatalowich former COO, employees Raymond Zajicek and Melvin Sheldon and vendor employees Dennis Miller and Jeffrey Suzeski.

                  A pay to play culture permeated the turnpike, according to Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane. Companies seeking work with the turnpike lavished officials with entertainment, dinners, trips and sporting events. Political contributors were rewarded with contracts and politicians were rewarded with gifts and perks, according to the grand jury. The jurors 85 page presentment told of a 60/40 rule, the majority in power got 60% of contracts and jobs, the minority the other 40%. The Pittsburgh grand jury deliberated for 44 months and interviewed hundreds of witnesses. Investigating is continuing but is restricted under an 8 year statute of limitations.

                     Mellow who is currently in a federal prison in South Carolina on unrelated corruption charges. He was charged with corrupt organizations, bribery, bid rigging, conspiracy and other offenses. Brimeier is facing similar charges. Miller, Rubin, Hatalowich and Suzenski were arraigned on Wensday and released on $100,000 unsecured bail. Shelton and Brimeier are expected in court today.

              In March 2009, then Governor Ed Rendell fired Rubin as commissioner chairman when he found out Rubin was a targetn a corruption probe of Vincent J. Fumo. The turnpike figured tangetially in the federal case against Fumo. Fumo was convicted of fraud and other charges in 2009.

                 Well this shows that corruption is not just a one party item. Democrats are guilty as well. Pennsylvania needs to get a lid on things because corruption is tearing through our state. We have good reason not to trust our state government. This is an abuse of power and all involved should be punished to the full extent of the law.

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