1-6-2005 How soon we forget


Nothing is so admirable in politics as a short memory.--John Kenneth Galbraith

Alright. Let's get the bidding underway. Chief Lisman, would you care to set the minimum bid before we get started?

Chief: Sixty-six bucks.

Auctioneer: (Whispering) Chief, I think that's a tad bit low, don't you? Try again.

Chief: $89.95.

Auctioneer: Chief, be serious. Glance over your shoulder. Slowly. Don't be so obvious. See the guy with the shades and the fake FBI cap? Got it? Okay.

Chief: 100 bucks or 20 full S&H Green Stamp books.

Auctioneer: Chief! Chief! Jesus, man! You've gotta get at least enough to retire the outstanding debts of the city or these dupes are gonna go off on some crazed tangent about internet auctions to a more than eager press. Try two, maybe three million to start.

Chief: But that truck's really f...

Auctioneer: Yo! Yo! Keep your freakin' voice down, will you? No one will believe that the truck is worthless. If Secret Agent Man says we can trade it for a Soviet Kiev-class aircraft carrier that displaces 46,000 tons, then it's gotta be worth something. Do like I tell ya.

Chief: We'll set the minimum bid at $5,000,000. Welcome to Wilkes-Barre!

Auctioneer: Whew! What would these people do without me and the taxpayer watchdogs wearing disguises?


From the e-mail inbox. Back to the Heights we go:

*******Mark,

FYI- the "collective bargaining" discussion is merely "spin" put on by the administration. Here's how it came about. A resident at the first council meeting (discussing the closed Heights station) asked Ch. Lisman if the city would reopen the station if the residents could raise the money to fix the roof. To which he replied that even if the roof were fixed, there aren't enough firefighters to staff it under the new contract. The agreement calls for three men on an engine now. At which point, union president Tom Makar chimed in that the union would happily consent to having only two firefighters stationed there since both pieces of apparatus are designed for only two people and that the offer was made to the City. Then the same question was then put to the Mayor: If the money could be raised to fix the roof, would he staff the engine house? The Mayors response was "No". I was there. The Mayor was then asked if he were working to re-open the engine house in 2005, to which he replied: "No".

At the next meeting, another resident asked the Mayor: If we raise the money to fix the roof and the union will allow only two firefighters to staff the the station, will you reopen it? Again the Mayor said "No". At this point, one of my union brothers (who's wife was a member of the then newly formed committee) exclaimed from the back of the room that personnel issues shouldn't be discussed unless a member of the E- Board were present. That gave the Mayor an "in" to end all further discussion. And sealed the fate of the engine house. From that point on the closing of East Station became a "collective bargaining" issue.

Why would a union firefighter do that? You got me. Members of the E-Board told me that they were stymied by this assertion. And that there weren't any ongoing talks of staffing East Station. As I said before the contract was signed and it was a done deal. So the truth be known, it was actually an over zealous firefighter who killed the firehouse issue (on a legislative level). And gave the administration the "spin" needed end further discussion and debate. Just thought I'd bring you up to speed. Personally, I can't believe that a union firefighter would consciously block a public initiative to rehire firefighters and re-open a strategically valuable engine house. I chock it up to a dumb-shit mistake. Hey, I've done more stupid things than that!

Not that I think there's need to continue this thread, but if you want them I'll get transcripts of those two meetings.*******

We can publish the transcripts of those meetings here, but I'm not typing them out. Have somebody send me the text version via e-mail and it's a done deal.

As far as the administration's position being "spin" is concerned, I feel as if there's something being left out here. There are clearly rules and legalities involved, 95% of which, I am certainly not privy to. Is it not a fact that the city must abide by certain rules so as to not find itself being sanctioned financially? Or in more common parlance, can the city find itself being fined for it's agents having flapped their gums a bit too much whereas collective bargaining issues are concerned? Or is that even more spin?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is what I'm getting from the folks in the Heights: 1. The official justification for closing the East Station was little more than a lie. 2. The "nasty gram" was not justified in the least from a legal standpoint. And 3. No matter what the mayor or any of the council members may say to the contrary, that firehouse is history. Done. Caput. Over with.

Is that accurate? If so, it sounds to me as if the folks in the Heights will be grumbling no matter what the administration has to say about the current goings-on. We've been told they're working on correcting the situation, but apparently nothing short of putting some short-sighted, expensive Band-aids on that building will suffice. Which is not meant to say that the folks up there should not be concerned about "public safety" as it may pertain to their immediate situation. They should be concerned about public safety and they pay dearly for those servces. But the "fix-it-right-funking-now" mentality is sure to run into a temporary roadblock as this city struggles to get on some sort of firm financial footing again. And to offer to raise the money necessary to replace a leaky roof is a short-term solution to a problem that may actually need a more long-term solution.

It seems as if I've painted myself into a most dangerous corner on this issue. So be it. Tom Leighton has never lied to me before, and I'm still willing to take him at his word.

But I do have to wonder aloud about these previously non-negotiable staffing requirements of the fire union bosses. We were told that a minimum of three hose dudes were absolutely necessary on every piece of apparatus to ensure not only the safety of the firefighters, but the general public themselves. But at the very first sign of serious trouble, the union throws up it's hands and agrees to deploy only two firefighters in a firehouse, and only two firefighters on an engine in that firehouse? So which is it? Three equals safety? Two does not? Well, maybe, er, it depends?

The fire department as I used to know it got turned upside down with the institution of the "three man" requirement. And now that the fire department barely resembles what it was just a few short months ago, the three man thing suddenly goes out the window when the situation dictates otherwise? There's something to be said for consistency, here. Heyna?

And you know what? It pains me to take issue with anyone that was a favored whipping-boy of the former mayor, being that many of those former whipping-boys publicly supported the candidacy of his eventual successor.

A blast from the not so recent past:

10-3-2002

Veterans need not apply

Our beleaguered mayor jumps at the chance to bellow about his extensive, weekend-only military background and constantly reminds us of his strong patriotic pangs. In his forty-five second stint in front of the Blue Ribbon Panel he babbled something about truth, justice and the American way. He demanded his god given rights that so many others have fought and died for. He wasted thousands of dollars on those unsightly patriotic banners after the 911 attacks. While obfuscating in his hot seat in front of city council, he often makes references to military terms and such. The man is an over-zealous American patriot. Or his he?

Veterans, the active duty types that can be whisked away from their bunk to a hot landing zone in an instant are entitled to federal benefits for there selfless service to this country. Whether they ever shoot at anyone, or get shot at, they are entitled to those promised benefits. That is, unless those veterans reside in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. In Wilkes-Barre, veterans are denied the benefits they earned by a vindictive little prick (VLP).

Back on May 23, 2002, The Times Leader reported that two former Marines who are employed as city fire fighters were meeting with opposition from the mayor while trying to apply for veteranís benefits. Here we are over seven months later and those same veterans are still being denied the benefits they are entitled to, because the mayor wonít sign off on their claim. Know this. The earned benefits the former Marines are seeking will not cost the city, or itís residents a plug nickel. Nada. The money would go to the individual applicant from money that was paid into the federal government while they served their military time. This money is not paid from any fund of the city or state. It was money already allotted to the individual once they made their initial contribution. The money is distributed evenly over a two year period.

The GI Bill provides up to 36 months of education benefits for college, technical or vocational courses, apprenticeship/job training and flight training for eligible veterans. It is an apprenticeship program that thousands of former service people that are in similar professions are currently receiving. In the paper the mayor is questioning the training program of Philadelphia since the initial two applying for the benefit went to the Philly Academy. However, all the Philly Vet's are getting the benefit. There are also several other departments in the state that participate in the program.

Bottom line! It's a simple form that is already filled out that the mayor signs and sends in for consideration. Once the VA has received the request, they check their records to see if our training program is certified. If it is, they begin to make payments to the individual. If it isn't certified, a call is then made to the PA Dept. of Education. They have a staff that is tasked with ensuring proper training for an institution that is requesting federal money. If our program is not within their guidelines, then they recommend that our guys not get the money. If our training is within their guidelines, it is approved and the veterans begin to receive the money.

The mayor won't submit the application. You tell me. Is he simply envious of the dudes that were brave enough to sign on for the real deal, while he fought weekend BB gun wars? Or is he just a vindictive little prick?

The mayor won't submit the application.

Veterans need not apply.

********

And here we are almost two years later and we're floating unfair monikers like "VLP-II" simply because the new mayor will not be brow-beaten into wasting money, or as he put it, "Throwing good money after bad."

Is he spinning the truth? Could be to some degree. But he's also protecting the bottom line and this city has no future at all without a healthy bottom line.

We should closely question whatever he says and whatever he does and fire gigantic spitballs at him when the need arises. But we shouldn't become irrational the first time we don't like what he has to say to us on any given issue. Fight with him. Call him names. Make fun of his ancestry. Curse his favorite team. But remember, we gave him a minimum of four years to get this city humming again. I'm not happy about everything that's transpired since he took office, but I'm not ready to throw a Freak Out! session just yet.

They say patience is a virtue, right?


Yeah, "One-term Tommy"...or whatever it is that they're calling him these days. Let's take another trip down memory lane. How soon we forget.

2-4-2002

New Year Revisited

I read the local papers this morning and my mind is spinning. I am quite frankly amazed. The construction of our long anticipated downtown movie complex has been halted by a court injunction after Humford Equities, owners of Wilkes-Barre Center filed a lawsuit against the city and the Redevelopment Authority. They claim the construction is encroaching onto their property (hard to fathom) and that they are denied an easement to the rear of their property (Dyer Lane?). I was behind the City Center building a few days ago and delivery trucks came and went through Dyer Lane. The fire department also used the Lane to respond to what looked like a paramedic call at Provincial Towers. The lack of access charge has me confused. As far as the new building encroaching the city center property goes, I would have to believe the surveyors, engineers and architects involved in the project are not totally incompetant. If these two charges are without any real merit, then why the court action stopping construction? The owners of City Center claim they have asked the mayor for a year now to see a copy of the construction plans and figure out what impact the new theater would have on their property. According to them they were ignored by the mayor and recieved the plans last month after the construction was already underway. If thats true the mayor faces charges once again of not cooperating or sharing honest information with mutually interested entities, while pushing forward with his vague plans. Sounds to me like he's guilty as charged again.

By the way, the owners of City Center claim they intend to remodel another of their properties, The Midtown Village once the new theater is constructed. Yet, they are compelled to file suit and stall the construction of the new theater. Is this trip really necessary? The mayor told the press he was disappointed, but not surprised. Not surprised. Not surprised? He also feels the current impasse can be worked out. Questions for our mayor. Why the hell weren't the details worked out before the ground-breaking? Why weren't the details provided to Humford Equities when they originally requested them? Why the constant stealth Mayor? Why is it that virtually all city business has to fly just slightly below the radar screen? Why the one man show all the time?

More silly news from the papers. The city will be at least a month late in paying its $2.8 million tax anticipation note for 2001, which according to our city controller is a first. He claims the city will have to pay more interest than expected, but the amount of the increased interest is unknown at this point. The tax anticipation note is used to offset city expenses until tax and other revenues arrive, usually around midyear. More good news.

I cut this from the Leader, I hope they don't freak:

In a press release, Mayor Tom McGroarty said payments for the 2001 note are delayed until the city is reimbursed by the state for the Park N Lock North expansion project. He also said the city will advertise today for proposals on a $3.18 million note for 2002.

The state awarded the city a $2.5 million matching grant for the Park N Lock project. But, because McGroarty failed to fill out required paperwork on time, the grant money, which should reimburse the city for project expenses, has been delayed by months, said a state spokesman.

Sound like a sound financial plan to you? Or robbing Peter to pay Paul? This mayor of ours if flying by the seat of his pants with his hair on fire at this point. Seems like his plans for the city are scribbled on some crumpled up index cards and stuffed in his back pocket with his diet pills. He's too young to be crunching the numbers with a Dick Tracy decoder ring, so I'm assuming he owns a pocket calculator. I wonder what happened to my decoder ring. If I still had it maybe I could be hired as the city's auditor or something.

According to the Leader, the city is late in paying a total of $2.7 million to two contractors who worked on the parking garage project. One contractor who is owed at least $2.3 million has threatened to charge late fees. The mayor previously stated that the grant money from the state would be used to pay off the contractors. Now he claims the grant money will pay off the 2001 tax anticipation note. The total debt for the parking garage expansion exceeds the state's grant money. So, we pay off the 2001 tax note and then how do we pay the contractors? Or do we? Maybe we could simply stiff them? You can't repossess a hundred ton concrete parking garage. Can you?

Council reaction from the Leader:

"If he plans on utilizing the grant money to pay off the (2001) TAN, where will the money come from to pay outstanding invoices?" Leighton asked.

"If he plans on putting the 2002 TAN towards the garage, what money will be used to pay (city) expenses for the first six months, which is the purpose of the TAN...My concern is on how we will get through the year and pay off the 2002 TAN."

Santa Mucka Maria! Like I said, my head is spinning.

On to an exerpt from the next Times Leader story:

City ignores contract, has too few employees in department, says arbitrator

W-B could face $499,000 penalty over fire staffing

An arbitrator may penalize the city nearly $499,000 because the Fire Department has been shorthanded for more than a year, says Thomas Jennings, attorney for the Fire Fighters Association, Local 104.

It just gets better and better, hanna? You can read this sorry nonsense on the Leader's website. I don't have the time for all these numbers and such, but you get the picture. Sounds like Wilkes-Barre is teetering on the edge of financial chaos or has already fallen into it. At the very least, it should prove very interesting watching "Mayor Houdini" escape his personally created financial quagmire. Not to worry though, these bills will all be paid for one way or another. If Houdini can't pull off his funding trick, we can pay for it all when are taxes are raised eleven months from now. He can throw one of his famous profanity-laced temper tantrums when the fingers of blame are pointed at him and charge that council is to blame. Or somebody? Anybody but him.

When our next mayoral race comes, elect an adult mayor.

********


How soon we forget

9-23-2002

Mismanagement: Part 2

The Giants game was completely annoying except for the fact that they escaped with a victory. They marched up and down the field, amassed 400 yards of total offense and managed to score a pathetic nine points. If you think youíve got it rough, consider what we Giants fans suffer through year after year. More often than not, they make me crazy.

Anyway, letís further explore the complete mismanagement of Wilkes-Barre during the past seven years. Consider the deployment of our DPW guys. They seem to be stuck in a perpetual Clutter Cleanup campaign, while the weeds along major streets grow higher than my 26í bike. They are staged like game pieces whenever the mayor needs a photo-op. Their equipment is scattered all over the city, some broken, some with flat tires and some with expired inspection stickers. Their shinier equipment is staged at busy intersections all over the city so as to create the illusion that Wilkes-Barre is as busy as a bee, when in fact Wilkes-Barreís public works employees are running around like chickens without a head. They are forced to collect recyclables in pickup trucks and make trip after trip after trip back to the DPW dump to empty the truck bed. Meanwhile, the recyclables leave a trail through the city while blowing out of the pickup trucks. Last month on my street, we utilized a huge front end loader and two of our larger dump trucks to pickup the curbside recyclables. Six employees and three vehicles! In Kingston they use two employees and a special recycling truck to accomplish the very same thing. If there is a cohesive plan involved here, I donít see it.

Weíve got bobcats playing in creek beds, while Butler street turned into a state forest. (deleted pic)

Stalled and failed projects. The mayor only seems to be interested in grandiose projects. The bigger the better. The more millions it costs, the better. His vision of the city would have turned Wilkes-Barre into another Atlantic city. Shiny glass towers amidst decay and eyesores. His projects have all stalled, or been forgotten about, but even if they came to fruition they would not have helped the city. The people in the Wyoming Valley see Wilkes-Barre as a dirty and dangerous place. Until we change that deserved perception of the city, the visitors, the tourists, the shoppers will not be coming to town. We have to cover the basics. Clean, neat and safe would do more to improve our current situation than any shiny new theater, or oversized bus station. We need to pay attention to detail, crack down on careless property owners and adequately staff our police department. Iíll repeat this until Iím blue in the face. Clean, neat and safe. Thatís how Wilkes-Barre was seen in the past. Itís no longer true. Change that perception. That reality.

We donít have enough cops. Instead of all of the personal assistants to the mayor, maybe we should hire even more cops. All you have to do to know that we donít have enough on the streets is visit scanner land regularly. There is no way to cover up the real time calls and the dialog and such. Follow my Number Crunching post from 8-2-2002. Do the math. Weíve got lots of cops, but there is not enough of them on the streets. Check the post. The mayor claims that we have plenty of cops when pressed on the issue, but everyone that lives in the city is wondering whatís up with all the daily shootings, stabbings and other equally fun forms of nasty ultra-violence. Hookers, crack houses and drug dealing have been on the rise for years now, while the mayor worries that the public may notice that police cars are failing in the streets. His newest policing strategy? Donít tow the cruisers, abandon them and a city mechanic will find them later. He can spray all he wants from his blow hole, but public safety has been placed on the back burner during his administration, while he chased his pie-in-the-sky projects.

And what of our fire department? The firehouses are filled with junk, while our DPW building remains nearly empty. Street sweeper brushes piled high against the side of an Engine? A Gradall parked in a firehouse? Construction signs piled on top of a rescue boat? Plows and water camels all over the fire department sites. The old bunk areas filled with decorations and "emergency supplies" that will never be used. The mayor stated that he doesnít pay them to sleep. He also suggested that they play pool in the firehouses. And he claimed that they operate businesses out of our firehouses. Basically, he has attempted to tarnish their image only because he has a personal vendetta against unionized employees. If the union contracts are too generous and need to be scaled back, harassment and lies is not the way an adult would approach that problem. Our hose dudes have to deal with aging equipment that are limping along in some cases. He never mentions that publicly. For more on that, read the W.B.F.D. Vehicle Report.

Then weíve got this scary policy of dispatching an Engine to baby sit sometimes critically ill patients while one of our two overworked medic units race to turn around and respond to the Engine and their patient. The reserve ambulance needs to be available 24/7. When the fire chiefie has to pull a patient out of an ambulance because an Engine was babysitting another more critically ill, politically connected patient, something is horribly wrong. Our approach to public safety is horribly wrong. Then weíve got the incident with the mayor ordering DPW workers to assist a patient while the Medic unit was already on scene. Remember that? When your ticker craps out on you, do you want a trained paramedic, or a garbage truck driver attending to you? Then we had the Scott street fire where the mayor had a hissy fit, because the hose dudes ignored his commands at a fire ground. He actually had the city administrator re-deploy a fire truck at that fire. We had the garage fire on Blackman street that had a medic unit arrive at the fire alone, because Engine 3 was running an errand in our downtown that was ordered by the mayor. Forget the fact that Engine 1 spent half of the summer watering down the asbestos pile at the Steam Heat demolition site. The demolition workers had Tyvec suits and respirators, but our fire fighters didnít. Public safety? The mayor has turned his back on public safety and our fire chiefie seems to be a willing partner.

The best part of all of the mayorís mistakes is the fact that weíre broke and defaulting on something on a nearly daily basis. For all of his huffing and puffing about all of his gigantic projects, none of them were actually realized and somehow weíre already considered a distressed city. It would be different if he actually built all of his Pyramids and broke the budget in the process, but he didnít accomplish any of them and weíre still broke. Busted. Howís that for a plan? Or lack thereof? He was the smug man with the secretive plan, but now that his immaturity and incompetence have led us to Defaultville, he expects us to believe that city council is to blame for our myriad of money problems. Council is guilty only of trusting him and being asleep at the switch to a large degree. The mayor ran the city into the ground, physically and financially.

This week, Wilkes-Barre approaches a dangerous and scary crossroad. The mayor will seek another Tax Anticipation Note to slow the financial bleeding, but only for two months. He expects us to believe that weíll be able to pay off another TAN in 60 days, while we donít seem capable of paying anything right now. City Council is in a tough spot. Should they allow the Tragical Progress Tour to proceed, or should they cancel the rest of the tour? If they deny the mayor another TAN, the cityís credit rating will eventually suffer and Wilkes-Barre might be screwed. If they allow another TAN, they will be protecting our credit rating and prolonging the mayorís political existence for a couple more months. If they actually denied the TAN, our mayor would be sh*t out of luck and would be forced to finally come clean with all of the painful financial details. He has avoided the truth since he couldnít pay off last yearís TAN. I honestly believe that council should send his latest TAN request and him packing. End the nonsense. Weíll pick up the pieces of Wilkes-Barre after he is thoroughly disgraced and sent packing.

End the nonsense.

How is it that two, count Ďem two dorks have managed to commit suicide while in police custody recently? Could it be that the mayorís policy of having everyone out on the streets and not sitting behind a desk is not conducive to supervising prisoners while in custody? Hmmm? Again. Go to Radio Shack and purchase a scanner. We rarely have any copper dudes at police headquarters. Hell, we rarely have many copper dudes on the streets of the city. Another failed mayoral policy. Cops cost money and benefits. Who needs Ďem?

Whatever. Iíll stop. Mismanagement: Part 2 could go on and on. I am so disgusted with what Iíve seen in this city the last couple of years. Two years ago, when the mayor was promising us the world and bragging about all of the grant dollars that would make it all happen, I was excited. But, this nagging voice kept saying the money wasnít in place and it would never happen. Thatís when I started doing some research. That nagging voice was 100% correct. That voice was Fred Williams. Sorry Fred haters, we was right. And Wilkes-Barre has gone from promises to bust.

The Wilkes-Barre hose dudes held a local golf event with their many brothers from other Pennsylvania fire departments. Hose dudes vs. Hose dudes. Nah. Hose dudes is a completely unique Wilkes-Barre thing. Somehow. A couple of our hose dudes had nothing but great things to say about the members of the Scranton Fire Department. The SFD must have their hands full. They have a large city, a large population and many large structures on their hands, while they also face the uncertainty of budgetary constraints and a mayor that seeks to reduce their staffing levels and bennies. Iím not hacking on their mayor, Iím just stating facts. Scranton has been dealing with Act 47 for quite a while, as we will soon be doing also. I checked out the Scranton Fire Department web site and it is awesome. Itís an interactive site with tons of pics and info. Check it out, it is really well done. In a city as large as Scranton, Iím sure these dudes face tons of dangerous fire scenes and nonstop, heartbreaking emergency medical calls, as do our dudes on a daily basis. But, the fact is, Wilkes-Barre is home to the ďHose Dudes.Ē The Scranton Fire Department will have to settle for ďTurnout Dudes.Ē Or something. Stay safe dudes.

Thatís it! Some guys collect fire department patches, but Iíll collect fire department shirts. I want a Turnout Dudes shirt. I.A.F.F. Local 60. The Scranton "Turnout Dudes."

Monday Night Football is calling me.

Coming tomorrow. What I did on my summer vacation, by Mayor McLame Duck.

See ya.

*********

And I repeat in '05: See ya

Later