8-19-2005 I & R


I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves. And if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion.--Thomas Jefferson

Wholesome discretion? Does that aptly describe what our activists are usually up to? Methinks not.

I was out the front door and pedaling away on the Rock Stomper long before the Sun even thought of coming up this morning. Just as the hordes of college kids are set to return to town, it was learned that a few thousand honey bees had unexpectedly taken up residence in a dorm building here in the city. Trust me, you have no idea what the expression, "Mad as hornets" really means until you've waded into a few thousand of their thoroughly agitated distant relatives. Anyway, that dorm will be ready and waiting for the college kids.

Needless to say, I'm kinda beat and I had no intention of making any trouble on the internet tonight. Well, that is, until I came across the following in the e-mail inbox.

Harry!!! I'm too tired for all of this.

From the e-mail inbox Mark,

let me play the devil's advocate for a moment. I'm a fan of the I & R movement and am wondering why you're opposed to it? Thinking back over the years to a number of cronyistic, pork barrel, wasteful, fraudulent, poorly planned publicly funded projects that have been perpetrated apon the tax payers of this city, I can't help believing that if I & R were available at the time this city could have been spared tens of millions of dollars that haven't produced any measurable results or benefit to the people who paid for them. I remember a whole bunch of such projects that were supposed to save the downtown but instead only served to benefit the local status quo. Examples? The Martz Plaza, The Sheraton Crossgates and adjoining parkade, The Call Center, Hole in the ground number one, The Pomeroy's building, KOZ zone, etc., etc.. Each one appearing to be little more than the serving Mayor's monument to himself.

If the majority had the ability to vote against such projects they could have saved the taxpayers a gazillion dollars. And if the voted for it they'd have no one to blame but themselves. Sounds like a truer form of democracy to me.

You know that my view of local politics is slightly askew, and that my opinion of the machine is pretty low. So maybe my thoughts aren't as valid as some of the more altruistic citizens residing in this city. But "fire house" aside, I & R could be the tool we need to save this city. What's your take on it?

Harry

I'm not trying to be a friggin' smart ass, but for the purposes of this exercise, I think we first need to educate the people that you would seek to empower. These are Luzerne County registered voters we're talking about. Most of these people think Texas Hold-Em is a sport for chrissake.

Direct Initiative: The procedure by which a proposition goes directly to the public for consideration upon certification of a prescribed number of signatures on petitions.

Indirect Initiative: The circulation of petitions to require that a measure be presented to the elected legislature for consideration. If the legislature fails to act after a certain period, the measure goes to the voters as a ballot question.

Popular Referendum: A petition process for a ballot proposal to repeal a law passed by the legislature.

On a state-wide level, all too often, the I & R game is a game played mostly by the high-priced lobbyists once the grass roots ball gets rolling downhill. That's not to say it isn't a good thing in many cases, but let's keep this discussion focused on the local level. Remember, I'm tired. And for the sake of keeping Googled responses to my thoughts to a minimum, let's restrict this to Luzerne County's and Wilkes-Barre City's recent history whereas voter uprisings are concerned.

The biggest problem on the local level is that the Iniative & Referendum outbreaks have been put in motion by minority factions with very definitive agendas and very little regard for the greater good of the people.

Off with their pointy heads!!!

Case in point: In a third-class city with a $35 million annual budget, how important is it to eliminate two positions that pay a total of slightly less than $30,000 a year? We needed a direct initiative for that?

And while we were voting on whether to reduce our city council from a gang of seven to a gang of five, we were also voting (knowingly or not) to slice the city into districts and vote by districts in future elections.

Now, who does that benefit? The taxpayers saved $30,000, while the city was facing $10.4 million in unpaid overdue debts? Who was the big winner? The lowly taxpayers? You're a thinking man. You know better than that.

The entire point of that referendum question was to make it somewhat easier for the taxpayer activists, excuse me, the stealth republicans to get themselves elected in a traditionally one-party city. That is a gross pervertion of the original spirit and intent of the I & R process. No average citizen was empowered by any of that. Only the wannabes won something in the very short term. A very tiny cabal of folks that couldn't win an election to save their lives exploited the system hoping to one day empower themselves. Power to the people? Spare me.


Sign here for our fire protection.

Our? Our??? Who's kidding who? If that referendum question actually makes it to a polling place near you, who benefits after "our" fire protection is saved? It's been advertised as "step one," but if we found ourselves voting yes for step two, who wins? The Heights. The Heights folks will save their firehouse from eternal damnation and at that point, the neighborhoods without a firehouse be damned. It's self-centered at best. It's not for the overall good of the entire city. It's another minority faction looking out for itself. And even if that hoped-for big win at the polls meant that taxes would need to be raised, they'd still fight to push it through. So then every other neighborhood in the city would have to subsidize the Heights having better fire protection than they could expect. But let's back-pedal to "step one."

From the Citizens' Voice:

The petition filed last week by Denise Carey and her “Citizens for Safety” group is an effort to amend the city’s home-rule charter to allow issue-specific initiatives and referendums to be placed on the ballot.

Explain to me how an ingrained distrust of elected officials somehow translates into the hoi polloi being much more well-versed on how to best operate a third-class city? Sorry, but that's patently absurd. And that's what the Heights folks are calling for. Democracy in it's purest, most elusive form. The only problem is, this country was set up as a representative republic. We elect folks to represent us. And if they suck at it, we stop electing them. We can't elect them and then turn around and tell them what not to do and when not to do it. Especially when you consider that 75% of the electorate has no idea what the hell it's babbling about on even it's best of days.

If you think this city has problems now, just wait and see what short-sighted mob rule will do to the city. What you'd have then would be the Taxpayer Activist's Guide to The Universe run amok. In the short term, it would prove to be an effective spending constraint, but in the long run, it will guarantee an increase in taxes without ever considering any investments in the city's long-term future.

Should the city build a theater complex? Hell no!!! Costs too much.

Should a firehouse be closed? Hell no!!! Public safety has to be ensured.

Should we invest in our future? Hell no!!! Costs too much.

Should we hire 20 more cops? Hell yes!!! I don't feel safe.

The iniatives will appropriate spending to maintain costly city services, prohibit any tax increases, and never will the city have a coherent long-term plan. In this town, decentralized control would prove to be our final undoing. I've said it before and here I go again: Most of the plain folks out here in the wastelands cannot differentiate between an investment in our future and a needless expense.

Do you really want to put them in charge?


Home Rule in Luzerne County.

I was there from day one, man. Nancy Kemp advertised an exploratory meeting of the activist minds and I sprinted downtown with a notepad.

In my fractured mind, this county had had just about enough of the likes of Crossin, Makowski and Pizano. In the beginning, home rule seemed like a plan. I met lots of the folks that dominated the news at that time, and I have to admit, I was somewhat put off by very many of them. Still, I read my home rule manual provided by the state and gathered plenty of signatures on my petitions. And there were future meetings. And after a few, I decided that I no longer wanted to be associated with most of the people involved. Whatever. That was my problem.

So we acquired enough signatures to get the question on the ballot, won the initial vote and a blue ribbon panel set about writing the document that would amount to Luzerne County's future form of government if it too was voted for. After many months, I finally got a look-see at this county's proposed future and instantly knew that I had wasted my time. It was an extremely flawed document and an extremely flawed system of government drawn-up by an extremely flawed group of people. I came to the conclusion that this running the world stuff wasn't quite as easy as it looked. At the very least, it wasn't as easy as these people initially made it sound. Why trade one flawed system for another?

And isn't that what I & R amounts to for Wilkes-Barre City?

Anywho, I reversed course and fought as hard as I could against the eventual ruination of this county under a flawed form of home rule.

Let's disect your e-mail:

let me play the devil's advocate for a moment. I'm a fan of the I & R movement and am wondering why you're opposed to it? Thinking back over the years to a number of cronyistic, pork barrel, wasteful, fraudulent, poorly planned publicly funded projects that have been perpetrated apon the tax payers of this city, I can't help believing that if I & R were available at the time this city could have been spared tens of millions of dollars that haven't produced any measurable results or benefit to the people who paid for them. I remember a whole bunch of such projects that were supposed to save the downtown but instead only served to benefit the local status quo. Examples? The Martz Plaza, The Sheraton Crossgates and adjoining parkade, The Call Center, Hole in the ground number one, The Pomeroy's building, KOZ zone, etc., etc.. Each one appearing to be little more than the serving Mayor's monument to himself.

If the majority had the ability to vote against such projects they could have saved the taxpayers a gazillion dollars. And if the voted for it they'd have no one to blame but themselves. Sounds like a truer form of democracy to me.

I can't argue with your basic premise. If what had gone on in the past made any sense at all, I seriously doubt that this site would exist, or that you would have ever even heard of me. Take note of why I got involved in the first place. But I doubt that I & R could have played much of a factor in the past. Fact is, I don't think the local electorate was near as politically aware as it is now, and most of us didn't notice that the city was really, really slipping until the 90s, or somethere thereabouts. These days, local people tend to be more in tune with politics, and the great majority of them now know that Wilkes-Barre has hit the skids. Sad to say, Happy Culm Valley no longer exists. This ain't your granpappy's electorate. Which in no means suggests that the majority of those who pay attention know what the hell they're talking about.

Although, I have to ask, what happened to the last mayor? I realize he's an extreme case, but when we realized he was woefully inept, what happened to him? That's the system I want to employ. If the mayor sucks, dump his ass. I can't explain to you why no one held their elected officials accountable for 200 years, but I'm here to tell you that expectations are much, much higher these days. And based on the undeserved grief our current mayor gets treated to, it's obvious that the populace has learned something from past mistakes. Tell me he's not being held accountable.

You know that my view of local politics is slightly askew, and that my opinion of the machine is pretty low. So maybe my thoughts aren't as valid as some of the more altruistic citizens residing in this city. But "fire house" aside, I & R could be the tool we need to save this city. What's your take on it?

Dude, I've already stated my position on all of that. In Wilkes-Barre, petitions are like assholes. Everybody's got one. I've had it up to about here (I'm pointing to my eyelids) with petitions. And I've had it up to about here with assholes.


We can go round after round arguing about all of the peripheral issues that have been discussed here before. But one fact remains etched in stone. For Wilkes-Barre to blossom one day, that freakin' downtown of ours has got to start generating some significant revenues. We need money and the downtown is the quickest, most logical route to generating those needed monies. That's why the Mayor, Council, Chamber, County and the Governor of this state have all made it their first priority where Wilkes-Barre is concerned.

The usual activist ninnies can yammer on and on about attracting new residents, planting trees and replacing storm drains. But without those increased revenues, we're doomed to failure. And in this very important respect, our mayor is doing what needs to be done.

I don't need Christine Katsock, Walter Griffith, Denise Carey, or anyone else for that matter to tell me what this city needs. And I don't need them replacing that long-elusive sound leadership we've been needing with mob rule at this crucial juncture in this city's history.

I voted for the guy who could lead us out of the mess we're in and he's doing it. It's taken longer than some would like, but he's doing it. Just you wait until the results of the latest city audit are announced. The bids are in for the construction of the new firehouse. The bricks are being slapped onto that L & I building. The theater complex grows with each passing hour. The canopy is coming down. (Urgh!) The new streetlights and streetscaping are on the way. Vertical parking will soon dominate the Square. The call center is off of our backs and out of our wallets. Damn near a platoon of newly hired cops. Repaired firehouses. New street sweepers. A tanker truck dousing the city's streets. New garbage packers. Even that Intermodel thingie is finally going to happen. Who coulda thunk it?

We're on the correct path and the last thing we need is a bunch of pretend know-it-alls f**king up the program at this late stage of the game. Unfulfilled progress has been promised to us for so long it's become a part of the lexicon that evokes laughter. But now that progress is finally happening right before our eyes, we've suddenly grown annoyingly impatient with the first person that actually delivered on his progress, not promises.

Initative and Referendum? I'll have to pass on all of that. We didn't do it when we should have. We tried it a few times of late and f**ked it up royally. And now we want to do it when we shouldn't ought to? Nah. I don't want to see the disaffected few f**king up the works for the many when we're this close to realizing some of our dreams.

Although, it was a totally fair question. A good question. At least you didn't make fun of my glasses.

I voted for Tom Leighton, not some disgruntled malcontent sporting any petitions.

Me gotta go.

Nite Nite time is rapidly closing in on me.

Later


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