3-8-2004 The canopy stays

I've met foreign leaders who can't go out and say this publicly, but boy they look at you and say, You've got to win this, you've got to beat this guy, we need a new policy.--John Kerry

That's completely believable. A new policy? Like what? We ask their permission before we defend ourselves from murderous terrorists? We sign the Kyoto Treaty and further choke our economy? We surrender our sovereignty to world courts?

Matt Drudge strikes again. Go to John Kerry.com, scroll down to the search box, and search for the word "f**k." Next, search for "sh*t." Un-freaking-real! A real class act. Very presidential.

Who knew? Dick Cheney is a comedian at heart. Check this out from Saturday's 2004 Gridiron dinner:

Helen Thomas wants to know, "How do you justify attacking innocent dictators?"

Helen, let me get back to you on that. I need to talk to Richard Perle.

Terry Hunt of AP wants to know, "Has Senator Kerry had Botox treatments?"

Terry, I have some guidance on that from Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz:

"The Administration takes this development seriously. Botox, of course, is related to the botulism toxin, which can be processed into high-grade biological weapons. We have dispatched Dr. David Kay . . . to search for the bio-warfare agents we believe hidden in Senator Kerry's forehead. If Senator Kerry has used botox as part of a wrinkle enrichment program, he is in violation of U.N. Resolution 752. Upon receiving Dr. Kay's report, the weapons of mass destruction that Senator Kerry so adamantly insists do not exist . . . may well be above his very nose." End of statement.

Death taxes. They're not just for the rich. Check this obituary that appeared on Saturday in the Atlanta Journal Constitution:


J.C. HYDE, wanted no wealth, but farm. [Derrick Henry - Staff Saturday, March 6, 3004]

J.C. Hyde was an unassuming farmer, land-rich but cash-poor. For virtually his entire life, he plowed by mule on his 127-acre farm along the Chattahoochee River in east Cobb County, land he had lived on since his father bought it in 1920. Surrounded by pricey subdivisions, it had become one of the largest tracts of undeveloped land in metro Atlanta..

The land survived the boll weevil and the Great Depression. Mr. Hyde intended to make sure it would survive developers.

"I remember being there when a real estate developer drove up, as many did, and said: 'J.C. Hyde, I can make you a wealthy man,' " said Rand Wentworth, head of the Atlanta office of the Trust for Public Land from 1990 to 2002. "J.C. answered : 'But then I would not be happy.' "

Mr. Hyde was plenty happy to live the way he did, in the log house he grew up in, with heat from a pot-bellied stove and water from a well.

"I have running water," he joked in a 1991 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article. "I run out to the well and get it."

Working beside his brother, William "Buck" Hyde, he grew sweet potatoes, corn, okra, green beans, peas and tomatoes, selling them from the back of a pickup truck near Marietta Square. In 1996, Mr. Hyde was selling a bushel of his "Gold Nugget" sweet potatoes --- Grade 1 --- for $16.

After a long day's work, he might pick up his fiddle and play some music.

Mr. Hyde was a bachelor, not given to idle talk. "I remember picking sweet potatoes with him for six hours and during that period he never said more than four words," said Kevin Johnson of Atlanta, Chattahoochee River Program coordinator with the Trust for Public Land.

He lived with his brother, also unmarried. While the men tended the fields, their four married sisters took turns cooking and helping with the domestic chores, said Mr. Wentworth.

When Mr. Hyde's brother died in 1987 and left him his share of the farm, the IRS and state revenue collectors arrived. They assessed Mr. Hyde with a debt of $467,000 to the IRS and $96,000 to the state for estate taxes.

"This is all something new to me," Mr. Hyde said in a Journal-Constitution story in 1991. "I never owed anybody nothing."

The private, nonprofit Trust for Public Land worked out a deal in 1992 with the National Park Service to buy 40 acres of riverfront property from Mr. Hyde for $1 million, more than enough to pay the taxes. The deeded land would become part of the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area, safe from developers. Mr. Hyde, meanwhile, could continue living and working there.

J.C. Hyde, 94, of Marietta died Wednesday. The funeral is 2 p.m. today at Roswell Funeral Home.

"I have never met a better conservationist than J.C. Hyde," said Mr. Wentworth, now president of the Land Trust Alliance in Washington, a national umbrella of conservation organizations. "He cared for that land like it was family, like it was part of his body. When he feared he might have to sell part of it, he said, with tears in his eyes, 'Losing part of this land would be like cutting off my arm.' "

The future of the nearly 90 acres not owned by the National Park Service remains to be determined, said Mr. Wentworth. "The challenge now is that the land could be lost to subdivisions."

Survivors include three sisters, Rosa Lee Stroup of Atlanta, M. Maglee Mitchell of Mableton and Gladys A. Holcomb of Marietta.

Will hatred be enough? Methinks not. Accidents of war? Oh, come on! Everybody was doing it! Seen any body armor on Ebay lately? Snag it. Does Mr. Duality himself need a Veep at all? President Jekyl & Hyde? Mr. Softee goes to Washington. Our anti-military, hawk/dove war hero. Flip plus flop equals...

Yes. I saw that Leader story that explored the future fate of our downtown canopy network. And I'm not liking what I'm hearing. It seems as if the movers and shakers all have some sort of problem with some aspect of it. I would have to ask the movers and shakers of the city how often they wait for an LCTA bus on Public Square. Where would we have those bus riders wait while a thunder storm blows through town? At City Hall? In the Pomeroys building?

And what of crazy grandfathers and their kiddie cargo who get caught up in the rain while enjoying a bike about? When the rain flys, we always make a mad dash to the Square, grab an orange soda from the news stand, and wait it out under the canopy. What of us? Should we just sit at home every time Tom Clark's bad knee starts aching again? Gage is only two and a half years old and he already knows the routine. The tradition. We could be anywhere in the city, and if it starts to rain, all I hear from behind me is "Orange soda?" Yepper, little guy. The canopy will protect us.

And what about the sidewalks? It could be snowing like all hell but, I know when I head down to Boscov's that I won't slip and break my skull on some poorly shoveled sidewalk. When the canopy comes down, I'll need boots and an umbrella to visit Boscov's? Am I going to be tracking rock salt into Gallery of Sound any time soon? I can't believe what I'm hearing. Oh, no! The glass panels are yucky. No one seems to mind when the snow, or the rain is flying. Our canopy is not only unique, it adds something to our downtown, and I think it needs to be there when the sidewalks get busy again.

And what's up with Larry Newman?

Removing the canopy in that part of town could be a good move.

...it needs to be pruned.

Dude. I will stalk you. I will find you. And it's gonna take the first responders quite a while to extract the remnants of the cream pie I smash you with out of your nostrils. I'm thinking chocolate cream. Or maybe banana cream with a layer of freshly sliced strawberries. And maybe a few lemon twists as garnishes. How about a bed of ground orange peels? Yikes! Queer eye for the straight pie! Whatever.

Do what you will with the buildings downtown but, let's not do something rash that we'll end up regretting later on. When the movies end and the sidewalks are teaming with families, the canopy will protect them from the inclement weather. Name me another theater in a downtown environment that can list that amenity.

I think most of the people who want to take the canopy down don't use it. Those of us who work downtown and have to get around downtown, love it.--Steve Barrouk, President, Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce

I'm with him. What percentage of the folks calling for the canopys' demise even shop down there? Are the Sprawl-Mart regulars telling us what we should do with our downtown? Probably.

It either stays in all of it's semi-filthy enormity, or I'm bordering on a freak out session. Be aware of your surroundings, Larry. There's no telling when that cream pie might fly. Strawberry cream?

Yup. I went back to work today. It's a double-edged sword of sorts. Working for a living sucks and all but, so does being mostly bored out of your freaking mind for 11 weeks during the height of the winter.

It did feel good to push off from the sidewalk and get that Rock Stomper rolling early this morning. I so love wandering on the bike. I think I'm only happier when I have expensive headphones on pounding my ear drums into submission.

I know this much after only one day back at the mill. I could definately get used to this brand new freaking truck program. I went up Route 29 to Lake Silkworth today and that sucker has some serious power and acceleration when compared to my old truck. As I so often do, I stopped at the Pump & Pantry at Pikes Creek, where that young girl who disappeared worked. There were missing posters hanging all over the place. She went missing on February 11 and that has got to be some really weird stuff to deal with for the employees which are young girls to a very large extent. I drove west on 118 and found myself looking into the woods and such wondering if she was stashed somewhere nearby. Clearly, I'm not optimisic about her eventual fate. I hope I'm wrong.

I can't even imagine what it feels like to have your daughter just up and vanish from the face of the Earth one night, and I hope that I never find out. It's a shame that anyone has to know what that feels like.

Attention Sprawl-Mart shoppers. 2 pair of Dickies work pants at the Army/Navy store in downtown Wilkes-Barre? $35.96! Want to see our downtown busting at the seams with new businesses? Support them! Shop Wilkes-Barre! Screw Wilkes-Barre Township and their goofy, lucky as all hell borough council. Screw Target! Funk Sprawl-Mart! I keep hearing everyone exclaiming that if Boscov's splits, our downtown is done. So, get the hell down there and make sure it stays put! Support it! What are we gonna do when the theater opens? Travel to Dunmore to see a movie, because the theater up there has cheaper Sno Caps, or comfier seats? I'm tired of being alone when I venture downtown. Keep me company.

I know it may not seem like it at times but, the city employees are trying to deal with the pot hole situation. It is ugly out there. Heyna?

Tamp, Champ!

Breaking news from the e-mail inbox:

***For Immediate Release***

March 9, 2004

60-Day Accomplishment of the Skrepenak/Vonderheid Administration

(Wilkes-Barre, PA) Today Luzerne County Majority Commissioner celebrate their 60th day in office. The following is a brief list of accomplishments made during this period.

Restructured County Government: We created 7 operating divisions of county government to streamline reporting and accountability. Previously, 52 departments answered directly to the Board of Commissioners. This new system will allow division chiefs to focus related departments, boards, authorities and commissions, eliminate duplication of effort, save administrative costs, leverage existing assets and coordinate with outside partners more effectively.

Cut $23 million from 2004 Operation Deficit:

Restructured $10 million of long-term debt
Self-financed health care
Rolled-back non-union raises
Mandated 10% co-pay for health care
Eliminated health insurance for part-time solicitors
Increased reasonable user fees
Cut 70 Positions from Budget
Reduced revenue projections, closing wing, adult day care and eliminating 25 non-essential administrative positions from Valley Crest

Commissioner Urban voted against this budget and the above cuts.

Engaged Nations Leading Public Finance Advisory Firm: We hired Public Finance Management (PFM) to assist in the budget amendment process. PFM will now work with County leadership to create a five-year financial plan, which will guide budgetary planning and decision-making from 2005 forward.

Getting the information we need: We engaged ACS to develop and manage an integrated General Ledger, Payroll and Human Resource software and hardware system. Without this project, the County is currently unable to determine monthly, much less daily, budget to actual spending as well as truly understand receivables.

Eliminated critical, unnecessary and un-bid professional service contracts: We ended the controversial “Broker of Record” contract for all county insurance business and will bid all existing professional service contracts during the 2004 budget year. We are currently evaluating new options to create competition, improve quality of products and reduction the cost of insurance. Saved 30% on the cost of lead abatement program insurance by the creation of a competitive process.

“Contract with the People:” On January 6th, we passed an historic ordinance requiring the adoption of an Administrative, Personnel, Purchasing and Budget policy by April 15th. The administrative and purchasing policies are in draft form and the personnel and budget policies are just underway. In the absence of the policies, all departments are abiding by the intent of the “Contract.”

Deliberating in Public: For the first time in Luzerne County history, the Board of Commissioner have created and mandated public work sessions prior to all Board of Commissioner meetings. These meetings allow the public, press and department heads to listen to proposals and participate more fully in the decision-making process of Luzerne County.

Senior Staff Selections: For the first time in Luzerne County history, we publicly advertised, professionally screened and collectively interviewed the following senior staff positions: County Manager for Legislation, County Manager for Administration, Public Information Officer, Chief of Budget & Finance, Human Resource Officer and Grant Writer. Based on their past professional experience and performance to date, we believe all 6 form the nucleus of the most qualified senior staff ever to serve Luzerne County.

The final senior staff positions of Chief of Public Safety & Corrections, Chief of Environment & Recreation, Chief of Economic Growth & Planning are scheduled to be interviewed within 10 days and selections made shortly thereafter. Commissioner Urban has been provided all resumes and as of this date, has not offered a single name to be placed on interview lists for any of the positions, which have since been filled, or for any that are still vacant. Commissioner Urban voted against the creation of these positions.

Moving the Federal RICO Case Forward: Although the form, fees and impact on the Pension Fund of the Retirement Boards engagement of Schrader, Segal, Lewis and Harrision is still under dispute, the Board of Commissions voted to pay the negotiated $45,000 to Schnader to continue the case through Motions to Dismiss. Additionally, there is no reason to believe that Schnader would have negotiated that fee or others still in question if the state equity claim against the Retirement Board, filed by the previous board of commissioners, was not continued by this majority. All other cases related to the Pension Fund previously filed by the former majority commissioners are under review.

Focusing on Luzerne County’s Secret Plague: Through the Leadership of Greg Skrepenak, we created the first ever Luzerne County Drug & Alcohol Study Commission to analyze the current prevention and treatment efforts and recommend a more focused, streamlined and efficient delivery system to reduce the significant human cost of this epidemic.

In less than 10 days from notice of its existence, submitted a federal grant to fund a Luzerne County Drug Court, using the Lackawanna County effort as a basis for our effort, with some specific differences.

Making immediate changes and understanding the LC Corrections System: We immediately issued an RFP that will give us the financial information we need to determine the cost benefit analysis of building a new prison. This study will also include the long-term options and projected costs associated with juvenile detention - LC’s single largest inter-department cost item.

The 2 staff persons with daily oversight over the functions of the prison were terminated and 2 new deputy wardens hired. Since the hiring of these 2 new deputies, two prisoners and one guard have been caught smuggling contraband into the prison. Random senior staff patrols have been implemented and moral has improved.

In addition, the Prison Board held the first-ever “Neighborhood Meeting” to bring residents and the media into the prison and hear first hand the efforts being made to ensure the security at the Luzerne County Corrections Facility.

Brining all of Luzerne County Together: In an effort to improve participation in county government, this board of commissioners scheduled and held the first of four evening Commissioner Meetings in Greater Hazleton.

Building Communities:

Funded 50% of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Development Fund’s acquisition and rehabilitation of former Blum Brothers as part of South Main Street Revitalization (theater) Project.
Awarded capital funds to community development and eco-tourism projects in Greater Hazleton – Drifton Softball Complex & the White Haven Engine House/D&L Trail Projects.
Continued and streamlined negotiations with US Army Corp of Engineers regarding cost-sharing of Wilkes-Barre Riverfront Project, by building consensus among, federal, county, city and private sector leaders.
Plenty More to Come – stay tuned….

What’s about to Happen????

Department and Row Office Space Project: Several meetings have taken place with the previously engaged A&E firm and department heads and row officers. All parties have provided valuable customer-driven information to ensure that all moves improve customer service, while meeting the increased demand for more court-related space within the courthouse itself. New draft plans will be presented to individual department heads and Row Officers shortly.

Staying on the same page: In order to ensure that Luzerne County’s elected, labor, business and civic leadership works collectively to leverage our significant resources, the LC Growth Coalition will be created and hold quarterly retreats to build consensus and support for goals and objectives aimed at improving all facets of life in Luzerne County.

Reducing the total cost of government: The lack of municipal cooperation increases the total cost of government services in Luzerne County. We will create a Municipal Cooperation Commission that will work to provide financial and technical support to municipalities willing to work with its neighbors to reduce costs and improve services.

Filling County Commissions, Boards and Authorities (CBA): In the coming weeks, we will make appointments to all of the open CBA positions in Luzerne County and require those new appointees to sign ethics, conflict of interest, attendance and code of conduct statements prior to being seated. New members will have a basic understanding or experience in the specific discipline and be required to receive board orientation. These appointees will represent Luzerne County’s diverse population geographically and be balanced by race, sex and ethnicity.


Yeah, but, what about Skrep's anger management classes? Kidding! Just kidding.

I gots to roll. I'm not used to getting up so darned early. Me tired.