2-22-2008 Mike Merritt interview

Yeah, I‘m still here. That is, wherever here is. I’ve been working longer hours of late and that’s perfectly fine with me, since there are plenty of slackers that need my paycheck much more than I do.

Democrats, I think they call them.

This one is a hoot.

From the Citizens’ Voice:

City set to establish permit fee for protests

Not only did the usual activist fools freak out with this news, so did the local blogosphere as well as every caller to the local talk radio shows. Come to think of it, so did the talk show hosts.

Oh, no! The big bad city council is denying me my God-given constitutional rights. Grab the pitchfork, grab a torch, bring some accelerant, get me some two-ply toilet paper and let’s crash the castle walls! Anarchy! Anarchy!!!

Blah, blah-effing-blah, people.

What part of the following don’t we get?

Changes can be made before council votes on the ordinance on final reading on Feb. 28, Assistant Solicitor Bill Vinsko said. The ordinance is not intended to limit people’s rights to protest, but its goal is to ensure there is adequate police protection when needed in areas, he said.

“If you apply for a permit, you’re going to get a permit,” Vinsko said. “We’re not going to stop anyone from protesting or demonstrating.”

First reading, people. “Changes can be made” and obviously changes will be made. But $20 for a permit for Uncle Jiggy, Cuzzin Hoby, Opal (that hot ‘lil bitch!) and me? Spare me.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to know which lunatics will be protesting and where before said lunatics get to wasting their time. There are traffic concerns, safety issues, right-of-way concerns and what have you. And since not a one of us are schooled in public safety, I’m sure there’s all kinds of stuff we couldn’t even think of.

With that said, you can’t prohibit minuscule bands of unemployed people from speaking their tiny minds simply because they didn‘t cough up part of their monthly government check. No, the constitution specifies that we be able to embarrass ourselves free of charge. No, you cannot charge the college professor and his throng of sex partners…that is, his students if and when they want to “raise awareness” about something no one else gives a damn about. And when the “believers” want to display their oversized glossies of mutilated fetuses on the bridge, you got it…they get to do so without nominal fees attached. Catch my drift? When the people with too much time on their hands get to doing what they typically do best--nothing--you can not charge them for doing as much.

Done.

Although, one mistake practically everyone weighing in on this issue made was by assuming that the St. Patty’s Day arrest of moonbat extraordinaire, Kurt Shotko, was the only protest in recent Wilkes-Barre history. Well, some mentioned the protests that were staged on the square during John Kerry’s visit to the city, but still, they decried a need for the permits based on the misperception that Wilkes-Barre never sees any protestors.

Think again.

Painfully, one thing we have all come to learn is that the most fervent of the howling protestors could care less about anything other than their most holy of personally glommed-onto issues. Laws do not matter. Civility does not matter. Courtesy is not on their minds. You and I are beneath them, being that we’re obviously their intellectual inferiors. Oh, and the police are oppressors. The police are the tool of the evil government. The police are all jack-booted goons who will bust our heads open on a whim. The most fervent of the protestors will do whatever it is that strikes them, the rest of us ignorant dummies be damned. The means justifies the end, right?

If they feel like hibernating in a voting booth on election day, then they’ll hibernate in a voting booth on election day. Screw those blue-haired bastards. They’re not young and smart like me. For chrissakes, they’re old.

Ewwwwwwww!!!

And therein lies the biggest reason for mandating the necessary permits before any sort of protest occurs. Because some of these smug, know-it-all jackasses simply cannot or will not control themselves. Their parents can’t handle them, so we have to. I know it sucks, but the seriously impaired results of permissive parenting are running loose out there.

During the summer of 2002, a police officer patrolling the downtown came over the radio asking for every available unit and said, “We got a big problem down here.” Turns out, a hundred or so kids (old enough to be called adults in the old days) massed on the square and then marched down the center of Main Street, turned left on Ross Street and marched to their cars with the out-of-state plates which were parked on the Murray property.

Needless to say, they caused quite the traffic snafu throughout the entirety of the downtown while trumpeting their worthless cause. Funny thing is, I cannot remember what their particular cause was, which should serve as an eye-opener to those of you considering a future protest. You and your cause are about as memorable as a tiny sliver stuck in my pinky.

Wait! I think it was skateboards. Yeah, that’s it! A bunch of complete slackers from New York and New Jersey drove all the way to Wilkes-Barre in support of the local unemployed slackers. Whatever. The world does need fast food drive-thru attendants, yes?

So, as we can see, without the ordinance in place, the most fervent of the howling protestors will block traffic if and when they feel like it.

A much more responsible protest came about last summer when Kayak Dude held his one-man anti-inflatable dam protest smack dab on the middle of the Market Street bridge.

No, he didn’t seek out a confrontation with any elected official, or anyone charged with keeping the peace. Nope, he sought out a permit beforehand so as to make no wave other than the big one directed at Uncle Paul’s rubber condom of a dam. To their credit, the police dropped by to make sure that the passing motorists in support of the protest were not being encouraged to stop their cars in the middle of the bridge. Wouldn’t want to inconvenience anyone, or see anyone hurt as a result of a motor vehicle accident, would we?

As for Kurt’s ridiculous protest and subsequent arrest, despite what he told Sue Henry earlier today, I was there. I saw that entire incident with my own four eyes and I’m here to tell you that he deserved to be arrested. He deserved to be arrested for being a disobedient distraction to those of us that do not bring our grandchildren to parades hoping to see anti-Bush diatribes. He deserved to be arrested for resisting while being detained. And he deserved to be arrested for misbelieving that his needs were far more important than the thousands of onlookers assembled all around him. And if he had applied for and received a permit before making a complete nuisance of himself, he would been relegated to a specific area where none of us would have had to see him.

But since what he really wanted, what all protestors want and desperately need is attention, the arrest was perfectly fine with him. Some pro bono chump defends him to this very day, and he’ll likely remain free to annoy us yet another day. Oh, and he got his name in the paper and everything!

Should this guy be running loose without a permit? Is it acceptable to you to have people jerking-off in voting booths at our expense? Should the hopelessly immature be able to dictate the traffic flow with no warning? Should the folks sans the jobs, sans the alarm clocks and sans any semblance of responsibility be able to crate havoc whenever they see fit?

Methinks-fu>king-not.

I really hate having to correct local radio talk show hosts, but somebody has to do it.

Another winter is just about behind us and Wilkes-Barre--as does every other local city--has potholes dotting the asphalt landscape. For real? No sh*t? Tom Leighton couldn’t suspend that dreaded freeze/thaw process?

What’s he thinking?

Anyway, as to this totally absurd notion that our former mayor deserves his due because at least he paved the streets comes my response.

This is the very same guy that…in lieu of paving, set up the “Pot Whole Hotline.” Remember the “pot whole” press release? I still have my copy of that press release. Remember that? Since the roads were completely decimated and paving was certainly not in the cards in a financially rudderless city, the city would pay for your damaged tire and/or rim? Remember that?

I do.

And this is the very same guy who ordered that Coal Street be paved in the rain, despite that being an absolute paving no-no. But, since an election was growing near, all that mattered was getting it paved, not how long it might hold up to the daily pounding. Remember that?

I do.

Yeah, and wasn’t this the very same guy who took ownership of miles worth of state roads during the run-up to the 2003 primary vote? Remember that? Paving for votes, as I called it at that time. The state paves those roads one last time and then the city takes over forever more. Remember that?

The former mayor takes credit for massive amounts of paving right before the most daunting election challenge of his political life, but the city is on the hook for those miles worth of roads from there on out. Remember that?

I do.

Facts is facts.

Sucks, I know.

He‘s bacccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccck!!!

Old Forge Daily News

There was something else that caught my eye. Um, what the hell was it?

Oh, yeah. I got it. Uncle Paul’s debatable inflatable dam nonsense has been dealt a regulatory deflating. And it deserved to.

U.S. Army Corps denies inflatable dam permit

This one has been a long time in coming. And it’s interesting to note that it got shot down in flames without anyone having to toss off in a voting booth, without anyone having to block traffic, or without anyone feeling the self-centered need to disrupt a family-oriented event. Nope. No juvenile antics were needed on this one, since the folks fighting against that rubber condom of a dam conducted themselves as adults are sometimes known to do and used the options available to them to protect a troubled free-flowing river.

Just by happenstance, this one became an important issue for me. Once upon a time, someone emailed me wanting to know what I thought of Uncle Paul’s proposed dam. And in response, I wrote something akin to it doesn’t make much sense to me to be putting a dam in front of flowing sewage. And then somebody else emailed me and invited me to get on out there in the middle of the river and learn something about it. Boy, am I glad I did.

I forget, but I think I’ve paddled something like 102 or 110 miles on the Susquehanna River. All of which were paddled with a guy who was surpassed 1,000 miles paddled on that river. When it comes to the Susquehanna and it’s surprisingly rich history, he is my mentor…my teacher. And his undeniable, his irrefutable call to arms is that “dams degrade free-flowing rivers.” Make no mistake about it, that they do. But not here. And mostly, thanks to him and his dogged determination to protect the river he loves so much.

Dude, I am forever indebted to you. I mean that.

As for this unproven assertion that the dam would provide an annual boost of $71 jiiggadollars to the local economy, I say this:

Without a care in the world, the politicians and their hacks on their zoning boards have allowed forests to be replaced by asphalt. And while the paving went on completely unchecked in the name of economic progress, nary a thought was given to storm water run-off. (Note: Solomon Creek?) And as a result, the Susquehanna, which typically swelled to biblical heights every 36 years (1900, 1936, 1972), now threatens to spill over into our entire valley just about every two years. In other words, we’ve now got our own Sprawl-Mart, our own Target and our own Best Buy, but at what cost?

When the river swells and lays waste to much of everything we own, will Sprawl-Mart be so frightfully important then? Will hockey matter much to you at that point? Will the newest national restaurant chain to come to town even register with you? Will Wilkes-Barre Township’s suddenly deep coffers cover the complete and utter devastation that is likely to occur when the river finally rises up and does to us exactly what we unintentionally commanded it to do?

Look, economic progress is a must. I know as much.

But at what cost?

Okay, okay. Enough of my needless circumlocution. My excess verbiage. My near worthless bullspit. Let’s do this Mike Merritt interview, shall we?

Before we get into this, I really have to say that not only is this guy--our Nord End City Councilman--approachable, he is responsive and then some. I ran into the guy on a Sunday night and asked him if he’d be receptive to the idea of an email interview encompassing a total of 10 questions. And he didn’t even hesitate before agreeing to it. Cool.

So, it took me 3 or 4 days to conjure them up and send them along to him. Oh, and I told him to take his time. Whenever, man.

And then, less than four short days later, the email inbox provided me with his thoughtful responses. Damn!

I’ve declined numerous invites to interview those who were seeking elected offices only because folks such as those seem to be a dime-a-dozen, most of which who never achieve their desired goals. I‘d much prefer to elicit responses from those who actually hold elected offices, and this would be our second such undertaking with the first being the J.J. Murphy interview. At the very least, I‘m hoping to provide you with what I think we all need and want: insights into how our elected leaders think. And, as always, if you‘ve got any follow-up questions for Councilman Mike Merritt, by all means, send them along.

So, without further adieu, Mike Merritt.

*****************

Date: February 17, 2008

To: Mark Cour
From: Mike Merritt
W-B City Councilman District ‘E”

Hi Mark,
Below you’ll see that I have answered your questions by number. You’ll also see that I’ve skipped the biographical information and blended it into my answers for the first question.

1. Before you announced your intention to run for City Council, you were a virtual unknown to many of the voters that reside here in the North End. What motivated your run at a council seat, why did you win, and how did you manage to garner the Democratic party’s endorsement over the other declared candidates?

I’ve lived at my current residence (34 Wyoming St.) for the last 10 years or so. Prior to that I lived on the upper section of Wyoming Street for 5 years. Until February 1st I worked inside the Guthrie building on North Washington Street for over 17 years. I attend mass at the Catholic Community of North Wilkes-Barre and have done so most of my life. I attended Sacred Heart School for grades one through six. Then it was Plains Jr. High, Coughlin, and Wilkes College where I received a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Lastly, I have been a volunteer for the North Wilkes-Barre Little League for over 10 years as well.

Although the North End section is a large part of “District E” it is certainly not the district’s entirety. There is a part of Parsons and a large section of Miner Mills as well. My grandfather owned and operated a restaurant in Miners Mills where my dad (the late Rudy Merritt) grew up. I also lived in Parsons for the first 26 years of my life, surprisingly enough my mother’s house is in ‘District E”. I’ve traveled to the far reaches of the country for my job but I’ve only lived outside the confines of “District E” for 2-3 years.

There were several reasons why I ran. The first is because I know that I can and will make a difference in our neighborhoods. My number one priority is to make our streets a better, safer place to live. Secondly, I’ve many good friends through school, work, and the little league. Also, most of my family (although not immediate family) are still in the area and they also have many friends too. The last contributing factor was the way the districts were divided. There weren’t any incumbents living in our district which left me an equal opportunity right out of the starting gate.

I won the election because my family and friends supported me in a manner far beyond my expectations. I have never been into politics prior to this election and neither have they. They spent a lot of time and money in helping me win. I am and will always be truly grateful for that. During both the primary and the general election I was able to go door to door as well. That took quite some time but it definitely paid off. We also spent the donations we had on items that were going to give us the biggest bang for the buck. We were very resourceful with war-chest we had.

Every democratic candidate that I ran against in the primary agreed to band together and request that the democratic committee not make an endorsement. I felt differently and thought I had a legitimate chance to win the endorsement. Had I joined the ranks with the others I felt that I would have the most to lose so I sought the endorsement. My pitch for the endorsement only took several minutes but it touched on party unity, city unity, my education, job experience, and service to the community. It ended with me asking for the endorsement.

Some people told me I received the endorsement because my cousin Laura is married to Bill Brace. I knew many of the people who were voting on the person who the party was going to endorse. Bill Brace abstained from the vote and I won the endorsement unanimously.

2. Since being sworn in, what’s it been like? Is your telephone ringing off the hook? Has your email inbox been a busier place? What are you hearing from your constituents?

Since being sworn in I have on average 12 meeting a month. I also get an average of 15-17 calls on my answering machine per week. Most of these calls are people with legitimate concerns. Very few people have my e-mail address and I’d like to keep it that way because I am not on-line at home, only work. My job as a Metro employee and as a city employee need to be kept separate. Metro should not pay me for doing city work on company time. That is why when somebody leaves me a message I’ll return the call at night from home. Mainly the calls that come in are people alerting me about problems that need to be addressed such as nuisance properties, drug houses, storm drains, etc.

3. As the first-ever North End Councilman, what is your top neighborhood priority? I know you’ve been attending crime watch meetings. And I know your own street has had it’s share of criminal incidents, both violent and otherwise. Is crime prevention your top priority? How about a list of your top priorities and why.

The top priority is crime prevention. Within that crime prevention statement, my first and foremost goal is to stomp-out the drug dealers that have taken over our streets. It’s the drug buyer that is walking past grandma’s house on his way to where a dealer is setting-up shop thinking to himself (well there’s an easy target for some money if I need it for fix). It’s that same crowd that walks through neighborhoods full of children carrying weapons that are within a few feet of unsuspecting kids. We as a city need to wise up and start playing hardball with these guys and get the message across that they are not welcome here and tell them to get out of town.

We need to better utilize our resources when it comes to police protection. We have hired an additional 16 officers. That’s great, but I personally do not feel an increase of their presence in “District E”. To make a safer city we need to measure response times, the frequency of calls by area and properly deploy the resources.

I want Wilkes-Barre to become the economic center that it once was. It is achievable and I believe we are moving in the right direction. But there’s along way to go.

Other issues include the chronic flooding of the creek near West Chestnut Street, the repair needed to the bridge on North Washington Street, blighted properties on East North Street, North Pennsylvania Ave., and West Elm Street.

4. What needs to be done to permanently stem the constant flow of reverse-gentrification in our neighborhood? How do we address the “broken window” theory; the unkempt abandoned properties, the graffiti and the like? With taxpayer dollars, grant monies, volunteer efforts, or a combination of some or all of them? By the way, I’m always ready to volunteer.

As far as the abandoned properties go, the city needs to act quickly and begin the Legal process to condemn them and the city take ownership where necessary. I believe that there will be a lot more of these with the housing market going by the wayside. Give the owner notice that this property must be repaired by a certain date, if not issue a sizeable fine and enforce it. If the fine is not paid, or the repair work is not done by a certain date file for the right to take ownership (if possible). Then pursue the owner of the property for the costs. I’m sure there are some city beautification programs for grant dollars. As far as any graffiti goes, Charlotte and the crime-watch group do volunteer work and clean-up the areas that fall victim to such crimes. All you need to do is have somebody donate the paint. She also told me the statistics on such crime, when you paint over it or clean it up in 24 hours it stays clean.

5. What should become of the Murray property on Courtright Street? New homes, as well as condos have been mentioned. Someone I know said it should be turned into a new park. What are your thoughts?

Before we talk about what should go in the Murray complex on Darling Street let’s talk about tearing it down and getting it removed and giving the people on Darling Street the usual access to their homes. I questioned the completion date at the council meeting this past Thursday and found out we (the city) still did not take ownership of this property yet and I am not aware of a projected due date yet.

As far as the fate of this area goes, I don’t think a park is the right answer for a city that is digging out of the debt of previous administrations. We need to generate more tax revenue with over-burdening the little guy. Whether it is new homes going up there (and there is still plenty of empty lots over at Pine Ridge) or several businesses, we need to keep the existing neighbors there in mind. I can tell you that I have been approached by the North End Slovak Citizens Club expressing interest in a 3-3 ½ acre parcel there.

6. What seems to be the holdup with getting the failing bridge on North Washington Street rehabbed or replaced? It’s been in a state of serious disrepair for the better part of a decade, and the sidewalks are permanently closed forcing pedestrians onto the roadway.

As noted earlier the bridge on North Washington Street between North Pennsylvania Ave. and East Chestnut Street is a priority of mine. Butch Frati told me two weeks ago that the city still does not who exactly owns it. I did alert the administration that this is a dangerous situation. You have to talk on the road (one of the busiest in town) to get by it. To top it off, it is on a blind area on a hill right near a bend. Boy, talk about a recipe for disaster…. I’ll continue to work with Butch on rectifying it. Oh yeah, Butch estimated the price tag on this of about $250,000.

7. I know Community development Block Grants are very rarely used to pave streets that are home to no one, but is Conyngham Avenue from Wilkes-Barre Boulevard to Pennsylvania Avenue due to be rebuilt anytime soon? It is in deplorable condition.

I’m not sure about this one. I’m sure the DPW trucks, the scrap trucks from Bielecki’s, and trailers are probably to blame for these conditions I can check with Butch and send you an e-mail when I find out.

8. The North End is home to the DPW complex, which means garbage and recyclables are whizzing up the length of Penn Ave. nearly every day. All too often, plastic recyclables fall or get blown off the trucks during transit leaving a trail of plastic in the gutters of said street week-in and week-out. Am I the only one who sees this? And since most city employees travel the length of that street every single day, couldn’t that be easily rectified with a little extra effort on their part?

No Mark, you’re not the only one to see this. I see it all the time and it is unacceptable. City employees use Pennsylvania Ave more than you do. When you see this let Butch know. He’ll turn-up the heat on these guys that are looking the other way to stuff blowing off of the truck. If you’re uncomfortable in doing so, let me know and I’ll fire an e-mail to the DPW.

9. If the next budget mandated that the North End would be scheduled for only one major project during the next fiscal year, in your opinion, what should it be?

Let me know the size of the funding available and I’ll see the size of the project I’d like to tackle for that money. Is it the $50 million (Solomon’s Creek) that’s available to me, the $15 million (Coal Street Park), or $500,000? Let me know and try to pick something that’s in our price range.

10. I work in every corner of this county, and I am always assuring the people that I meet that living in Wilkes-Barre is not nearly as bad as it’s made out to be by the press, the noisiest of the activists and the ill-informed onlookers. How do we change that persistent perception that Wilkes-Barre is a dirty and dangerous place?

I’m telling you again, and I can’t stress this enough. We need to send a very hard message to drug dealers to get out now. He need to play hardball and take back our streets now. You have big city people here now that do not have the same values that the traditional locals (like you and I) have come to appreciate. It starts with the administration and gets driven through the police department. I’m a numbers guy and I know in order to improve something you need to evaluate the current situation, take the necessary steps to make improvements and see just how effective that course of action was. If it was effective then continue to perform better. In the same token, if an approach didn’t work, why didn’t it? Then try something new. The important lesson here is to try to improve it. When that happens you’ll see the quality of life improve.

*****************

And there you have it. Some very candid answers to some rather pointed questions. In my opinion, not bad from a political neophyte. As I said, if you’ve got anything to follow up with, send your questions along and I’ll see to it that they are immediately forwarded to Mike.

Thanks, Mike. Thanks for being so approachable and thanks for being so candid. Remember, you’re not alone, in that, you and I are in this together.

‘Til next time.

Markie in Merrittville (formerly Nord End) signing off.

Note: Pictures by Mark Space






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