9-11-2005 Big trouble in little Wilkes-Barre

If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise.--Robert Fritz

The following exerpt was culled from David Iseman's opinion piece that appeared in the Times Leader this past Friday:

But, late last month, I did an about-face. Why? The city persuaded a judge to slap Denise Carey, the leader of the protesters, with an $11,056 fine for, basically, persuading citizens to sign petitions challenging the city’s power.

All of a sudden we had more than a rehash of a citizen protest story. We had a story about a bully – and an underdog.

Who knew petitioning is a crime?

Of course, the city has defended the fine by arguing that Carey and her supporters abused the law by “violating the election process.”

The city has said the amount is fair because it cost the city to have a lawyer and his staff dissect the petition drive and prove it flawed. The judge in the case, Michael Conahan, agreed to the $11,056 as soon as the city’s lawyer asked for it.

The city’s mayor uses harsh words such as “fraudulent” and “deception” to criticize the petition drive.

Seems like a stretch to me. I’ve seen more deception in TV election ads.

With the price of a gallon of gasoline being what it is these days, you'd think the Leader folks would temporarily suspend their usual routine of dumping gallons upon gallons of gasohol on the fires of discontent.

The city persuaded a judge. (???) Proof, dickus! You're supposed to be a journalist, for chrissakes!!!

The city’s mayor uses harsh words such as “fraudulent” and “deception” to criticize the petition drive. (???)

Since so many of you seem to have very short memories, dig this snippet captured from a Times Leader story dated August 25, 2005:

Lawyers from the bureau of elections and the city said Carey’s petition, if accepted, would alter the city charter in a way that would unconstitutionally stall the progress of government.

If voters were to select a specific issue for a ballot referendum, council’s decisions on that issue would have to be stayed until the referendum took place, explained Neil O’Donnell, solicitor for the board of elections.

“That doesn’t pass constitutional muster,” he said.

RUTRO! The attorney from Voter Services unequivically stated that the referendum "would unconstitutionally stall the progress of government," and "That doesn’t pass constitutional muster."

Violating the election process? Yeah, Davey, the referendum sought to do just that. Please stick to something you're good at in the future. Fire a reporter, or something.

(Note to hysterical myrmidons: Reset your secret decoder rings for the following message. Three, two, one...engage. We have a directive from Referendum Central Command to immediately add Mr. O'Donnell to the list of ruthless people that are lying their asses off in a scurrilous attempt to bankrupt a city woman, and squelch the voice of the people forever more. All activist cells are to immediately acknowledge receipt of this message. KATCOMM out.)

Let's see here, the fraudulent part of the equation would be telling of the signers of the petition that it took anywhere from 8 to 109 minutes to respond to the N. Empire Street fire. Sorry, but that was a bald-faced lie.

Um, the deception was in erecting a banner that stated "Sign here for our fire protection," while seeking signatures to put our system of government into suspended animation every single time the city sought to invest in any significant infrastructure upgrades and, or major capital expenditures.

No matter what anyone might think of Judge Conahan's harsh decision, there are clearly defined election laws on the books, and you can't charge willy-nilly style into altering our form of government.

And if you remember correctly, I told y'all a long time ago that Denise Carey was making a serious mistake when she allied herself with the likes of the crackpot champions of the petition-of-the-month club. The enemies of her enemy may have been her allies for a spell. But, as things turned out, they were certainly not her friends.

She f**ked-up...she trusted them.

From ABCNews.com:

Sept. 11, 2005 — In an apparent Sept. 11 communiqué broadcast on ABC News, an al Qaeda operative threatens new attacks against cities in the US and Australia.

"Yesterday, London and Madrid. Tomorrow, Los Angeles and Melbourne, God willing. At this time, don't count on us demonstrating restraint or compassion," the tape warns. "We are Muslims. We love peace, but peace on our terms, peace as laid down by Islam, not the so-called peace of occupiers and dictators."

American intelligence officials believe the man who appears on the tape to be Adam Gadahn of Orange County, Calif. Last year, Gadahn delivered a similar taped communiqué for al Qaeda. That tape was later deemed authentic.

On the new tape, delivered to ABC News, Gadahn's message contains a very pointed al Qaeda threat against Los Angeles and Melbourne.

In response to the threats against their city, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the city's police department released a statement this morning. They admitted to Los Angeles being a target of terrorism, but said there are no known, credible threats against the city and labeled the tape an instrument of al Qaeda propaganda.

"The statement broadcast this morning on Good Morning America should come as no surprise to anyone. The statement was meant to instill fear, and fear is the most important weapon the terrorists possess."

The taped diatribe lasts 11 minutes. Like past tapes, it appears to include the same graphics and production techniques recognized by U.S. officials as part of al Qaeda's standard propaganda production. In this tape, the speaker levels threats against the U.S. and Great Britain.

"Don't believe the lies of the liars at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and 10 Downing Street," Gadahn insists. "They have dispatched your sons and daughters to die lonely deaths in the burning deserts of Iraq and the unforgiving mountains of Afghanistan."

Only a few years ago, Adam Gadahn was a southern California teenager with interests in the environment and heavy metal music.

Happy anniversary!

People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character.--Ralph Waldo Emerson

And speaking of people that make things up as they trudge along, let's visit a quote I snagged from yesterday's excerpted Voice article titled Wilkes-Barre looking at job tax to help with funding for new fire station.

City council voted Thursday to award a $668,000 contact to Champion Builders in Kingston to build the 6,400-square-feet fire station. Wilkes-Barre Zoning Hearing Board will vote on the fire station Sept. 21 at 4:30 p.m.

Wilkes-Barre Deputy Administrator Marie McCormick said the job tax will pay for $80,000 of the construction of the new fire station. The remaining funds will come from federal grant money from the Office of Community Planning and Development, she said.

As of Aug. 31, $958,290 was collected from the job tax in Wilkes-Barre, said City Controller Bernie Mengeringhausen.

Part of this money was used to hire 10 new police officers.

The tax can be spent on fire, police and emergency services, said Leslie Suhr, spokeswoman for the state Department of Community and Economic Development. Funds also can be used for road construction and/or maintenance and the reduction of property taxes.

Wilkes-Barre resident Walter Griffith argued that the emergency services funds should be used to hire more police and firefighters.

"The money from the EMS tax was told to us as taxpayers was going to be used exclusively for the hiring of new firemen and police. That's not what we are hearing now," Griffith said.

Wilkes-Barre resident Walter Griffith argued that the emergency services funds should be used to hire more police and firefighters.

"The money from the EMS tax was told to us as taxpayers was going to be used exclusively for the hiring of new firemen and police. That's not what we are hearing now," Griffith said.

Okay, I'll leave this one up to all of you. You make the call. Is he telling a major league fib? Or, is he simply woefully misinformed?

When did this current mayor of ours ever promise us that he was going to hire more firemen? When? Right! He didn't. He never did.

Hey, Walter, why not start yet another petition drive whereby the residents of this here city will determine the staffing levels of the city's separate departments? What do you think? You currently owe the city $3,600 for your last failed petition drive that I played a big role in shooting down.

Excuse me while I crack up. Okay. All better now.

How's about another petition drive? Nuthin' else to do while you're seething with anger. You can afford it with that political action committee of yours. What's the monetary balance of that PAC these days? Still stuck at twenty-five dollars, or did you sell "Oh Tommy" candy bars, or something?

Some feedback from Thursday's council meeting. Let's start with a post from one of the anonymous warriors on the forum page:

Commrad Vinsko -- Yeah Right, 19:32:19 09/08/05 Thu [1]

Uh-oh! Vinsko admitted tonight at the city council meeting that he's billing Carey for services through his private law firm! Can you say "conflict of interest"? What a scum bag! Mark, maybe it's time to rethink your support for Furher Leighton. It's not too late to take an objective look at this guy. We all make mistakes...

Comrade Vinsko? Fuhrer Leighton? No hysterics there, huh?

Let's hash this out, shall we? Vinsko is a city solicitor, plus he has his own concern, one Vinsko & Associates. The newspapers reported that he's paid $3,000 per month by the city to perform his lawyerly duties. With that said, I imagine that he's very rarely presented with a legal emergency to deal with, or, in this case, ten days to prepare a legal challenge to an ill-concieved effort to cripple our city government's decision making process.

So, when he has that sort of undertaking plopped into his lap, and has only ten days to work with, who should we expect to be doing the bulk of the researching and whatnot? The girls in the tax office? The code enforcement guys? The mayor's executive secretary? The city council folk? The city's controller? The parking enforcement guys? Who would happen to possess the legal wherewithal to undertake such a process and deliver competant results in a little over a week?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that the $3,000 he earns every month is for his services provided to the city, and not those of his entire staff at Vinsko & Associates. If he's presented with what amounts to an emergency, and given a mere ten days to be ready to go to hacking in court, I'm thinking that he's going to need some help in these respects. And if the city's administration agreed to some additional costs for the purposes of defending itself against being rendered impotent, then I see not the "conflict of interest" of which you speak.

And make no mistake about it, if Mayor Tom Leighton had not chosen to defend the city's charter in this particular case, it would have been a clear case of dereliction of duty. When a referendum comes along that is clearly designed to put our long-term planning in the hands of the disproportionately apathetic residents, a mayor's duty would be to stop that ill-advised and ultimately destructive nonsense short of becoming the law of the land.

You can call people disparaging names and let loose with just as many incendiary attacks as you feel the current situation warrants. But the fact of the matter is Wilkes-Barre's future would have been a consensus-driven road to nowhere had the city not fought back against such a short-sighted initiative.

We all make mistakes? Yeah, we do. And Denise Carey is living proof of that. While I'm not usually prone to turning my back on other people's suffering, she is ultimately responsible for her own actions. Or, isn't she?

From the e-mail inbox Mark,

Wow! That must have been some meeting tonight! I'm getting lots of e-mail full of outrageous claims and accusations! Mr. Vinsko allegedly is trying to bill Denise Carey through the city for work performed by his law firm! Who approved of that? Is the mayor trying to commit political suicide? And it seems that the firehouse gang learned that City Council isn't really on their side! Surprised? I wonder if it has anything to do with the ole' man being in Virginia? I mean since he's out of town nobody has to play the 'I'm more concerned than you' game. And McGinley made accusations at Tom Makar suggesting that the firemen abused their sick days over the holiday weekend! I worked Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. As far as I can remember we were all present and accounted for (on the day shift anyway). How does this guy keep getting re-elected?

Somebody's got to start video taping this stuff for me! Or I have to find baby sitter and see these shenanigans for myself!


From the e-mail inbox It's official! According to the Times-Leader, Mr. Vinsko hired himself and his staff to work over the weekend before the hearing. Let me see if I have this right: Vinsko is a salaried employee of the city. But he hired himself and his staff to work over the weekend and is billing $11,056. The hearing (if I remember correctly) was on a Wednesday! The Mayor is the only person who could approve this. Doesn't he see anything unethical if not illegal here? Something is rotten in Denmark! That must be why there wasn't a bill presented to the Careys.

In my opinion, this is exactly the kind of thing we would expect from McGroarty. And it stinks. I officially withdraw any support or belief in Mayor Leighton. I'm ashamed to admitt that I thought he was a better man. Now I have to appologize to all the people I asked to vote for him. Can't this city offer up just one decent politician?


Dude, with all due respect, the Vinsko revelations were to be expected. I know you're very close to the people involved, but you might need to take a step backwards and think more objectively.

And if you're suddenly distressed over your support for Leighton, take a deep breathe and consider the two alternatives you were once presented with. Do those two look any better all of a sudden? Methinks not.

Go back to the beginning when the firehouse was first closed and ask yourself who it was that pushed things forward to their disasterous conclusions? Who was it that first planted the seeds of yet another petition drive in Denise Carey's head and then left her swinging in the breeze when the time to take things to court came around? Judging by her recent comments, it's obvious that she's angry with the city's administration. But, who put her up to all of this? Who's idea was all of this? Who set her up for a mighty fall?

While I can understand her being angry with city officials, I think she should be even more angry with the folks who convinced her that the latter stages of the plan to totally disrupt our local system of government was somehow a workable plan free of any risks. While she trusted activist policy wonks, the mayor put his trust in seasoned attorneys. And, now, you're shocked by the results?

And McGinley made accusations at Tom Makar suggesting that the firemen abused their sick days over the holiday weekend!

What??? Dude, no one seems to know anything about that. You sure got me by the scraggly ones.

From the e-mail inbox North end comment: Katsock, Griffiths, and company. And what about that Lake fellow who pulled his 7 or 8 pages of signatures? I don't know that guy but I'm told he's a muckity muck with the local Republican Party. If that's true I'd guess he should have some experience in circulating petitions (nomination petitions, etc.). How could he have screwed up so badly? Oh, new gossip is that he quit the Republican Party this week. I'll try and find out more about that and let you know.

I'm really angry over the whole "Vinsko" thing. I remember when I turned in my nominating petition that the head of voter services (Kevin Jordan at that time) went through every page and crossed off the names that were questionable. He was looking for illegible writing, unregistered people, abbreviations, etc. Since you only need 100 valid signatures to run for office it went pretty quickly in my case. But let's take a look at the I&R petition. I'm out of the loop on this one but I think they had somewhere between 900 and 1,000 signatures after voter services did the hacking. So there's 50 signatures per page (at least in my day). So that's roughly 20 pages of signatures that were approved by the head of voter services. How in the hell could it cost $11,000 to look over 20 pages of signatures? 20 pages that were already looked at by the guy who knows who's legal and who's not. And every politician coming down the pike has a copy of the street lists of the registered voters in their district. So does the City itself. Could it really cost that much money to match a signature on a petition to a name on a street list? Man, I'm in the wrong line of work! And it took Vinsko and his staff all weekend to do it? This couldn't be done during the normal business hours of the City Attorneys office? That's the kind of thing we're paying him/them for! You know, to protect the City's interests. The City wasn't required to challenge the petition. They chose to. The more I think about this the madder I get.

I need some coffee. Let me know if you hear anything along these lines.


Jamie Lake? I've never met him. But he's called WILK so many times, I feel as if I had grown-up with him.

Here's what he's said of himself on the radio. He's some sort of financial planner. He's a staunch Republican. He grew up poor, but managed to escape those lead-weighted shackles. He's married and recently bought a home here in Wilkes-Barre. That's about it on the bio.

This is my opinion of him based solely on what I heard on the radio. He's well-read in many respects, and to me, he seemed eager to get involved in the city he decided to call his home. He always came off as sounding sincere, if not, happy-go-lucky to some respect. Here comes the "but."

But, when I read that he had chosen to cozy up with the rancorous activist crowd, I knew that he had allied himself with the very worst that the Wilkes-Barre political seen has to offer. Actually, I was somewhat surprised by that decision. In my mind, he seemed smarter than that. And so did Denise Carey before him.

Again...but, when I learned that he had requested that the petitions he carried be pulled from the mix, that sounded more like the guy I had heard on the radio. A sudden change of heart while running with the crowd he was running with sounded like the Jamie of old. It seems as if he came to his senses, albeit, a bit late. Is it not better to admit one's own mistakes rather than foisting them upon an unknowing general public? Maybe he's simply starting to believe.

Dude, a nominating petition and an I&R petition are worlds apart as far as a forensic audit is concerned. A nominating petition recieves barely a percursory glance compared to how completely I&R petitions are scrutinized when the hapless among us are hell-bent on playing Legos with their local government. Trust me. Been there, done that.

You're talking about 1,000 signatures that have to be checked for duplicate signatures, illegal abbrieviations, unregistered voters, and signatories that do not reside within the city's confines. For the purposes of challenging the thing in court, them the legal eagle types have to set about drawing up the court documents necessary to challenge the ill-conceived effort. The entire process is a bit more exhaustive than you're making it out to be.

And we've got Walter running around with copies of Tom Leighton's nominating petitions and pointing to errors as if what Leighton was asking for was akin to what Walter and his cronies were asking for. Tom Leighton wanted his name to appear on a ballot. Walter and his cronies wanted to trash our government and turn this place into an activist haven where progress would come to come to town only if the short-sighted among us allowed it to. Do we see a distinction there?

I know you're very close to the Carey's and you'll vouch for their integrity. But at this point, I fail to see how further hysterics can help to rectify the sorry situation we currently find ourselves presented with. Either we figure out how to better facilitate her legal appeal process, or we get together and figure out how to raise $11,000 with a high-profile event.

Either way, if need be, count me in.

From the e-mail inbox (Let's see if you could guess who wrote this)

On this, the fourth anniversary of 9/11, I'm just curious, how does it feel?

How does it feel to know that the man you elected to lead us after we were attacked went ahead and put a guy in charge of FEMA whose main qualification was that he ran horse shows?

That's right. Horse shows.

I really want to know -- and I ask you this in all sincerity and with all due respect -- how do you feel about the utter contempt Mr. Bush has shown for your safety? C'mon, give me just a moment of honesty. Don't start ranting on about how this disaster in New Orleans was the fault of one of the poorest cities in America. Put aside your hatred of Democrats and liberals and anyone with the last name of Clinton. Just look me in the eye and tell me our President did the right thing after 9/11 by naming a horse show runner as the top man to protect us in case of an emergency or catastrophe.

I want you to put aside your self-affixed label of Republican/conservative/born-again/capitalist/ditto-head/right-winger and just talk to me as an American, on the common ground we both call America.

Are we safer now than before 9/11? When you learn that behind the horse show runner, the #2 and #3 men in charge of emergency preparedness have zero experience in emergency preparedness, do you think we are safer?

When you look at Michael Chertoff, the head of Homeland Security, a man with little experience in national security, do you feel secure?

When men who never served in the military and have never seen young men die in battle send our young people off to war, do you think they know how to conduct a war? Do they know what it means to have your legs blown off for a threat that was never there?

Do you really believe that turning over important government services to private corporations has resulted in better services for the people?

Why do you hate our federal government so much? You have voted for politicians for the past 25 years whose main goal has been to de-fund the federal government. Do you think that cutting federal programs like FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers has been good or bad for America? GOOD OR BAD?

With the nation's debt at an all-time high, do you think tax cuts for the rich are still a good idea? Will you give yours back so hundreds of thousands of homeless in New Orleans can have a home?

Do you believe in Jesus? Really? Didn't he say that we would be judged by how we treat the least among us? Hurricane Katrina came in and blew off the facade that we were a nation with liberty and justice for all. The wind howled and the water rose and what was revealed was that the poor in America shall be left to suffer and die while the President of the United States fiddles and tells them to eat cake.

That's not a joke. The day the hurricane hit and the levees broke, Mr. Bush, John McCain and their rich pals were stuffing themselves with cake. A full day after the levees broke (the same levees whose repair funding he had cut), Mr. Bush was playing a guitar some country singer gave him. All this while New Orleans sank under water.

It would take ANOTHER day before the President would do a flyover in his jumbo jet, peeking out the widow at the misery 2500 feet below him as he flew back to his second home in DC. It would then be TWO MORE DAYS before a trickle of federal aid and troops would arrive. This was no seven minutes in a sitting trance while children read "My Pet Goat" to him. This was FOUR DAYS of doing nothing other than saying "Brownie (FEMA director Michael Brown), you're doing a heck of a job!"

My Republican friends, does it bother you that we are the laughing stock of the world?

And on this sacred day of remembrance, do you think we honor or shame those who died on 9/11/01? If we learned nothing and find ourselves today every bit as vulnerable and unprepared as we were on that bright sunny morning, then did the 3,000 die in vain?

Our vulnerability is not just about dealing with terrorists or natural disasters. We are vulnerable and unsafe because we allow one in eight Americans to live in horrible poverty. We accept an education system where one in six children never graduate and most of those who do can't string a coherent sentence together. The middle class can't pay the mortgage or the hospital bills and 45 million have no health coverage whatsoever.

Are we safe? Do you really feel safe? You can only move so far out and build so many gated communities before the fruit of what you've sown will be crashing through your walls and demanding retribution. Do you really want to wait until that happens? Or is it your hope that if they are left alone long enough to soil themselves and shoot themselves and drown in the filth that fills the street that maybe the problem will somehow go away?

I know you know better. You gave the country and the world a man who wasn't up for the job and all he does is hire people who aren't up for the job. You did this to us, to the world, to the people of New Orleans. Please fix it. Bush is yours. And you know, for our peace and safety and security, this has to be fixed. What do you propose?

I have an idea, and it isn't a horse show.

Who wrote that? Cut me a break. Short of Googling my day away, I'd say it was one of the Republicans who's forte happens to be taking issue with it's own party: Olympia Snowe, Pat Buchanan...I don't freaking know.

I can tell you this much, despite all that the preparedness that has gone on since the surprise attacks that were 9/11, I never once fooled myself into believing that any president, or any politico muckity muck in Washington D.C. could 100% guarantee my safety no matter what. Why? Because, while planning for, or dealing with the enormity of devastating natural disasters, or unthinkable attacks designed to effect mass casualties, to expect abject perfection is to set onesself up for a crushing disappointment.

Even though we happen to reside in a smallish city, I think it would behoove all of us to have some food, water, batteries, and some extra rounds of ammo stored in the basement just in case the frayed thread that holds our society together goes and snaps.

As far as Mike Brown goes, it's obvious that he was a political hire, while there had to be much more qualified candidates out there. But at the same time, that's not to say that anyone else might have done much better given the circumstances. After the mostly hysterical left finally goes and hyperventilates itself, history will judge Mr. Horse Show. To hear some of those race-baiters tell the twisted tale, you'd swear that Dubya invented nepotism back in '01.

On a local note, our state is considering whether Tom McGroarty should take the position of emergency preparedness coordinator in this area. While so many are so willing to rip into Bush over Mike Brown's hiring, take note of the fact that there are thousands of folks just like Mike Brown holding positions of some importance all over this land. Why should Wilkes-Barre be any different, or any safer?

As for myself, if I had anything to say about emergency preparedness, I'd say we need to dispense with the run amok victimology and start thinking more like an eagle scout.

Be prepared.


The end of an era

The G.A.R. volleyball girls dropped to 0-2 against Dallas on Friday night. I got hung-up at work and missed that battle. Coach Cour tells me that when the final point sealing Dallas' victory was secured, one of her younger players felt responsible and burst into tears. Coach told her that volleyball happens to be a team game. Damn straight, Coach. Teach them well.

Gotta jet.

The New York Football Giants are about ready to mash faces and with all of the changes they've made--I have no freakin' idea what to expect today.

NFL football is back and the beer distributors are open on Sundays. What more could we ask for?