9-18-2005 Autumn's big bash

One thing that truly troubled me about my visit to Louisiana was the level of the military presence there. I imagined before that if the military had to be used in a CONUS (Continental US) operations that they would be there to help the citizens: Clothe them, feed them, shelter them, and protect them. But what I saw was a city that is occupied. I saw soldiers walking around in patrols of 7 with their weapons slung on their backs. I wanted to ask one of them what it would take for one of them to shoot me. Sand bags were removed from private property to make machine gun nests.

The vast majority of people who were looting in New Orleans were doing so to feed their families or to get resources to get their families out of there. If I had a store with an inventory of insured belongings, and a tragedy happened, I would fling my doors open and tell everyone to take what they need: it is only stuff. When our fellow citizens are told to "shoot to kill" other fellow citizens because they want to stay alive, that is military and governmental fascism gone out of control.--Cindy Sheehan, from Michael Moore-on.com

Forget New Orleans. This delusional woman obviously needs our help.

Wifey tells me that Autumn is not my great-niece. Rather, she's my grand-niece. Something like that. Ya got me. All I know is that she's the daughter of my niece. Jeez! I'm so glad to have cleared all of that up.

So, we did her 1st birthday party on Coal Street last night and it was a good time. I was a bit unnerved with all of these rodents with toys rough-housing on the edge of an unsupervised drag strip, but overall, we had some good fun.

We partied directly across the street from Interfaith Heights, or whatever it is that some conglomerate decided to call it these days. In fact, we were directly across the street from the townhouse that I called home during most of my teenaged years. I wanted so much to bang on the door, introduce myself to the current occupants of said government-subsidized housing and ask that they allow me to visit that long-thought of bedroom of mine where I had spent so many of my formulative years. I eventually decided against such an off-the-wall intrusion upon their privacy. And at some point during our family gathering, the front door of the old homestead was thrown open and a woman wearing a tarp emerged. Yup. The old homestead that I remember so fondly is now home to Muslims. My heart instantly sank. I'll not opine on that particular circumstance any further for fear of getting myself in some serious hot water with the politically correct myrmidoms currently spinning in place among us. Needless to say, if only for a fleeting moment or two, I was kind of bummed out. But, I digress.

Anyway, we had ourselves a fairly decent family event. It was cool. I am seriously concerned about my brother's questionable health, and I'm likewise troubled by my sister's tenuous financial standing. But I am mostly powerless to cure that which ails them, so I do what I can to help out and I hope for the best for both of them. In my mind, poverty and broken families have long-lasting effects and are in no way the fault of the recipients of such things. You just deal with the cards you've been dealt, and you hope to get a better deal someday. In these respects, I feel very fortunate with what has transgressed during my many turbulent years on this big ball of ours. But it saddens me to know that my siblings have not dealt nearly as well with the hand they were presented with so long ago. Parenting, much like politiking, leads to people paying for the glaring mistakes made by others. While it may totally suck, such is life.

And while I was spying my old government-subsidized homestead from afar, I had the aged step-dad who drove in from Connecticut filling my ear. I laid waste to that gigantic chip that was growing out of my shoulder many years ago, but every time this guy gets too close to me for far too long, I feel the need to forget restraint and give him a dose of what he gave me during those early days when all I wanted was a father figure that wouldn't beat me into unconscienceness for something as lame as eating a Scooter Pie without permission.

He failed his step-son, he failed his own son, he failed his daughter, but now he wants to celebrate his only grand-daughter's birthday? Trust me, it's an absolute miracle that I didn't end up being smothered into the sidewalk by our police officers last night. Whenever I stupidly get to thinking that those old wounds of mine have been healed forever, circumstances dictate that they should start bleeding again.

I decked this pretender of a man when he showed up out of nowhere for my graduation from Coughlin High. I did much the same thing ten years later. He avoided me like bubonic plague throughout the nineties. And here we were all of these years later, just when I thought that I was all grown-up and had finally gotten my sh*t totally together...and I found myself wanting to beat the holy hell out of a bent-over 67-year-old man, while he stared directly into my eyes and mouthed the words I couldn't even begin to hear. I'm not angered so much by my early years as much as I am by my sibling's later years. When presented with an uphill battle from the very moment of birth, not all of us are going to fare really well in the end.

Somewhere around eight o'clock, he struggled his way into his beat-up Buick and began the long trek back to Connecticut. Trust me, it's a bittersweet moment to bid a goodbye of "Good riddance!" to the only f**ked-up father figure you've ever known. While a part of me will always yearn to sit next to my mom caroling away under the Christmas tree in 1967, a whole other part of me yearns to know why he did to us what he did so long ago. I think his being in a state of permanent denial whereas his long ago shortcomings is what get's me feeling so bitter all over again when I happen to be in his presence. Whatever.

I'm his step-son, and in the wonderful world of step-sons, I never really mattered to him. I understand as much. If my real dad hadn't gone totally berserk on me, I would have never even met this back-woods hick from the most remote region of what Maine used to be. In other words, my AWOL dad, wherever he is, got this sometimes crushing ball rolling where children are left to pick up the tattered pieces of the fractured lives their parents dropped into their laps.

I've pretty much gotten over that spike-through-the-heart aspect of my life. But when I get to thinking about how much better some of my sibling's lives could have been...

To summarize, Coal Street needs some speed enforcement, like, right now. Cute little Autumn is a whole one-years-old. The past still haunts me when it manages to personify itself. And, overall, we had us a pretty good time last night.

And that's about it.

From the e-mail inbox HELLO MARK-





Maybe she over-estimated her support, but she did fight the good fight and then some. Will no one take the lead and assist her now?--Yours truly.

Look, I've heard that she's feeling somewhat upbeat about her chances upon appeal, but I wouldn't bank on any of that. Consider the clout of the judge involved during her latest legal skirmish. If I happened to be her about now, I'd be seriously parsing my words and then some. Stubborn defiance at this late stage of the game will only serve her with a further undoing.

Now, onto one of your comments:


Um, sorry, but for the purposes of this surprislingly long drawn-out debate, I must. If that bedraggled firehouse was suddenly reopened, most of the residents of the Heights would have been calling Petition Headquarters for 'Carey for Mayor' yard signs. I'm not pretending to talk for you, but you know what I'm getting on about. Right or wrong, they would have loved her if she had defeated the monolithic Goliath that our city government has been portrayed as being of late. It would be complete bullsh*t, but such is the state of activism in this city.

The thing is, if you don't want to donate to the Carey's current financial plight...don't. And if you want me to stop yammering on and on about how they deserve our help...I will comply. If need be, I will never bring it up again. Not once.

I've been convinced from the get-go that this a legal mess of her own making, but she did bother to take the activist lead where others would not dare to. That counts for nothing? Being a political novice, she relied upon the usual activist upstarts for all sorts of really, really bad advice. And for that, her kids should suffer after that $11,056 hit is eventually delivered? No way! I beg to differ with that assessment of where the Carey's currently find themselves. If anything, Walter and Christine should be offering up some noteworthy checks, but we already know that's not going to happen. In my special place of a thought processor, they sure helped to get her into this mess, and now they've forgotten her after the fact.

Whatever. It's not a problem from where I'm sitting. I don't have to pony up $11,056. But, I'm told that she has four kids. And while I'd love to see these activists ninnies taking it on the chin, I'm wondering if it's not in the best interests of said children if this debt was somehow covered by some concerned entity other than the Careys themselves.

Truth be told, I've conveyed my thoughts on the matter to the two folks sitting at the very top of this city's political food chain.

Sorry, but, there needs to be some sort of compromise, or some sort of fund-raiser event staged, rather than having four children being penalized for what Mommy did at City Hall.

Strip that lady butt naked on Public Square and toss jagged stones in her general direction. But don't hold her kids accountable for what was once a very noble call to action gone horribly wrong.

Whatever. It's totally out of my hands.

From the 'Party Animals' column in today's Voice:

How ironic.

Where was FEMA? Where was Bush? Where were the pre-positioned forces and supplies? No big thang. Mike McGinley upped and saved the day.

There's a first time for everything. No?

More mental masturbation from the usual suspects.

From that Citizen's Voice of ours:

Board of Elections should get city redistricted for voting



I attended the Luzerne County Board of Elections meeting at the courthouse recently as a concerned taxpayer and was shocked at the response I received from the Luzerne County Board of Elections.

I spoke to the board of elections committee which is comprised of the Luzerne County Board of Commissioners and expressed my concerns for the will of the taxpayers regarding the redistricting of the City of Wilkes Barre as well as the downsizing of city council.

I reminded the board that the state appellate court ruled that the City of Wilkes Barre and its city council must redistrict and put in place immediately the will of the voters regarding the referendum that was voted and accepted almost three years ago and that the county along with the city is potentially liable for malfeasance of office if the county does not enforce the judge's ruling.

I was totally shocked when Commissioner Steve Urban made a motion and it failed for a lack of a second from the other two commissioners. The taxpayers have elected the county commissioners to do the will of the people and not the will of the party to which they belong and the taxpayers deserve better leadership from their elected officials than just mere lip service. I would hope that on November 7, 2005 the taxpayers of this county keep that in mind when it comes to pulling the right levers.

Walter L Griffith Jr.

Just like that? Just like that? I guess. Just like that.

Apparently, Denise Carey and the firehouse movement has just about blown over, so it's time to move on to, ahem...re-visit other ways to get our names in the newspaper and build some name recognition.

He rode Carey's firehouse issue for all the publicity it was worth, so it's time to move on to the next Gripeapalooza. Makes ya wanna take to slap-boxing this rabble-rouser, doesn't it? Like so many other annoying gadflies that pestered before him, this one needs to be swatted flat, too.

And we're doing this useless bit again?

The Citizens Voice

W-B officials defend trips

By Denise Allabaugh, Staff Writer 09/18/2005

Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton has traveled 3,800 miles at the cost of $4,079 to taxpayers since taking office 20 months ago.

The trips have been well worth the miles and the dollars, Leighton said, since they've helped him dig the city out of the more than $10 million debt inherited from the previous administration.

But critics, including former city council candidate Walter Griffith Jr., believe these expenses are high. He calls the travel reimbursements "expense gouging," and plans to address city council about the costs at a meeting Thursday at 6 p.m.

Records show since 2004, Leighton made two trips to Washington, D.C., eight to Harrisburg, two to Philadelphia and two to New York. He used his own vehicle.

"I hate to travel, but it has to be done. These are not fun trips. These are trips we prepare for weeks," Leighton said. "On all these trips, we came back with some really great results." Financial records show Leighton, three members of his administration and city council members were reimbursed a total of $16,651.33 in travel expenses since 2004.

City Administrator J.J. Murphy was reimbursed a total of $2,281 for one trip to Washington D.C., five to Harrisburg, five to Philadelphia and two to New York. Murphy used a city car.

Since 2004, city Planning and Development Director Butch Frati was reimbursed $1,265; Leighton's administrative assistant Greg Barrouk was reimbursed $763; city council members were reimbursed a total of $8,263.

Griffith complained the mayor and city council members continually say the city has no money to repair roads or dilapidated fire stations, "but they continue to abuse the taxpayers by their ability to take reimbursement for travel even though the budget is tight." When asked about travel expenses, Leighton and Murphy said they are small compared to the millions of dollars generated for the city as a result of these trips.

Leighton, Koval and Murphy said it is difficult to quantify the amount of money generated from their travels, but they provided documentation of several trips that saved the city money: Soon after Leighton took office in 2004, he, Murphy and Koval traveled to New York to meet with the bond assurance firm AMBAC to help re-finance the city's pension bond. That saved $14.4 million and helped offset a 24-mill tax increase projected for 2006, Koval said.

Trips to Harrisburg to meet with the representatives of the firm of Public Financial Management also helped with pension bond refinancing and helped the city sell the vacant call center on South Main Street, Leighton, Murphy and Koval said.

On a July 21, 2005, on a trip to Washington D.C., Leighton and Murphy met with Congressman Paul Kanjorski, Sen. Rick Santorum and a top official for Sen. Arlen Specter to lobby for $50 million for the Solomon Creek flood control project. Kanjorski recently announced the House approved that $50 million. The Senate and president still must approve the money.

Other trips helped the city obtain funding for the South Main Street redevelopment project, the streetlights, the proposed intermodal transportation center and the Hotel Sterling project, Leighton, Murphy and Koval said.

The primary goal behind the trips was to rebuild the city's financial structure, Leighton said. When the mayor took office in 2004, the city faced $10.1 million in unpaid bills, a checking account balance of $37,881 and a projected budget shortfall of $3.89 million, Koval said. Now, the city has an $830,000 surplus in the general fund. "These trips had a large impact on the future of the City of Wilkes-Barre and where we are going on the financial side," Leighton said. "The city was in financial distress. I'm very proud that we paid all our bills and our vendors."

Of the seven Wilkes-Barre council members, Councilwoman Kathy Kane spent the most for travel with a total of $2,800.

Kane, a member of a Human Development Committee, said she attends conferences dealing with health care and education and brings back information to the city. Many are National League of Cities conferences.

"You can go to a convention and do nothing. I don't do that," Kane said. "They're not joy rides at all. Some involve 9 to 5 meetings and working through lunch."

Councilman Jim McCarthy, chairman of the Northeast Region of the Pennsylvania League of Cities, was reimbursed $2,510 for travel since 2004. He said conferences help the city obtain grants.

"They are learning experiences," McCarthy said. "You find out what other cities are doing to improve their government and you find out what grants are available. You get to talk with other council members and mayors to see what they're doing to make things better."

Councilman Tony Thomas was reimbursed $1,401 for travel expenses, including $517 for a National League of Cities conference in Nashville, Tenn. and $594 for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Convention Show in Orlando, Fla. At the National League of Cities conference, Thomas said he learned more about the $52 job tax. Thanks to the IAAPA conference, attended by 8,000 vendors, Thomas learned about the Healing Field, the Sept. 11, 2001, tribute that graced the lawn of Kirby Park. The city made $55,000 from the Healing Field, Thomas said.

Thomas said he learned how the city could repair the Coal Street Park pool instead of building a new pool. He estimated that saved about $800,000. He found benches for Kirby Park and a company to repair the fountain on Public Square. He also learned more about playground equipment for Kirby Park.

Thomas said he paid half the cost for the IAAPA conference since he also learned about ways to help his own business, Tony Thomas Deli and Catering on South Main Street, which operates snack bars at Kirby Park and Coal Street Park.

"I will stand by these expenses 100 percent because of how much we saved by going to these conferences," Thomas said.

Since 2004, Councilman Mike McGinley was reimbursed $961. Councilman Bill Barrett was reimbursed $589 for airfare and the fee to attend a National League of Cities conference last year in Indianapolis, Ind. Council Chairwoman Shirley Vitanovec and Councilman Phil Latinski received no travel expenses since 2004, records show.

Barrett said the National League of Cities conference had a very good program designed to teach newly elected officials how to deal with the media.

"I learned how to do the most for constituents and how an ordinance is constructed. Just that information alone for me was worth the expense," he said.

Griffith complained, however, that city council members travel to these conferences "on taxpayers' money year in and year out and the city still seems to be in a state of disrepair and disorganization." Christine Katsock, president of Wilkes-Barre Taxpayers Association and a former candidate for mayor, also feels travel expenses are high. "Knowing that he (Leighton) raised every tax possible against the taxpayers, to spend money that way seems a little irresponsible," Katsock said.

You know, with no due respect, who the f**k do these activist/candidates think they are kidding?

Ever hear the Tenaciaous D song 'City Hall?' No? Well traipse on down to Gallery of Sound, grab a copy and be prepared to be F-bombed into political oblivion.

Here's a very tiny snippet from that 7-minute masterstroke of political awareness:

"City Hall"

All you people up there in City Hall,
You're f**kin' it up for the people that's in the streets.
This is a song for the people in the streets,
Not the people at City Hall.
All you motherf**kers in the streets it's time to rise up,
Come along children and f**kin' rise!

Lots of times when me and KG are watchin'
All the f**kin' shit that goes down at City Hall,
We get the feeling we should f**k shit up,
Yeah we should f**kin' start a riot.
A Riot!

We'll have 'em screaming in the streets,
we'll have 'em tippin' over shit,
and breakin' f**kin' windows of small businesses,
and settin' f**kin' fires!
and settin' f**kin' fires!
and settin' f**kin' fires!

Trust me, that song is a hoot. And having Dave Grohl on both drums and guitars is a big plus.

Anywho, the entire point made in the song is that the folks so utterly offended by the actions of the elected that they end up starting a revolution, all too often, mimic the actions of the folks they end up replacing. And what follows next? A revolution that they, themselves inspired.

Walter tried and failed to make this travel non-issue into an issue during the ill-fated McGroarty administration. And now he's making the same tired accusations during the Leighton administration. Let's project just a tad without rioting or setting f**king fires.

I may be a recovering KISS fanatic, which brings my credibility into immediate question, but follow me here. I promise, it won't hurt.

Imagine that a meteoroid crashed into the Mount St. Helens dome, the Earth spun wildly off of it's axis, and Katsock, Griffith and a few of those Green Party reefer maniacs were elected to lead this city forward. At that point, the long-overdue economic development initatives would be superceded by grandiose nonsense such as hourly staff meetings, social justice, dumping even more gross amounts of money into education, and legalizing whatever it is that the recently elected Greenies happen to be addicted to.

And before too long, that's...before too long at all, the folks that once cast a suspicious eye upon the travel expenses of the elected would be defending themselves against the very same accusations of wasteful spending. If not, that would point out that they were ridiculously content in the knowledge that they already know whatever there is to know.

If we need to attend conferences and whatnot while in the constant pursuit of a better place to live, then I say, have at it. And that in no way implies that I am ultimately willing to pay for prohibitively expensive liquid refreshments, semi-pro call girls, or shrimp-stuffed Shitake mushrooms.

If the folks managing our struggling city feel the need to schmooze a bit with the folks presiding over mostly flourishing cities, I'm thinking that's probably, hopefully money well spent.

As for Walter Griffith, this city's chief antagonist, at least he's frickin' consistent. He's consistently clueless. But, at least he's consistent. I except nothing less from the consistently cluless.

Thanks for all of that useless redux, Walter.

From the e-mail inbox ‘Dammed’ if you do, ‘dammed’ if you don’t

Nature loves to expose hubris, as it just did so horribly on the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Katrina showed us who commands the waters. Indeed, chastened planners are already calling for the restoration of protective wetlands and barrier islands destroyed by southern development.

However, the urge to supervise nature isn’t limited to the Gulf Coast. Any day now, word should come from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection that it is accepting public comment on Wilkes-Barre’s plan to construct an inflatable dam on the Susquehanna River.

The project has the backing of U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski and the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry.

“The project has undergone an extensive, exhaustive, multi-year study,” says Steve Barrouk, president of the Wilkes-Barre chamber. “The dam will only be inflated during the summer months and will provide a predictable body of water for boating and other activities. In the off-season, the dam would be deflated and the river would be allowed to run normally.”

Supporters envision a bustling waterfront, completely connected to the downtown. Thanks to the dam, this waterfront would not be subject to the vagaries of nature, which sometimes cause the river to run too shallow for powerboats. Conservative estimates of the economic benefit of the dam are $4 million annually, while more hopeful scenarios anticipate as much as $70 million. Planners envision marinas, a visitors center, an outdoor amphitheater, and biking and hiking paths.

Environmentalists hate the idea.

“Inflatable dams are not just rubber you put in and take out,” says Sara Nicholas, associate director for dam programs at American Rivers, a national nonprofit conservation organization. “There is a permanent, concrete base that creates pools and backs up water — then you are also backing up sediment, mine drainage, nutrients, sewage. It’s all trapped and concentrated. Algae blooms, oxygen is taken out of the water and water temperatures rise. Cool water fish like small mouth bass can’t live in this environment.”

In short, Ms. Nicholas predicts the dam will mean environmental catastrophe. She points to the inflatable dam on the Susquehanna River in Sunbury, which she says has proven to be “a disappointment economically and a disaster environmentally.”

Incidentally, the chamber’s Mr. Barrouk has called the same dam “a huge success.”

People in the know in Sunbury are disinclined to use either superlative.

Ryan Unger, manager of community development and marketing for the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce, says Sunbury’s Adam T. Bower Dam is the largest inflatable dam in the world. It was installed about 30 years ago to encourage boating at Shikellamy State Park and “this has occurred.”

However, city planners also counted on immense economic development as a result of the newly formed lake and that goal has not been realized.

“They thought, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ and that didn’t happen. There wasn’t a lot of planning,” he says.

This sentiment is echoed by the chamber’s past president, John Shipman, who is now president of Sunbury Revitalization Inc.

“The city fathers thought the dam would create a tourist Mecca,” Mr. Shipman says. “It never happened. In fact, we use the river less now than we did before the dam.”

Mr. Shipman explains that the dam has caused Sunbury to lose 40 feet of shoreline since 1969. Essentially, Sunbury has no riverbank — the river runs right up to a protective, bare concrete wall.

“As with any endeavor, it has its pros and cons,” he says. “The lake looks great and it does generate the potential for growth. But there is expense.”

Mr. Shipman says some of the enormous inflatable bags recently burst and their replacement cost runs in the tens of thousands of dollars. The state is also undertaking a $6 million to $7 million project to install a fish ladder at the site because the dam has disrupted shad migration.

“When our dam was built in the 1960s,” Mr. Shipman says, “the government didn’t give the same attention to side effects that it does now. Hopefully the state has grown wiser and the folks in Wilkes-Barre have prepared better for it.”

Elizabeth Zygmunt is editor of the Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal.

Would you like to write about an issue in the area business community? In This Corner features commentary by guest columnists. Send ideas to business@timesshamrock.com or call 348-9117.

As for myself, when I'm under the influence of agricultural amusement aids, I can think of no greater authorities on the health (or lack thereof) of watery eco-systems other than Paul Kanjorski and Steve Barrouk.

Sue & Autumn

Despite the accompanying baggage that sometimes re-emerges now and again, we had ourselves a good time last nght.

Through thick, thin, and whatever else may have gone on before, and despite our varied, AWOL parent's painfully obvious shortcomings set in stone oh so long ago; Mark, Sue and Ray continue to persevere. What other choice do we have?

Happy 1st birthday, Autumn.

So long as I live, family will always be there for you.