11-20-2005 Redundant "news" and extreme sports

The city's $36.7 million 2006 budget was presented to the public this past Thursday, the highlights of which are it's being a balanced budget, plus, it holds the line on taxes. Now, for some, this may not sound like much, but it wasn't so long ago that the city couldn't even pay it's bills. We were promised some financial responsibility, and so far, that promise has been kept. The out-of-control days of needing three hefty tax anticipation notes per fiscal year seem to be behind us.

But, there are those that can't bring themselves to give any credit to the present administration, no matter what. And most of those "critics" have either something to gain (an elected office), or some percieved loss (a piece of the pie).

I snagged the following snippet from the Leader's Mayor touts projects at budget hearing story posted on November 18:

But two council meeting regulars revisited well-trod territory to the seeming annoyance of city officials.

Walter Griffith, a failed city council candidate, thanked the mayor for a “professional” presentation before decrying the cost of obtaining copies of public records, and “excessive costs” of salaries, health and pension benefits for the mayor and council members.

Characterizing the costs as the “continued robbery of the taxpayers of the city,” Griffith called for council to vote on annual raises for administration officials. Raises are currently pegged to the lowest negotiated union raise in the city and occur automatically.

He also attacked the practice of charging residents seeking records 50 cents per copied page. Griffith said he was compelled to pay $33 to get a copy of the proposed budget.

“A lot of the things you are saying are just misstated facts, and we’ve been hearing them for two years,” Leighton said.

Leighton appeared irritated to be forced to address Griffiths complaints, all of which he had made before, either in the press or at council meetings.

He accused Griffith of acting only in his self interest, rather than out of concern for the city.

“You can’t insult me that way,” Griffith said.

“I just did,” the mayor replied.

And then we've got this story posted the same day by the Citizens' Voice:

Mayor defends salary during budget hearing

By:Denise Allabaugh 11/18/2005

Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton defended his nearly $80,000 salary Thursday during a public budget hearing.

Walter Griffith Jr., one of three speakers at the hearing, complained elected officials' annual salaries are "extremely over compensated" compared to cities of equal size.

In Allentown, the mayor's salary is $66,000. City council members receive $8,000 and the city controller earns $30,000, Griffith said. In the proposed 2006 budget, Leighton will be paid $79,911, while the council chairperson will get $14,699 and six council members $13,199. City Controller Bernie Mengeringhausen will receive $36,919. Griffith, who led an unsuccessful petition drive to change the city's charter last year, said the city "must start to control these salaries as well as the benefits that the elected and employed personnel receive."

The city's charter mandates elected officials receive the lowest raise of the four bargaining units. Next year, that equates to 3 percent. Griffith wants taxpayers to have a voice in the pay raises given to elected officials.

"I make no apologies for my salary," Leighton said. City council will vote Tuesday night at 6 p.m. on the mayor's proposed $36,749,211 budget, which includes no tax increase next year.

Mayor defends salary during budget hearing???

If you were the mayor of this town, would you be a bit peeved with that headline after you presented not only a balanced budget, but no tax increases for the '06 fiscal year? I know I would be. Why not Mayor presents balanced budget for '06, or Wilkes-Barre's '06 budget holds the line on taxes? When one lone critic--The Energizer Critic--can turn what is very positive news on it's head, it's no wonder the mayor's head starts turning a brilliant shade of purplish-red heretofore unseen in there retarded parts.

We were presented with an expansive set of documents detailing a $36.7 million budget, but one guy armed with one line item can turn what would normally be reported as good news in Kingston, Wyoming, Nanticoke or Scranton into a negative-sounding story for Wilkes-Barre. Wanna know what? The tired antics of our Energizer Activist are getting very, very old when you consider that he is but a shill for the anemic Republican party in this county.

And how did Walter follow up on his successful bid to tarnish Wilkes-Barre's image a little bit more and keep his name recognition high? Well, he got on the blower the very next day and told all of WILK's listeners that Wilkes-Barre's elected leaders are overpaid, vile, and mean-spirited towards the general public. No, actually, they get annoyed with self-aggrandizing future candidates for office that repeat the same gibberish at every council meeting. And who followed Walter's lead by calling WILK and ripping into Wilkes-Barre's leaders? Why, another one of the "critics", i.e., a well-known Republican "activist" with anger issues of her own.

There's no activism going on here. There is no concern for the tax-payers. Rather, what we have hear is people with an agenda getting some free press every time they show up and repeat the same well-worn accusations. And after reporting the same accusations a hundred times over, why would a city beat reporter keep reporting the same bilge over and over again? It's always the same no matter who's banging the gavel: Mayor announces really, really good news, BUT...

If the elected folks get a 3% raise along with the lowest of the union contracts, Walter's calling for some pitchforks and torches on Public Square at high noon. But if he got what he wanted, his demand that council be forced to vote on raises for the elected types, he'd be calling for a revolt iffin' they upped and voted themselves a raise. The point being, no matter what the hell they do, he's gonna cry foul as loud as he can and he's gonna come a calling for some free press again.

If I attend the next 36 council meetings, address council, and repeat the same tired bullspit only to be immediately rebuffed by council--at what point does that cease to be news? At what point do I lose my stranglehold of Page 3, and Page 1 of the local newspapers?

And are our elected officials overpaid anyway? Probably. A tad, as near as I can figure. But when you divide the cost of their salaries and bennies into the totality of the budget, you're talking about the weight of a finger nail versus your total body mass. If we slashed their salaries as Walter demands, we could probably replace the curbing of a little-used alley we've probably never even heard of before.

Unlike my decades-long AWOL Dad, I'm no rocket scientist. But it doesn't take a frickin' rocket scientist with a really nifty pocket protector to figure out that what Walter seeks amounts to slashing a half-cent from a $100 budget. And make no mistake about it, I could care less if Tom Leighton's salary was reduced to that of what some lesser paid mayor in some far-flung city earns. But if that salary reduction caused him to return to the private sector rather than finishing what he started here, I'd say we should meet our usual activist at high noon on Public Square armed only with rubber hoses and give him a thorough thrashing. Be careful what you wish for, kiddies. You never know, you just might get it.

If our mayor actually manages to turn this long-troubled town around, while every major indicator suggests that we're heading in the right direction, would anyone dare to bitch about his salary then? Well, Walter might. But consider the source.

To put things in perspective, consider this. Despite having escaped the restaurant industry 15 years ago, I still have extensive contacts in that industry and I truly love engaging in a bit of shop talk with the folks still on the front lines. I toiled away in restaurants for 16 years, and I can't turn it off completely. But let's get to the nitty-gritty of the matter, shall we?

What's the mayor's salary these days? According to the Voice story, it will increase to $79,911 next year. That's a lot of money, and there's no doubt that folks that have no hope of ever earning that much money will likely be very envious, if not downright bitter. At present, he is in near total charge of the future livelihood of this city's neighborhoods, as well as it's mercantile districts. He's got a lot on his plate and as anyone with half a brain knows, his job is an exhaustive job. And if you don't believe that, well, that's proof that you're not well-informed. Whatever. Your problem, not mine.

But back to the restaurant industry. There are restaurant general managers and district managers all across this country of ours earning salaries approaching, equal to, or in excess of what our mayor presently earns. Again, to excel in these positions, one needs not know anything about High-Velocity Impact Sheilding, or GPS failsafe circuitry. No, what these people need to know about includes (but is not limited to) the delivery of a golden-brown grilled cheese sandwich in a timely matter by a smiling beauty of a waitress in a very clean environment. And very many of them earn more than our current mayor does.

They are not charged with seeing to it that you live in a booming metropolis. They need not worry themselves about public safety, or what the lack of such services can mean to the average person's life. There are no demands that they eliminate the rampant drug trade in a few short months. They are not held accountable every time a smallish piece of asphalt falls prey to a vicious freeze-thaw winter cycle. They are not stirred out of bed in the middle of the night when a creek swells too close to the top of it's banks. They are not asked to explain why random and horrific acts of violence occur on their watch. And they do not have to put up with the likes of Walter when their bottom lines don't compute the way he thinks they should.

I could oversee six local restaurants from my den armed only with a personal computer and earn more than our mayor makes. And with all of the headaches he has, it hardly seems fair. Do you really want to shave a few thousand off of his salary? Go for it. I could teach him how to not only increase his earnings, but lessen his crushing stress load.

Tom? Tom!!! Pay attention, will you? Sourdough bread, three 1-once slices of cheese, a dab of melted butter, five onces of french fries and a colorful garnish. Oh, and some suggestive selling to build the check averages.

Is that worth $79,911?


Would you like the salad bar with that?

And let's put this other "bone of contention" that has become a regular "issue" at our council meetings of late. Is L.A.G. Towing charging excessive rates while being the city's tower of choice?

Um...you sure got me by the dangling you-know-whats, but, then again, I could really care less. From a personal standpoint, I do not park illegally, I do not buzz through red lights and I have an auto club membership. In other words, chances are, unless something extraordinary comes about, the L.A.G. boys ain't gonna be coming for any motor vehicle of mine anytime soon. Then again, I operate my motor vehicle just about as often as Walter Griffith skips a chance to promote himself at a council meeting. I've topped off my gas tank twice since the 4th of July. The thing is, there's always a perfectly good reason not to exercise, too cold, too hot, too wet, too (insert lame excuse of choice here); but not for me.

So anyway, what our tower charges for a trip to the auto detention pen would not be a concern at all if the majority of us were prone to doing the right thing most of the time. Do the right thing? Holy jumpin' orangutan farts! I'm starting to sound like Spike Lee. Pull a Schiel's shopping bag over my head and wrap copious amounts of duct tape around my neck until I wise the funk up.

If I attend the next 36 council meetings, address council, and repeat the same tired bullspit only to be immediately rebuffed by council--at what point does that cease to be news? At what point do I lose my stranglehold of Page 3, and Page 1 of the local newspapers?

The towing rates? Sorry, but that's got to be flying like a Tomahawk--well below your radar screens.

But still, in Wilkes-Barre many mundane non-issues seem to be lingering in, if not dominating the news.

Why is that?

I've lived on this smallish, nondescript Wilkes-Barre street for something approaching 15 years now. And despite all of the black eyes Wilkes-Barre has been treated to in the printed press during the past decade, the decision to move here was a great one. Sure, the make-up of the street has changed in a big way of late, but this street is still a good bet if you're looking for some quiet inner city living. Fact is, if any idiots happened to settle here, I'd be on the 826-8106 hotline so fast, it'd make somebody's head spin. I'm just not sure who's it would be.

On the day we moved here, when we had finally had had enough of carrying furniture, boxes and whatnot into the appropriate rooms, then set up just enough of our cheezy imported stuff to call it a day--a full-blown block party broke out right out front. At that time, my rodents were, like, 13, 11 and 9, and the group of kids on this street in their age group were looking forward to mixing it up with some new playmates. The block party started at 4 PM, and at 3:55 PM came a knock on the door: "Is Ebon coming out?"

Anyway, it didn't take very long for the kids to assimilate themselves into the new crowd and get themselves to doing what they used to do in the old 'hood.' You know, kid stuff. And over the years this Thompson Street cabal had themselves plenty of great times, as well as some rougher periods where some of them got to being annoyed with each other. No biggie. Stuff happens.

But over time, one by one, they got to growing up and moving onto greener pastures, or the colleges of their choice. As they moved on, the nightly sounds of kids playing out front pretty much came to an abrupt end. And I did come to miss the goings-on and all of the associated noises that wafted in through the open windows during those warmer months. Of late, the only time this group would get together again was for the yearly block parties. Near as I can tell, there was still some bad feelings over some ancient disagreements that barely anyone could remember accurately, but on the whole, the kids were civil towards each other. Some rumors about our still under-aged kids sneaking alcoholic drinks after the parents got good and toasted abounded, but they were yet to be proven. But as time marched on, they did graduate to adulthood, at least, in a legal sense. And then they were free to consume mass quantities right in the open. I'll can attest to feeling somewhat weird about my "children" sporting alcoholic beverages right in front of me, but I guess that's all a part of growing up. Or growing old.

This year, as with any other year, I manned the microphones and mixers for a solid eight hours, got more than my snootful and retired as soon as the big party was officially over. The thing is, somebody has to crawl out out of bed early on Sunday morning and stretch the 150-foot of hose up the street a ways and get to hosing away the bomb that seemed to have dropped. Somebody has to do it. And also as per usual, some of my neighbors started sticking their hurting heads out of doors somewhere around noon, as did the former kids. And being that they're all grown-up and legal these days, there was no need to hide what had transpired just out of sight while their parents were too tanked to even care about where they got to, or what they were doing the night before.

And while they carry state-issued cards proving they are all adults these days, they are not that far-removed from those days of doing mostly foolhearty kid type things. And as these recently declassified block party photos prove, even though they are able to partake of the adult beverages, they are still but big kids at heart.

Woo hoo! Go Peace!

Marque & Kara

Drunken stair-sliding? Backwards, no less? I'm thinking we might want to put a city medic unit on standby next year. Then again, if by popular demand, we could add drunken stair-sliding to the list of adult games next year. Lemme know.

Anyways, I'm not making an argument for getting your tallish kids drunk before starting the extreme stair sporting events. What I'm thinking is that only on Thompson Street could such an ill-advised stunt ever go down in the first place. Because, near as I can tell, only on Thompson Street do the residents all but demand a neighborly atmosphere, as well as celebrate that neighborly atmosphere year-in and year-out.

The 17th annual block party looms on the horizon, and this event could end up being the longest-running resident-sponsored tradition in the entire city (if it's not already) if all continues to go well on this tiny street.

As for the "kids," well, they're old to enough to party, and they're also old enough to know better than hurtling down stairs backwards. But, they're Thompson Street kids, and Thompson Street kids now how to enjoy the company of their neighbors and have a good time. We taught them well. Well, somewhat.

(Note: The Thompson Street Block Party Committee accepts no responsibity for broken bones, frayed carpeting, or shattered furniture.)

Party on!

Wifey, Marque and I packed the grandkids into the Radio Flyer wagon yesterday, headed off for town and took in the big Santa parade on the Square. They had fun. We needed a couple of coffees and hot chocolates, but if you stayed in the sunlight, it wasn't too bad. Then again, I think I was the only person in attendance wearing shorts. As I explained to one of those guys the city pays to sport a firearm, you kind of get used to it if you bicycle all over creation each and every day.

Zach had a blast

I'd love to get into how the insurgents in Iraq are big on patience, while we put our obvious lack of resolve on display, but the Jints and those scurfball Eagles will be teeing it up soon enough, so I am way outa here.

Publishing my brilliant plan for achieving world peace would be cool and all, but I've got to prioritize things. It's time for some smashmouth NFL football.