2-15-2006 Blast from the past

Nothing is so admirable in politics as a short memory.--John Kenneth Galbraith

They say the majority of voters have extremely short memories. And judging from what the Times Leader had to report earlier today, that theory appears about ready to be put to the test here in the big Willie Bee.

A blurb from today’s Times Leader:

Former W-B official, superintendent eye legislative seats

Ex-city administrator Jim Hayward, Blue Ridge’s Robert McNamara enter races.

By MICHAEL P. BUFFER mbuffer@leader.net

Tuesday was the first day political candidates could begin circulating petitions to get on the May 16 primary ballot, and more area candidates for the state Legislature have surfaced.

Jim Hayward, a former Wilkes-Barre firefighter and administrator, announced Tuesday he planned to run in the Democratic primary for state Rep. Kevin Blaum’s 121st District seat. Blaum, D-Wilkes-Barre, isn’t seeking re-election.

Whoa there! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!

Excuse me! Time out!

According to the historians, the captain of the Titanic went down with his ship. With that said, would you be in a rip-roaring hurry to hire his second-in-command immediately after the biggest maritime disaster in history?

Read on. Take a painful trip down memory lane.

From The Associated Press:

The last mayor, Tom McGroarty, rode into office nearly a decade ago with plenty of enthusiasm and ideas. But he was unable to deliver on many of his promises. By the time voters kicked him out of office in 2003, the city was $10.8 million in debt, its credit rating was shot and a political Web site had named him the worst mayor in Pennsylvania.

From Wickpedia.com:

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Wilkes-Barre attempted to repair the damage from Agnes by attracting new businesses to the city, with little success, as new businesses were unable to compensate for the many firms which either relocated out of town, or simply closed their doors. However, by 2000, Mayor Tom McGroarty earned the city a less than dubious reputation with his handling of the city's affairs and his confrontational style towards several state and federal officials. Governor Mark Schweiker went so far as to call him "inept." When McGroarty lost the mayoral primary in 2003, Wilkes-Barre was nearly $11 million in debt. During his administration, Wilkes-Barre became the center of a thriving subculture of drugs, violence and prostitution after police staffing was slashed to reduce the city's debt.

From PoliticsPA.com: McGroarty named Pennsylvania’s Worst Mayor in 2003

Mayor Tom McGroarty (Wilkes-Barre): From missed deadlines that reportedly cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars to accusations of gross mismanagement of redevelopment projects and the city's finances, McGroarty just cannot seem to catch a break. The city can't pay its bills - devastating its credit rating - and is doing a great job of making Scranton look good. The Times Leader had this to say: "We've always thought Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom McGroarty had those good intentions. We just never thought that he could do so much damage to a city in such a short time." Former Governor Mark Schweiker called McGroarty "inept." But even without that input, McGroarty tops our list.

From The Times Leader:

Posted on Sat, Apr. 27, 2002

Cybergaffe making city butt of jokes


WILKES-BARRE - The city's gotten attention from as far away as Canada - but it's not exactly what administrators were hoping for.

Computer experts find it laughable that City Hall employees have been keying - or typing by hand - tax data rendered inaccessible by a crash of the city's IBM mainframe nearly two weeks ago.

The maneuver, made necessary because the city doesn't have a maintenance agreement with IBM that could have provided technical help retrieving the data, has generated a flurry of e-mails that ridicule city officials involved with the decision, jokingly call for their execution and question their computer competence.

Ray Yancey, a computer specialist from Ohio said City Administrator James Hayward and "anyone else involved with the decision to substitute a PC network for an AS400 for critical data should be killed and then eaten to prevent them from being revived."

Richard Renshaw, an Information Systems technical expert for a manufacturing company in Toronto, said Hayward is "a technology simple person."

"Something is funny here," said Herman Gaump, a management consultant from New England with about 35 years experience with computers. "I think they're trying to hide something - one, their stupidity."

Hayward declined to respond to the jokes. His wife, city spokeswoman Shannon Hayward, said "I don't think it's funny."

There are about 25,000 names, addresses and tax data that have to be keyed into the PCs. The employees have been typing at a rate of about 200 items per day. At that rate, they'll be typing for the next six months.

The city calls it training.

"That doesn't make sense," Renshaw said Friday. "I don't think anybody would get away with that in Canada."

Hayward insisted the training was necessary because the employees have to learn all of the special coding for the PCs.

Well, Renshaw said, training should take no more than a few hours. "You can learn the entire system in two or three days at most."

County Data Processing Director Steve Englot said a new person was trained on the county computer system recently.

From The Times Leader:

Posted on Mon, Jul. 01, 2002

Family ties bring some summer workers

Wilkes-Barre officials say the jobs were open to teens of all genes, but a critic asks about advertising for the positions.


WILKES-BARRE - More than 100 young people have joined the ranks of Wilkes-Barre city employees this summer, and 12 of 107 are clearly related to full-time employees or a council member, according to analysis of city employment rolls.

The teens, all city residents, watch over swimmers at city pools, cut grass along city boulevards and pick up balls at the city golf course.

Mayor Thomas McGroarty has told City Council members that their complaints about the city's appearance will decrease once the teens are on the job.

In fact, McGroarty said in a memo issued Friday, he was able to hire everyone who applied for a summer job with the city.

Christine Katsock, president of the Wilkes-Barre Taxpayers Association, said she hadn't seen any of the jobs advertised. She said other municipalities, such as Kingston Township, advertise their summer jobs.

"If they weren't advertised, I'd have to ask why," Katsock said.

The vast majority of the jobs, 77, pay $5.15 an hour, minimum wage. Those people are laborers or attendants.

The 18 lifeguards are paid $6 an hour. The rest of the jobs are golf course, mechanical or management jobs. Three mechanics make $8 each.

The highest paid summer employee is Erin Monka, who makes $8.49 an hour as a clerk. City Council member Kathy Kane said she wondered if the highest-paid workers were a little too highly paid.

"My son's getting paid $8.75, and he's moving furniture," Kane said.

Of the 107 summer workers, 12 are related to city employees, based on interviews and on a list of permanent workers supplied by the city.

Some have powerful patrons: Parks and Recreation Director Gerard McGroarty's son, Gerard, is a laborer for $5.15 an hour. Council President Tom Leighton's daughter, Kelly, is a lifeguard for $6 an hour. And City Administrator Jim Hayward's son, Jim Hayward III, is an attendant for $5.15 an hour, as is nephew Chris Hayward.

Katsock said she wouldn't be surprised if there were more relations hired - grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins - less obvious because of different surnames.

Hayward, sounding like a recruiter, invited applicants to City Hall.

'We're still hiring kids," Hayward said. "If anyone needs a job, we're still hiring."

From The Times Leader

Posted on Sat, Oct. 04, 2003

W-B workers feast on overtime


WILKES-BARRE - A handful of city employees are again on track to earn more than double their salaries, thanks to overtime pay.

Twenty-one men have each earned more than $10,000 in overtime and double time, according to figures released this week by Mayor Tom McGroarty.

Overall, more than $650,000 has been spent on overtime this year, according to city records.

Though McGroarty is listed as the highest-paid city employee at $75,324 per year, Public Works Superintendent Joey Davis, building inspector Robert Mosley and master electrician Dennis Sabestinas are all on track to surpass the mayor's salary. McGroarty did not answer written questions that were submitted Friday to his spokeswoman, Shannon Hayward.

Davis, 50, was the top-paid employee in 2002, earning $85,627. As of Oct. 1, according to city payroll figures, he's made $69,427, only $30,625 of which is straight time.

A city employee since he was 17, Davis is everywhere all of the time. He's there when tree limbs fall in the night and streets flood on weekends. In the latest two-week pay period, he worked 80 hours of regular time and another 41 hours of overtime.

He has donated $300 to McGroarty since 1999, according to county campaign-finance records.

Like Davis, Mosley, a city employee since 1991, has made more in overtime and double time than he has in straight time. So far this year, he's earned $33,584 in overtime and double time, and $63,698 overall.

He also has donated $300 to McGroarty since 1999, according to county campaign-finance records.

Mosley is responsible for maintaining the vacant call center at 169 S. Main St., and was involved in the inspections and closing of Park N Lock Central.

Sabestinas, 48, is a 26-year city employee. He is the city's only electrician. Among his jobs was installing lights on the east side of the closed parkade to light the way for Commonwealth Telephone employees walking to their new parking lot, on the Percy Brown site.

Davis and Mosley did not return telephone calls seeking comment. Sabestinas does not have a listed telephone number.

Many departments have overspent their overtime allotment - from the city clerk's and mayor's executive staff ($541 and $664 over, respectively) to public works, which was budgeted for $125,000 but has spent $232,634.

From The Times Leader:

Posted on Fri, May. 23, 2003

Area seeks to be in the money again

County goes without again. Lobbyist, cooperation are urged to gain funds


Times Leader Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG - Gov. Ed Rendell's administration announced more than $5 million in grants this week to help revitalize communities in 37 counties, but Luzerne County wasn't on the list.

It's the latest in a string of missed chances for the county, particularly Wilkes-Barre, to capture some of the millions of dollars doled out by the state each year for economic development.

Some blame outgoing Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom McGroarty for the area's lackluster record when it comes to getting its fair share from Harrisburg. Others say it stems from poor cooperation among local officials and state legislators.

Whatever the root, those problems could be a thing of the past come January when a new mayor and new county commissioners take office and try to remake the area's image in Harrisburg.

"I think the possibilities in Wilkes-Barre are endless," said state Rep. Kevin Blaum, D-Wilkes-Barre. "I expect great things for Wilkes-Barre over the next several years."

Careful not to criticize McGroarty, Blaum acknowledged that a change at the helm would likely improve chances for getting state funding for some of the dozens of projects languishing on the drawing board.

McGroarty has been criticized for his brazen, in-your-face approach to lobbying legislators and the governor. His unannounced visits to demand an audience with the governor are renowned.

Former Gov. Mark Schweiker painted McGroarty's poor fiscal management as the primary reason for not funding some of the city's economic development projects, particularly the downtown theater.

"To us, this was such an embarrassment," said Stephen M. Barrouk, president of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry. "People were following the antics of this mayor in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Washington, and it was an amusement to them. But it was a tragedy to us."

Calling McGroarty's administration "dysfunctional," Barrouk said the entire region suffered because of the city's tarnished image. He recalled meetings in Harrisburg where senior state officials shrugged off the chamber's funding requests.

"It wasn't because we had bad projects," Barrouk said. "It was because we were from Wilkes-Barre."

Not everyone considers McGroarty's lobbying efforts a failure. State Sen. Raphael Musto, D-Pittston Township, praised the mayor for his tenacious attitude and relentless work ethic.

"The greatest lobbyist in Wilkes-Barre was Mayor McGroarty," Musto said. "He knew what was out there, and he did his homework and went out there and pushed for it."

McGroarty is quick to defend his record, as well.

"We got $78 million in state and federal grants since I've been mayor," he said Wednesday. "I hope the next mayor does that well. I've gotten more grants than the last three mayors did."

When asked why several of his projects for the city stalled for lack of state funding, McGroarty blamed Schweiker.

McGroarty's not the only one to blame, according to Tom Baldino, who teaches political science at Wilkes University.

"For economic development to occur in this area, you need to have the county commissioners on board," Baldino said. "They need to be out there, pitching projects to the state."

"Luzerne County hasn't done very well in getting state or federal grants," he continued. "There are other counties that are really hustling for grants."

He suggested adding a new weapon to the region's political arsenal: a paid lobbyist. Other cities and municipalities across the state are turning increasingly to paid lobbyists to make their cases, but that hasn't been the Wilkes-Barre way. McGroarty proudly publicized his unannounced road trips to Harrisburg and beyond in search of cash. But Baldino says he believes a paid lobbyist would be more effective.

"If they spent $20,000 on a lobbyist, I think that could be $20,000 well-spent. If you spend $20,000, you should bring back at least twice that much in grants."

Of course, the region already has lobbyists of a sort in Harrisburg - its state lawmakers. Blaum said the city doesn't need to hire a lobbyist with him and Musto fighting to get money for the area. "No one can argue their case better than we can. I think it's superfluous, but I think lobbyists would be happy to take the money."

Others say the situation will improve when a new mayor and new county commissioners take office for 2004.

"I think that the new leadership in Wilkes-Barre will be working collaboratively with the business community," Barrouk said. "People are really anxious to re-establish our good name."

Republican mayoral candidate Christine Katsock said she already has a plan to do that if she wins in November. For starters, the city must clean up its finances and place strict controls on spending, she said.

She also said she'd open lines of communication between the city and its state lawmakers, so that legislators would have a better understanding of the what the city needs. Finally, Katsock said, she would hire department heads who are experienced grant writers to give the city a better shot at landing money.

Democratic mayoral nominee Tom Leighton could not be reached for comment.

Whether it's Leighton or Katsock at city hall, Barrouk said the promise of new leadership has re-energized the community.

"A lot of people around here feel liberated," he said. "We're ready to start anew."

From The Times Leader:

Posted on Sun, Nov. 09, 2003

McGroarty leaves unhappy legacy in Harrisburg

Wilkes-Barre's outgoing mayor is panned for having a confrontational style.


HARRISBURG - When Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom McGroarty leaves office, he'll have left his indelible mark in the capital city as well as Wilkes-Barre.

McGroarty's unpredictable antics and confrontational style with officials in Harrisburg earned him the unenviable title of "Pennsylvania's Worst Mayor" by Politicspa.com, a well-read political Web site.

He was embroiled in public feuds with former Gov. Mark Schweiker, and he caught the Secret Service off-guard with his zealous attempts to meet with former Vice President Al Gore near the Woodlands Inn & Resort during a campaign swing in 2000.

Some officials in Harrisburg say McGroarty's reputation as a political gadfly prone to drop in without an invitation might have done more harm than good for Wilkes-Barre, and welcome a change at the helm.

"You need leadership at the top that understands the process you have to go through, that will execute a sound municipal strategy for bettering their community, and that was not evident in Wilkes-Barre," said David La Torre, former press secretary for Schweiker.

"Hopefully, with a change in leadership in Wilkes-Barre, that will bring about a change in attitude by folks in Harrisburg toward Wilkes-Barre."

Democrat Tom Leighton defeated McGroarty in the primary in May, and won the general election Tuesday.

McGroarty's vocal criticism of the Schweiker administration and its rescinding of $4 million in state funding for a downtown theater/parking garage project sent sparks flying in Harrisburg last year.

Speaking on behalf of the administration at the time, La Torre publicly called McGroarty "inept" and blasted him for fiscal mismanagement.

Now a public relations specialist in Harrisburg, La Torre hasn't forgotten what it's like to deal with McGroarty. That's why he said it's important for the next mayor to learn the proper way of doing business in the Capitol.

"You had municipalities all across the state that were doing it right," La Torre said. "This was a case where things weren't being done in an appropriate fashion."

McGroarty disputes that, saying his tactics might not have been popular, but they were effective. He cited state money he received for the city Health Department and for road and bridge projects. Both are areas that did not receive adequate state funding in the past, he said.

McGroarty said he developed strong relationships in Harrisburg and in Washington, D.C. He named Gov. Tom Ridge as one of Wilkes-Barre's most important allies. "Ridge was a great guy," gushed the outgoing mayor. "There's a guy who was good with local government."

McGroarty acknowledged a combative relationship with Schweiker, but said it stemmed from 1996, when the state Emergency Management Agency refused the city's request for $800,000 in flood aid. McGroarty said he appealed PEMA's decision to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and won.

"I had a responsibility on the part of the city not to be everyone's friend, but to be an advocate for the city," McGroarty said.

He said Schweiker resented the fact that McGroarty went "over his head" to get the aid in 1996, so the former governor yanked the $4 million in state money for the theater. Schweiker has denied that charge.

"Someday, maybe three or 10 years from now, (Schweiker) might tell me that he regrets what he did," McGroarty predicted. "You shouldn't make decisions like that over politics." McGroarty gets some praise.

Another official, who worked in the Schweiker administration and works for Gov. Ed Rendell, said he's already seen a dramatic difference in the way McGroarty deals with the governor's office.

Whether it's because he is a lame duck, or Rendell is a fellow Democrat, McGroarty appears to be a kinder and gentler mayor these days, the official said. "It just seems like he's been a little more low-key," the official said. "With Schweiker, he was really in your face.

That's good news, says state Rep. Kevin Blaum, D-Wilkes-Barre.

The Rendell administration has embraced Wilkes-Barre with open arms and supports the downtown revitalization, particularly the downtown theater project, Blaum said. Blaum refused to discuss the McGroarty administration, but said a strong, competent mayor is "huge" in terms of getting state funding for local projects.

"We have a governor who understands the importance of downtowns," Blaum said. "I think everything is possible to reinvigorate downtown Wilkes-Barre with a new mayor." McGroarty didn't burn all of his bridges. Some officials defended the mayor as a champion for the city, while still acknowledging his brash demeanor.

"Even though he was gruff, he was always trying to get things accomplished," said Bob Doble, the assistant district executive for design at the state Department of Transportation. "I enjoyed working with him."

Doble praised McGroarty for pushing for dozens of road and bridge projects in the city, including the realignment of Coal Street, the Martin Luther King Boulevard Project and four bridge projects at Solomon Creek. With about 280 road projects in the pipeline throughout the PennDOT district, Doble said it's difficult to give any particular project top priority.

That's where McGroarty's shepherding proved an asset, he said.

"He was aggressive in going in and pushing for his priorities," Doble said. "Sometimes he would rub you the wrong way, but I could appreciate where he was coming from." The same goes for Kevin Brennan, a project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who worked with McGroarty on the Solomon Creek flood protection project. Brennan said McGroarty's no-nonsense style was a breath of fresh air.

"You know exactly where he stands, rather than trying to dance around the issue. Sure, it was frustrating at times, but that's with anybody. He's an advocate for his city, and I can't fault him for that."

Guilt by association

But sometimes McGroarty's advocacy went too far, critics contend, diminishing Wilkes-Barre's image in the process.

Lawrence Socci - a Wilkes-Barre native and a Washington lobbyist who asked McGroarty to hire his firm - said he hears the muffled laughter and derisive comments from federal officials who've met or dealt with McGroarty.

"They're not overly pleased with what's been going on up there," Socci said of officials inside the Beltway.

"The Pennsylvania coalition - they're looking for a change. New blood is going to be good."

Leighton, the mayor-elect, said he hopes to change the perception of Wilkes-Barre, adding that he has already begun building relationships in Harrisburg.

"I have been rebuilding the bridges that have been damaged by the current administration," Leighton said. "I had the opportunity to meet with Gov. (Ed) Rendell this summer, and I've been meeting with the governor's staff. ... I think they were satisfied and impressed."

He also has been working closely with the area's state lawmakers, including state Rep. Kevin Blaum, D-Wilkes-Barre, and state Sen. Raphael Musto, D-Pittston Township. Leighton said he'll be able to rebuild Wilkes-Barre's image in Harrisburg through a new spirit of "cooperation, professionalism and integrity."

Is Leighton doomed to lug McGroarty's baggage?

Most officials say no. The key, they said, is not to repeat the same mistakes twice.

For example, Rendell spokesman Mike Lukens said it probably isn't wise to follow McGroarty's lead and drop into the governor's office unannounced and demand a meeting. McGroarty is renowned for his ambush visits of state officials.

"Generally," Lukens said, "it would be more productive if you plan your trip in advance." Message received loud and clear, Leighton said.

"After 21 years in business, I can tell you that nothing is worse than unannounced visits," he said.

I’ll stop there. This could go on and on to infinity. Facts is facts. The McGroarty administration took this city from bad to worse and if that wasn’t bad enough, it pushed us onwards to deplorable and well beyond. Under that inept administration’s far, far less than capable stewardship, Wilkes-Barre became the undeniable political laughing stock of the entire state. I swapped e-mails with a state employee, say…in 2001 and he called Wilkes-Barre “the asshole of the state.”

McGroarty and his band of underlings left their indelible mark on Wilkes-Barre, all right. And we’ve been trying to scrub away the last of those expensive and embarrassing marks ever since they got trounced at the polls in May 2003. If you can present me with a reasonable argument as to why anyone should vote for Tom McGroarty’s second-in-command, I’m all ears. Actually, if you present that argument via the e-mail inbox, then I’ll be all eyes. All four of them.

I can’t friggin’ wait to hear Hayward make his case as to why we should vote for him. I’ll try to be kind, but I’m picturing something along the lines of Nintendo’s Duck Hunt. I’d like to think I’ve got a better aim than Dick Cheney, and I gotta tell y’all, this duck--this happy horsesh*t--just ain’t gonna fly.


3 more months

1 more month?


The man with a clear conscience probably has a poor memory.--Author Unknown