4-15-2006 Ask the candidate

You‘ll never guess. Mr. Family finally posted a couple of poor quality pictures of license plates belonging to those who dared to defy his holiness and enter Gentlemen's Club 10. Pray for those sinners, will you? They are blinded by the silicone and know not what they do. Blessed are they who cannot appreciate mammalian protuberances the size of silicone-engorged cantaloupes bouncing all around just inches from thy brow. See that, I attended CCD classes, too. To be perfectly frank, our religious instructor was kind of flat-chested. Actually, hers was a sort of concaving bosom. So I stared at her shapely legs instead.

Any-effing-way, I stopped by the local Kashmir Mart today and grabbed a copy of Diamond City on my way out. It’s usually filled with inane twaddle and I think that was the single worse edition published to date, but on the very last page I ran across the following tantalizing advertisement:

Now, just in case your eyes are tired or some such thing, I cut this coupon out of the ink-on-paper version of the ad for your amusement.

You can copy that ad and print it out iffin’ you’d like to make good use of it. Or, you can simply do what I did and chuckle at Mr. Family’s expense. Whether you’re a big fan of fully exposed and jiggling female protrusions or not, that is freaking funny--The Mr. Family Coupon. (Not good for special events)

I love it.

The following snippet was snatched from PublicBonds.org:


Wilkes-Barre, PA

When Wilkes-Barre, a small city of about 50,000 in eastern Pennsylvania defaulted on its debt service payment in 2002 on $5.3 million of taxable guaranteed revenue bonds, the bond insurer, Ambac Assurance Corp., was obliged to cover the missed payment. In December 2002, after announcing that Ambac had paid the claim, the company's managing director of public finance surveillance commented that it was an extremely rare occurrence as public finance was typically a safe bet and cities were typically a safe investment. Wilkes-Barre cured the default within four days after the bond payment was made by the insurer.

The Wilkes-Barre Redevelopment Authority issued the bonds in 1998 to finance construction and related work of an 80,000 square foot office building and rehabilitation of a parking garage. Both Moody's and Standard & Poor's assigned the insured debt a triple-A rating. The city's chief of administration said that the city had failed to make its payment on time because it had not received lease payments from its tenant. The bonds were secured by the full faith, credit and taxing power of the city's general obligation. In addition to the projected lease revenues the city was also collecting revenues from a tax increment financing district. The redevelopment authority took legal action against the tenant.

In this case, the default occurred because of the bankruptcy of the intended payer (the tenant) and the inability of the City to honor its pledge in a timely manner.8

Yes, the city “cured the default within four days” because the city was forced to float yet another Tax Anticipation Note. By the time Mayor McGroarty was voted out of office, he was pretty much known as The Man with the TANS, because of his incompetent and foretelling propensity for needing one twice a year where the city normally seeks one every January to cover expenses until tax revenue flows into the city’s coffers. To need more than one in a given fiscal year suggests the municipality’s financial wheels are going flat. That they were.

But how did Wilkes-Barre become a case-study in financial ineptitude? Well, try this quote from Todd Vonderheid about McGroarty’s now forgotten theater project: “..a blatant example of poor planning, horrific project management and a glaring example of why the public sector should not be in the development business.” (Times Leader, April 2, 2002) By the way, McGroarty’s target date for that theater’s opening was April 1, 2002.

As far as the “blatant example of poor planning” is concerned, let’s revisit WILKES-BARRE ASSOCIATES (Plaintiff) vs. CITY OF WILKES-BARRE (Defendant),” as filed IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF LUZERNE COUNTY, shall we? The plaintiffs sought an injunction halting construction of the theater project for the following reasons:

a. without proper zoning permit.

b. without land development approvals required by law, resulting in no administrative review or approval of the overall design of the Projects:

c. without PennDOT review, approval or issuance of required highway occupancy permits, despite the fact that construction was actually begun on a PennDOT right-of-way:

d. without a designed entrance or exit for vehicular traffic to and from the parking garage:

e. without a designated pedestrian entrance and exit to and from the theaters:

f. without a traffic study that shows the impact to existing roads and properties which would be affected by the construction:

g. without Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry approval, which is required prior to the start of any commercial parking/building project:

h. without erosion and sedimentation control plan approval from the Luzerne County Conservation District:

i. without required sewage planning module approval from the Department of Environmental Protection:

You wanna see j, k, l, m, and n, or are you getting the idea by now? What the heck, let’s do it-m.: without a general contractor or construction manager. Oh, hell, here’s n.: without any known/disclosed financing supported by firm commitments not contingent upon the satisfaction of outstanding matters, thereby placing the CITY and it’s citizens in an uncertain and potentially precarious financial situation.


n.: without any known/disclosed financing supported by firm commitments not contingent upon the satisfaction of outstanding matters, thereby placing the CITY and it’s citizens in an uncertain and potentially precarious financial situation.

So…how did Wilkes-Barre become a case-study in financial ineptitude?

Well, there are those who blame city council for not monitoring what the mayor was up to much more closely. Then again, he was always extremely evasive as to how his pie-in-the-sky projects were going to be funded. And when pressed hard on these funding questions, he stopped attending city council meetings altogether. Inasmuch as city council should be blamed for not providing more oversight very early on, they had to resort to appointing a fact-finding panel to get to the bottom of his financial wheeling-and-dealing morass.

Basically, McGroarty botched the call center project, he botched the theater project, he botched the intermodal project and he left the next mayor with $10.5 million in unpaid, overdue debts, minus the $4.3 million the Newcrete Products folks are still owed by the city’s redevelopment authority and recently sued to recoup. People, that’s a helluva lot of botching in a space of five short years.

Take the call center in particular. “McGroarty bid the call center project in the spring of 1998 and started construction shortly thereafter-even though the lease was not signed until Sept. 30.” (Times Leader, October 6, 2002) And from that same Leader article comes this: “The Redevelopment Authority, with the city’s backing, in 1998 floated two bonds to help finance the project, one for $7.5 million and another for $2,38 million.”

Rather than blaming only council who, admittedly, happened to be a bit too trusting of McGroarty during the earlier stages of his financial buffoonery, what about the then-members of the redevelopment authority? Multiple properties were changing hands, bonds were being floated, millions upon millions were being earmarked for these far-flung projects, millions were being spent, and yet, the redevelopment authority rubber stamped every one of McGroarty’s easily questionable requests. If any entity could have saved us from his financial and planning misdeeds, this body that was supposed to be completely independent of the city could have, but failed to do so.

More from that Leader story of October 6, 2002: “Although the state authority expressed concerns about the city’s lease, McGroarty never briefed the Redevelopment Authority or City Council regarding those concerns, even though the authority was the lessor and the city was the guarantor.

McGroarty told council the city was not canceling a state authority grant application on Sept. 22, 1998, the application was canceled seven days later by a letter from then Redevelopment Authority counsel, Cathy O’Donnell, “at the direction of the mayor.”

Just like that. The Mayor says jump and the RA’s solicitor asks “How high?” And that’s what can happen when the redevelopment authority is controlled by the mayor’s Executive Assistant, Marie McCormick, serving as the authority’s Secretary-Treasurer, and two of his closest political allies and significant campaign donors, Cathy and Brain O’Donnell, are serving as Authority Solicitor and as Authority Chairman.

And don’t underestimate the financial damage done to this city by their having rubber stamped everything that was presented to them by the then-mayor. If at any time they had gotten to doing their jobs and demanding to see some justification and documentation for all of his scatterbrained plans, the city and taxpayers would have been far better served by them. And we’d have far less outstanding debt. McGroarty was empowered by his allies controlling the Redevelopment Authority and the rest is but painful history we‘re still paying for.

Try this blurb from an October 3, 2002 Times Leader story titled Theater project endangered as state withholds $4 million:

“The theater lease, signed by R/C Theatres President J. Wayne Anderson and then-Redevelopment Authority Chairman Brian O’Donnell on May 12, 2000, gives R/C the right to get out of the lease if the building wasn’t ready by April 1, 2002. But Anderson, at his office in Reistertown Md., said he wants to build the theater.”

I received a ton of e-mail guff when I pointed out that I would not vote for anyone with any ties to Scientology at all, and that’s perfectly fine with me. But based on Brian O’Donnell’s disastrous involvement with the RA while serving as McGroarty’s myrmidon, I’d prefer to vote for someone I believe can lead Wilkes-Barre forward into the future rather than someone who has already led us backward.

This is from Candidate O’Donnell’s “Issues Page” on his campaign Web site:

I also feel we must do more on the state level to create an environment that employers will look to when they need to expand their operations by building a new plant or office. Our location is ideally suited to allow America's largest financial, manufacturing and technology companies to relocate or expand existing operations because of the great work ethic of our residents. I promise to be tireless in my efforts in working with all levels of government, local and national economic development partners, and the private sector in promoting and ultimately attracting these new employers to our region

Tireless? If he was tireless five years ago while “serving“ as the RA Chairman, Wilkes-Barre would not have become Pennsylvania’s asshole of the state. In my mind, he is as much responsible for our highly publicized and embarrassing financial debacles and our long-infamous hole-in-the-ground as Tom McGroarty is.

How did Wilkes-Barre become a case-study in financial ineptitude?

Ask the candidate.

Thanks entirely to whatever religious holiday it is this weekend, I got myself out of work real early like yesterday. Cool. As my new termite sidekick and I were heading back to the shop, I was enjoying that rarest of days when I get to be a passenger in my own work vehicle. We had just passed the Ashley breaker when I spotted something kind of odd looking and told the sidekick to pull over. He didn’t really understand what I was going on about so I told him to turn and pull in behind the new Family Dollar on Main Street, Ashley. He did so, he pulled around to the other side and lo-and-behold--a frickin’ structure fire was blazing away in a single-story industrial building. I handed him my cell phone, told him to get 911 on the blower and reached for my camera. At some point while haggling in the folks at 911, he said they wanted to know what kind of fire it was. Huh? A structure fire! Jesus H. Christ! It was 3:15 pm.

Anyway, I took a few pics before realizing we were probably way too close to the building while the flames were growing and growing in intensity. For all I knew, it was a fireworks factory, or a nail polish refinery. Or something. So we pulled into the Family Dollar lot and parked just as a very interesting character appeared from the lot where the fire was. Hmmm. Being that we could hear the sirens fast approaching, we decided to get out of the way and returned to the shop. We don’t get paid to watch structure fires, you know.

End of story.


Or so I thought.

I tuned into WNEP at 11 pm to see the weather forecast 3 or 4 times, when they did this story about how the Ashley Hose Company was right in the middle of their yearly Good Friday fish fry event when somebody yelled fire. Somebody? I guess that “somebody” would be me. Sorry, guys, but the damn thing was blazing away, right? Sorry.

The WNEP folks called this incident “an arson fire in an abandoned building, “ so maybe I should call the Ashley P.D. about that gaunt-looking character that headed away from the building just as things were getting good and torched. Whatever.

It’s like 72 degrees outside and I’m thinking bike about.