4-15-2007 Police scanners don’t lie

When commissioner Steve Urban got to politicking for fellow republican Christine Katsock back in ‘03 as she squared off against then councilman Tom Leighton for the mayoralty of Wilkes-Barre, he immediately stuck his tiny foot in his mouth by saying that Leighton was not concerned with the needs of the disabled. If you know Tom Leighton at all, you already understand how totally absurd and ill-advised that charge was.

Well, now Urban’s wife and fellow republican, Linda Stets, is poised to do battle with Leighton while Wilkes-Barre’s future hangs in the balance, so Dr. No, Steve Urban promptly raised his tiny foot and inserted it into his mouth all over again.

From the Citizens’ Voice:

Officials oppose cuts to federal program

WILKES-BARRE — Standing in front of the $30 million Northampton and Main project, Luzerne County Commissioner Greg Skrepenak and community development director Andy Reilly said it shows what can be accomplished with Community Development Block Grant funds.

They are opposed to President Bush’s proposal to cut the federal program by $736 million next year. Currently, $4 billion is distributed throughout the country for a wide range of projects, Reilly said at a press conference held Monday to highlight Community Development week.

The county’s Community Development Block program has provided grants for downtown Wilkes-Barre projects, including $2.5 million for the theaters; $1.4 million for the Barnes and Noble joint college bookstore, $6 million for the Hotel Sterling project and $5.6 million to acquire properties to turn Market Street Square into a visitors center, Reilly said.

So far, this is a no-brainer. Without Community Development Block Grants, much of small-town America would be reduced to rubble by now. Any appreciable reduction in available CDBG monies would only hurt the challenged infrastructures that surround us all. If the feds need to trim the budget, this is the one line item they ought not cut.

Okay, so let’s get to the part where the needless politicking led to the foot being put in mouth.

Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton said Community Development Block Grant funds helped turn around the downtown. He said he had a meeting scheduled Monday with an interested developer who he did not identify.

Luzerne County Commissioner Steve Urban said he also wanted to thank former Mayor Tom McGroarty for obtaining funds for the theaters and other downtown projects. He recalled attending a press conference with McGroarty when former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum awarded $1 million in Community Development Block Grant funds for the theaters.

Just had to suggest that Tom Leighton should not get the lion’s share of the credit, right Steve? No, Tom McGroarty had a hand in all of that, correct?

That would be the same guy who wasted $5 million on a muddy hole with some nice-looking footers, yes, Steve? Yeah, the very same guy who never paid for the pre-caste concrete that was manufactured by a company that is currently suing the financially defunct Redevelopment Authority for it’s long, long overdue payment. The man with the plans, the man who spent, and spent and spent, but accomplished nothing? That’s who you’re deflecting credit to during an election season?

Petty. Very effing petty.

And stupid.

Citizens’ Voice editorial:

River plan is dream for some, bane for others

That reminds me, The “No Dam” T-shirts are in!

Dude, I swear to Allah, the check is in the mail.

Hold a large for me.

Cripes almighty! Let’s hope Al Gore doesn’t get wind of this one.

Are mobile phones wiping out our bees?

If he does catch wind of it, you can add cell phones to the multitudinous list of things you need to do without, but adamantly refuse to.

This boy needs much, much stronger meds, but that’s assuming that prescription medications are not destroying some heretofore unknown segment of the ecosystem. If so, no more pill-popping, kiddies.

It’s the end of the world, I tell ya!

It’s the end of the world!

Wilkes Bar & Grill

Retiring councilman Jim McCarthy weighs in on the power of city council:

From the Citizens’ Voice:

Several candidates for Wilkes-Barre City Council have written to your newspaper concerning the powers, or lack of same, of a member of council, much of it misleading or misinformed, and I would like to try to set the record straight for the uninitiated. Call it “Government 101” for those who haven’t studied government or governing.

To begin with, yes, the city charter states that “all powers” are vested in the office of the mayor — “except” for those that are specifically delegated to the legislative branch of government, i.e.; city council. The major “except” is that council must approve a yearly budget, and periodic necessary emergency expenditures, such as after a flood or the demolition of a structure that endangers the health and welfare of the citizens. If a council doesn’t believe some expenditures in an administration’s budget are necessary, or too expensive, they can veto the budget and negotiate with an administration to make the changes they feel necessary, or in the best interests of the city’s residents. Such action by a council can bring the city government to a screeching halt with no money to operate. It’s never happened, but it could.

The second most important duty of a city council is to write the laws that govern how a city operates — the city, not just the government. To me, that, in many ways, is the most important duty, or power, vested in city council, writing laws that benefit all the people of the city. And sometimes, getting a law passed by the entire council is like pulling teeth out of a chicken (I know, chickens don’t have teeth ... it’s an expression of frustration), and it takes time and cooperation.

Case in point: The “Rental Inspection” law I wrote was criticized and denounced from the day I first proposed it. But, after several years on the books, that law has driven several slumlords out of our city, and now mandates that the city must inspect proposed rental places to insure they are “safe for human habitation” (no rats, roaches, leaking gas pipes, faulty electrical systems, windows falling out, etc.). It took five years to get everyone to agree with that law, and with several amendments by other members, but it’s now called the “best thing since mom’s apple pie,” in that it has driven many slumlords out of our city, and can be used to either force owners to make repairs before a family moves in to a property, or we shut it down as being unsafe for human beings to live until repairs are made. That’s a council power.

The “other” power a council, or councilperson, has is the “power of the press” — writing letters, like this, to the editor, seeking the support of the public to pass legislation that usually is suggested by members of the public. The “public” also has power to make changes. Council holds meetings during which the public has 10 minutes to make an appeal, or complaint, about what they believe should be done to benefit all the city and its residents. If enough citizens come forward with an idea, or complaints, council will listen and bend to the will of the people. After all, the “people” put them in office, and can take them out on election day. The “people” also have the “power of the press,” letters to the editor, etc., which every councilperson reads, and, usually, pays attention to.

In the end, if any candidate for city council feels a council-person is without power, then I suggest you not run, because you’ve already given up before you get there, and you won’t be worth the space you’ll take up.

Jim McCarthy



Jim, it’s not that city council has no power to speak of, it’s just that we’ve got political neophytes out there promising goodies they probably cannot deliver if they were to be empowered.

I think the heated battle between City Council and former Mayor Tom McGroarty during the latter stages of his administration was a shining example of how council’s power could be nullified, or, how a city council should have flexed it’s collective muscles, but was ultimately reluctant to.

The mayor outright refuses to attend council meetings, and repeatedly refused to provide the oft-requested financial data as the city’s wheels were obviously coming off. And what did council do? They huffed and puffed and threatened him with subpoena after subpoena, but he ignored them to the bitter end. The end result was the next administration’s first official act was to secure a $10.5 million Tax Anticipation Note just to keep the listing city afloat.

You sat on that council, you were a party to the whole shebang, and I’m sure you have forgotten more about all of that than I will ever know. My point is, if council wields so much power, why wasn’t that out of control mayor brought under some semblance of control?

Yes, a Blue Ribbon panel was formed to investigate the mayor’s, many financial misdeeds, but I’m of the impression that was city council’s way of avoiding a messy, messy political showdown. As far as I’m concerned, city council had the power to reign him in, but was reluctant to do so. And with millions upon millions of dollars having been clearly misspent, I find that puzzling, if not downright troubling. But, that’s fast becoming ancient history, yet still has a somewhat stifling effect on the day-to-day operations of the city. I guess what I’m trying to say is, you had the power, but were afraid to pull the trigger.

So, what’s up with lecturing the newbies?

These days, we’ve got a mayor that has been doggedly financially responsible even if it damaged him politically, and now…now, everybody is pumping their chest about how tough they’ll be if and when they win a council seat. Which is not to say that the mayor should not be held accountable, nor does it suggest that transparency is not preferable to translucence.

It’s just that we’ve got candidates for council boasting about how they’ll demand this, that and everything in the way of financial reporting and such, and I don’t want to see the entire operation get bogged down simply because well-meaning oversight devolves to the point of being damaging obstructionism. It’s perfectly fine to demand answers, but it’s another crippling thing to needlessly grandstand for the purposes of one day being re-elected. There’s a fine line there, a balance that needs to be maintained.

No matter what the makeup of the new council turns out to be, those people need to understand that exhaustive investigations, that self-aggrandizing political showmanship is not governance, nor should it ever be. Yes, there’s supposed to be checks and, yes, there’s supposed to be balances, but they should not put the continuity of city government at risk.

Speaking of needless and self-aggrandizing boasting, I’m still awaiting the long-overdue results of Walter Griffith’s promised forensic audit of Tom Leighton’s inaugural gala.

City council does have power, all I’m saying is we need reasonable people with reasonable expectations and reasonable goals to be entrusted with that power. If not, we can probably expect endless confrontation and bitter tumult in lieu of responsible governing. We need to be very, very leery of those haphazardly promising to wield that power for little more than personal political gain.

No matter who ends up sitting on that newfangled council, I pray we won’t need to buckle up all over again whereas following the travails of city government is concerned. Sorry, but seat belts should not be required, as they were just four short years ago.

We shall see, hayna?

During that previous life of mine when I was managing restaurants, my assistants would forever bang my phone on my days off looking for me to make a decision for them. The way I saw things, they were being paid to make decisions during their shifts. So, rather than tell them what to do, I would always tell them the same thing: “Make a friggin’ decision.”


And when I made my way into the store the next day, I’d let them know what I thought of their decision. They had either made the right decision, which I would applaud, or the wrong decision from which they should learn something. I guess that’s the much longer version of the time-tested “grow a pair.”

Let’s see, the cooks were overwhelmed, agitated and outright refused to garnish the plates going out of the kitchen even after you commanded them to do so? So, what did you do?

You told the defiant leader of the short-order pack to drop his apron, punch out and leave the premises, never to return unless he first sat and talked with me? Outstanding, man! Standards have to be maintained no matter what. Outstanding!

Then there’s the alternate ending so popular on DVDs.

You walked away and the short-orders outwardly snickered at your complete inability to bring them under control?

Let’s dissect and learn from that incorrect decision that undermines your credibility in the minds of every employee privy to that scene. But, rightly or wrongly, at least you made a decision. You didn’t pick up the phone, you made a decision. And the next time you’re faced with a similar dilemma, I expect a hopping-mad short-order cook to be sent home cursing in an instant.


All of which leads me to the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry board members, who, from what I’m reading, don’t seem capable of making a decision without first picking up a telephone.

You know, if these people were managing my restaurant on my day off, I’m fairly certain I would ask the lot of them to put their nametags and their keys on the center of my desk, and then instruct them to go and find something they are truly good at.

Make a friggin’ decision!!!

I promise, it won’t hurt.


I was making my way through Ashley the other day, only to have my way blocked by what seemed to be a violent carjacking in progress.

Yep, this vanload of people were stopped at an intersection, when some guy stopped behind them, ran down the side of the van, yanked the driver out of the van and started pummeling him into the next life. Startled onlookers on the sidewalks seemed powerless to even move, so I dialed 911.

And it started. Predictably, it effing started.

What is the nature of your emergency?

A guy is beating the tar out of another guy. He’s stealing his van. Damn, he’s gonna kill this guy. We need a cop now!


Location again?


Pronounced how?

Say again?

Social security number?

Phone number?

Waist size?

Dude, you had better send that cop.

Favorite color?

Mother’s maiden name?

I interrupted the quizzical telecommunicator. Dude, he just jumped in the white van…a Quest, and drove away.

What kind of car?

Dude, a van…a Quest. I dunno one car from another anymore. It’s a Quest van.

And he…

Dude, he’s running back up the street now…I think he’s going after the occupants again. We need a police officer now!

It was a white car?

Dude, dispatch a cop!

And on and on we go, where the criminal ends up, nobody knows.

Turns out, the guy grabbed the van, drove it down the street and parked it. Then he came back and drove away in his pickup truck. The female passengers of the van attended to the guy that took the beating and I informed the 911 person that I was leaving the scene.

So, I headed back to the shop, parked my truck, uploaded my computer, stowed my gear, discussed the next day’s work with my CSR and my cell phone rang. It was Ashley’s police chief who was at the scene of the violent encounter and was asking me for some more detail. I told him what I could. And I have no idea what might have transpired after that.

First of all, Ashley is about as big as my stereo stand. So, when this violence first erupted, the police chief could not have been very far away when I first requested help. But, having been forced to route this cry for help through the far-away 911 facility, it probably took about 10 minutes before that help arrived. But what if there was no such expensive facility mucking things up?

In the old days, before this 911 bullspit, a dispatcher sitting at the borough building would have taken my call and dispatched the police chief within a minute, if not, within seconds. And being only a couple of streets removed from the scene, he probably arrives there within a minute or two after that. And, yes, being that I spend so much time there, I do know which telephone number to call in the event of hostilities breaking out, or medical emergencies. I’m prepared like that. A Boy Scout forever.

But, when calling 911 is all too often much more time-consuming that itemizing one’s tax deductions, what becomes of the public safety that 911 supposedly enhances? When ultra violence breaks out, the timeliness of the police response is vastly more critical that what the name of my mom’s pet newt is, what my favorite color is, or how my name happens to be pronounced. Either dispatch first and ask the inane questions later, or scrap the entire 911 boondoggle altogether.

If I were to be elected in any local municipality, I’d be itching to disassociate my police department from that which slows it’s response. And no matter what politically correct arguments were made against such a bold move, I know that doing so would amount to better serving my constituents.

Somebody once said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Still somebody else said that pictures don’t lie. Yeah, and neither do police scanners.

The sad fact is, if you’re about to be raped by one guy and killed by another, dialing 826-8106 might save your both virginity and your life. At the very least, hopefully the latter. But, given those circumstances, by calling 911, you’re probably inadvertently generating your own obituary. I’d like to say otherwise, but that’s where we’re at.

Police scanners don’t lie.

Sez me.

Jeremy is not real big on etiquette just yet