12-31-2008 Home Rule revisited

I wonder if Hillary Clinton is regretting the decision to accept the Secretary of State gig when she could have stayed nice and comfy in her senate seat.

Let’s see, nuclear powers, Indian and Pakistan are redeploying thousands of troops towards their shared border. Israel is pounding Hamas in the Gaza Strip by way of countless air sorties. Plus, an Israeli ground force has been mobilized and is poised to invade the Palestinian territory.

Meanwhile, most experts expect Hezzbollah, flush with tens of thousands of Iranian-made missiles, to open a second front with Israel along the southern border of Lebanon. And just to make things seem even more unstable and more wildly unpredictable, the Iranian leader claims that Iran is home to zero homosexuals, while taking time off from calling for Israel’s destruction.

And the world’s predictable reaction to the carnage in Gaza? Israel is the bad guy again.

Yeah, despite being the recipient of some 3,000 missiles and mortar strikes during the “truce” with Hamas. Despite being pushed and pushed and pushed until the only possible reaction was a military one. Yep, despite being threatened and targeted without relent, they tell us that Israel now needs to show restraint.

Good luck with that one, Hillary.

2008 year in review. 2008 was mostly unremarkable. It wasn’t the best of years, and certainly not the worst.

But in a playoff atmosphere during the last weekend of the NFL season, the Dallas Cowboys got thumped to the tune of 44-6 and missed the playoffs again.

So, with that having transpired just before the conclusion of the year, turns out, 2008 was an outstanding year.


It‘s funny how it just never seems to end. Politics, I mean.

We finally got that epic Hillary-Barrack brouhaha behind us. Then it was on to the general election and the Obama-McCain funfest. And then, just when we thought it was safe to come out of our well-stocked fortifications, it’s on to the next politicking scrimmage, albeit, a much more local scrum.

I took a minute and a half out of my not so busy day to scour what little remains of the local internet scene, when I came across the following.

As Gort so succinctly put it, “4,790 valid signatures are needed to get it on the May primary ballot that would elect another study commission that would draft a new home rule charter. If they use the 2003 Charter proposal with some tinkering it could be on the ballot in November.”

Yes, you heard it right. It’s time for Home Rule II. According to the latest out of the vast internet wastelands, it’s high time that we revisit this polarizing issue all over again.

Although, I’m not sure as to why? Are you guys telling me you’re not happy with Greg Skrepenak’s performance as a county commissioner? Gee, I’m shocked.

And how do I feel about this?

Well, this is what I wrote on November 15, 2007:

11-15-2007 Home Rule II?

Thanks entirely to the utterly predictable results of last week’s election, I’ve heard two things being repeatedly bandied about on both local talk radio and the internet. And neither of them bode well for Greg Skrepenak and the boys.

The first reoccurring theme is that the inept Republican party in this county is in need of a serious, serious overhaul and sooner rather than later.

The other more ominous rumbling (if you’re in the political loop) is that it’s high time we revisit the Home Rule issue.

The former is probably about as likely as are the laughable warnings of imminent death, destruction and redrawn coast lines at the hands of Global Warming. But the latter…well, don’t count out the latter from gaining some steam.

When the majority commissioner sits on a $19.87 million deficit until after the election, as he recently did, odds are some segment of the electorate is going to become enraged. And when said majority commissioner also delays the long overdue property reassessment until after the election, as he recently did, odds are a whole other segment of the electorate is also going to be up in arms. And when that very same majority commissioner proposes to borrow $46.9 million, but can’t or won’t go into specifics, there are still others in that now grumbling electorate that will call for his political head, while many others will call for an entirely new form of government. Well, again, that is.

And as far as I’m concerned, we are completely justified in calling for that reinvention of the county’s fast-flattening financial wheels. Home Rule? Been there, studied that, but I didn’t like the final draft of what our county government would have looked like during the first ill-fated go-round.

As for the possibility of a second Home Rule go-round, you can count me in.

You want to know why? Because our majority commissioner ran the most disingenuous campaign for reelection that I can remember. Because he knew damn well that his only chance of being reelected meant that the list of bad news had to be kept under wraps until after the polls closed. Because, thanks to him and many more before him, transparency in government in this county amounts to the janitors at the courthouse raising the dusty window blinds every once in a while.

Straight up, his was a series of lies of omission. In most other counties in most of those other states, we’d have clear grounds for an electoral recall. In the real world, we’d boot him out of office. Sadly, this is not the real world. Sadly, this is Pennsylvania. And he’s got four more years to spend with reckless abandon.

And what can you do about it? Well, one of two things. You can switch your party affiliation and donate heavily to that aforementioned repository of the inept, the Luzerne County Republican party. Or you can bring yourself up to speed on the many, many specifics of Home Rule in Pennsylvania. And if you’re interested at all, you can print the Home Rule booklet by following this link (now disabled).

I still have my 6-year-old copy from way back when when Nancy Kemp of the Luzerne County Public Forum got the ball rolling in this county. Back when both Todd Vonderheid and Greg Skrepenak begged us to forgo the Home Rule plan in favor of trusting them and giving them a chance to change Luzerne County’s government for the betterment of all. I can get back up to speed on all that overnight revolution in the blink of an eye, but I think it’s equally important that others that haven’t studied it do so and do it now.

But with that prodding to give it an in-depth look comes a warning. Unlike that first Home Rule debacle, if it’s going to become to an issue--a movement--once again, we need it to be spearheaded by average folks who want not an elected position after the revolution, but want only a new and completely transparent form of county government. We need not frustrated politicians trying to weasel their way into a taxpayer-funded position. Rather, we need the storm troopers of change to rise from the ranks of the nobodies that are content with being a nobody. We need not the people looking to be compensated immediately. No, we need the people that would be satisfied with being compensated in the long-run after their county government becomes a lean and mean version of a profit-&-loss outfit a la the private sector. Point blank: if it looks like a politician and sounds like a politician, it’s probably a politician lying in wait.

And give no props to minority commissioner Steve Urban for exposing the county’s 2007 budget shortfalls right before the most recent election. As far as I’m concerned, he had to have had an inkling that the numbers were not adding up long before the November election brouhaha. In other words, he sat on the bad news until it could benefit him the most. He’s a partisan hack, he’s happy with his position that amounts to watching the county be run from afar, and he needs to be done away with just as much as the majority commissioners do. If he was so, so worried about our local finances, he wouldn’t have worked to undermine Luzerne County’s most fiscally responsible mayor, i.e., Mayor Tom Leighton.

Think about it. Four years ago, our city’s finances were in shambles. As of now, they are stabilized, balanced, current and the city has a credit and bond rating where it had none before. And as the election grew near, there was Steve Urban stumping for a republican promising no shortage of spending. An overzealous republican, mind you, who’s infinite laundry list of promises clearly did not jive with the shallowness of the city’s coffers. A republican who he just happened to be married to.

Now, I ask you. If he were actually the tireless fiscal watchdog that he pretends to be, why would he work so hard to oust a Democrat who has indisputably brought back the county seat--Luzerne County’s largest city--from the brink of distressed city status? Why would he do such a counterproductive thing? Why? Because he is a Luzerne County Republican first, and a Luzerne County Commissioner second. He’s as much a fiscal watchdog as Michael Vick is an animal lover.

Sorry, but heedless partisanship from it’s elected “leaders” is not what this county needs. And anybody who suggests otherwise is asking you to sign a blank political bill of lading otherwise known as voting a straight party ticket.

You say we should ‘throw the bums out?’ Yeah, well why stop at throwing exactly half of the bums out? Why not toss all of the partisan bums out? Why not embrace the envisioned revolution that NEPA’s resident pinhead, Steve Corbett, is always hyperventilating about, when every other possible political recourse falls well short of that desired revolution?

You want significant and lasting change? You say you want transparency in government? You claim you want adherence to the oft-ignored Sunshine Laws? Yeah, well here’s your ticket. Here’s your chance. We screwed it up last time, so let’s get it right the next time. Let’s explore our many options via the Home Rule vehicle one more time. Let’s do much more than put an occasional electoral scare into our disdainful politicians. Let’s take our county government away from them and give it back to ourselves.

We gave the Young Gun commissioners the chance they pleaded for. We acquiesced when we probably should have been storming the palace with pitchforks in hand. And nothing changed.

We fu>ked up, we trusted them.

And after four more years of the reprehensible same ole‘, same ole’ inattentiveness to the wishes of the voters, the time for monumental change has arrived. Seriously, if you’re mad as hell and swearing you’re not going to take it anymore, there’s only one way to make certain that you won’t have to take it anymore. And that way through the deliberate haze and maze that has become our county government is Home Rule. It’s a drastic step, for sure. But, at this sorry point, it’s extremely hard to argue against it being a necessary step.

As I said, you can count me in.

So, who’s with me?

Anyone up for Home Rule II?

After reviewing what I wrote a little more than a year ago, I wouldn’t change a word of it if I could. Well, I could, but I don’t feel the need to.

I have to admit to getting somewhat annoyed, er, very annoyed, after I followed Gort's link to the new and improved Home Rule Web site. I was annoyed because I searched the site from one end to the other and I could not find a name attached to the thing. And I got to wondering if this was an anonymous Home Rule uprising, which, of course, I would have no part of. And then finally, there they were…contact names on the contact page. The wonders never cease.

And then I had another slight problem with it: P.J. Best, Luzerne Home Rule Chairman? Chairman?

Who died and left him boss? Isn’t it a bit presumptuous of him to name himself chairman?

The last Home Rule uprising began as a meeting of interested parties in a church basement scheduled and presided over and Nancy Kemp and her Luzerne County Public Forum crew. It was an informational get-together, not Nancy introducing herself as the next William Wallace with sword in hand. I know, because I was there.

According to his own campaign site, Mr. Best ran for a seat in the legislature from the 118th Legislative District. And according to his biography, he’s well-read and still furthering his education. Still, with all of that said, chairman?

Sure, somebody has to step up and take the referendum bull by the horns, but shouldn’t the Home Rule insurgents be fully mobilized first and then given an opportunity to select those who they wish to follow into battle? I dunno.

And one of the things that made me skeptical of the first Home Rule go round was the fact that the most vocal and the most vociferous and the most available to the press of the entire group were the failed candidates for elected office. While some of us were doing the bulk of the grunt work, carrying petitions for the purposes of securing a better, more responsive government, still others seemed to seek the limelight whenever humanly possible. It seemed to me that they sought out the notoriety. Better put, they were still building some electoral name recognition. While I was trying to explain to average folks what was in it for us--all of us--I had this sneaking suspicion that others were more concerned about what was in it for them, especially at the ballot box.

So for me, the question still begs? What’s in it for you? Do you want a more streamlined, more fiscally responsible, more transparent government? Or do you want a position within that newly formed, newly tabled government? Are you in it for us, or are you in it for yourself?

The way I see it, once the activist becomes the candidate, they are in it for themselves. The activist is satisfied by the effort alone, knowing that win or lose, they did the right thing. But the activist turned candidate stands to personally benefit from their efforts, therefore turning my eye suspicious from that point on.

And as it pertains to Home Rule, if you can’t get yourself elected, there is this back door way of getting yourself in. All I’m saying is, there’s concerned citizens. And then there’s candidates posing as concerned citizens. I’m not indicting anyone, I’m simply saying that we should be as suspicious of the so-called reformers as we are of the elected folks promising reform.

If it were up to me, I’d have all of the Home Rule II participants sign a pledge stating in no uncertain terms that they have no intention of serving in the newly configured county government in any capacity. And if they eventually reneged on that promise, they’d then be as completely suspect as the suspect people they covertly managed to replace. What’s in it for you? Tell us up front.

And remember one thing. Instituting Home Rule in Luzerne County does not guarantee that only the ethical people replete with limitless amounts of ingrained integrity will eventually take control. Food for thought.

I’ll say this much, unless there are some informational get-togethers, a couple of chances to meet the self-appointed people that have brought this to the forefront all over again, I’m not carrying any petition for anyone or any matter. For me, this can’t be as simple as point, click, print and hit the streets running with petitions in hand. Just as we did last time around, this fledgling movement needs to start with some face-to-face encounters. Meet the new candidates, if you will. Meet the important players and give them some input. Meet the next Paul Revere sans the smelly horse. Whatever it may or may not be.

Anyway, with many a precondition noted above, you can count me in. Although, I’d love to see all three of our commissioners face the next general election without the threat of Home Rule hanging over their heads. And here’s why…

I see that as a battle between the electorate, the unwashed dummies like you and I versus the much-maligned Machine, the Good Old Boy Network, or whatever it is that they call it these days. Would Maryanne Petrilla get a resounding thumbs up from the voting public, while Skrep would get a decidedly ugly thumbs down, or perhaps, a middle finger? I think so. I think with everything that’s gone on and gone horribly wrong of late, I think the girl could knock the mythical good ole’ boys out of the box. I think she’d have a boatload of political capital after next we vote on the lot of them.

Anywho, they’ve gotten the dusty Home Rule drum out of mothballs and they’re just beginning to beat on it again. We’ll just see where this leads us to. As I said, you can count me in. For how long remains to be seen.

Stay tuned.

As of January 1st, Pennsylvania’s newly improved (?) Right-to-Know Law takes effect. It will replace what is generally regarded to be one of the nation’s weakest. Meaning, up until now, we’ve been pretty much kept in the dark whereas the most niggling details of how our local, county, state governments and school boards operate.

While I am absolutely certain that the most persistent of the activists are going to be shelling out lots of cash for copies of this, that and damn near everything; that’s an inherently good and healthy thing. One of my biggest problems with the activists is that they too often go off half-cocked leveling accusations at elected officials when armed with far less than all of the accompanying facts. On some occasions, the elected officials do their level best to see to it that the activists cannot gain access to all of the pertinent facts, but that’s been a whole other problem.

Now, at least, according to the state, we’ll all be armed with all of the facts we can afford to pay for. Hey, copies cost money, right? The question is, will we be paying ten cents a copied page, or ten dollars a page? Will the city budget set me back thirty bucks? Or will I need to knock off three or four Turkey Hills to pay for a single copy of it? And that there presents us with yet another potential roadblock in the making. Perhaps not.

According to the new law, “…every government agency needs a right-to-know officer to handle requests and oversee compliance.”

Wanting to know who these duties would fall to, I sent an e-mail along to the Ask The City Administrator link on the City’s web site at 8:06 AM. And get this…within five minutes I had the mayor lighting up my cell phone. How’s that for responsive government?

So I asked him for copies of all of his official mayoral e-mails dating back to early 2004. He said that, under the new law, that would not be a problem, it would take about a year to assemble those materials and the assembly of such would cost me roughly $2,000 in copying fees. Oh, and I’d need to produce 77 forms of I.D. before I could take receipt of them.

Okay, I made that part up. Just goofing around. I know, I’m an ass.

Actually, I asked him who the City’s official public records officer would be as of January 1, and he said that would be the responsibility of the City Clerk, Jim Ryan.

And he also went on to say that this was basically nothing new because information requests of any sizable nature in the past would be directed to the City Clerk as “records management” falls under the City Clerk’s weighty list of things to do.

I provide this as a public service, just a tiny morsel of helpful info. But in actuality, I fear all that I have done is to add one more person to the always growing list of people to grumble about at City Hall.

The way I see it, it won’t be too long before the tireless activists will get to spinning Jim Ryan horror stories. You know, being part of the dreaded and secretive government and all. Recounted stuff like this…

Q: Good morning. Is the City Clerk in?

A: Uh, who wants to know? Er, he’s out to lunch, won’t be back ‘til 4 PM. Why?

Good stuff like that.

You know, B.S.

You gotta be kidding me! Our fantasy football league Super Bowl ended in a tie? Come on!!! Heads must roll!!!

Here’s my most recent fantasy page post:

I need some help on this one.

What’s more entertaining to watch? Watching Wacko (The Jeff version) and Capital go head-to-head? Or watching their respective coaches kissing their little sisters?

Send your answers to ComingCloseIsBetterThanSex.com

With no overtime tiebreaker locked in place before this week’s big championship throw down, we end up with co-champs. Or, perhaps, co-chumps. See that one as you may.

Anyway, after two full fantasy seasons, this nondescript league of ours has produced three…count ‘em…three champions. Are we good, or what?

Since our league has no official statistician, I have decided to nominate myself, and I have awarded myself a yearly salary of $16,000. Send your checks payable to me.

Some numbers…(includes playoff results from 2007 & 2008)

Good Division

Capital 19-11-2
Empire 16-12
Pogrom 13-15
Smelly 5-8-0
*(Lil B’s 7-8-0)

Bad Division

Blueballs 17-13-0
Wacko 13-14-2
JDK 10-17-0
Wacko Jr. 5-8-0
*(Steel 8-7-0)

*Denotes defunct teams

As for the 2009 season, assuming we retain our current players, I’d love to see this league expanded to 10 teams. Actually, I think it’s be fun to add a female participant.

And I think it’s obvious we need built-in overtime scenarios for playoff games. I’d like to see this become a PPR league, where wide receivers garner 1 point per reception. And I think we should alter the schedule so that Capital and Wacko Sr. never face-off again.

To lessen his workload and such, Scott has suggested that he and I serve as Co-Commissioners next season, each with different responsibilities. And I have accepted that offer, and the responsibilities and enjoyment that should come with them.

And, yes, it’s a coincidence that Scott and I have the top two draft positions next year. Weird.

We have also created a Human Resources department. And before the 2009 draft, all of you will be expected to attend a mandatory sensitivity training seminar here in Wilkes-Barre.

So as not to offend anyone, the trash talking will be closely monitored and deleted where necessary. And for repeat offenders, sanctions and penalties may be applicable.

For instance, hate speech such as “fag” and “fagbait” will be heretofore deemed socially unacceptable and politically incorrect. If you must belittle someone’s preferred sexuality, you must make reference to it in a kinder and gentler fashion. Sexually descriptive phrases such as “butt-slammer,” “pickle sucker,” or “baloney pony rider” will not be tolerated, and friendlier, less offensive wording should be substituted for them from here forward.

Try something like, “You vaginally-challenged jerk!” In the case of short people, vertically-challenged would be nice. As for fat people, pleasingly plump would make for a nasty pleasantry, an oxymoron for sure. And young people who cannot spell to save their lives should be called educationally-challenged, less educationally fortunate, or, as things seem to be going these days, the ‘norm.

As for the older folks among us, they should be called “Sir,” or, “Old dude who can kick my ass.” If that doesn’t work for you, try “Speller and Knower of almost all things.”

In the event of a female joining the league, girl, chick, or broad would be highly offensive hate speech, and should be avoided at all times. A nice way of pointing out the obvious differences between yourself and a female of the species during periods of less than friendly back-and-forth activity could go as follows: “Yeah, well F-you and your mammalian protuberances, too!”

For those of you still not in need of shaving, or not old enough to secure a quart of beer without prolonged bouts of begging, those would be breasts. Glad I could help.

Anywho, I would be totally remiss without congratulating our co-champions, so here goes:

Hail to the chumps!

Merry, er, happy whatever it is that you call your self-styled holiday.

******End Fantasy Stuff******

Am I politically correct, or what?

Are you ready for this? As far as not offending anyone over holiday salutations and the like goes, from here on out, try this one on for size…

Merry Kwanzhanukmas!

Sadly, you heard it here first. Sorry. Hope I didn’t offend any of those sorry-assed busybodies who spend so much of their time looking to be offended by damn near everything.

Ah, hell. Let’s annoy the snot out of them.

Why do blondes wear panties?

Geographically speaking, what’s the only thing wrong with O’Karma Terrace?

Why did the space shuttle Challenger explode?

How did Bill and Hillary first meet?

How do you bring an abrupt halt to a Bingo game in Afghanistan?

Mean-spirited, politically incorrect answers upon request.