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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Harry Haas interview

For the purposes of blogging, today begins our AW period…After Walter.

I am currently enjoying the hell out of having two days off. Two days in a row, no less.

I came walking through the parlor on Friday night, only to catch this nugget from WILK’s Steve Corbett:

“Tom Leighton is the worst mayor in the history of Wilkes-Barre.”

Really? Maybe he ought to investigate the sub-par borderline malfeasance that passed as leadership from 1996-2004.

So much for accuracy in the media.

I also stumbled upon this nugget at Pittston

Feds target bloggers

No, I haven’t received a federal target letter - yet.

This past week in the bloggosspher, local blogger Gort 42, wrote there were target letters sent to area bloggers.

He was reporting the rumor from a Lehigh Valley blogger, Circumlocution for Dummies.
“A source familiar with the federal investigation into the Luzerne County judiciary has told me federal prosecutors have sent target letters to two local political bloggers advising them that they are being investigated and should immediately seek legal counsel,” the blog states.

So, according to Pittston Politics, I reside somewhere in the Lehigh Valley area.

I think Sue Henry of WILK is right when she so frequently says she questions the accuracy of a lot of the reporting that goes on.

So much for accuracy in the media.

I slumped out of bed yesterday, turned on this expensive electronic gizmo and checked the latest headlines from across these fruity plains of ours over a cup of tea. Nothing too eye-popping. The usual fare.

Man kills toddler. Man kills woman. Woman kills man. Woman and man molest small child. Man takes flying leap from highway overpass. Woman blames her obesity on (insert name of evil corporation). Man steals a bag of chocolate-covered pretzels and kills two while fleeing from the police. Woman marries woman. Man rapes man.

Good, nothing out of the ordinary going on.

And what happened next made me wonder why politicians can’t be added to the PA Do Not Call list.

“Hi, this is Senator Bob Casey calling about the primary election for Superior Court…”


What’s wrong with this picture? Telemarketers cannot call me, but a politician can? Aren’t they doing precisely the same thing…telemarketing? Dumb can’t call me, but Dumber can?


Here’s a tasty morsel secured from the office of the (acting) Luzerne County Controller, from A.J. Martinelli himself:

In 2008, Luzerne County spent $417,483 on employee cell phones. And as of this week, it has surpassed $40,000 in cell phone charges.

I dunno, how should we put this? Um, needless? Mindless? Ridiculous? Excessive? Wasteful?
Try this in the private sector.

A couple of months ago, I made two very short calls to my daughter’s home in Knoxville, Tennessee. Very short. And just about a month later, my immediate supervisor came to me seeking an explanation that he could pass on up the ladder to his boss. Two calls, and short ones at that. Calls that could not have greatly set back my employer.

I was apologetic, told him it was a momentary lapse on my part and that it would not happen again. And it didn’t happen again.

My point is, in the never-ending pursuit of controlling costs, my employer follows up on the rules and regulations it has put in place. And there are clear penalties for repeat offenses. And having once worn a white collar to work, I understand the need for all of that.

So, having easily surpassed $400,000 in cell phone charges in a single fiscal year, who’s controlling what, if anything, over at the courthouse?

Please, think long and hard before you vote for county controller.

This one cracked me up. I mean, at this point, it’s not only necessary, but probably a crucial part of the new process if we’re ever going to restore confidence in this county’s judiciary.

New computer randomly assigns cases to judges

WILKES-BARRE – Since Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Chester Muroski took the reigns of county court in recent months, he’s vowed to restore integrity and confidence in the court system.

That effort continued Thursday as court personnel demonstrated a new computer software program that randomly assigns judges to civil cases.

“This is a very important step toward restoring public confidence in our court system,” Muroski said.

The software, announced by Judge Joseph Musto and demonstrated to the public Thursday afternoon at the courthouse, selects judges for civil cases using a random computer generated number. That number is multiplied by the number of judges doing civil cases, and then each is assigned.

In effect, the people in this building are so completely untrustworthy, we are now reduced to adjudicating our court cases after playing an electronic version of pin the tail on the judge.

What you have here is the debilitating effects of voting that straight party ticket for decades on end.

And finally, the Harry Haas interview.

Harry Haas

As I alluded to a few days back, I really like this guy. He’s young, he’s bright, he’s involved, he‘s got his finger on the pulse of education at the ground level…what’s not to like?

When he knocked on my door, I told him as much, a reference to when he ran for mayor in this city some 6 years ago. And being “that guy,” that guy from Wilkes-Barre Online, I invited him to do this question and answer exchange as a way of getting some further exposure on the local internet.

Here’s a short bio I copied from his campaign Web site:

My Profile
Since 2002 I have lived in downtown Wilkes-Barre after returning from four years of teaching in Wahington, DC and Fairfax County public schools. I am currently the director of youth services at Huntsville Christian Church in Lehman and proudly teach world history to 7th graders at Dallas Middle School. In my spare time I take advantage of jogging on our riverfront trails and skiing on nearby slopes. My favorite past time is traveling to other cities and countries.

My Education Background
M.Ed. Secondary Social Studies and Special Education, The George Washington UniversityB.A. History with Minor Concentration in Spanish, The George Washington UniversityRotary Exchange Student to Madrid, SpainDallas High School Class of 1993

So, without further adieu, here are the results of that exchange:

1. The obvious question, the usual question is, why would you want to serve on a school board and receive no pay for having done so?

A: I look at serving on the board as a sacrifice, not some vanglorious post to boost my own ego or power base. All my needs are met: I love my job, my house, and my family. If I lose this contest, I will sleep very soundly on Tuesday night because I have plenty of other goals in my life

.2. Why now? With the persistent rumors (now resulting in arrests and resignations) about cash or premiums for contracts, under-the-table kickbacks, preferential hiring practices and whatnot being associated with being a school director over the years, why would you want to join a group that has seemingly always operated under a cloud of suspicion?

A: When I considered running last fall, none of these stories had surfaced. Now with all these stories breaking, it has only emboldened me to work hard and be a voice of honesty and decency amidst a "cloud of suspicion." However, I do think that there are decent people on that board, and as I get to know them I will change that opinion one way or the other. Regardless, I need to find at least 4 like-minded people at the table who feel the same way I do: that we live in urgent times and that real change must take place.

3. Why you? What differentiates you from the other candidates on the ballot?

A: 1) I have taught in the inner city and know some of the issues that are (and will be) facing our district.
2) I have an extensive teaching background across four states and several placements; I want to focus on education and what our kids need, not just a budget
3) I am not connected and/or related to any office holder, public servant, school employee, or even student in the district.4) I am the youngest (33 years old)5) I speak Spanish fluently.

4. Explain to me the growing overemphasis on aggregate test scores (in my opinion), while so many recent high school graduates working entry level jobs cannot make change for a dollar without the assistance of an electronic display on a cash register?

A: You are right about the overemphasis of test scores. Standardized tests are a politician's way of making education better. It fools the voters into thinking that something is being done to correct declining American achievement, and it satisfies the intellectuals because they get to play around with hard data. The fact is that the system, if anything, has gotten worse because of BOTH political parties pushing for the so-called "No Child Left Behind Act." What we see in classrooms across America is exchanging real instructional time with test-taking strategies and out-of-context ditto work. The only thing that our kids have gotten better at over the past several years is taking a 4-question multiple choice test.

5. In an increasingly illiterate society growing more and more dependent on government assistance for basic services and day-to-day subsistence, are you a staunch advocate of teaching the old-fashioned basics…reading, writing and arithmetic?

A: Any good school will do the basics well, but what made the Italian Renaissance explode with talent, passion, and wealth was intrigue with the sciences, the arts, the heavens, and the past. If we can excite our kids to be life long learners by teaching all the content areas, then they will want to read and write on their own. I don't think that you can teach the basics hard-core 24-7 or you'll tune kids out.

6. One of my biggest gripes with almost all aspects of public administration is the fact that when expenses soar and tax increases seem inevitable, nary a mention is made of trimming the budget to offset those confiscations of taxpayer dollars. With that said, is it really necessary to bus Wilkes-Barre Area athletes to every far-flung corner of the region for the purposes of conducting athletic events?

A: That's a general question and a specific one. First, the budget overall in my opinion is bloated. Several voters have shared with me about the lack of accountability with using funds for special events, grounds keeping, and infrastructure. That portion of the budget needs to be evaluated. I think with the cloud hanging over our local and county governments, now would be a perfect time to reexamine many components of the budget. As far as the buses to athletic events are concerned, I don't know how we can change that. High schools across the state compete, and I want our athletes to represent Wilkes-Barre well. If you combine the three high schools and we become a quad-A athletic program, then we will most certainly be traveling hours each way to play against schools of comparable sizes, which will cost money and cost travel time. It's just another reason not to close any of our high schools.

7. In my mind, we cannot do without the police, fire-fighters or the teachers of our future…our children. The one thing these three groups all have in common is that they are unionized public sector employees. Yet, only one of there three groups, our teachers, are allowed to go out on strike, thereby putting our children and their immediate academic and athletic futures on pause, holding the taxpaying public hostage and driving up the already dizzying cost of education. As a teacher yourself, do you think this trend should continue indefinitely?

A: No. Personally, I think teachers should be paid double for what they do, but I would do this job for free. Very few people in this field do this job for the money, but along with the police and firemen, teaching is an essential job for our community's welfare and future. Why do we pay pro-athletes and the actors so much money? Entertainment. Like it or not, teachers entertain every day. I'll let the reader in on a secret: the only reason why educators get up in arms about contracts is because before the late 1970s, a teacher could not make a livable wage. Most had to get after school jobs and work through the summer just to make ends meet. When you go to college for 4 years, earn a Masters in 2 more, struggle with high debt for becoming a professional, and perform perhaps the most important job in our society, it's a slap in the face to have to work at a Turkey Hill or dip fries in your off time. Regardless, strikes are not the way to solve this problem. I think electing fair board members and choosing decent union representation would go a lot farther than striking.

8a. Is an anti-nepotism policy too much to ask of our school board?

A: Nope.

8b. And, if elected, would you be in favor of crafting one, so that only the best and brightest of the applying bunch are hired and subsequently entrusted with our children’s academic futures?

A: This endeavor is the cornerstone of my campaign.

9. As my kids were growing up, as a form of punishment when punishment was clearly called for, I would think of a famous person from history, and then demand of the offending kid a 2-3,000 word report on that person. Basically, it was I that taught my kids American history, while the Wilkes-Barre School District did not. In your opinion, is the teaching of American history more, or less important than the teaching some new age, all-inclusive, recently revised recounting of past world events and how they related to this country’s development?

A: Our lack of understanding of our history is causing the unraveling of the United States of America. Historical revisionism is taking us down the past of a socialist society based on a total lack of absolute truth.

10. If the average high school student’s life depended on a question concerning world geography, how confident would you be of that student seeing another day?

A: Ha. I have a copy of an 1889 geography text book which includes chapter tests. I don't think Dora the Explorer could pass it.

11. With nonstop drug-dealing, an up tick in violent domestic crimes and a record number of open homicide cases dominating our recent headlines, do we really need to deploy a police officer in every school, even though the schools in question are essentially locked-down?

A: I would prefer to have parent/grandparent/community volunteers in our schools. The increase in crimes of every kind ultimately stem from a lack of a loving, secure home environment. We have a lot of incredible people in our area, and I think they would jump at the chance to invest in our young people who don't have the support at home.

12. With controversies swirling around at least two local school districts, what can be done to make the entire process of managing a school district far less translucent than it has been in the past and much more transparent in the future?

A: I would use "opaque" rather than "translucent." How about holding board meetings the same time every month and putting the meeting times on the website so that people who want to can actually attend a meeting every once in a while? Aren't we all on the same team: board, teachers, parents, kids, community?

13. What’s your favorite color?

A: transparent.

Like I said, a bright guy. Thanks, Harry.

I have to admit that the last question was just a gag I attached to be my usual weird self, a question I had no intention of publishing. But after I saw your response, there was no way I was going to delete it. Outstanding.

I think you kind of sidestepped the geography thing, but in the grand scheme of things, the mastering of geography is not an absolute must. I was more curious than anything, being that geography was always one of my few academic strengths.

Remember, this comes from a complete academic slacker, but, on a dare (for money), I once drew a map of the entire world and only neglected to include two countries. And that was after my team had won a hard-fought softball game, and we were well into tapping a rather large keg.
Real quick…name the four countries that border South Korea.

Again, thanks. I fail to see how any of your responses could hurt your chances of being elected.

Oh, and good luck on Tuesday.


1 comment:

D.B. Echo said...

Wait...Wilkes-Barre ISN'T in Lehigh County? I'm gonna demand a refund on this map!

I'm still trying to convince my friends that Nanticoke is not located in Scranton.