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Thursday, July 30, 2009

The invite-only GSC

“An honest man can feel no pleasure in the exercise of power over his fellow citizens.”--Thomas Jefferson

Yesterday afternoon, the following news blurb appeared on the Times Leader Web Site:

Study Commission meeting to air on the Internet

P.J. Best Wednesday said tonight's meeting of the Luzerne County Government Study Commission will be broadcast live on the Internet. The first Web cast of the commission's meetings will air at 7 p.m. tonight.

Best said the meeting can be seen by going to tonight during the meeting. He said viewers can submit comments at the official Study Commission Website at

Unfortunately, I got busy with other stuff and forgot all about the live web cast. My bad.

So the Times Leader did report on the GSC meeting this morning, but it made nary a mention of the live broadcast under the very last paragraph:

Skrep: Next charter should be ‘foolproof’

The commission voted 7-2 to reject a motion to have P.J. Best Web cast future meetings on the commission Web site. Concerns expressed by two members included it being “a distraction.”

Stop the presses!

A distraction? Openness in government at any and all levels is too distracting for these people? Turn off the lights and lock the door on your way out. This invite-only GSC party has just about run it’s horribly foreshortened course.

One disturbing incident does not make for a trend. But two incidents of an identical nature do constitute a trend.

First, under the watchful eye of Commission Chairman Jim Haggerty, the GSC voted to ignore the Sunshine Laws in this state. A decision that was vociferously and very publicly protested by commission member Walter Griffith, as well as advised against by a then newly hired GSC solicitor after the vote was taken.

Now, despite the fact that the GSC voted 9-0 at the July 15 meeting to authorize the implementation of the Web casts by P.J. Best, last night, the issue was retabled and voted against by a 7-2 majority. That July 15 meeting, by the way, went forward minus one recuperating GSC Chairman, Jim Haggerty.

As originally envisioned, last night’s proposed and agreed upon streaming video presentation was called a “test,” meaning it would be done and then the results of which would be examined. The quality, the number of people who bothered to view it, that sort of stuff.

But after the reengaged chairman objected to the Web cast, he went on to say that the word “test” had caused some confusion in that, the nine commission members who voted in favor of the test never fully understood that to mean it would be available to the prying eyes of the general public last night.

And with the GSC chairman back in the fold, one member went as far as to tell P.J. Best in no uncertain terms that the streaming video would not happen as previously agreed upon. At that point, Best said the video would be on the Internet as was agreed upon. And yet another member warned him, “This is a bridge you don’t want to burn.”

Undaunted, Best finally learned that due to a member of the commission being away on vacation, neither Best nor the commission members in attendance at last night’s meeting had access to Wyoming Seminary’s secure network for the purposes of the Internet broadcast.

Well, then. Wasn’t that convenient for the folks that steadfastly refuse to err on the side of transparency?

When pressed for an explanation for the sudden resistance to the promised Web cast, a commission member said that snippets of the video could be captured and taken out of context by anyone with access to the Internet.

Wow! Now we add paranoia to this most troubling of mixes.

And I have also come to learn that still another member asked why a frequent attendee of the GSC meetings was videotaping the proceedings. What was her intention? What did she intend to do with the video?

I’ll take a stab at this one. Um, share it with other taxpayers? Duh!

The point of the previous circumlocution?

Well, it’s become patently obvious that, much like the troubled and inefficient government it was charged to reinvent, the GSC prefers to operate as far away from the glare of the general public as humanly possible. Whenever possible, this commission has opted to keep things as muddy and clouded as possible. It apparently prefers to be impenetrable rather than transparent.

And in my opinion, by mimicking the purposeful muddiness that is the modus operandi of our elected officials at the county level, our GSC, as currently put together, once again proves that “open government” will forever be categorized as oxymoronic in this corruption-riddled, backwards county of ours.

You either choose to err on the side of transparency, or you choose to be as opaque as possible. And so far, this flailing commission has demonstrated a preference for flying under the radar. What? They are going to give the people what they want, they just don’t want the people watching how it gets done?

That should trouble each and every one of us.

So what’s next? So as to not come off as being as completely secretive as the career politicians they criticized to get themselves elected to these positions, the GSC will table a motion to hire a makeup artist, a hair dresser and a set designer?

Skrep, I think they need another 50 grand or so. Oh, and how about some of that Cheese Whiz your buddy sold to the prison commissary at twice the normal markup?

When asked for a comment, Walter Griffith said, “It’s just another way to stifle the free flow of information to the people of this county.”

And judging by what was and what was not reported in today’s newspapers, I’d say it worked perfectly. It worked just as envisioned.

In response to my e-mail inquiring as to his reaction to the abrupt decision to
prevent the scheduled Web cast from going forward as planned, P.J. Best responded with, “I'm disappointed.”

And what’s up with the continued legalese coming from the chairman?

A 5-4 vote is now regarded as a “no” vote for lack of a quorum? That’s bullspit. It’s a 6-vote quorum, or a failed vote? A 5-4 vote denotes a lack of a plurality? That’s not-so-clever lawyer speak for my-way-or-the-highway.

Really? Try floating that malarkey by the U.S. Supreme Court where practically every pressing issue is decided by a 5-4 vote.

So, in conclusion, a question.

What’s worse? The problem, or the supposed solution?

Chew on that one for a while.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Mark,
The Luzerne COunty Government Study Commission is strange in that first the members that ran for the office, many of whom I ran with on the campaign trail, all were very much bragging they would be representatives of the taxpayers and we need home rule because the county is in a mess and the elected officials are all corrupt and they were all going to do what was best for the taxpayers.
The election on May 26th was a real eye opener for the taxpayers of this county. The problem now is some people that said they were for open and transparent government and holding our elected officials accountable, have now become the same people they were talking about on the campaign and thats exactly what happens in this County. Walter Griffith is the only one on the commission that has been true to his word all along, in that, he is a true taxpayer advocate and will fight hard for the people even when it means he is critizised by the people he has to work with on the commission. I understand that Walter was going to fill a lawsuit to make them follow the Sunshine Law and sue the very same commission he is sitting on in order to make the commission be accountable to the taxpayers. This says volumes about what this man is made of and will stand for in the future. The GSC needs to listen more to the taxpayers and Walter and less to these dictators like Mr Haggerty and some of the other members of the commission who have no idea of the function of the commission.