Opinions need not be feared nor suppressed.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Chapter 9? It can't happen here, can it?

I noticed that in a recent letter to the editor concerning our county government, a local brought up Chapter 9...municipal bankruptcy. That’s the first mention made of that that I’ve seen.

Although, I have read about it in some detail, and I doubt that would ever happen here. Going that route requires political courage and an inherent need to do the right thing. Therein, this county does not qualify.

From today’s Citizens’ Voice story “Urban: Projected spending exceeds $130 million”

Since the preliminary budget was introduced, officials learned they may have to add $2.5 million to the budget because the county cannot force all employees to take 12 furlough days without pay in 2010. County employee unions have objected to the furlough plan.

Union contracts include a requirement that layoffs and furloughs of union employees be based on seniority, and those contracts prevent across-the-board layoffs and furloughs. About 1,344 of the county's 1,685 employees are union members.

The preliminary budget also doesn't include expected additional expenses from a ruling by an arbitration panel on a new union contract for employees at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility. Local 1300 of the Laborers' International Union of North America, the prison union, represents 319 employees, and they have been working without a collective bargaining agreement this year.

Yeah, and I received hate mail when I suggested that unionized government employees care not for the plight of heavily overburdened taxpayers. Yeah, meaningful concessions are a possibility. And then you wake up on the wet side of the bed.

20 sick days per year, yes?

Now we segue into an excerpt from another Citizens’ Voice story…”Controller-elect Griffith wants county salary board disputes resolved”

Griffith said he hopes to resolve disputes over the salary board at a meeting today with DeLuca and Maryanne Petrilla, chairwoman of the county commissioners and the salary board. Another dispute involves who can be a fifth member on the board.

The three county commissioners and controller are permanent members of the board. The state-mandated County Code says "the executive head" of an office or agency is the fifth member for votes involving that official's office or agency.

Griffith and DeLuca agree that elected row officers and the president judge can be the fifth vote. But Griffith disputes DeLuca's assertion that department heads supervised by county commissioners also can vote.

DeLuca said Griffith's goals is to "have control of causing gridlock" and thus eliminate county jobs with 2-2 votes. Griffith and Commissioner Stephen A. Urban, both Republicans, have both said they would like to eliminate some jobs and reduce some salaries through the salary board.

"I see right through it," DeLuca said.

Isn’t he clever? And wasn’t it his loose interpretation, his so-called “clarification” of the law that put department heads at salary board meetings for the first time starting in 2008, and all while under Maryanne Petrilla’s watch?

And that will help to balance the budget exactly how?

Okay, the commissioners and the controller are deadlocked 2-2 on whether or not to cut the Road & Bridge department’s budget by 10% for fiscal year 2010. What say you Road & Bridge department head?

The nays have it. The deficit-spending shall continue.

So, 25% of the 2010 budget will automatically go to pay the debt service on our $466 million in outstanding debts. The debt cannot be refinanced. We can no longer obtain bond insurance. We cannot secure new revenue sources, short of allowing drilling for natural gas on the courthouse lawn. And with that noted, the taxpayers are still facing a fleecing of epic proportions when the niggling issue of propping up flagging public sector pensions hits the fan.

So what’s a disingenuous commissioner to do?

Well, you could find a solicitor that will create a loophole by where you can then protect all of those union contracts you signed. Yeah, you can make it all but impossible for anyone to force cutbacks on any office or department. You could do that.

And you can continue to pretend that the exempt employees (non-union) are all dedicated to doing their jobs, and are all working at least the 40 hours we mistakenly believed they were working all along. Not at used car lots.

And you can also (wink, wink) pretend that the county commissioners themselves are working fulltime to resolve this budget crisis, even though we know these are mostly ghost jobs, and most of the duties of the commissioners are carried out by their 3 executive secretaries and their chief clerk at a cost in excess of $220,000 a year sans the benefits.

I find it hard to believe that a county commissioner is “conducting county business,” as he puts it when challenged, when he is continually seen leaving his residence as late as 10 in the morning, something I have witnessed with my own eyes on a very regular basis, but was reluctant to write about for fear of being accused of stalking or some other bit of official harassment.

Sure, we want to cut the salaries of the courts, but isn’t that just taking a final shot at all of Greg Skrepenak’s former allies? Tell us, will the 2010 budget be balanced after a bit of pay-back is delivered to the judiciary? Well, not after so many lines items were increased as part of the 2010 budgetary process. There are no cutbacks, only line item increases.

In my opinion, not one person currently employed by the county is working on cost-cutting solutions of any measurable magnitude. Rather, they are treating us to constant political spinning, and protecting their biggest, their most reliable voting block…the county employees.

Until Maryanne Petrilla starts making some serious noise about instituting draconian cuts across the board, nothing will be resolved and the taxpayers will take yet another big hit. And I would ask her if the huge budgetary outlays spent on county employees to attend seminars, conferences and the like are delivering anything of worth to the residents of this county. Because the way I see it, all of that supposed ongoing training hasn’t added up to a hill of beans. It hasn't put an end to the gross mismanagement which we've grown so painfully accustomed to.

If she’s our fiscal savior, as she’s been angling to appear to be, we are screwed all over again.

Chapter 9? Municipal bankruptcy? It can’t happen here, can it? We’re not nearly as bad off as Detroit, San Diego or Orange County, California, are we?

My question isn’t whether it can happen here, my question is, by all rights, should it happen here? Should the county's finances be taken over by outside entities?

Answer me that.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

What's wrong with us? or: How we learned to love being apathetic dolts

I just finished reading a local blog post titled “What's Wrong With Us?,” in which the author basically assigns some measure of blame for the rampant corruption in Luzerne County on the commoners like you and I. And the piece comes off as elitist gibberish borne of self-immolation. Almost a reverse profundity in it’s abject absurdity.

And I'll not link to such a complete insult to my intelligence.

An excerpt…I'm simply convinced that there are many in NEPA who simply don't care what happens in the rest of the world. Why does that matter? Simple...by not looking outward many simply have no perspective...they believe that the way it's done here is the way it's done everywhere.”

You could say I shouldn’t take this personally, but isn’t the writer painting with an awfully broad brush? And isn’t he assuming what he could not possibly know? Roughly translated, he’s saying we’re a bunch of dolts too dumb to take our heads out of the sand, himself excluded, of course.

Here’s a keeper, another excerpt…Apparently some residents of NEPA never got the memo about adults having the ability to use logic to discern fact from fiction, obedience from faith.”

Okay, so forget having our fat heads in the sand as we've been accused of, now we’re reduced to being a bunch of unthinking dolts.

Yet another excerpt……we have had generations who could only find marginal employment outside of government. It's my belief that our Economic Development officials have failed us over the years.”

And now we’re being accused of being too completely stupid to earn a living without sucking up to politicos. And that’s a pile load of horse manure.

For the purposes of destroying this most laughable of constructs, let’s use myself, your hated author as an example.

I ended up settling here, so believe it or not, some of us have actually been outside of ‘da valley.’ Yes, I played hockey long before it became the game du jour in these parts, a few decades late.

Employment-wise, I’ve had three, count ‘em, three separate high-paying careers, and all by my own volition. When the bullspit got too deep at any one job, I simply moved on. And not once did I need any assistance from anyone. And never did I need to bribe anyone.

I really hate to burst anyone’s malformed bubble, but to obtain more than “marginal employment,” you need to possess employable skills. There are no lucky people, or “more fortunate” people in this economy being that the days of following daddy into a life of low-paying drudgery and servitude at the local mill are a thing of the past.

These days, you either have skills, or you don’t have skills. And if you don’t, that’s the fault of some nameless, faceless bureaucrat somewhere? You didn’t take advantage of seminars, employer-supplied studies, online courses or available financial aid, but your particular dilemma is not of your own making? The low-paying job, the lack of benefits or a lack of health insurance is somehow somebody else’s fault? For the most part, that’s bilge. Twaddle. An excuse.

Locally, we have a guy, a blogger, who, as a result of losing his job, decided to take the bull by the horns and continue on with his formal education. Or perhaps, his reeducation. He could have taken the low road by claiming victim hood, but instead he chose to rearm.

To suggest that you and I are somehow responsible, somehow complicit while the politicos in this county are dropping like indicted flies is irresponsible flapdoodle of the highest order.

The reason our self-absorbed politicians and their appointed underlings are being disgraced into copping plea agreements is because they chose to usurp the law. They chose to break the law, they chose the low road and now the iron fist of law enforcement has come down with an excruciating painful thud.

I will not be chastised by anyone (no matter how well-meaningingly self-absorbed) for the criminality, the depravity and the immorality of others. And I will not be categorized as being apathetic while all that I’m guilty of is keeping my nose clean, raising a family and working harder and longer than I ever wanted to.

What’s wrong with us?

No, more aptly put, it’s what’s wrong with them? What’s up with people who can’t or won’t discern when enough is enough? Why would so many risk their careers, their cushy personal lives and their reputations for chump change, for mere trinkets? Why? Because they could.

So rather than soul-searching, rather than looking inward, let’s make sure they can’t do it all over again. Let us start paying less attention to the sensational headlines and start focusing more of our personal capital, our time, on the Home Rule charter movement as it continues to develop.
We need real, black and white, enforceable checks and balances. We need to put the governmental systems in place that will all but guarantee us a readily transparent, responsible and responsive county government.

And as for the hand-ringing, the guilt-ridden finger pointing, the introspection and the like, let us not forget that while our elected and appointed were giddily raiding the taxpayer-supplied cookie jar, most of us were merely too busy with our own lives to notice. All that we’re guilty of is trying to live our lives to the best of our abilities, and without breaking the many laws we encounter along the way.

For the purposes of assigning blame for possibly the worst corruption scandal in the history of this rapidly back-sliding country, look to them and not to us. More specifically, look to them and not to me.

Because while the wicked so easily prone to wickedness are being called on their out-of-control wickedness, I got no time nor any need for any self-incrimination. Nah, I’m way too busy for any of that nonsense.

Them’s my restrained thoughts on all of that insufferable subterfuge.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Xmas

Merry (insert whatever word it is that is least offensive to you)!

I love this holiday. And I love spoiling my grandkids as well. But to be perfectly honest, what feels the best right now is that I have four days off, and I didn’t even have to use any personal time to arrive at this mini-vacation.

Yes, I know it may not fit the template, I realize that it all but destroys the stereotype, but this here particular blogger is gainfully employed. And I enjoy great benefits, too. And to this very day, I haven’t even embarked on any prolonged bouts of plagiarism. Imagine that.

Two of the grandkids, Gage and Taylor, are at their roost down in Knoxville. And the way I hear it, Santa does venture that far south. Last night, the other three maniacal grandkids, Zach, Jeremy and Avery made mincemeat of an estimated metric ton of innocent wrapping paper.
Zach was amazed to find a toy submarine just about as tall as him buried within that pogromized wrapping paper. And Jeremy was likewise open-eyed to spy an Apache attack helicopter topping out at about three and a half feet tall. And Avery, well, Avery just turned two and he really isn’t grasping how this Christmas thing works. After he opened a 5-pack of Matchboxes, he was done. He retired to the flour meant to simulate snow under the tree, and his parental units had to open the remainder of his gifts.

Unlike previous years, I waited, literally, until the last minute to do my Christmas shopping. I headed out early yesterday, and I wanted absolutely nothing to do with the mall, Sprawl Mart, or wherever it is that throngs of people gather and act badly, act overly impatient or where they go to point middle fingers at each other when the traffic predictably bogs down. You know, I chose to eschew what could only be called your typical Christmas shopping entanglement.

And despite the fact that I steered clear of the lack of civility, the lack of courtesy and the lack of any restraint, I managed to drop a quick $1,000 just like that. And near as I can tell, nothing I purchased came coated in that toxic lead mix the Chinese and the Chinese alone specialize in. Near as I can tell, anyway.

Nah, I threw on my headphones, listened to Sue Henry and took care of business. And without being mean to or short with anyone while they hurriedly and rudely annoyed the hell out of me. How ‘bout that?

Actually, Sue Henry has a calming effect on me, much unlike a few of her on-air coworkers. I’ll not go into detail on any of that, since we’re supposed to be nice on a reverent and joyful day such as this.

Sure, a couple of her coworkers make me want to go ballistic all too ofte
n; escape the atmosphere, hit the apogee, and then plunge downward delivering destruction. But in this corrupt place, their variedly booming voices are needed now more than they ever were before. Even though they occasionally make me want to beat the puppy, I do greatly appreciate what they bring to the political scrum. So, I forwarded the following to the lot of them:

To my adopted WILK family,

Thanks for keeping me company (sane) while I’m all alone in dark, dank, musty smelly places for hours on end. Thanks for keeping me company when I’m lying prone in darkened crawl spaces from which movement can be detected at the other, unseen end. Thanks for keeping my mind off the fact that I’m stuck in some partially flooded subbasement on a beautiful, sunny day. Basically, thanks for making my mundane work days pass by quicker than they otherwise would have.

More importantly, thanks for continually getting under the skin of our many hapless, clueless and corrupt local politicians. You folks are to local political reporting, editorializing and punditry (muckraking) what the brilliantly beaming sun is to providing comfort on a bitterly cold day.

As we end one tumultuous year and head into what promises to be an equally upside-down year (Rats!), I’d like to extend a Merry Holiday, a Happy Christmas or whatever term is least offensive to one and all.

Enjoy, stay safe and we’ll see you on the other side of the new year.

Markie in Nord End

I received an e-mail response, which is interesting in it’s new year prognosticating…
Hi Mark-

Thanks for the Christmas greetings. I thank you for the enlightening commentary on your blog. It’s because of people like you, people who are involved in what’s going on and voice their opinions, that WILK is able to do what it does. We really couldn’t do it without you.

I think we’re going to be talking about more big power players going down in 2010….strap yourself in…it’s going to be an exciting ride.

Hope you have a great Christmas and are able to be with the grandkids to witness the joy of the season!

Happy and Healthy New Year to you and yours.

(Name deleted by your hated author)

Strap yourself in? I hear that.

Is it possible that our ongoing home grown corruption scandal has no end in sight?

Jesus!!! I shutter to think about it.

Oops. Sorry about that. I’m sure that must violate somebody’s imagined separation of church and blog statute.

Anyway, last night we got to reminiscing about some of our favorite, or most memorable Christmases past.

1967, the year I went Ralphie a la “Christmas Story” on my mom and her husband. And I did get the 2-wheeled bike with the banana seat I wanted. But only after the evil step dad made me believe that my sister got it and not myself.

1969, when my mom and I sat Indian-style in front of the tree in our housecoats and sang that little gray and white Church-supplied Christmas carol book cover-to-cover, and much to the evil step dad’s obvious chagrin. And right after we were done, a tractor trailer jackknifed on the cobblestone hill right out front, slid down the ice-covered hill and smashed through Derby Pizza with a sound not unlike those from the then latest Godzilla release.

That pizza joint must have been cursed or something. They rebuild the place after the big wreck. And some fifteen years later, my ears perked right up when a CNN commentator made mention of Derby, Connecticut. Turned out, a natural gas leak had reduced the entire building to rubble in the blink of an eyelid. No fatalities, but quite a few serious injuries resulted.
Mostly, Christmas makes me miss my mom and my brother all over again. Gaping wounds, I think they're called.

Enough with all of that.

My daughter Ebon pointed out last night that all of us, parents and kids alike, still get along with each other quite handsomely. And that’s a feat that not very many families are capable of. So I guess that’s a tremendous gift in itself.

And I realized early this morning while I was setting up Wifey’s new wireless mouse that this is our 35th Christmas spent together. Can you imagine? She’s as young as she is, and she’s been saddled with the likes of me for 35 years? Seriously, sainthood can’t be very far off for her…St. Wifey. It has a ring to it, I suppose.

Well, if that ain’t enough circumlocution for one day, enough excess verbiage, then I await the meandering, literary-like tour de force.

Long post short, we’re happy, we’re healthy and the government has left us with just enough of our money to be somewhat secure. And I hope everyone who reads this tiring swill can say the same.
Merry Xmas.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

America's political Chernobyl

From the Times Leader Web site (note the time stamp):

Updated: 5:38 PM

Thomas Cooney chosen to fill Skrepenak's seat

Luzerne County judges have selected Thomas Cooney to fill the seat of commissioner Greg Skrepenak.

The decision came after over a half hour of discussions behind closed doors. Cooney received four of seven votes.

Cooney was chosen from a panel of 14 candidates. Over 60 were interviewed for the position throughout the day.

Cooney is the director of development for the A & E Group. He resides in Jenkins Township.


A few precursory Google searches using a few differing phrases and the like proves that none of the well-connected, the politicos or the party apparatchiks are asking who this guy is. He’s well-known in their circles of rarified air.

The thing that throws me for a loop is the interviewing process used to arrive at this decision, or should I say, the lack thereof.

Sure, the Times Leader reported some no-shows from among the ranks of the 68 commissioner applicants. There were challenges and disqualifications and all of that predictable sort of stuff. One prospective candidate even withdrew for medical reasons.

But in all honesty, with the sheer volume of applicants to be waded through, I really thought the judges would convene the process and announce that they’d pick up where they left off tomorrow, or in the very, very near future. My thinking was, nobody could interview dozens of applicants, name the new commissioner, and all before dinnertime. Right?

But this Times Leader update did appear…

Interviews of the 14 finalists finished up shortly before 5 p.m. and the judges have begun closed-door deliberations to select a replacement for former commissioner Greg Skrepenak.

So, in review, they interviewed dozens of prospective candidates, and all of this interviewing was accomplished in less than seven hours. Wait. All of this was accomplished in less than seven hours?

Here’s how that must have gone:



Favorite color?

Party affiliation?

Thank you for coming.

Budget crisis or no budget crisis, this is a joke. Assuming you have any, this has to be yet another insult to your intelligence.

But hey, this is Luzerne County. This is probably the only place across these fruity plains of ours where you could conduct dozens of interviews starting mid-morning, ending before supper and having a clear winner.

Yeah, this is Luzerne County...America’s political Chernobyl. Why not continue on with the meltdown? Containment? Cooling waters? Screw it.

The back room, closed door plot thickens, the outstanding debts mount, the taxes will surely rise yet again and the populace will no doubt be sickened all over again.

Welcome aboard, Commissioner Who.


The fix is in

If you reside in this county, or if you follow our many disturbing travails, you already know we need a new commissioner appointed by tonight. Or was it by yesterday?

Either way, our judiciary will interview the following gaggle of applicants, and then vote in secret and behind closed doors no less.

Below is the list of prospective commissioners as compiled by the Times Leader:

Here’s a list of the 67 applicants for the commissioner seat, in no particular order: Clif Madrak, Plymouth; Justin McCarthy, Wilkes-Barre; Nicholas Volpetti, Kingston; Lawrence DeFluri, Hazle Township; Michael Szustak, Kingston; Rob Reddington, Hanover Township; Edward Palka, Kingston Township; John Pitcavage, Swoyersville; Charlene Aben, Swoyersville; Joseph J. Carey Sr., Hanover Township; Kenneth M. Phillips, Mountain Top; Terrence E. “Terry” Siple, Wilkes-Barre; Charles G. Blewitt, Kingston; Wilfred E. Toole, Dupont; Allan J. Mago, Wilkes-Barre Township; Mahesh (Mike) Trivedi, Butler Township; Eileen M. Sorokas, Wilkes-Barre; Joseph Gill, Hanover Township; Alfred Akulonis Jr., Duryea; Allison Walzer, Jackson Township; Michael S. Giamber, Ross Township; Joseph Morren, White Haven; Bonnie Lini Markowski, Plains Township; James Hassel, Wilkes-Barre; David Owen Roberts, Bear Creek Township; John J. Brennan, Kingston; John (Jack) Legins, Nanticoke; Curtis Muffley, Pittston; Amer Haobsh, Swoyersville; Adam Bender, Hanover Township; Thomas F. Connell, Plains Township; Marylee Brennan Ferrell, Wilkes-Barre; John F. Bednar Jr., Wilkes-Barre; Gerald D. Bau, Shickshinny; Joseph J. Gombeda, Hazle Township; James A. Casey III, Wilkes-Barre; Michael McGlynn, Duryea; Frank J. Trinisewski Jr., Mountain Top; Bob Morgan, Mountain Top; Richard Shermanski, Mountain Top; Jon Trosky, Butler Township; Thomas P. Cooney, Jenkins Township; Lillian Thomas, Kingston; Gary Zingaretti, Bear Creek Township; Darren G. Snyder, Wilkes-Barre; Brian E. McHugh, Kingston; James G. Zoller, Nanticoke; Steven Dommes, Duryea; William Andrews, White Haven; Adam Ruderman, West Pittston; Ronald Tirko Jr., Courtdale; Timothy McGinley, Kingston; Cynthia Smith, Plymouth; Gordon Snow, Mountain Top; William Balchune, Pittston; Michael Hrinko Jr., Nanticoke; John T. Banks, Wilkes-Barre; Thomas Dombroski, Kingston Township; Phillip Knobel, Exeter; Joseph A. Naperkowski, Wilkes-Barre; Antonio J. Rodriquez, Hazleton; Robert L. Shainline Sr., Pittston; Gary R. Shupp, Mountain Top; Beth Ann Wenner, Freeland; Sam Pennartz, Wyoming; Gary Reese, Kingston; and Greg Gulick, Mountain Top.

The way I see it, here’s the scoop. We’ll never know the details, so what follows is speculation on my part.

Despite the fact that Greg Skrepenak is feigning ignorance, I figure he knew his goose was cooked many moons ago. And if that’s true, it only stands to reason that he could have resigned weeks ago, perhaps even months ago.

But, with the county’s budget hanging in the balance, and with a much-needed Tax Anticipation Note hanging in the balance, and with the cutbacks/tax increase ratio hanging in the balance, he chose to resign just a fortnight before the 2010 budget had to be hammered out, finalized and approved.

Therefore, I am of the opinion that his chosen resignation date was a ruse perpetrated by some unseen body for the purposes of creating a purposely crafted budgetary emergency. And because of that cleverly crafted emergency, it’s already been said that this newly appointed commissioner must be familiar with the budgetary process and all that’s associated with such a process. In other words, we need a blast from the past. We need one of them good old boys from within the dwindling (not yet indicted) ranks of the party of corruption in Luzerne County.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, in my opinion…the fix is in.

The smart money is on former commissioner Frank Trinisewski.

Will our judiciary further muddy it's already thoroughly soiled reputation?

Methinks it will.


Saturday, December 19, 2009


My grandson Zach and I moseyed on down to Movies 14 late this afternoon to see James Cameron’s latest theatrical release…Avatar.

I snagged the following from the trailer:

In Theatres Worldwide December 18 - AVATAR takes us to a spectacular world beyond imagination, where a reluctant hero embarks on an epic adventure, ultimately fighting to save the alien world he has learned to call home. James Cameron, the Oscar-winning director of Titanic, first conceived the film 15 years ago, when the means to realize his vision did not exist yet. Now, after four years of production, AVATAR, a live action film with a new generation of special effects, delivers a fully immersive cinematic experience of a new kind, where the revolutionary technology invented to make the film disappears into the emotion of the characters and the sweep of the story.

And Markie’s review?

I’ve seen plenty of 3-D movies, and I always came away wondering what all the fuss was about. The effects weren’t all that amazing. And wearing the glasses was always kind of annoying. But this flick, this latest 3-D wizardry is truly something to behold.

And the mix of cinematography, CGI, 3-D and whatever technology Cameron purportedly invented and perfected all mixed together were at times visually breathtaking, if not downright stunning. Mind-blowing, it was.

There were a couple of scenes in which the frame is looking downward from dizzying altitudes when I felt this Vertigo sensation coming over me. And all too often, the scenes from within the jungles had me lifting my arm as if to shoo away insects that seemed to be fluttering right before my eyes. And in one scene I lurched just as an automatic weapon appeared to be too close to impaling me. Crazy stuff and well worth the price of admission.

And how about a movie that causes you to root for the alien life forms, and against the human race? That's different. That hasn’t happened for me since I was in junior high and cuddled up with a hand-me-down Arthur C. Clarke paperback.

It’s been reported that Cameron spent over $300 million on the production of this movie, a figure that had 20th Century Fox worried about whether or not it would get a handsome return on it’s record-breaking investment. The way I see it, they ought to relax, if not, start celebrating. This is a must-see movie. And in hindsight, it will be considered groundbreaking in it‘s cutting edge technological innovation.

Markie sez…8 thumbs up. Er, something like that.

Do it now.


(Sue...Jimmy told me about the backpack. I searched under the bridge and along the railroad tracks, but no bag. Sorry. My guess is that the Ipod shows up at the Trading Post pawn shop.)

What Culm County needs is a gas-laden enema

“I again want to stress my heartfelt sorrow for what has taken place. I can say without hesitation that I never intended to do wrong.”--Greg Skrepenak

So, the most highly-anticipated ‘surprise’ in the history of Culm County has finally come to pass. Greg Skrepenak went and stepped down in disgrace.

I hearken back to, I think it was 2001, when then WILK radio talk show host Fred Williams had Skrep on his show and was encouraging him to run for an elected office on the local scene.

Now, even though I had absolutely nothing against the ex-NFL lineman, I was seriously annoyed with Fred and found myself shouting at the radio. As if this area didn’t have enough of a leadership vacuum back then, here we had the most popular local political raconteur of the time trying to add to the vacuous mix. Argh!

Needless to say, I was disinclined to vote for any ex-jock, and never did Skrep receive my vote.

Still though, he shot right to the top here in Culm County. And now his lackluster political dalliances have led him to this fateful day. Even if he never intended to do wrong, apparently he got plenty wrong.

And while the anonymous assassins of the internet will have at him with their incessant electronic name-calling and vitriol and what have you, a big, big part of me can’t help but feeling sad about what has become of the freakishly big kid I used to plunk down cash money to see perform on the gridiron and on the court.

The way I see it, the decades-old status quo in Luzerne County can make losers out of everyone, anyone, no matter their original background and no matter their originally high-minded intentions. So now, perceived flaws, warts, foibles and all, it’s time to do away with the cash-stuffed envelopes, the business-as-usual governing by way of back room deals, it’s time to vote Yes for Home Rule. If the system is too easy to manipulate for personal gain, then it’s time to change the system.

Despite the lofty promises made to us--the voting, tax-paying public--by both Todd Vonderheid and Greg Skrepenak back in 2003, all that they really managed were a couple of personal foul calls, and now a game misconduct. One retired from the game and the other has been ejected by the refs.

So much for that playbook.

What else?

Oh yeah, some snot-nosed college kid went and complained about a nativity scene on the courthouse lawn. And true to form, the ACLU came a callin’ with threats of legal action.


First of all, I loathe people who spend too much of their time trying to be offended by damn near everything. Seriously. If a plastic figurine of any sort has put you off your lunch, you ought not go on breathing.

And please don’t send me any legalese claptrap. I’ve read it all before, the “separation of church and state” malarkey that is nowhere to be found in any of our founding or supporting documents. It’s bunk. I know it. You know it. And so do the easily-offended pansies.

Anyway, so the kid got his ill begotten 15 seconds of fame (or is it shame?), but the most cockamamie part of this story is the gross overreaction of the hardscrabble hoi polloi, as well as the elected, the appointed and some of their well-connected attorney friends.

This is a fight we need to fight? We will spare any expense in a county that can’t balance a single fiscal budget, can’t stop hemorrhaging tidal waves of red ink and can’t even imagine how to begin retiring it‘s $466 million in outstanding debts?

But we will fight to save our plastic figurines?!?

“Whoever we are, wherever we’re from, we should have noticed by now our behavior is dumb. And if our chances except to improve, it's gonna take a lot more than tryin' to remove the other race or the other whatever from the face of the planet altogether.”--Francis Vincent Zappa

You know, if Greg Skrepenak did as was alleged, if he accepted bribes from some developer who wanted a Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) zone created for their personal enrichment, then I can’t help but to wonder how much money changed hands on the down-low when the Keystone Opportunity Zones (KOZ) were first created here back in 1999.

As first envisioned, KOZs were supposed to trigger investments in long dormant or blighted properties, to bring businesses to blighted areas, and with the end result being job creation, job creation and more job creation. KOZ properties are exempted from property taxes, business privilege taxes and mercantile taxes after the host school board, municipality and county approve of the designation.

But all too often, the tax-exempt designations have become personal tax shelters for the well-connected and nothing else.

Case in point: Lowes’s Restaurant, West Market Street, Wilkes-Barre. An existing restaurant owned by a congressman’s underling is declared a KOZ property in 1999, all taxes are forgiven for a decade, and then the restaurant is sold to an adjoining business owner.

Were any investments made in that tax-exempt property? Were any jobs created? Was any blight removed? No. So the only party that benefited from that KOZ status was the property owner, the longtime political player. As for the community at large, well, we got the decreased tax base.

And whether any bribes were proffered matters not to me. The undeniable fact is that a congressman’s aide was given a tax exemption for a decade. And now that that decade has passed, where’s the cost-benefit analysis? Were any capital investments made to said property? Were any jobs created? And should we be insulted, should we be further maddened by the fact that he ended up being Pennsylvania's Director for Rural Development?

The owner of the newsstand wasn’t afforded as much. And neither was the owner of the deli, or the guy who owns the downtown music store. No, only the well-connected are afforded a tax-exempt status that flies in the face of the original intent of the KOZ program.

And that’s not corruption?

Perhaps a huge investigation needs to be conducted of the various and sundry folks who apply for and receive KOZ status, Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) freebies, Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance (LERTA) giveaways, Rural Business Enterprise Grants (RBEG) and the people who awarded them in the first place.

It seems the State Department of Community and Economic Development has delegated too, too much to the local yokels who have clearly demonstrated they can’t be trusted when the big deals are made on the back nine in violation of the Sunshine Laws.

Who gets what, why, and how much money was passed under the table in advance? Is that too much to ask being that we are then called upon to shore up the declining tax base? Methinks not.

The long and short of it is, when what would have been public money is used for private gain, in my denuded mind, that’s corruption.

Now somebody send me that FBI tip line number, will you?

Ah, never mind.

What Culm County needs is a gas-laden enema. And with that much-needed accelerant inserted, all we need is the match.

Sez me.

6 more days ‘til Christmas and I haven’t bought a single thing. Not a gift. Not a foodstuff. And no wrapping paper or frilly bows.

In other words, from here on out, stay well out of my way. You have been duly warned.

Merry Christmas.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Druggies with drills

Here's a reprint from the Times-Tribune of Scranton.

The link was provided to me by none other than Kayak Dude. Think about this before you lease your land to any energy outfit.

Cabot workers fail drug tests
Employees at gas wells tested positive

by jeremy g. burton (staff writer)

Published: December 12, 2009

Contracted workers at natural gas wells in Susquehanna County tested positive this week for using illegal drugs or alcohol on the job, a spokesman for Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. confirmed Friday.

Kenneth Komoroski, a Cabot attorney, said surprise drug tests conducted Tuesday and Wednesday were prompted by an employee who was concerned about the use of drugs and alcohol at well sites in Dimock Twp. Mr. Komoroski said the results are preliminary and would not be final for another two weeks, pending further testing.

He also said he did not know the number of employees who tested positive, or for what substances they tested positive. Cabot has a "zero-tolerance" policy and would terminate anyone found to violate it, Mr. Komoroski said.

Cabot is a Texas-based natural gas operator that has drilled 63 Marcellus Shale wells in Susquehanna County and has permits to drill about 60 more. A group of 15 families filed a lawsuit against the company Nov. 20, alleging Cabot ruined their water supply, polluted their land and endangered their health.

Cabot denies the claims.

Mr. Komoroski said the company responded swiftly when alerted to the drug and alcohol problem just before Thanksgiving, and Cabot routinely drug tests employees.

"These are important issues, very important issues, and it is unacceptable to have workers under the influence working on well sites," he said.

Michael Lebron, a consultant and liaison for the 15 families suing Cabot, expressed doubt that Cabot is committed to the community's well-being. The company, he said, has repeatedly exhibited a "negligent attitude" and an "irresponsibility to the people they've signed leases with."

Cabot takes its responsibilities seriously, Mr. Komoroski said. The company drug-tested every employee in the county, using a third-party firm that brought in drug-sniffing dogs to canvass the wells, he said.

Neither state police nor local authorities were involved in the internal investigation, Mr. Komoroski said.

When asked Friday about possible drug arrests involving gas well workers, the Susquehanna County district attorney's office said it was unaware of the situation.
tinely drug tests employees.

"These are important issues, very important issues, and it is unacceptable to have workers under the influence working on well sites," he said.

Michael Lebron, a consultant and liaison for the 15 families suing Cabot, expressed doubt that Cabot is committed to the community's well-being. The company, he said, has repeatedly exhibited a "negligent attitude" and an "irresponsibility to the people they've signed leases with."

Cabot takes its responsibilities seriously, Mr. Komoroski said. The company drug-tested every employee in the county, using a third-party firm that brought in drug-sniffing dogs to canvass the wells, he said.

Neither state police nor local authorities were involved in the internal investigation, Mr. Komoroski said.

When asked Friday about possible drug arrests involving gas well workers, the Susquehanna County district attorney's office said it was unaware of the situation.

Contact the writer: jburton@timesshamrock.com

Deputy Controller out

From the December 11 version of the Citizen’s Voice:

WILKES-BARRE - Luzerne County Commissioner Stephen A. Urban and Commissioner Chairwoman Maryanne Petrilla voted Thursday to introduce a $127.2 million budget with an 18.5 percent tax hike.

But both commissioners said revenue and cost totals in the preliminary budget, along with the proposed tax rate of 5.3715 mills, would likely change when commissioners adopt a final budget on Dec. 30.

"I'm going to vote to put the budget on the table, but I'm going to tell you right now, I'm not going to vote on this tax increase," Mr. Urban said. "And I'll vote to shut this place down on Dec. 30, if we don't have a budget that makes sense to me and we don't have the spending cuts that I believe are necessary to move this county forward. รข€¦ I am asking the unions to come forward and cooperate with us, not file grievances, and cooperate with us, as much as you can, to help lower costs."

Yeah, this is where the proposed budget becomes a work of fiction. As a cost-cutting measure, it has been proposed that county employees be furloughed in lieu of pay for a number of days that have yet to be determined. Unionized employees, very many of these would be.

And if we know anything about unions, we know that they’d watch their employers go bankrupt before agreeing to any significant concessions. And this is especially true of public sector unionized employees, who seem to view their employers--the taxpayers--as a bottomless source of revenue.

Actually, when you include teachers, the argument can easily be made that unionized public sector employees are bankrupting municipalities, small, large and otherwise. And to argue against that fact is proof of one’s union membership.

So if the unionized county employees will not go along with the proposed furlough plan, then the 2010 budget is in even rougher shape than previously envisioned. And as the upcoming tax hike hovers somewhere between 8 and 18 percent as the jawboning between the commissioners continues, the smart money goes on 18 percent, if not higher.

Commissioner Greg Skrep-enak [sic] on Thursday voted against the introduction of a budget. Mr. Skrepenak doesn't want to eliminate any county jobs and said he changed his mind Thursday about supporting a tax increase.

Management 101...follow me here Gregypoo: As revenues dip, so must the expenses dip. And since salaries, benefits and perks (legal or otherwise) constitute the great majority of the budget, guess where you should start when austerity comes a callin’?


Another issue is the row officers objecting to further budgetary constraints. A budget is only as good as the people implementing it. And if the row officers do not stay within their budgetary guidelines, if they overspend, what can the commissioners do about it? Uh, nothing?

Anyway, say it with me here folks…Unionized government employees equals increased debt.

That wasn’t so hard, was it?

In other news…

Deputy Controller A.J. Martinelli will not be back in January when Walter Griffith is sworn in as the new controller. Martinelli will be replaced by Kingston accountant Frank Pinaccoli Jr.

And controller-elect Walter Griffith has also added a new solicitor, Thomas J. Mosca, Esquire, of MOSCA LAW OFFICES, Kingston.

And with $466 million in outstanding debts, with $28 million in debt service payments due in 2010, and with the corruption scandal still swirling all about, we need the controller’s office to be on it’s game as we trudge on forward.

Or is it, crawl?


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ambrose was right

“We will not passively experience change. We will make change. But to shape our future, we need a new vision of government.”--Governor Pete Wilson

After reading that quote, you’re probably expecting a rant against Obama, Kanjorski or any one of those other buffoons currently spending this country into insignificance. Sorry, but that rant is not forthcoming. Not today, that is.

No, interestingly enough, that quote appears on the front page of a Christine Katsock for Mayor flier I hold in these nicotine-stained fingers. Here’s another quote from that same flier, “We will not suffer the future. We will shape it.”

Well, after her recent vote to retain a school board president under federal indictment, I’d say her very first attempt at shaping the future has the voters around here suffering through some buyer’s remorse. And she hasn’t even warmed her seat yet.

Oh-for-one, girl.

Vision, Christine? Vision? I’d say that vision of yours closely resembles the status quo. Go along to get along. Don’t make any waves. The establishment needs you, and now you need it.

The ‘ayes’ have it, and the Wilkes-Barre Area School Board is in the running for being named the new laughing stock in a county riddled with and managed by way of congenital dishonesty. Because, to pretend that the indicted should be leading the way is to make sophistry of honesty.

From Gort42.blogspot.com:

She had no comment when asked to explain her vote for Pizzella but it's not hard to figure out if you look at her Campaign Finance Report. Frank Pizzella was her top cash contributor pitching in $3000. She also got $1800 as a in-kind contribution from the Friends of Frank Pizzella. Other notable contributions came from engineer Michael Pasonick who does business with just about every government agency in Luzerne County and has been implicated in the ongoing corruption scandal.

Outstanding bit of research there, Gort. You are born again hard, my man. When next we get together and pray at the nozzle of the yellow sudsies, I'm buying.

(Editor's note: Aren't bloggers just a total pain in the ass?)

So, is she our very first ‘good old chick?’
In the 11th Congressional District:

Okay. Corey O’Brien is in. Lou Barletta is in. Some bomb-throwing, yet heretofore unknown republican is in. And hopefully, one way or another, Congressman Kanjorski, who is to likeability, ethics and legislative prowess what hemorrhoids are to great, great fun, is out. Hopefully.

Or has he gotten ‘too big to fail?’

I meant to respond to the following, but I simply forgot to. Better late than never, I suppose.

bethany said...

What was Ambrose Meletsky like? What were his views/ political leanings?
I am curious.

December 3, 2009 9:41 AM

I first met Ambrose at a city council meeting and I was amazed by his level of passion and energy, if not, the unmistakable fact that he was outraged by the then actions of our city government. I also saw him in action at a county commissioner meeting, as well as the very first informational get-together for the first go-round with the home rule experiment.

I got the impression that he didn't like me. Although, when first I started writing about Wilkes-Barre's impending ruination, I used to get that a lot. For the most part, nobody in these parts had ever been exposed to what would later be called a political blog. And no one had ever seen it done on such a close up and personal basis. Basically, nobody seemed to know what to make of me and my earliest efforts that began in December of 2000. Hence, the chases through the streets, the cursing, the chest bumps, the middle fingers, the attempts at intimidation and what have you.

I believe he was already in his early 80s, and I used to think about how high his blood pressure must have been spiking. To say he was upset, to say he was full of fire, to say he took the inactions of our elected and appointed leaders personally would be a gross understatement.

But there was one thing, one constant, that always set him apart from the others that would stand before the elected bodies and let them have it with their fiery diatribes. The thing was, he always knew what he was talking about. The guy paid close attention to the goings-on, and he did his necessary homework and fact-checking as well. He was right.

He was informed and then some, he was always passionate, but most of all, the guy was absolutely fearless. And if you cared at all about your community at that time, you had to see him as inspirational. I know I did.

As far as his political leanings are concerned, I don’t remember him wearing any on his sleeve, except for the obvious, that Luzerne County needed a robust second political party. Mostly, all I can remember was his utter disdain for the elected and appointed in this county, most of whom are either gone or now indicted, or yet to be indicted.

At this point, with the corruption scandal still in overdrive and with the finish line still well out of sight, they should mount a plaque in the courthouse that reads, ‘Ambrose was right.’

Here, here.

One another thing about Ambrose, he didn’t attend the city or county meetings to glean information, he went to those meetings armed with information. A lesson not lost on myself.

Funny, over the years, many a person has asked me how I could know about everything that was afoot at City Hall without ever attending city council meetings, or ever setting foot in City Hall for that matter.

How? By doing what he did, by seeking out the vital information long before any confrontations were necessary. Arm yourself with the facts and numbers and then have it, be it attending meetings, writing letters to the editors, calling talk radio or making incessant noise on the internet.

Before you go to wherever it is you’re going to, arm yourself with the facts. And while some of us have gone there in spite of our fears of retribution and whatnot, never did I detect any trepidation on Ambrose’s part. Another lesson not lost on your annoying author.

I hope that helps.

It’s Sunday, and I’ve got to show my usual reverence to NFL football.

How 'bout them Steelers!?!

Gotta go.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Back in the saddle

I used to visit this site --W-B Political Scene-- quite a bit, simply because when first it was anonymously launched, it was pretty much devoted to bashing me. Post after post after post consisted of Markie bashing and little else. And I used to get a big kick out of it.

Needless to say, it was lame. Imagine that. A blog about another blog. Make any sense?

Anyway, I was checking out some of these long-forgotten electronic locales that are still listed at NEPA Blogs.blogspot.com, and I found this pearl, this brilliant piece of insightful political punditry.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Doug Richards and His Wife are a Powerhouse In Luzerne County Politics!
Many people are commenting on the new powerhouse, Human Resources Director at the Luzerne County Courthouse, Doug Richards. It is clear that Doug is on the ascent at the Luzerne County Courthouse and the sky is the limit as to his ambitions and potential. One thing for sure Doug Richards knows what he is talking about and the Luzerne County Commissioners recognize Doug as a definite asset.

While Doug is busy making things happen at the Luzerne County Courthouse his wife is an equally powerful force at the Luzerne County Community College. Taking the Community College by storm Doug Richard's wife is a dynamic personality who is without a doubt helpful to the college administration including President Tom Leary.

Look for this power couple to be around for a long time do excellent work to assist the Luzerne County Commissioners as well as the administration and President of the Luzerne County Community College, Tom Leary.

posted by Colonel Klink at
7:38 PM

Geez. Was that embarrassing, or what? Open prehensile mouth, insert engorged...

From The Hazleton Standard Speaker:

WILKES-BARRE - Luzerne County commissioners on Wednesday officially approved last week's decision to fire Doug Richards as director of human resources.

The vote was 3-0. Richards stopped working for the county Nov. 18 after refusing to talk to Commissioner Chairwoman Maryanne Petrilla about his intention to resign Dec. 4 and his role with a personnel contract being investigated by federal authorities.

County solicitor Vito DeLuca has determined that Richards generated a contract on his work computer in 2007 to make it look like it came from Continental Consultants Group Inc., a company from New York City paid $807,770 by the county in 2007 and 2008. On April 30, 2007, Richards directed county Work Investment Development Agency Director Richard Ammon to sign Continental contract, which was never approved by county commissioners and is being investigated by federal authorities.

What an effing clueless jackass, man! A real non-brainiac.

Perhaps Colonel Klink (he/she/it) should have stuck with the Markie bashing routine from the relative safety of anonymity. Putz.

Fantasy Football update

I finished 8-5 after winning 6 of my last 7 games. Oh, and I missed out on the wild card spot thanks to a tiebreaker. No playoffs for this dull boy.

Still and all, it’s a ton of fun.

With that behind me, I should be posting here more often. So, I’m thinking that Colonel Klink should get back to basics since I’ll be giving him plenty to criticize from here on out. Putz.

Hey, I know you Obama supporters are probably unwilling to admit to your giant mistake. But let’s be honest, shall we?

Aren’t Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi just about the biggest assholes to ever have been put in charge of anything more grandiose than a Little League refreshment stand? These two are both mentally incontinent, name-calling goons.

Now, admit it.

Peace is still going hot-and-heavy with the genealogy bit. And the latest tidbit she unearthed is that my grandfather did the film work on a 1944 movie titled “Home in Indiana,” which was nominated for Academy awards for both best color, and best cinematography.

Needless to say, I’ll be looking to purchase a copy of that movie, like, soon.

I found this post at Political Rants to be an interesting insiders look at the recent comments from Carolee Medico-Olenginski that bad-mouthed the suddenly resurgent GOP in this county.

Can you bite the hand that doesn’t feed you?