NEWS AND COMMENTARY ON LANCASTER ISSUES THAT MATTER
The Second Shoe:
Convention Center / Casino Complex?
Now that the few but powerful proponents of the convention center project have apparently achieved their ends, a blanket of anxiety is settling on those who have the responsibility for the virtually impossible task of making the project viable.
So murmurs are already being heard about the possibility of introducing gaming to downtown Lancaster.
Reportedly a private comment was made a year ago by an establishment journalist that a slot casino was part of the hidden plan, the reason why the High Group, the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers, Senator Gib Armstrong and, within a couple of days of his election, Mayor Rick Gray have been ardent supporters. (Perhaps Gray's prior reservations about the project were because he had not been given the inside information until immediately after he was elected.)
When the sponsors announced they were jettisoning the project due to a shortfall in funds just six months ago, the receipt of an iron clad assurance of a casino license may have been behind their dramatic reversal and baseless claim that the "funding gap had been closed." (Since then the overall cost has climbed by well over ten million dollars…some gap closing!)
And this may have been behind the vociferous opposition by then mayor Charlie Smithgall and state authorities to a group seeking a gaming license for the Bulova Building. It would have torpedoed any deal between Armstrong and Governor Ed Rendell.
Of course this is largely speculation based upon tidbits of information gleaned here, and gleaned there. Yet it does make some sense out of what otherwise makes no sense.
So, if you begin to hear worrisome projections from those who previously had supported the project, consider it the ground work for the playing of the casino card as the salvation for downtown Lancaster…that is, unless you are one of the insiders who have known it all along.
Letter from the editor
The press did not reference the statements three of us made at the April 26 Convention Center Authority meeting in response to Board member Joseph Morales' attempt to excuse his and other City board appointees attitude and actions, and his call for solidarity. An extract of our comments follows. I am also including technical observations from Victor Capecce who was out of town.
Randolph Carney: "Joe Morales is asking the people to work with him to make the convention center a success, but he is giving us no reason to do so. The 2000 PricewaterhouseCoopers study that is still being quoted was for a much smaller $70 million project. Now we are stuck with a $170 million project, plus interest, all but a small fraction of which is either taxpayer dollars or guaranteed by taxpayer dollars. To this day, no one associated with the project can explain to us what kind of return on investment taxpayers can expect for our money."
Robert Field: "I had planned to simply praise the selection of three highly competent new board members, but the attempt by Joseph Morales to excuse himself and others for their past willful disregard of the facts and irresponsible actions requires a response.
"Authority officials and the sponsors ignored the serious concerns expressed in the PricewaterhouseCoopers market studies of 2000 and 2002. The project so ballooned in scope and cost and the Authority and others so misrepresented the findings, that PricewaterhouseCoopers withdrew the reports and later declined to perform additional work.
"Furthermore, in 2006 when the commissioners engaged PKF Consultants to create the first genuine feasibility study, the Authority officials refused to cooperate or even read the findings, an obvious dereliction of their duties.
"I agree that it is important that we all work to make the best of a very bad thing. But Mr. Morales and others should not be excused for past gross negligence and willful abuses."
Luis Mendoza: "In 1987 when I became the first Latino elected to City Council, I was very supportive of this project since the cost of the convention center was going to be paid by the county hotel room tax revenues and the hotel cost was to be borne by the private sector, bringing significant tax revenues to the City.
"Since then the project cost has grown from $70 million to approximately $200 million; the Watt & Shand building was sold to the City for $7 million although the private sector sponsor only paid $1.25 million; Senator Gib Armstrong introduced special legislations to assist Penn Square Partners to minimize their investment and avoid paying taxes; and City Council voted (over my negative vote) to provide tens of millions of dollars in guarantees.
"I have subsequently learned that experts including the LCCCA's own consultants have suggested that this project would be a failure.
"Also there is the inexplicable reluctance on the part of the Authority to authenticate the $7 million in Stevens & Lee billings.
"Therefore Mr. José Morales, I do not think you should ask me and others to excuse or forget the historic absence of accountability, clarity and transparency."
Victor Capecce: "My opposition to the project originated with the observation that the site was woefully inadequate and inappropriate for a convention center. The surrounding traffic-snarled streets, the adjacent crime-prone residential neighborhood, the convoluted and inadequate parking scheme all combine to prevent the venue from successfully competing with nearby venues in Hershey, Valley Forge, Lehigh Valley, Harrisburg, etc.
"The behemoth exhibit hall is designed for up to 400 trade show exhibits, but 400 vehicles cannot unload in a reasonable time at the site. The hall should accommodate 2,000 attendees, but it would take more than 2 hours to unload buses for that many people who must be lodged at distant hotels.
"Since the site and its faults have not changed, how could I support the investment of $170 mil (plus) that can never yield its equivalent in economic benefits for the community?"
Pyrrhic Victory Party
The sponsors of the project and the PA visitors' bureau are throwing a party on the 23rd, no doubt to congratulate each other on their fancy footwork financing. It will be interesting what the taxpayer cost of this soiree will be. I sure hope one or more of the board members inquires about its cost. No doubt, Mr. Accountability and Transparency, aka Art Morris, will raise holy heck when he finds out about this completely pointless and premature expenditure. Yes, I expect him to be holding a sign in front of the event beseeching invitees not to enter. Can anyone think of a reason to hold such a party? The only thing I can come up with is they want to rub project critics' nose in their pyrrhic victory. But that would be cynical and self-serving on the part of sponsors, and we all know that doesn't describe these people, right?
Art Morris nominated for chair of Convention Center Authority
At the May 3 Lancaster County Convention Center Authority nominating committee meeting, Art Morris was nominated as chairman of the LCCCA board by a 2 to 1 vote. Morris was nominated by Joe Morales, and Laura Douglas was nominated by Deb Hall, who commented that Morris is a newcomer to LCCCA meetings and has insufficient background to serve as chairman at this time.
Morales and committee chairman Willie Borden voted for Morris, and Hall voted for Douglas.
At the same meeting, Morales nominated Hall as secretary of the LCCCA board. No other nominations for secretary were submitted, and Hall was selected unanimously.
If approved by the full board, City appointee Morris will remain as chairman until January 2008, although the majority of board members will switch from City appointees to County appointees on Sept. 15.
Through Ted Darcus resigning the chairmanship prior to the end of his term, he has enabled the current minority to keep control of the administration of the Authority for an additional four months.
These nominations will be submitted to the LCCCA board for approval at their next meeting on Thursday, May 31, 2007, at 7:00 PM in the Southern Market.
Vote no to Donald Totaro for judge
On at least two high profile occasions, District Attorney Donald Totaro displayed his unsuitability for the office he currently holds, let alone being qualified for the position of county judge.
Totaro kept a grand jury in session for almost a year studying whether the county commissioners had violated the Sunshine Act by holding discussions outside of their public meetings of the possible sales of the Conestoga View Nursing Home. Over almost a year, he took numerous interrogations of the commissioners, causing each of them individually to fear that Totaro knew of some shady dealings of which they were not aware and that somehow they would be implicated.
In fact it was simply a ploy to get them to plead to having committed a violation and to pay a couple of hundred dollars in fines, when in fact the findings of the grand jury virtually exonerated them and castigated the vagueness of the Act itself. And the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers treated Totaro's dubious findings as though it was the crime of the century and succeeded in hounding Commissioner Dick Shellenberger from seeking a second term.
Just as grievously, Totaro ignored the request by the three minority members of the Convention Center Authority (LCCCA) that he investigate the billing of almost $7 million dollars by the law firm of Stevens & Lee without their submitting any information beyond "For Professional Services Rendered." And this was at the time when Totaro was conducting an investigation of the same law firm for allegedly over billing the county by hundreds of thousands of dollars on the Conestoga View transaction.
Totaro's excuse was that the FBI had already looked into the situation. The FBI would not substantiate his statement. And with only a single FBI agent for Central Pennsylvania and without any complaining member of the LCCCA being interviewed, Totaro's explanation lacks credibility.
The public needs a judge who is responsive to the laws and the public, not a tool of the powerful corporate elite. NewsLanc.com recommends its readers reject the candidacy of Donald Totaro.
Darcus stepping down as chairman
Latest sponsors' power play / Another dirty trick?
By relinquishing his chairmanship at the next Convention Center Authority board meeting prior to the expiration of his term, Ted Darcus makes way for another city appointee to assume the position.
Since the Bylaws call for election of officers each January, this assures a city appointee will control the apparatus of the Authority for four more months despite being part of a minority since the chair is the chief executive officer.
Now the public can see what $7 million in Stevens & Lee legal bills has wrought: Schemes to delay county appointees from taking control and investigating past abuses, over payments and possible illegal activities.
Will the monopoly newspapers report these shenanigans and call for an interim appointment to expire on September 15? Do pigs fly?
Next County LCCCA appointee
should bring technical expertise
When the County Commissioners consider their next Convention Center Board appointee, they should, like a good coach, choose someone who will round out the team.
Both the recent County's appointments of Tom LeCrone and R. B. Campbell and the City's appointment of Art Morris strengthened the management and the financial capabilities of the board.
Jack Craver, who recently resigned, had a strong background in the hospitality industry and would have provided useful marketing skills.
Still another area of vital importance, perhaps even more so, is technical knowledge of how a convention center should be designed, maintained and operated. Without such insight from a board member in that crucial area, the Authority will be completely at the mercy of advice from its consultants, and thus a virtual rubber stamp.
NewsLanc.com urges the commissioners to reopen the application process so that they can consider past and new candidates who will strengthen the board as it is now constituted. The Authority needs marketing or technical skills, not more of the same.
Another county opening on LCCCA Board
Apparently unknown to the County Commissioners and the local monopoly media, Debra Hall's term on the Convention Center Authority expires Sept. 15 of this year.
Also Mayor Rick Gray, with the approval of City Council, will need to fill the seat held by City appointee Willie Borden, Jr., whose term also ends this Sept. 15.
In response to a Right to Know request from NewsLanc.com, LCCCA executive director David Hixson wrote (and the LCCCA has subsequently verified) that the expiration dates of the terms of the seven board members are as follows: Willie Borden, Jr., Debra Hall and Ted Darcus: September 2007; Laura Douglas and Joseph Morales: September 2009; R. B. Campbell and Art Morris: September 2010.
The Commissioners conducted an extensive screening process to choose Tom LeCrone to serve in the seat to be vacated in September by city appointee and current Chairman Ted Darcus. With the subsequent resignation of county appointee Jack Craver, the commissioners selected finalist R. B. Campbell to fill the balance of Craver's term.
At issue will be whether the Commissioners initiate a new search, or select from the remaining two finalists.
Currently there are four City appointees and three County appointees on the board. The odd seat rotates every four years between the City and the County, so the County will be entitled to four appointees as of September 15, 2007.
Still more changing of the guard
At the Convention Center Authority's April 26 meeting, chairman Ted Darcus announced that he would step down as its chair at the next scheduled meeting on May 31.
Darcus is relinquishing his chairmanship prior to the end of his term, presumably so that a new chair can be chosen while there remains a majority of four City appointees on the Board. After September 15th, county appointee LeCrone will take City appointee Darcus's seat, this "swing" seat being rotated every four years.
Board member Joseph Morales sought to excuse a lack of past transparency as necessitated due to litigation and called upon opponents of the project to set aside past objections and support the project in the future.
Speaking from the audience, Randy Carney, NewsLanc.com's president Robert Field, and former City councilman Luis Mendoza praised the County and City for selecting three highly qualified new appointees (R. B. Cambell, Art Morris, and designee Tom LeCrone) but contested the notion that misrepresentations, lack of accountability, and failure to provide transparancy should be forgotten or go without future investigation. While indvidually expressing grave misgivings concerning the cost, design and future of the convention center / hotel project, they acknowledged the importance of the newly constituted board and the public working together, as Field put it, "to make the best of a very bad thing"
Member fears Board is violating Sunshine Act
At the April 26 meeting, Convention Center board member Laura Douglas repeatedly objected to the discussion of the board policy regarding legal invoicing being held in private executive session rather than in the open forum.
Douglas agreed that matters pertaining to actual litigation should be dealt with in private but maintained that this was strictly a policy issue. She contended that failure to discuss a policy matter in the public session was a violation of the Sunshine Act.
Board members Douglas, Deb Hall and Jack Craver have long criticized the law firm of Stevens & Lee submitting invoices amounting to almost $7 million with no further information than "For professional services rendered to the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority." An editorial in the Sunday News and a past column by the newly appointed board member Art Morris also were critical of the Board's failure to obtain the customary information justifying billings as submitted by most law firms.
It was announced after the executive session that Douglas' request for a new policy concerning invoices had been tabled. So it appears this matter may have to await the Sept. 15 changing of the guard.
Many losers, and one winner - -
Congratulations Dale High!
Now that the Convention Center seems likely, many losers and one major winner are apparent.
Clearly the Lancaster City taxpayers are the biggest losers. They have in whole or in part guaranteed at least $36 million in debt, approximately $4,000 per household!
The second big loser is the Steinman legacy. A reputation for good work and community leadership was tarnished as a result of the monopoly newspapers' bias and bullying tactics.
The third losers are the merchants. Unlike upscale condominiums, the convention center will obstruct the essential revitalization process whereby young professionals and 'empty nesters' move downtown.
The big winner is the High Group of companies. They made money on the project's planning stage, they will earn money on the construction, they will also receive a percentage of future hotel operational revenue and revenues from concessions, and will likely come to own at least half of the hotel itself.
Omen of things to come?
The Whitaker Center for Culture and Art in Harrisburg was funded with over $52 million in contributions from citizens and companies as well as by grants from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the City of Harrisburg and Dauphin County. It had no mortgage when it was first opened.
Their marketing study indicated that they would draw crowds from Baltimore which seemed to some knowledgeable observers as nonsense. Indeed, nonsense it proved to be.
Whitaker Center is reportedly currently running an annual deficit of around $2 million and has had to borrow heavily from several banks, one of which is Fulton Bank. Fulton may have already taken a write down on the loan.
When there was an opportunity for Fulton to provide credit enhancement for the Lancaster Convention Center / Hotel project, Fulton wasn't about to make the same mistake twice. Instead, Fulton only lent money that was guaranteed by the City of Lancaster.
Fulton had so little confidence in the Convention Center / Hotel project that it allowed its initial limited partnership investment to shrink from 20% to about 4% before it finally was able to jump ship.
Bankers don't like to lose their investments. A general partner / general contractor making money up front and guaranteed additional earnings annually through management fees has no such constraint.
Assassins also murder our society; Result: HACC Arms Security Guards
As reported in the Intelligencer Journal of 4/21/07, the Harrisburg Area Community College will at least temporarily allow its security guards at the Lancaster branch to carry fire arms.
Almost a decade ago, a debate raged on the campus of Millersville College as to whether campus guards should be allowed to carry guns. Many unsuccessfully argued at the time that it was dangerous to allow guards who have not had the rigorous training of police officers to carry fire arms. Also there was a sense that lethal weapons would negatively alter the trusting relationship between students and security personnel.
Today, many fantasize how we would keep a flack jacket and a rifle in our closet if we were a school principal. Even those who have supported gun control in the past now wonder if we are trying to close the barn door after the animals have gotten away.
Times certainly have changed when we wish some of the teachers and even students at Virginia Tech were carrying concealed weapons.
No, NewsLanc isn't advocating arming our children and even our teachers! But that such thoughts can even cross our minds is testimony how the aberrant behavior of a few can change the values and course of a civil society.
Hypocrisy or intellectual disconnect?
The Intelligencer Journal headline of 4/21/07 screams: "GOP targets tax hikes; Local lawmakers slam Rendell budget proposal."
Scroll down to "Santa's Helper Arrives in Faux Trolley" and you will encounter perhaps $40 million in State "gifts" for local projects. Are our Republican (and Democratic) legislators so naive as to think that Governor Rendell and his helpers can go around the state giving $40 million here and $50 million there (perhaps a half billion for Philadelphia) and the money doesn't have to come from someplace?
The scam is each community tries to syphon more money from the state than the next guy. And, based on that fallacy, we get led around by the nose by powerful corporate interests who feed at the taxpayers trough.
If our legislators wanted discipline, they should have started at home and vociferously demanded that the convention center / hotel project be scrapped by the state. Not only was the project without merit, but the very application by the Convention Center Authority for $20 million in state funding was misleading at best, and possibly fraudulent in its claims of having conducted a "feasibility" study.
No Lancaster, there isn't any Santa Claus. There is only greedy Santa ourselves.
A 'Smart' Sunday News exclusive
Kudos to the Sunday News for its April 15, 2007 front page article entitled "Non-taxing times." Associate editor Gil Smart is to be commended for researching and writing about such an important subject.
Tax exemption of properties is like a spreading cancer, first eating away at the city of Lancaster and later its suburbs.
The City suffers from an accident of history, the incorporating of too limited amount of the region within its boundaries. The division between the city and surrounding townships is arbitrary but the results devastating. Also, city government likely would be more accountable if the city encompassed a larger share of the county. Thus, it would not bet tens of millions on a hapless convention center hotel.
The solutions at hand are (1) more revenue sharing via county support of city endeavors and (2) contributions in lieu of paying real estate taxes by tax exempt properties.
Some houses of worship already do this. Others should follow. And they should target contributions of at least 50% of what they would pay if they were taxed.
Public Backlash re Cho Photo
According to the Associated Press, a backlash has developed against the media for airing sickening pictures sent to NBC from Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui.
Objections were raised by families of victims and police officials as well as members of the general public. Family members boycotted the NBC "Today" show out of disgust.
The national media is tripping over itself to have its cake and eat it too. The media is characterizing its actions as reporting "breaking news" and then, having exploited the opportunity to sensationalize the tragedy, saying they are pulling back because they didn't want to be accused of bad taste.
Is there any wonder that the public is turning away from newspapers, TV and radio and turning instead to the Internet for its news?
Intell photo incites massacres
On April 19, the Intelligencer Journal published a front page, four column photo of Cho Seung-Hui with arms outreached and brandishing two pistols, thus fulfilling his wish for fame and enticing 'copy cat' campus killers.
The photo was reportedly mailed to the media by Cho between his shooting sprees at Virginia Tech University.
NewsLanc.com doesn't question the editor's morality, just his or her common sense.
The Intell's and other unthinking editors across the country (including the New York Times!) play right into the hands of mentally ill individuals like Cho, promising to make them celebrities, portraying them as big and powerful men. Worse yet, it encourages others who are mentally deranged to commit copy cat crimes!
What this represents is bad judgment. As Lincoln said: "You can fool all of the people some of the time."
Shame on the Intell. Shame on the New York Times. Shame on editors that printed the picture everywhere.
And garlands for those who showed the good taste and judgment to reject such crass exploitation.
Commissioner candidates debate Convention Center merits
Six of the seven Lancaster County Commissioner candidates sparred Monday night in a debate before a large audience in Willow Valley, only a month before the primary election May 15.
Unlike last week's candidates' forum in East Hempfield, where all four of the participants – Molly Henderson, Heidi Wheaton, Jere Swarr, and Craig Lehman - slammed the proposed convention center; this time, except for Henderson and Wheaton (mildly), the office seekers were decidedly in favor of the publicly guaranteed $170 million High/Steinman project.
"I fully support going forward with the project," said Republican Scott Martin. "The opponents are, what, O-and-9 in court trying to stop this project. It is time that we all support it."
All four Republican candidates – the endorsed team of Martin, former county employee and and county controller Dennis Stuckey, former Lancaster city mayor Charlie Smithgall, and East Hempfield Township Supervisor, Heidi Wheaton – made it to the Willow Valley Cultural Center Auditorium on a blustery and chilly mid-April evening.
The GOP hopefuls were joined onstage by the two endorsed Democrats – incumbent Commissioner Henderson and Lehman, her Democratic running mate – in the event sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
"People do not know the possibility of this project and it's because of the nay-sayers," said Smithgall to a question asked by Lancaster Newspaper employee Helen Colwell Adams, a panelist. Smithgall added that Clipper Magazine Stadium was also "contentious," but that the ballpark was now widely accepted throughout the county as a good investment.
Only Henderson strongly criticized the nearly $200 million proposed development.
"I supported the project in 2003," she said. "Then it was $70 million, and 50/50 public/private investment. Now, it's nearly $200 million, and the taxpayers are responsible for 95% of it. And, yes, I am very concerned about that."
Only Independent candidate Jere Swarr did not participate in the two-hour event. Swarr will not be on the May ballot.
Santa's helper arrives in faux trolley;
Promises still more gifts and big surprise
As a guest of state Senator Gibson Armstrong, Santa's jolly helper reviewed how past gifts were being used for the Convention Center, the Lancaster Museum of Art and an expanding Transit Center.
The helper then received a new "wish list" from mayor Rick Gray which included another parking garage and row of high end condos at Queen and Lemon Streets.
Santa's helper also beamed at requests for the African Freedom Quest Theater and Interactive Wax Museum.
And anticipating the spirit of the season to come, Santa's helper suggested the mayor should add to the city's wish list an urban supermarket.
Before returning to the North Pole by way of Harrisburg, the helper approvingly viewed construction at Franklin and Marshall College and at the Health Center.
"There is still more to come," promised the jolly helper (a/k/a Secretary for the Department of Community and Economic Development Dennis Yablonsky) as he waved from his trolley as it lifted into the sky.
And, sure enough, fluttering down came a scrap of paper on which was scrawled, "Merry Christmas to all. Expect a 1% sales tax hike in Lancaster's Christmas stocking."
The fallacy of self interest vs. community interest
According to an AP release of April 14, Governor Ed Rendell's budget secretary, Mike Masch, "used the opportunity to press the case for an increase in the state sales tax."
Would Rendell and state Senator Gibson Armstrong like to know how to avoid a sales tax increase? Stop giving away $25 million dollars in taxpayers' money to hare-brained projects all over the state such as the Lancaster convention center.
Our local politicians flaunt their skill for tapping the state and federal tills and we, the suckers, think they are doing such a good job for us…finding all of this FREE money.
So long as we "conservatives" and "liberals" can be bought off with "free" empty convention centers / hotels and "free" dangerous and annoying trolley cars (and in disregard of the annual deficits they generate), vital government services will suffer and our taxes will rise.
Is that so hard to understand?
Voting machines without paper trail banned
As reported by VoteTrustUSA.org, a four year effort to require paper ballots for Maryland's
voting system passed the House and the Senate unanimously. The bill requires a voter-verified paper trail to be implemented in 2010.
Meanwhile, a Pennsylvania court held on April 11 that voters have a right under the commonwealth's constitution to reliable and secure voting systems and can challenge the use of electronic voting machines "that provide no way for Electors to know whether their votes will be recognized" through voter verification or independent audit.
Maryland was one of the first states to use electronic voting machines and is one of the last to require a voter verified paper ballot. Twenty-seven states require either a voter verified paper ballot or a paper ballot based system and seven other states do not use electronic voting machines. Over 30 states use optical scan systems.
Lancaster County Commissioners purchased a number of used electronic voting machines in 2005 that were being discarded by the state of Oregon. Commissioner Dick Shellenberger and former Commissioner Pete Shaub voted for the purchase and Commissioner Molly Henderson voted against the acquisition, citing the same objections to a lack of a paper trail for verification that are now prevailing across the nation.
NewsLanc.com had editorialized against the purchase of electronic voting machines without a paper trail.
Mayor says it's now okay for LCCCA to be accountable
The New Era reported April 12: "Although Schwanger's appointment expired months ago, [Mayor Rick] Gray said he did not want to shake up the board before the financing package was secured. …Now the project is in a different phase, the mayor explained. … 'Art's known as a strong advocate for making government open and accountable to taxpayers,' Gray said."
After having used every device this side of breaking the law, and perhaps more, to ram through the convention center / hotel project against overwhelming public opposition and lack of evidence of any possibility of it succeeding, the sponsors and the officers of the Authority and City are now turning to former Lancaster mayor Art Morris to bring probity and expertise to the Authority.
Morris has been supportive of the Convention Center / Hotel Project although at times critical of the Authority practices. It seems likely that had he been on the board previously, he would have taken the time to review market studies and feasibility reports and insisted that they be properly represented and shared with the public. In short, the mayor and the Convention Center sponsors could not run the risk of appointing Morris even two or three months ago when financing was still in question and there was ample opportunity to cancel the project.
Morris has vehemently opposed the sale of the Conestoga View Nursing Homes, which is where he has recently focused most of his public attention. Hopefully Morris will turn some of that passion, which at times has lead to his unjustified and ungentlemanly attacks on Commissioner Molly Henderson, to helping other reform minded board members to properly serve the public, rather than to be lick spittles for the sponsors. Morris is a very good and competent man, but he needs to monitor his emotions if he is to fulfill his potential.
If he can, he may earn the chairman position, despite being part of the minority city appointees. Especially here in Lancaster where to whom you were born and going along with the powerful corporate establishment leads to high position, there is a need at a time of crisis to turn to a person of integrity and expertise, even if Morris were born to poverty in post war England.
Art Morris new city appointee to CC project
The appointment of former Lancaster mayor Art Morris as a city representative to the Convention Center Authority Board is most welcome.
If the project is indeed to move ahead despite wide scale public outcries about its inanities, then it is best that there be people on the board with experience, expertise and proven competence, not individuals who are readily manipulated by vested interests.
The challenge will be to see if a collegial and respectful relationship can be generated between the county and city appointees in a public spirited atmosphere of hard work and frank exchanges of ideas and views. While they cannot change the fundamentals, they can at least try to avoid cost overruns and engage managers and advisors of ability and dedication.
It is even conceivable that Morris will emerge as chairman despite being a member of the city minority.
The best thing that could be done is to yet stop this horror of a project. Not only will it waste over a $150 million of taxpayer money, it will be a black hole like Lancaster Square, but on the other side of Penn Square. Together they make it very hard for downtown to be revitalized.
Four Commissioner Candidates bash
Convention Center Project
At a Candidates' forum April 10 in East Hempfield, four of the seven county commissioner candidates in next month's primary sharply criticized the convention center project.
"If you want a poster child for how not to build a project, you'd have it with the convention center," said Democrat and Lancaster City Controller Craig Lehman.
Lehman was joined on the panel by incumbent Democrat Molly Henderson, Republican Heidi Wheaton, and Independent Jere Swarr. Three other candidates declined to participate in the event.
Wheaton criticized the public funds required to pay for the $170 million project, saying she was "philosophically" opposed to government subsidies at all.
"I am against using taxpayer dollars for a project that will clearly not be successful," she said.
Commissioner Henderson noted the changes in the cost and size of the project.
"I supported the project when I ran in 2003," she said. "Then it was a $70 million project. Today, it's approaching $200 million."
Henderson added she expected that the Convention Center Authority to be unable to meet its debt service and operating costs and would have to turn to the County for relief.
"That could involve the General Fund," Henderson said.
The most stinging remarks came from the blunt-spoken Swarr, a former Republican now staging an Independent candidacy.
"I've always thought this was a bad deal and I'd call for a moratorium on the thing," Swarr said. "And I have to say I admire Molly's tenacity in standing up against it."
The forum was sponsored by the League of Humane Voters and held at the East Hempfield Municipal Building. About 35 people attended.
Correction re Philadelphia Convention Center
NewsLanc.com apologizes for reporting that, of four regional convention centers, only Philadelphia seemed to be doing okay as a result of its excellent location.
We have since been informed that the Philadelphia Convention Center lost $14.8 million dollars in 2005! So that makes four disasters out of four.
So what is the response of the State to this waste of public funds? Reportedly it is going to fund $700 million more into the project. When these white elephants fail, their backers argue that the problem is a need for more public money spent for additional capacity and infrastructure to make them successful.
Convention Center members fear 'gag rule'
At the March 28, 2007, Convention Center Board meeting (LCCCA), executive director David Hixson asked to postpone consideration of board member Laura Douglas' proposal to make public all itemized legal fees paid by the LCCCA, with the exception of those involving litigation.
At that time, Hixson made several comments that indicate he may be trying to twist Douglas' proposal into something entirely different from what was envisioned.
Hixson specifically mentioned releasing itemized legal fees without compromising "attorney-client privilege," an excuse long used by Chairman Ted Darcus to refuse public access to almost $7 million dollars in invoices from the law firm of Stevens & Lee. "Attorney-client privilege" could very easily be twisted to eliminate most of the items Laura Douglas envisioned making public.
Invoices from the law firm contain no information other than "For services rendered to the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority," an outrage so great that even former mayor Art Morris and the Sunday News have raised strenuous objections.
Of greater concern is Hixson's proposal to add provisions that would restrict board members from releasing information to the public. If Hixson is able to get the four City appointees to agree to some kind of limitation on what information can be disclosed to the public, the public will be even further kept in ignorance concerning vital convention center business and the expenditure of what could amount to over $200 million of the taxpayers' money.
The LCCCA board members generally are not permitted to see what they are to vote on more than a day before a board meeting, so it is important that public concern be raised and expressed long before the next meeting.
This can save your life
An article titled "Heart Disease, Learned and Ignored" in the April 8, 2007 Sunday New York Times Magazine states:
"Studies reveal, for example, that people have only about an hour to get their arteries open during a heart attack if they are to avoid permanent heart damage. Yet, recent surveys find, fewer than 10 percent get to a hospital that fast, sometimes because they are reluctant to acknowledge what is happening. And most who reach the hospital quickly do not receive the optimal treatment - many American hospitals are not fully equipped to provide it but are reluctant to give up heart patients because they are so profitable.
And new studies reveal that even though drugs can protect people who already had a heart attack from having another, many patients get the wrong doses and most…stop taking the drugs in a matter of months. They should take the drugs for the rest of their lives."
That extensive article can be accessed by clicking here.
Scheduling of national primaries
According to the Associated Press, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg said, "We should come up with a policy from a federal point of view and not let each state do it. Because there's no coordination and nobody's focusing on what's good for the public and good for the country in national elections; they're only focusing on what's good for the state."
By bunching primaries and holding them earlier, the nation loses the opportunity to familiarize itself with candidates. New Hampshire and Ohio have long served a valuable role as evaluators of candidates because they must visit often and subject themselves to intense questioning and scrutiny.
All or nothing blockbuster primary dates will enable the candidate with the biggest TV budget to win the party nomination. A number of primaries over the course of a six month period favors the lesser known candidate who can win over the electorate in relatively small states through dint of effort and thus attract national attention and become a recipient of political donations.
Trolley feasibility study challenged by reader
I finally had a chance to read a part of the so-called "Feasibility
Report" about Rick Gray's proposed trolley line in downtown Lancaster.
How accurate can any report be that refers to "Rocky RIDGE Park"?? Rocky
Springs park was a huge part of Lancaster's culture, until it was closed in the 1960s by its owner as a result of protests over its enforced
segregation, protests which were led by current Lancaster City Council Vice-President Nelson Polite.
If this report cannot get something as important to Lancaster as this right, how can we possibly trust the rest of it?
This is starting to sound like the taxpayer-financed hotel and convention center project all over again, including the bogus feasibility study, and
the requirement for massive amounts of taxpayer financing.
Campbell chosen for Authority Board
The Lancaster County Commissioners chose R. B. Campbell, former City Controller, to replace Jack Craver as a member of the Convention Center Authority Board.
The addition of Tom LeCrone and Robert Campbell to the Board bodes well for the Authority's operations after Sept. 15 when LeCrone takes his place along side Campbell and the other board members, tilting the majority to the four county appointees.
One of the first tasks of LeCrone and Campbell will be to create a constructive working relationship and to generate a sense of empowerment and responsibility on the part of all board members. The days of the Board receiving its directions from interested third parties as passed down through its chairmen will have come to an end.
Would that this had occurred even six months earlier!
Heard on Sunday from a 'reliable source'
On Sunday NewsLanc was told that Penn Square Partners will cancel its convention center project… Its chairman read the PricewaterhouseCoopers Market Study of 2000 and learned that Lancaster has no scheduled flights… no through interstate… few downtown attractions… and little apparent demand.
We were told Mayor Gray expressed relief. He said revitalization depends on attracting people… not boondoggles.
Also Molly Henderson is resigning as commissioner to become the first Public Editor for the monopoly Lancaster newspapers.
And The Lancaster Alliance will recommend that horse-drawn buggies instead of trolley cars run between the Amtrak Station and downtown because they create less congestion and are safer.
But then again, Sunday was April Fools' Day. Or was it April Sanity day?
Why trolley cars are wrong for Lancaster
Robert Edwin Field, President, NewsLanc.com
My son Richard and I have been conducting business in Eastern Europe over the past 15 years. As such, I have had considerable experience with trolley cars. In fact, we have had to design entry ways in a manner to minimize the lethal risk that trolleys engender.
They do run silently. And they cannot be quickly stopped. Pedestrian fatalities take place each year. At least in Eastern Europe people have been admonished by parents about the danger since earliest childhood.
The initial route is to be between the Amtrak Station and downtown. How would you like your children or grandchildren to live on a city street with a trolley car that cannot be readily heard and cannot be quickly stopped?
I am old enough to recall riding trolleys in Philadelphia during my youth. There are good reasons why street cars were phased out by trackless electrical vehicles and finally by busses. Riding behind a trolley is comparable to riding behind a school bus. They impede traffic. They cannot pull over to pick up pedestrians, let alone the physically challenged. And if they run along curb side, they eliminate vital on street parking.
Of course when built in dedicated lanes in the center of broad boulevards (six to eight lanes including the center trolley lanes and platforms) street cars work very well. We have no boulevards in Lancaster.
I went to school at Cal Berkeley and love to visit San Francisco and ride on the cable cars. But they are something very unique and they can stop quickly under most circumstances since the brakes grab onto a cable. (Those of us who hung on from the sides learned to anticipate this.)
And I have visited the New Orleans waterfront and seen the street car named Desire. If it wasn't the object of the play and the movie, it probably would not be running now. It does serve the river front.
I suspect that a slow moving trolley on flat ground on a broad avenue along a waterfront in a town with many tourists attractions might be worthwhile. But that is hardly Lancaster. Our downtown is a mixed use commercial, retail and residential community with very little tourism. This is pointed out in the Feasibility Report. (I encourage readers to use this link to read the actual Stone Consulting & Design, Inc., February 2006 report.)
The study indicates that the initial project would cost $14 million. (The initial estimate for the Convention Center / Hotel Project was $70 million and ended up $200 million, all things considered.)
The estimated annual operating loss (that is before debt service) is about
$400,000. However the report acknowledges the difficulty in anticipating ridership.
I see here a pattern of "Lancaster exceptionalism" whereby the power elite ignores hard facts and chase federal and state largess, regardless of whether the outcome will be good or bad for the community.
I have made no secret of my feeling that the convention center project is the worst thing that could happen to downtown and will be a major obstacle if not the death blow to the town's ongoing revitalization. People revitalize a downtown, not boondoggles. Condominiums and shops draw people. Convention Centers generate dead zones in the heart of a city.
The Convention Center will likely be a community debacle. But fatalities resulting from trolley cars running on narrow streets will be a human tragedy.
Craver resignation from Authority
Anticipated by Commissioners
The other shoe fell March 30 as Jack Craver, a county appointee to the Convention Center Authority, resigned due to scheduling conflicts. Craver had been missing meetings at a time when his expertise and vote would have carried weight.
His departure was no surprise to Dick Shellenberger and Molly Henderson, who anticipated that their very public display of soliciting the best qualified candidates would result in two, not just one, board members.
According to the March 31 Intelligencer Journal, the "commissioners" announced that the replacement county representative for Craver would be chosen from the remaining three finalists. This sheds light on why the commissioners chose to only interview four of the fourteen applicants instead of up to six candidates as originally proposed.
Conspicuously passed over was Victor Capecce, a long time convention center industry professional. A trade show designer, Capecce had contributed some of the most prescient and practical observations over the years. By not allowing Capecce to be interviewed, the commissioners avoided public speculation and criticism as to why someone so qualified was being passed over.
Tom LeCrone is likely to be the next chairman. He brings business and leadership experience to the position which is highly desirable. However, the second opening would appropriately have gone to someone with convention center expertise who could have worked in tandem with LeCrone and been a resource for other board members. Before you can lead, you have to know where you are going.
The three finalists, according to the Intell, are R.B. Campbell, former Lancaster City controller and a Republican candidate for City Council; Kevin Fry, chairman of Manheim Township Planning Commission; and Edward Klaus, project manager for Inner City Group.
Fulton Bank 'jumps ship' from Convention Center
After having allowed its minority sponsorship interest in the Convention Center / Hotel Project to shrink over the past year to a paltry 4.35 percent equity investment rather than invest additional funds, Fulton Bank has sold the balance to the remaining two equal partners, subsidiaries of the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. and The High Companies. The sale was announced in a press release by the Convention Center Authority on March 29.
According to a report in the March 30 Intelligencer Journal, Nevin Cooley, president of hotel developer Penn Square Partners, said Fulton was "coming out" because it is a lender to the project.
While initially well meaning, apparently the bank's continued involvement in the ballooning project was in large part an accommodation to major clients Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. and High Industries.
The sale hardly comes as a surprise to NewsLanc.com because some time ago a very senior Fulton official allowed that he "wouldn't lend a nickel" to the project. And so long as a loan would be subject to risk, they apparently did not! Note that it was Wachovia Bank and not Fulton Bank that provided the credit enhancement.
The $14.4 million loan is paid by the State and guaranteed by City taxpayers. So Fulton Bank runs no risk of losing "a nickel."
At the end of 2005, a prominent project critic formally admonished a senior officer of Fulton Bank concerning alleged misrepresentations by Penn Square Partners and the Authority to government officials and urged that the bank seek legal counsel pertaining to the licensing implications of its continued investment in the project. It appears that the bank chose not to invest further in the project which explains the continuous and precipitous decrease in its percentage of ownership.
And by the time the Convention Center and the hotel apply to the County and City respectively for relief, the spin masters at the monopoly newspapers will come up with someone other than themselves and Dale High to blame…probably Molly Henderson!
LeCrone promising selection
The appointment of Thomas LeCrone to the Convention Center Authority Board (likely future Chairman and CEO) bodes well for the community given his business background and critical views concerning the project and its past administration.
LeCrone apparently won the confidence of Commissioner and Chairman Dick Shellenberger during his four-month stint as interim county administrator but primarily budget consultant to the County.
At least one candidate for the board seat had considered LeCrone as a possible replacement for David Hixson, the executive director of the Authority.
Perhaps the New Era had not been that wide of the mark when it implied in an editorial that the selection process was more a public relations stunt than a real parsing of candidates. LeCrone filed on the final day but may well have been the preference of at least Henderson.
But that is not very important. What does matter is whether LeCrone will be able to fulfill the mandate as stated at the inception of the selection process by Shellenberger. It was to introduce transparency to a board that planned in secret and isolated county board members from meaningful review and discussions, to make decisions based upon facts as established through legitimate feasibility studies rather than upon manufactured myths that suited the purposes of the Convention Center and Hotel Sponsors, to conduct audits of past and current expenditures instead of allowing a law firm and consultants to provide invoices which provided insufficient information, and to be accountable to the public, not just to the Sponsors.
One of the first tasks facing the Authority Board upon the replacement of Ted Darcus by LeCrone will be to assure that contractors, accountants and engineers are held strictly accountable to contract conditions so as to avoid millions of dollars of additional payments above the contracted amounts. Let the professionals be responsible for errors and omissions in their design and bidding.
Also come the change in September, all staff and consultants should be reviewed and replacements made as warranted.
It is a tragedy for the community that this highly dubious project, based on greed and hubris rather than attention to professional third party input, is likely to proceed. It will be the task of LeCrone and the other members of the Authority to try to make the best out of a very bad thing.
Commissioners appoint Tom LeCrone to LCCCA Board
The Lancaster County Commissioners today voted to appoint Thomas C. LeCrone to the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority Board.
LeCrone's four-year term begins Sept. 15. He recently completed a four-month stint as interim county administrator and budget consultant to the commissioners. He was formerly chief operating officer for Sci-O-Tech and executive director of the Museum of Scientific Discovery in Harrisburg and holds an MBA from Smeal School of Business, Penn State University, University Park.
Convention Center Hotel financing secured
According to a report dated March 26, 2007 from Moody's Investors Service, a rating of Aa1-VMIG, "with stable outlook" has been awarded for the proposed Convention Center Hotel bonds in the amount of $23,875,000.
The rating is based upon guarantees in the form of an irrevocable letter of credit from Wachovia Bank, N. A. which also has provided similar credit enhancement for the Convention Center portion of the project.
Wachovia will be responsible to re-purchase the bonds if, at the time their five year guarantee expires, Wachovia or others do not offer comparable credit enhancement.
It would now appear that the generally unpopular and highly disputed project will move forward and an official announcement will likely be made as early as the Convention Center Authority public meeting Wednesday, March 28.
Commissioners select 4 finalists for Authority Seat
The County Commissioners announced on March 22 that finalists to be interviewed for the September opening on the Convention Center Authority Board are Robert B. Campbell, Jr., Tom LeCrone, Kevin F. Fry and Edward L. Klaus.
The interviews will be open to the public and are to take place starting at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 27.
The commissioners plan to announce their selection the following day, March 28, at their regular Wednesday public meeting.
Information concerning the finalists can be found at http://local.lancasteronline.com/4/201961.
Where we went wrong
Rather than posing the correct question, "Do we need a large gathering space for meetings and, if so, where would be the best location to place it," the Convention Center project was a response to the wrong question: "What can we build on the downtown Watt & Shand site?"
That was seven years ago. Downtown Lancaster had not yet started on the path of revitalization. Some well meaning people were despairing about finding an appropriate use for the site. And others were eager to feed at the trough of massive public funding.
So without regard to the obvious overwhelming negative aspects of the Watt & Shand site for a Convention Center (as indicated in the 2000 PricewaterhouseCoopers market study), a $70 million project was planned that has ballooned to almost $200 million, counting funds spent to date and yet to be spent.
Not only will the project likely be a blight on downtown Lancaster, but 90% or more of the cost will be on the backs of the taxpayers either up front through grants or down the road due to defaults on the bonds.
The moral of the story: If you don't ask the right questions, you are unlikely to get the right answers.
An elderly gentleman stands in front of the Central Market passing out NewsLanc.com fliers. A well dressed, professional looking lady declines but, just before entering the market, stops and asks, "Do you live in Lancaster?" He answers, "I live nearby." She remarks triumphantly: "That's why you don't understand why we need the Convention Center!" and passes through the doors.
Here lies the gulf between points of view:
The lady perceives the Convention Center as bringing new life to downtown Lancaster.
The volunteer, based on fifty years of experience in developing housing, hotels and communities, foresees sterility and blight (as well as bond defaults) because at best the Center will only be used about 80 days a year and people attending meetings seldom venture outside the convention center and host hotel.
He favors a mixed use upscale condominium and retail shops for the Watt & Shand site and a scaled down and better designed convention center elsewhere, perhaps on Rt. 30 East.
The elderly gentleman continues wishing passersby "good morning" and handing them newsletters. Meanwhile, he reflects on a common saying from his youth: "The streets of Hell are paved with good intentions."
Intell uses Shaub as puppet to attack Commissioners
A March 21 purported "news" article by the Intelligencer Journal uses a gathering in Little Britain Township on the structure of future county government as an excuse to report critical comments by former commissioner Pete Shaub about his former colleagues in the newspaper's blatant attempt to impede the reelection of commissioner Molly Henderson.
The article devotes the initial 22 paragraphs to negative remarks by Shaub about Dick Shellenberger and Henderson, assertions by Shaub that the monopoly Lancaster newspapers has often trumpeted over past months. Thus the Intell makes use of Shaub as its puppet to further its parent company's vendetta against the two commissioners for opposing its Convention Center / Hotel Project. (A subsidiary of Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. is a 44% sponsor of the controversial Project.)
It was only after the article continues on page B2 and in its final paragraphs that the readers read anything about what the other three speakers had to say.
This and other similar Intell and New Era screeds raise the question of how long Lancaster readers and advertisers will go along with the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc., exploiting its monopoly position to pursue its vested interests and conceits.
A contributor comments:
Is it too far along to stop the Convention Center?
To suggest that it's "too far along" is EXACTLY what the LCCCA [Lancaster County Convention Center Authority] and the PSP [Penn Square Partners] want us to believe! That is EXACTLY why they started pouring concrete before funding is in place.
Why would the LCCCA have signed contracts BEFORE funding was in place? Even Mayor Rick Gray refused to sign water plant construction contracts until
AFTER the City bond sale. Now that the LCCCA's construction contracts are approaching a year old, does anyone believe the price is still valid?
Why would the bond sale already be delayed for literally months? Because the project is already in serious jeopardy. Compare this to Lancaster City's
$125 million bond issue, which was put together by Patrick Hopkins in only a few weeks: Internet auction, 40 years, low fixed rate. Why would the LCCCA
even need risky 7-day demand notes with an interest rate swap option, and a very expensive guarantee by Wachovia?
All is NOT well at Penn Square. Even if the bonds are actually sold, the obstacles against this project being completed grow larger by the day.
Dan Rather speaks
On a recent talk show, journalist Dan Rather described his concern that too often reporters and editors draw too close to officials and thus are inhibited from "speaking truth to power."
His comments are apropos to the calamity that has befallen the City and County of Lancaster as a result of the Lancaster Newspapers' involvement as a 44% sponsor of the proposed Convention Center / Hotel Project. Where once the Fourth Estate worked to illuminate events, its investment has become the subject of its own reporting, resulting in obfuscation, bias, distortion and omission.
However noble the monopoly newspapers' original motivations, it should have become clear a couple of years ago that the project presented too great a conflict of interest and the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc., should have withdrawn as a sponsor.
Now years of bias have compromised the three newspapers' integrity and confused their mission. Instead of their traditional role of the reliable and independent informer of the public as was the case under former leadership, the press has become a tool of special interests, if not worse. (Witness accusations of illegal activities by the State Attorney General. )
So the crisis we face isn't just about the Convention Center / Hotel Project, but also whether the Lancaster press can disengage from conflicts of interest and return to high ethical standards. If so, our community's future as a vibrant democracy will be assured.
The New Era just doesn't get it!
A March 15 editorial is headed, "Open appointment plan: cynical again" and lambastes the County Commissioners for following a similar procedure for choosing the fourth County member of the Convention Center Authority as had the county judges in choosing Sharron Nelson to replace Pete Shaub as commissioner. The New Era disingenuously states: "To go through the motions of a public process is a waste of everyone's time."
Under our representative form of government, we expect our leaders to select appointees who share their views, especially when there are adequate spokespersons for alternate opinions already present.
As the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers well knows, this appointment has far greater potential importance for the future of the City and County than Nelson serving as one of three commissioners for the balance of the year. Not only will the new board member swing majority control from City to County appointees, but the person may well become Chair sometime over the next four years, and possibly at the outset.
If the long predicted but yet to materialize project financing proves unavailable, the new appointee will have a major impact on whether the Authority's mandate to create a facility for large gatherings takes place at the Watt & Shand site, at the Brunswick, the Stockyards, or perhaps on Rt. 30 East.
And should the financing be obtained, the new appointee will likely play a key if not the most important role in providing oversight for the project. The board's duty is to assure economical and quality construction, competent marketing, efficient operations, and to determine who will be the executive director and which consultants will be retained and which will be replaced.
Also, the new majority is likely to engage experts to review the $20 million of past expenditures, much of which information has been effectively withheld from inquiring board members and the public.
EDITORIAL: Old Lancaster vs. new Lancaster
The New Era editorial, "Open appointment plan: cynical again" can be seen as a pre-emptive attack against whoever is chosen as the fourth County appointee to the Convention Center Authority.
The Convention Center / Hotel Project represents a war between entrenched and powerful corporate interests, in most part owing their position to patrimony and legacy, who seek to push through at any and all costs this merit less and destructive project against all facts and overwhelming adverse public opinion.
If this kleptocracy (government by rich and powerful) is allowed to bully ahead and continue to use the Authority to churn out propaganda, they will be able to continue to conceal greed, ignorance, and / or hubris and to run Lancaster as its private fiefdom.
NewsLanc.com anticipates that an investigation into past expenditures and misrepresentations will produce scandals on such a scale as to bring criminal justice and national media attention to long standing local abuses. The monopoly Lancaster Newspapers will no longer be able ignore the truth.
Let us hope that the Commissioners show the courage to choose a replacement for board member Ted Darcus that indeed will pursue Dick Shellenberger's call for: (1) transparency, (2) feasibility, (3) audit, and (4) accountability to the public. It has been long overdue!
BREAK OUT THE CHAMPAGNE!
As of Friday, March 16, only half a year remains for a City appointee's control of the Convention Center Authority.
Applications for replacing City appointee Chairman Ted Darcus are now being accepted by the County Commissioners. See below for details.
NewsLanc.com now publishing letters
The editor welcomes communications concerning matters of general local interest.
NewsLanc reserves the right to select and to edit for clarity and brevity. To avoid the need to verify authenticity, the names of the authors will not be published.
Letters should be addressed to email@example.com.
City Director of Public Works doesn't want to learn
Charlotte Katzenmoyer, Director of Public Works of Lancaster City, received a constructive letter from an experienced properties manager suggesting what clean up actions should have been taken immediately following the winter snow and sleet storm and how the City might better deal with snow emergencies in the future.
Katzenmoyer's response was: "As evidenced by the Mayor's meeting with other mayors across PA after that ice storm, every city in PA dealt with the same difficulties that our fair city had faced. I guess we all failed then based on your analysis."
Below is the e-mail to which Katzenmoyer responded:
In reviewing copies of old e-mails, I came across the correspondence between you and Chris Hart Nibbrig concerning storm clean up.
The main problem was the failure to properly analyze what was needed to deal with the circumstances and / or the inability due to artificial obstacles for effecting appropriate clean up efforts.
A couple of rubber tire back hoes would have removed the wall of frozen plowed snow impeding pedestrians from crossing street in relatively short order. Loading and trucking snow from the right side of the main streets would have facilitated both parking and discharging of passengers.
Each storm requires careful evaluation of methods to be applied. This included analysis of weather reports. Also if there is a city ordinance for landlords to open up a path on the sidewalks, it needs to be enforced. If not, one needs to be passed.
Best wishes for a better performance next time.
Robert Edwin Field
Contributed by a knowledgeable observer:
Authority's actions both "arrogant and reckless"
The Lancaster County Convention Center Authority shocked everyone by announcing at their December 2006 meeting that it planned to borrow $65 million in construction bonds sold through Wachovia Bank, an increase of $5 million since their November 2006 meeting. It was announced that these bonds were expected to be sold by mid-January 2007. From these proceeds, the $40 million Citizens Bank loan (which was due in December 2006) would be paid off, freeing the approximately $38 million on deposit with Citizens Bank to be used to pay for actual construction.
As this is being written in mid-March 2007, the LCCCA has still not closed on the $65 million bond sale through Wachovia Bank. Yet the LCCCA started drilling and pouring concrete for foundations and walls at the beginning of January 2007. This is irresponsible to the highest degree, the equivalent of building the foundation for a house before the mortgage is approved. So far, the Penn Square Partners are paying for the LCCCA's share of construction costs, which totaled $2.9 million dollars as of the Feb. 21, 2007 LCCCA board meeting. This ever-increasing loan from the PSP to the LCCCA is also to be paid off from proceeds of the $65 million Wachovia Bank bond sale.
The biggest danger, both to the LCCCA and to local taxpayers, is if the Wachovia Bank $65 million bond sale were to be delayed even further, or perhaps fail completely. The longer the bond sale is delayed, the more the LCCCA will owe in interest to both Citizens Bank and the PSP. But if the bond sale were to fail completely, it would create a financial crisis that the LCCCA would not be able to deal with on its own. The Penn Square Partners would justifiably demand that their loans be repaid, which currently would consume an entire year of hotel tax revenue. Were the PSP to pull out of the project as a result, the LCCCA would be responsible for approximately $7 million to buy out the hotel property from the Penn Square Partners and the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Lancaster, or more than two years of hotel tax revenue. Plus, Lancaster City and County taxpayers would be stuck with a BIG hole in the ground, in the middle of prime real estate in the heart of Lancaster City.
Whether the $65 million Wachovia Bank construction bonds are sold in a timely manner or not, the LCCCA's decision to proceed with construction without funding in place proves just how arrogant and reckless they really are. The risk associated with these actions far outweighs any advantages that might be gained by keeping some kind of artificial schedule. This is evidence that the LCCCA is so concerned about ongoing court challenges to the financing of the project, and the appointment of a fourth LCCCA board member by the County Commissioners effective September 2007, that they are willing to take unreasonable and unnecessary risks to make certain their project gets built at any cost to taxpayers.
It's official: Apply now!
Applicants are now being accepted for the fourth and pivotal county seat on the Convention Center Authority Board.
Full particulars are posted at http://www.co.lancaster.pa.us/lanco/cwp/view.asp?Q=586414&A=7.
No less than three or more than six of the finalists will be interviewed publicly on March 27th and a selection is to be made at the Comissioners' Meeting on March 28th.
Commissioners hear about the cost of folly
With Sharron Nelson replacing Pete Shaub, it was apparent at the March 14th meeting that the County Commissioners are functioning in a productive and respectful manner.
Every county citizen would have benefited from hearing the discussions of societal problems that took place, many of them exacerbated as the federal and state governments cut back spending and pass the problems on to the counties.
It was also emphasized by Shellenberger that lack of appropriate services actually lead to greater cost and without optimal results.
As an example, Shellenberger reported that he had learned at legislative conference that 25% of inmates in prison are there not primarily because they are criminals but because they need mental health care and there is no other place to put them.
Shellenberger also reported on how King County, Washington, had adopted a program whereby workers could voluntarily submit to health evaluations in exchange for a reduction in the cost of their medical insurance and, if they agreed to continue to confer concerning recommendations, they would receive a further discount in health care cost.
Your reporter left the meeting deeply moved and wondering how many social, family and health problems would be ameliorated or avoided if tax money currently misdirected by the military / industrial complex, the drug war establishment, and local corporate powers, was instead used to benefit people in need.
Convention Center Authority "between rock
and a hard spot."
According to a source close to the Authority, "If [the LCCCA] puts a hold on construction, the contracts they let will expire, costing them millions of dollars, especially should they try to start up again in one, two, or three months. OTOH, if they continue to move forward and the court rules against them, they will also lose millions of dollars."
The source continued, "I would absolutely agree that moving ahead as the LCCCA is now is not at all prudent."
As an indication of how effective the Authority leadership has been in persuading the public and even high officials that financing is in hand, even this person does not mention the very real possibility that Wachovia Bank will not agree to provide credit enhancement for the proposed hotel. Significantly, a hotel bond guarantee is one of the conditions of Wachovia's commitment to provide credit enhancement on the convention center portion of the project.
And there is a report that the Authority leadership may be seeking hotel bond enhancement from sources other than Wachovia.
In short, without hotel bond enhancement guarantees, there can be no convention center / hotel project.
The Authority is currently financing foundation work from Hotel Room Rental Sales Tax revenue, through a bank line of credit, and from borrowings from the general contractor, a subsidiary of High Industries. How long it can continue to borrow money without assurance of being able to finance the project is an open question. And certainly the longer construction continues without permanent financing, the more the Authority leadership subjects itself to criticism of failure to perform its fiduciary responsibilities.
It is likely that the next 30 days will tell the story of whether the convention center / hotel project is going to be built as currently designed or another use will be found for the Watt & Shand site. There are reports that at least one developer stands ready to acquire the site and build upscale condominiums and shops.
The Convention Center Authority was established to bring about a large meeting facility with an adjoining hotel. Developing it downtown at the Watt & Shand site was at the board's discretion. A location along Rt. 30 East in conjunction with an existing hotel facility with a golf course would solve many marketing and logistic problems. Another alternative would be the acquisition and modification of the current downtown Brunswick Hotel.
Either alternative could be achieved for a modest portion of the current $170 million price tag.
Gib Armstrong may be singing, "You take the short road and I'll take the long road and I'll
get the per diem before you."
(To be sung to a popular Scottish tune)
The March 12th York Dispatch heading reads, "50 miles a troublesome number for senators under new per diem rules." And it appears that York and Lancaster Senator Gib Armstrong is straddling the cut off distance, depending which route he takes to the State Capitol.
The Dispatch states, "The reform went into effect in early January to stop senators who live close to the Capitol from claiming the blanket reimbursement…Last year, state records show Armstrong, who represents parts of Lancaster and York counties, was reimbursed $7,830 in per diems."
According to the report, Armstrong maintains the quickest route is slightly over 50 miles, although the shortest route is slightly less than 50 miles.
You can read the entire story at www.yorkdispatch.com/local/ci_5418146
Street cars for Lancaster?
Please excuse our skepticism
The March 3 Sunday News contained an opinion piece by Althea C. Ramsay headed, "Climb aboard an old idea." The article mentions visits to various cities and purports that "Business in formerly blighted areas was brisk. Construction of new projects was ongoing along the routes…The riders on the streetcar were most often local residents, commuters, grandparents with their grandchildren and couples visiting downtown from surrounding Counties."
Here we go again!
When it comes to City renewal, the good, solid, conservative Lancaster establishment seems to have a single approach: Grab as much federal grant money as possible, float bond issues guaranteed by local taxpayers, and construct gigantic projects that are likely to do more harm than any good.
In the past, we had the eyesore and failed Lancaster Square. Currently a misbegotten, ruinous Convention Center / Hotel Project is being thrust upon the community despite wide scale reluctance by the public. And now our benighted leaders are suggesting that all will be well if we spend another couple hundred million dollars in bringing back streetcars.
Never mind that street cars were replaced by trackless trolleys and later buses a half century ago in most towns. Never mind that they congest streets and threaten pedestrian safety (They can't be heard). And give no heed to the fact we already have to subsidize the far more practical and flexible Red Rose bus system.
Why cannot the local power establishment understand the route to revitalization is through attracting people to move downtown and simultaneously encouraging shopkeepers and restauranteurs to start or expand businesses, not hundred million dollar boondoggles at taxpayers' expense?
Let's stop wasting our tax money and the tax money of future generations and concentrate on allowing private enterprise — remember capitalism? — to invest significant private funds because then the projects will not be disconnected from reality.
Commissioners likely to ratify selection process for Convention Authority
'Swing Vote' next week
At the March 7th regular Commissioners' meeting, Commissioner Molly Henderson formally placed her proposal of last week on the table for discussion before the board.
The only amendment was put forth by Commissioner Sharron Nelson. She suggested that instead of requiring the appointee to attend four Lancaster County Convention Center Authority board meetings prior to taking the position, that it should be "recommended" that four meetings be attended. Chairman Dick Shellenberger and Henderson agreed with Nelson's suggested change.
The proposal will be contained in a resolution that will be voted on at the March 14th Commissioners' meeting at 9:15 a.m. at the County Courthouse.
Consider two possibilities.
* * *
Now envision a Watt & Shand site developed with a hundred upscale condominiums for single professionals, young couples, small families and empty nesters. Their patronage would help support retail shops and restaurants on the ground floor level and draw outlying City and suburban dwellers downtown.
A Convention Center on the Watt & Shand site in use an average of 80 days per year, half of those days attracting visitors from outside of the area who patronize the adjoining hotel. On the other 285 days, picture yourself walking empty streets most evenings at 8:00 p.m.
Would you now feel better about walking near Penn Square at 8:00 p.m.?
Developers have long expressed serious interest in developing a mixed use residential / retail condominium on the Watt & Shand site. But city authorities have, to put it charitably, discouraged them.
City centers are revitalized by encouraging people to live there, not by building structures to attract out-of-towners a small portion of the year.
$200 million for this boondoggle of a project? Would we want it downtown if it were free?
Three out of four nearby
Convention Centers failing
Allentown Expo Center: Closed and sold in 2006.
Baltimore Convention Center: Experiencing 65% decrease in group bookings for 2008 from what the Convention Center booked in 2005. Booking fall off resulting in 70% drop in related hotel room bookings for 2008 from 2005.
Washington Convention Center: Predicted to lose $22 million in 2007.
Philadelphia Convention Center: Is meeting expectations. Located downtown in close proximity to rail hub to New York and Baltimore / Washington and Harrisburg, I-76, Independence Hall and Chinatown.
Intell had it right!
An Independent can be
Although the Lancaster County website says that the "Board [of Commissioners] shall consist of two members from the majority party and one from the minority party," NewsLanc has confirmed after several interviews of government officials and authorities that an independent candidate may be elected to the board.
According to the Pennsylvania Election Code, an independent candidate is considered part of a "political body" and therefore is eligible to be elected to the board.
Rapho Township Supervisor Jere Swarr, a Republican running for the board, has stated he intends to run as an independent.
Commissioners to vote March 28 on majority appointee to Convention Center Authority
At the Feb. 28 Commissioners' Meeting, Commissioner Molly Henderson proposed that "a process similar to that used by the Board of Judges for appointment of former Commissioner Shaub's replacement" be used to select the fourth (and majority) County appointee to the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority (LCCCA).
Henderson proposed opening discussion at the March 7 commissioners' meeting. She said it was important to begin discussion soon because any candidate should observe at least four meetings before taking office, and the Authority doesn't meet every month.
Henderson distributed a timeline for the process and a short list of questions for the candidates to answer. Applicants would be required to submit their resumes along with the questionnaire. Their names and answers to the questions would be posted on the county's website.
Under the timeline, applicants would be interviewed at the public work session March 27 and the commissioners would vote on the appointee at their regular meeting March 28.
"This makes an open way to deal with it," Chairman Dick Shellenberger said.
Henderson's proposal stated, "Because the LCCCA is attempting to complete various complex transactions, any person appointed to the Board should have attended numerous LCCCA Board meetings before taking the seat. Since the LCCCA does not always hold monthly meetings, the county should appoint a person no later than the end of March so that the appointee has the opportunity to attend as an observer at least four board meetings before taking office."
Rapho Township supervisor Jere Swarr said, "We can only hope, if you're open with this process, many at the convention center authority might take the hint."
City just doesn't get it;
Taxpayers, hold onto your wallets!
According to the Feb. 28 Intelligencer Journal headline: "City mulls $140M of debt."
Patrick Hopkins, the city's business administrator, is quoted as saying, "We would have experienced a $900,000 debt decrease next year. So instead of that decrease, our debt load will remain the same."
What Mayor Rick Gray's capital improvement plan fails to take into account is the prediction of three board members of the Convention Center Authority that the proposed Marriott Hotel will run a deficit of at least $1,800,000 a year, all or mostly guaranteed by the city.
Therefore, if the Convention Center / Hotel project moves ahead, by 2010 or 2011 the city debt service requirement will likely increase by twice as much as its savings in 2008.
That's $1,800,000 for 22 years = $39,600,000. That amounts to $2,000 per typical city family.
Question for city families: Would you prefer a downtown hotel or $2,000 in cash?
The Authority Board members' calculations are based upon the PKF Consultants, Inc. Market and Feasibility Study of May, 2006, adjusted upwards to reflect the almost $20 million in additional borrowings due to building cost increases and financing requirements.
The PKF Study is the only full Feasibility Study ever made for the Project. Earlier Pricewaterhouse Market Studies were withdrawn in 2005 by the firm as no longer accurate or relevant.
County Election Chief:
'We've got to ask the state.'
Clarification sought regarding Swarr eligibility
Could there be three registered Republicans on the county board of commissioners after the fall elections?
Jere Swarr, a Republican, wants to file and run as an independent candidate for county commissioner. The head of the county board of elections says that this may be okay, and that he may not have to change his party affiliation.
"It's possible there could be three Republicans," says Mary Stehman, head of the county board of elections. "We are seeking clarification from the state, and we are referencing the county code."
The county code says one thing, the county website another. And the state may have a different opinion altogether.
The relevant section of the state code reads:
"Three county commissioners shall be elected in each county in the year one thousand nine hundred and fifty-five, and every fourth year thereafter. In the election of commissioners, each qualified elector shall vote for no more than two persons. The three persons having the highest number of votes shall be elected."
The county website reads:
"The county code stipulates that each voter may cast a ballot for only two commissioner candidates and that the three having the highest number of votes shall be elected. The Board shall consist of two members from the majority party and one from the minority party."
NewsLanc.com was unable to get official clarification from the state election board at the time of posting. We will update this story as soon as definitive information is available.
Board Members accuse Wachovia Bank
of "purposefully entering into unsound guarantees in full recognition that the convention center and hotel are not financially viable and in anticipation
The following are excerpts from a Feb. 16 letter from Convention Center Authority Board members Jack Craver, Laura Douglas and Deb Hall to Kathleen Smarilli, President, Wachovia Bank Central Pennsylvania Region:
"...We share with the others a desire to generate a suitable public facility to accommodate large gatherings; but we believe that must be done in a size, at a location and at an expense that would not violate our fiduciary responsibilities of ensuring its financial viability.
"As is evident from [the PKF Consultants 2006 Feasibility Study] and the calculations that follow this letter, there is expected to be an annual cash flow deficit of $1,744,220...[Thus] $1,744,200 of $2,264,000 in [Convention Center annual] Operating and Fixed Expenses will go unpaid.
"We note a similar situation concerning Wachovia's proposed guarantee of Hotel bonds. ...Debt service on the $24 million in hotel bonds at 5% will amount to $1,925,822 per year, creating a [hotel annual] short fall of at least $1,801,822...
"In short, we cannot but presume that a department in your bank is knowingly and purposefully entering into unsound guarantees in full recognition that the convention center and hotel are not financially viable and in anticipation of default and further subsidy at a later date at the expense of the Lancaster City and County taxpayers.
"We ask that you intercede in this matter and have Wachovia re-underwrite its financing commitment for the project..."
View the letter here: http://www.newslanc.com/wachovia.pdf
Authority bases marketing plan on reports
long withdrawn by PricewaterhouseCoopers
It was revealed at the Feb. 22 Convention Center Authority meeting that the entire Convention Center marketing effort -- costing taxpayers over $1 million to date -- has been relying on studies that are so outdated and irrelevant that its authors explicitly asked NOT to be associated with them.
Daniel Logan, president of Growth Business Development, led a lengthy presentation on various marketing elements of the project. He said his analysis was based on the 2000 PricewaterhouseCoopers Feasibility Study. Logan said that Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) did an updated "market study" in 2002, which did not include an economic feasibility study.
(Editors Note: Both PwC reports were merely Market Studies, not Feasibility Studies).
At no time did Logan reveal to the public that PwC had withdrawn its name from the project because of the change in size and scope. What the Authority's principal market consultant did was use the Pricewaterhouse-Coopers studies to "promote" the project after PwC explicitly requested the Authority not "promote" the project using the PwC name!
In 2005 PwC director Robert Canton suggested in an e-mail communication that the "...answer may very well be consistent with County Commissioners' belief given changes to the industry, changes in the Center/Hotel building program, and changes in the competitive environment..."
Canton encouraged that an updated feasibility study be performed.
Canton concluded, "Is it possible that my attempts earlier this year to convince the Authority to let us update our study may have been met by resistance due to our candid comments regarding the challenging state of the industry and the proposed development?"
Board member Laura Douglas asked Logan if he took into consideration the PKF Feasibility Study. Logan said that he had not read it.
In 2006, the county commissioners, at the suggestion of Mayor Rick Gray, sought to engage PwC perform a full scale, current feasibility study as Canton had recommended. But PwC declined, probably because of the way its earlier reports had been misrepresented.
The commissioners then obtained a full fledged feasibility study by the equally reputable PKF Consultants, Inc. After studying the financial implications of the project, PKF concluded that the project should "either be downsized or another use found for the site."
Bond sale again delayed
Are Convention Center Finances
At the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority Finance Committee
meeting Feb. 21, 2007, Authority financial consultant Maurice Walker announced:
"Access to bond proceeds extended from January 2007 to April 2007, or longer."
This is the second significant delay for the sale of the $65 million, 40-year construction bonds for the proposed convention center. At the LCCCA
board meeting of Dec. 14, 2006, it was announced that the bonds were to be sold by mid-January 2007. Then, at the Jan. 31, 2007 LCCCA board
meeting, it was announced the bond sale would take place by the third week of February 2007.
As of April Fool's Day 2007, the $40 million Citizens Bank "hostage loan" will be four months overdue. This bank loan cannot be extended indefinitely.
It was also announced that there is "consistent pressure from contractors for payment." Consultant Maurice Walker reported this is because contractors
are uneasy as a result of the controversy over this project.
Mr. Walker also announced that the Penn Square Partners and the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Lancaster have already spent $2.9
million of their own funds for Phase I and Phase II demolition, facade stabilization, and site preparation, on behalf of the LCCCA. These funds are
to be repaid when the bond sale is completed. Mr. Walker also mentioned that only about $50 million of the $65 million in bonds would be available for
construction; the rest would be required for funding guarantees, and other expenses.
It is entirely possible that the bond sale has been delayed because of the appeal by the Lancaster County Commissioners to Commonwealth Court of Judge
Madenspacher's ruling upholding the County guarantee for these same bonds. If this is true, and the appeals process is a long one, it could hold up
project construction for months - possibly until after the County Commissioners are able to appoint a fourth member to the LCCCA board in
New Era: Better late than never?
(But what do we do with the dead bodies?)
The Feb. 22, 2007 New Era reports, "Some local government leaders had a lively discussion this morning about the Sunshine Act, with several saying that following its dictates can be confusing and cumbersome."
According to Les Houck, a Salisbury Township supervisor, "... avoiding violations can be awkward on three-member municipal boards where a discussion between two people could be construed as a violation."
"Many times the allegations that are made are not made by our people; they're made by the newspapers because it makes good reading," he said.
The New Era pilloried the three county commissioners with banner headlines three days straight for citations amounting to $100 each for supposedly violating the Sunshine Act. Headlines and editorials demanded the resignations of the commissioners.
Now that the characters have been duly assassinated, the New Era acknowledges that proper conforming with the Act is a murky affair at best. This also was the conclusion of the grand jury report.
Intell to sue Attorney General?
In what might be the most bizarre turn in the Intell reporters' scandal, Editor C. Raymond Shaw appeared on Lancasteronline.com's 'Talkback' to answer a torrent of criticisms written about his staff. Shaw wrote: "...We have identified no unethical behavior on the part of any current Intell employees. Those who continue to connect any of our employees with having committed a felony crime of any kind are committing defamation and leave themselves open to legal action. Ray Shaw, editor, Intelligencer Journal."
Was Mr. Shaw threatening to sue state Attorney General Tom Corbett? It was Corbett who said on Feb. 5 that the five Intell reporters were "uncharged co-conspirators," and that the reporters had illegally accessed the secured county government website 57 times, and tried unsuccessfully 33 more times to access the site.
At his news conference and in his report Corbett said there was evidence "establishing the direct illegal use of computers at Lancaster Newspapers by its reporters to access known restricted Web sites." He also indicated perjury charges were being considered against Intell reporter Brett Lovelace, whose testimony the grand jury deemed "not credible."
Mayor Gray: You can't spend
the same dollars twice!
According to the Feb. 20 New Era, Lancaster city officials have proposed floating $17.2 million in new bonds to fund various capital projects. The officials say that the reduction in long term debt, plus lower interest rates, will permit this long term borrowing without increasing the amount of debt service outlays over prior years.
However, city officials and the New Era are overlooking the promised city guarantee of $24 million in debt for the proposed Convention Center hotel. The only feasibility study for the hotel anticipates a loss after debt service of $1,801,822. And that is before paying real estate taxes!
Since the city will be obligated to pay at least the $1,801,822 deficit, the hotel guarantee will consume the funds supposedly available to fund $17.2 million in vital new capital projects.
This is a preview of how county and city guarantees for the Convention Center Hotel project will crowd out vital future services and essential capital expenditures.
Downtown snow removal and revitalization require leadership and know how
The two to three blocks surrounding Penn Square are the core of downtown and it is important that city officials recognize that they are operating a mixed use shopping center / office park / residential development and treat downtown and manage downtown so that it will be competitive.
The publisher of NewsLanc.com has long operated apartment complexes and hotels. Residents and guests expect and are entitled to have streets and sidewalks reasonably cleared as soon as conditions permit. And to accomplish this, management has to vary plans for equipment and surface treatments according to weather conditions and the nature of the snow. Also residents of apartment communities lend a hand by shoveling out around their cars.
Contrast that with downtown Lancaster city this Saturday afternoon. Many walk ways in front of stores and other buildings remain unshoveled and sidewalks at crossings are often blocked with plowed snow. Streets have snow piled along curbside. Cars can park but passengers risk serious injury trying to climb over snow banks trying to reach the sidewalks.
The fault isn't just with city officials who didn't seem to have much downtown snow removal efforts underway even though conditions had warmed and finally there was an opportunity to make headway. Aggravating the matter, many center city landlords and tenants seem to feel no responsibility to themselves and their neighbors to keep their sidewalks passable.
There seems be a lack of leadership, know how and cooperation.
Leadership would encourage downturn merchants and landlords to cooperate in making sure their sidewalks were cleared at the earliest moment and arrange for police to provide citations each day to those who did not cooperate. Also leadership might enlist cooperation from youth organizations to help shovel walks during times of snow emergencies.
Know how would have enlisted the proper mix of construction equipment to deal with the problem. Clearly today there was a need for small back hoes to create passenger passageways at corners. Two such pieces of equipment could have worked wonders in a single day. Furthermore, rubber tire front end loaders and dump trucks were required to remove snow from the right side of the streets to provide safer areas for cars to park.
And cooperation is needed among people working and living on the same block, not just downtown but throughout the city. They could jointly engage sidewalk snow removal services. They should assist the elderly and the disabled.
If we want a vital downtown, we must understand that the city depends upon attracting customers and retaining them, the same as Park City and Red Rose Commons. It isn't through $200 million projects that downtown will be restored. Hardly! It is through leadership, know how and cooperation.
Grandstanding Sen. Armstrong calls for
larger Sunshine fines
Is Sen. Armstrong grandstanding in calling for larger penalties?
On Feb. 2, the Intelligencer Journal headlined "Armstrong wants to boost Sunshine fines. Seeks increase from $100 to $1,000."
Tongue in cheek, NewsLanc recommends the fines be $50,000 each! This is for two reasons:
1) Strict enforcement of the Sunshine Act sounds like a good idea to the average person, but a representative with the experience of Sen. Gibson Armstrong must recognize the impracticality of getting necessary preliminary work done only in public sessions. Armstrong wouldn't even be able to discuss matters with colleagues over lunch!
The real benefit of the Sunshine Act is to make certain that adequate public discussions take place immediately prior to a vote. The mistake of the Lancaster Commissioners for which they long ago individually publicly apologized was for minimizing time available for public review and discussion of the proposed sale of the Conestoga View Nursing Home.
2) If the commissioners had been subject to $50,000 fines, they likely would not have agreed to the citations.
They were under immense pressure during a nine month grand jury investigation instigated and prolonged by the district attorney and, when facing possible charges for they knew not what, they felt it prudent to pay a couple of hundred dollars to put an end to the charade. They little suspected the local monopoly press would play up the violations as the crime of the century.
A careful reading of the grand jury report suggests there was insufficient evidence of any wrong doing, let alone a purposeful intent.
YMCA Board hits a home run for the City!
NewsLanc.com congratulates the YMCA board of directors for acquiring a future location at 265 Harrisburg Avenue, a 1.8-acre site about two blocks from the current facility at 572 N. Queen St.
Some well meaning YMCA managers and supporters advocated a move out of the city to the suburbs, where it could serve and attract potential affluent donors. But the directors have wisely retained the "Y"s historic vision of serving those who will benefit most from the variety of facilities and activities.
Furthermore, they have chosen a location readily accessible from suburban communities.
Would that we had such wisdom for selecting a more practical convention center location, with closer highway access, adequate acreage to serve logistical purposes, and a design that would economically and effectively serve the actual, rather than fanciful needs, of our region!
Public editor needed
for Lancaster Newspapers
The current scandal involving Intelligencer Journal reporters is surely causing a crisis of confidence in the newsrooms of Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. (LNP). When The New York Times faced scandal that compromised staff and reader confidence, it created a position called "Public Editor," an ombudsman to monitor Times journalism and reader response.
The Lancaster Newspapers should do the same. In light of the recent allegations about several of its reporters illegally accessing a secured government website - and widespread charges of bias regarding LNP's coverage of the proposed convention center project and the Conestoga View issues - it is essential LNP restore its credibility both among its staff and its readers.
The monopoly status of Lancaster Newspapers makes it imperative that LNP provide safeguards and public assurances. (In contrast, the Times has three dailies that critique its reporting).
It is part of the news business that reporters and editors are under tremendous pressure to get "the scoop" on their competition. This was evidently the case with reporters at the Intell, who were warned in writing not to enter the secured site, yet over and over again accessed confidential and sensitive material.
If a public editor had been in place - one brought from outside the Lancaster Newspapers organization - perhaps the reporters and their editors would have had someone there to remind them it was the wrong thing to do.
Baltimore Sun: Convention business sharply down
In an article that will likely raise further concerns about the viability of the proposed Lancaster hotel/convention center project, The Baltimore Sun reports that the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association bookings for 2008 are down nearly one-third since 2005.
The Feb. 10, 2007, article indicates a startling drop in hotel bookings for the $300 million facility:
"Despite a publicly financed Hilton convention hotel set to open next year, Baltimore's major convention business appears to be declining, prompting concern from officials for the city's investment."
One public official commented, according to the article: "There was a lot of rosy projections during that hotel debate about how if you build it they will come," said Baltimore City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a mayoral candidate. "And you know, I always said it was a risky venture for the city to be getting involved in the hotel business."
Critics of the Lancaster project have raised concerns that with a lack of downtown amenities and entertainment venues, poor air and road access, heavy downtown traffic, and a risky financing scheme which puts more than 90% of the costs on the public, the proposed project is destined for a taxpayer bailout.
Former Intell reporter Justin Quinn
During my six years as a reporter for the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal, I often disagreed with my editors regarding the choices they made when it came to covering the news. It was my opinion that in most cases they were too cautious and non-aggressive in their approach to particular news events and happenings and I was often bewildered by their omission of the critical details I had included in stories.
In some cases the editors simply refused to present all sides of a given subject or event and in the occasional rare case, they failed even to make the most minor spelling errors or corrections when I made them aware of them. It was my opinion that the news in Lancaster County suffered because of the laziness of some of the Intell's editors - not all of them (many are hard working people who are rarely recognized for their excellence) - and that the public was often vastly misinformed or simply obstructed from viewing pertinent information.
For these reasons, I cannot understand why the Intelligencer Journal would now try to excuse unethical behavior by saying that repeatedly accessing a confidential law enforcement website (and ignoring two pages of legal warnings) was simply "a routine reportorial tool." In my opinion, the essence of the Intell's editorial is not consistent with its pattern of caution in other areas of news reporting.
I was unaware of the unethical activities of the five reporters named in the grand jury report until well after their access to the website had been shut down. I also believe most of the reporters outside this small group were also unaware of their behavior.
This is important because if this activity had been thought by newspaper editors, not as "abuse," but as "authorized" access, why then would it have been such a tightly held secret? Why wouldn't each of the Intell's reporters have been given the coroner's username and password as part of the staff's general list of resources?
Not only did Brett, Paula, P.J., Madelyn and Carrie keep their access to the site a secret from the public and most law enforcement officials, they also kept it a secret from the rest of the news staff. To me, this shows clear and convincing evidence that the parties involved KNEW they were violating the law, breaching company policy and acting outside ethical journalistic standards.
When Brett informed me that he and other reporters were accessing this website, I initially believed it was no big deal. This was because Brett downplayed the gravity of the situation and said the information contained therein simply validated what his "sources" had already given him. Because of what Brett told me, I also believed the AG [Attorney General] was overreacting. [Brett] failed to illustrate to me the scope of the information he and the other reporters had access to. More than anything else, though, I considered Brett a friend, and I wanted to believe him.
That friendship was shattered when I learned - on the witness stand before the grand jury - that Brett had used to his advantage what was to me, at the time, a very frustrating situation. The "concessions" Brett refers to in his e-mail were not made by me - they were made by the editors I mentioned above against my will. In fact, I had a full on-the-record interview with the coroner right after he filed his lawsuit against the city and county medical societies. This was in the summer of 2004.
Intell editor Jon Ferguson wouldn't allow me write the article, preferring instead to wait until after the case was settled and resolved. When the case was finally settled, Ferguson refused to use the interview in the story that was written because Kirchner had asked me not to - and had even threatened to cut off communication with us. I can only assume that Ferguson acquiesced to the coroner’s wishes because he did not wish to compromise in any way the open access that his newspaper - and his newspaper alone - enjoyed. It is true that the coroner never said he had given his username and password to the Intell alone - but it was certainly implied.
That makes this statement from the Intell ridiculous: "There was no agreement of confidentiality with Kirchner in this matter and, indeed, the Intell had no knowledge whether Kirchner had provided the password to other news media."
Under an anonymous pseudonym, I accessed LancasterOnline.com and posted several statements that wrongly admonished Lancaster County District Attorney Donald Totaro and the Lancaster New Era for their roles in publicizing the activities of my fellow reporters. It was for these anonymous statements - and these statements alone - that I was fired. I can see now that my commentary was misguided, and I have apologized both to Totaro and to New Era editor Ernie Schreiber for my comments. I offer them my apologies once again.
For many months after my termination, I was forced to keep silent on this subject because of the pending legal action from the [Attorney General's] office. Although I believe Kirchner was wrong to have given his password to reporters, the reporters were wrong to accept it and even more wrong to try to bully the coroner into giving them a new one. It is the equivalent of receiving the keys to a locked room of confidential files.
Even with permission, a good reporter knows not to cross that threshold without a very good reason and certainly not as "a routine reportorial tool." As I told the grand jury, "The first thing I would have done would have been to make sure the coroner knew I was using his password. The next thing I would have done would have been to tell my editor the situation to see if using it was OK. Even then, I probably still wouldn’t have used it."
One of the mantras I applied both to my own professional conduct and to those who found their way into my stories, was, "Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should."
I have had several offers to re-enter the newspaper business since my firing. Luckily, many of my colleagues at other newspapers can see my termination for what it was. Nevertheless, I find the prospect of once again becoming a reporter to be very distasteful. This experience left me without a purpose in my life for a very long time. I started my own business, HeadlineConsultants.com mainly because I never again want to be treated the way I was by my employer at the Intell. I am happy to finally have closure on this issue, and hopefully, newspapers everywhere will take extra care when they are given unrestricted access to sensitive information, and that they will justify their actions before they take them.
I also certainly hope Lancaster Newspapers uses this opportunity to rethink the way it goes about gathering news and to perhaps shuffle its players to ensure the most ethical reporters and editors are the guardians of the process. Perhaps those editors who so often go unrecognized for their excellent abilities will finally get their due. For Intell readers, it is their only hope.
Journalism ethicists criticize
In the recent case involving the Intelligencer Journal, the purpose of the illegal entry to the county's secure 911 web site appears to have been solely to give one publication a competitive advantage over another. According to law enforcement officials, information released had no value to the public but instead disclosed information that, if kept secret, could help detect and prosecute those who committed the crime.
Samuel G. Freedman is a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Freedman teaches "Critical Issues in Journalism," which is the required ethics course at the school.
"The important issue is whether the information illegally obtained rises to the level of providing a public service or is in the public interest. If it is not in the public interest to publish the information, that is unethical," says Freedman.
Another expert on journalism ethics, Jeffrey Dvorkin, Executive Director of Committee of Concerned Journalists and Missouri School of Journalism professor, says that the reporters aren't the only ones to blame.
"It is the editor's role to say that certain information should be published or not," says Dvorkin, former ombudsman for National Public Radio.
"Journalists have an obligation to act in the public's best interest. If the public had a right to know this information, then it was probably justifiably reported. If that was not the case, then that's a problem for the journalists and the publication. The information must have some value to the public. Just because you have information does not mean it has to be published."
Intell public scandal: An aberration
or an inevitability?
Was the persistent spying by Intelligencer Journal reporters on confidential government records an aberration that could occur to any company or was it predictable that public scandal would soon emerge under current monopoly press management?
NewsLanc believes that top management establishes the moral compass for any organization. If it acts fairly and honorably even when its own interests are at stake, it serves as an effective role model for the organization.
But when top management begins to make exceptions to favor its organization's side investments (read Convention Center) and encourages and countenances biased reporting, omissions of important information, distortion of reality, ignoring offenses of allies and permitting character assassinations of critics, the organization loses its moral compass.
Employees no longer share the high ethical goals of the estimable past leaders. Instead individuals seek only to please their bosses and to show that they too can be "tough guys."
NewsLanc mourns the tragedy that has befallen our monopoly press under current management. Moreover, NewsLanc recognizes how destructive it is for our entire community to be subjected to a rudderless monopoly press.
But we are not surprised at all that scandal has broken out into the public view. We just see this as an inevitable result of a sorry pattern.
And we do not envision any solution other than a replacement of top executives and at least two editors, or the sale of the newspapers to a reputable national chain.
Robert Edwin Field, President
The other shoe may yet fall,
This time on Intell editors
According to the Feb. 5 New Era: "[Attorney General Tom] Corbett said several reporters from the Intell were subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury about the illegal access to the county's 911 web site including Lovelace, P.J. Reilly, Paula Holzman, Carrie Caldwell Cassidy and Madelyn Pennino.
"All five reporters asserted their Fifth Amendment right to refuse to provide evidence which would tend to incriminate them.
"They later did testify, Corbett noted, after each was granted immunity from prosecution for crimes that could arise from their testimony."
Normally when a group is under suspicion of wrong doing, immunity is only offered to one or two as an inducement to testify against the others. Are the monopoly newspapers and its convention center project allies in Harrisburg so powerful that that even the State Attorney General felt compelled not to prosecute its five reporters?
Although immunity was granted the reporters, it is still possible that any editor who was aware of and encouraged the illegal spying might yet be indicted as a co-conspirator and conceivably for obstruction of justice. If so, we will have seen the limits of even a monopoly newspaper's power.
Fire editors or sell out!
The monopoly Lancaster Newspaper, Inc. should either replace editors Ray Shaw of the Intell and Ernie Schreiber of the New Era or sell out to a responsible newspaper chain.
Two recent examples of gross and purposeful violations of journalistic ethics: 1) Schreiber was responsible for three days of banner headlines characterizing a questionable violation by the county commissioners as the 'crime of the century' and seeking to force them out of office; and 2) Shaw grossly misrepresented the findings of a commonwealth grand jury to conceal his and his reporters' culpability in accessing secured government information.
Enough of monopoly self-serving distortions and vicious personal attacks!
Either the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc should clean up its act by hiring new editors, or the newspapers should be sold to a responsible national chain...and the sooner the better!
Intell deceives readers; Newspaper
Cover up worse than the crime!
The main news article in the Feb. 6 Intelligencer Journal fails to mention that its reporters invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid possibly incriminating themselves. The reporters only agreed to testify before a grand jury after being granted immunity from prosecution.
Also, its editorial only tangentially mentions the reporters' use of the Fifth in the 21st paragraph of a 27 paragraph story, and then in artful language and only on the 'flip page.'
(NewsLanc has been told that the reporters could have been charged with a Third Degree Felony, punishable by as much as seven years in prison).
NewsLanc is glad that the reporters won’t be prosecuted. But we hold the Intell in contempt for failing to be forthright with its readers, for not reporting the harsh facts as did the New Era on Feb. 5. (See the New Era article at http://local.lancasteronline.com/6/200364).
Instead both the Intell news article and editorial were largely filled with bias, spin and disinformation. Sample from their front page editorial: "...no criminal charges were lodged against the newspaper or its staff. This can only be taken as a clear indication that no criminal activity was engaged in by the staff members."
Such distortion! Such hypocrisy!!
But isn't that what we have come to expect from the monopoly newspapers...whitewashing of friends (read Convention Center supporters) and savaging its adversaries (read Commissioners Dick Shellenberger and Molly Henderson).
City appointee's term to Authority has long expired. But who cares about laws
when you control the press?
Dave Schwanger's term as a city appointee to the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority expired last September, but he remains and the City hasn't considered a replacement.
After all, what are laws to a governmental body which has recklessly and with doubtful legality started construction on foundations when both its ability to sell $68 million in bonds and to collect a $15 million state grant are tied up in litigation?
Now the question is whether Authority votes taken since last September, especially those that went 4 to 3, are legal and applicable. Perhaps now that the Authority has only six legal members, they need to go back and start over from scratch.
And for whom are they saving the seat? Perhaps Ted Darcus when his term expires this coming September?
Authority's own advisor sees possibility of
"Going up to the county commissioners
When pressed at the Jan. 31 Convention Center Authority meeting by board member Laura Douglas concerning what would occur if the convention center failed to meet its financial projections and the Wachovia Bank bond guarantee was not renewed, chief Authority financial advisor Tom Beckett conceded that the Authority may be "Going up to the county commissioners and begging."
Previously there had been a rare agreement between project critic Robert Edwin Field (President of NewsLanc.com) and Beckett in which Beckett concurred with and praised Field's technical analysis of what would occur if Wachovia's guarantee of the bonds was not renewed.
According to Field, Wachovia Bank would be obligated to purchase the $64 million in bonds when the bank's five year guarantee expires. (Field referenced the PKF Feasibility Study which sharply contradicts the Authority's more optimistic projections).
Field said he had been advised by a financial expert that Wachovia would be hesitant to incur the criticism of bank examiners by failing to foreclose. The Authority would face the alternative of "throwing the keys to the bank" or asking the commissioners to guarantee the bonds and fund all of the losses through increases in taxes.
Beckett said it was his opinion that rather than foreclosing, the bank would try to work out some sort of "an accommodation."
Field had pointed out Wachovia's guarantee of the first five years was made possible because bond proceeds were set aside to meet interest payments. There would be no such protection for a future guarantor.
Field spoke during the public comment period held at the outset of the meeting. He said he was relaying to the board members an analysis from a financial expert concerning what would occur if the operations of the proposed convention center did not meet Authority financial projections and the five year bond guarantee was not renewed.
Beckett offered to take questions from the floor but, when Field sought to be recognized, Chairman Ted Darcus ruled Field out of order.
The choice: Empty, sterile, crime-ridden downtown or vibrant new neighborhood
City planners know that even a successful convention center in Lancaster would be used less than 100 days annually resulting in empty, sterile, and dangerous downtown streets for most of the year.
But a Watt & Shand site of as many as 200 upscale condominium units filled with young professionals, seniors and small families would generate a vibrant, thriving neighborhood around the clock.
Successful downtown renewal is based upon attracting upscale residents, providing attractive shops and cafes, and offering entertainment. The Watt & Shand building, on a virtual hillside, can also house a downtown YMCA on the Vine Street side and shops and possibly a cineplex on King Street and shops along Queen Street. It could even house the Rocky Springs Carousel that the city owns and holds in storage.
The nearby $20 million Pennsylvania Academy of Music expansion is the core of a campus rivaling Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and Julliard in New York City.
Why would anyone want to spend $160 million of state, county, city grants, subsidies and guarantees to attract conventioneers who seldom step outside into city streets when $40 million in private capital stands ready to provide what Lancaster really needs, a livable downtown that will draw people from the suburbs to become cosmopolitan city dwellers?
Disastrous Convention Center
design and logistics
Unlike the proposed Lancaster Convention Center, the Valley Forge facility can dock up to 15 tractor trailers and the Gaylord Texan has room for up to 12 tractor trailers. Both have acres of surface parking for vehicles adjoining the dock.
Using elevators adds at least 15% to the exhibitor's costs. Radio-cued holding patterns can double the Teamster costs.
Most convention centers are on dock level so vehicles can be driven into the hall, especially forklifts.
The Lancaster center is designed to accomodate 400 exhibitors in 10x10 booths. Where will 400 vehicles dock?
It can accomodate 2,000 attendees...theoretically bussed from area hotels. There is nowhere for the buses to queue. It would take over 2.5 hours to off-load the buses with 50 passengers each.
Commissioners alone choose
Authority Board appointee
The Jan. 28 Sunday News reported veiled threats of litigation by Convention Center Authority attorneys should the county commissioners appoint a fourth representative to the Authority board not to their liking.
When asked by NewsLanc.com, County Solicitor Don Lefever stated:
"The appointment is made by the vote of the commissioners. They determine the individual's appropriateness. Bottom line: It is the prerogative of the commissioners to decide on that appointment and when they make it."
On Sept. 15, 2007, the board's majority will switch from a city-appointed majority, to a majority of county appointees.
Clipper Stadium vs. Convention Center financing
Although there are several major legal obstacles to the Convention Center Authority being able to achieve their proposed financing, below is a comparison between the actual financing of the Clipper Stadium and the proposed financing of the Convention Center.
Clipper Stadium bonds were sold for a finite term of 20 years. They will fully amortize over the 20 years. Bonds were further secured by Sky Box rentals and a County guarantee for the 20 years. They pay 5.6% interest annually for the entire 20 year term.
Convention Center "low floater" bonds are to be sold for an initial two weeks and resold every two weeks thereafter. They are to amortize over 40 years. $64 million in bonds would be secured by Hotel Room Revenue Tax and by $25 million in a county guarantee. Interest rate including credit enhancement fees will approximate 4.0% during initial five years.
Wachovia Bank's enhancement of credit is only for five years. With escrowed funds no longer available to cover interest payments, obtaining future credit enhancement is highly questionable.
Without credit enhancement, the bonds are in grave danger of being reclassified from Triple A to junk. (See PKF Consultants Feasibility Report). There is no limit on how high interest rates could go after five years if credit enhancement were no longer available.
Convention Center finance
'time bomb' goes off in 5 years
Imagine you found the house of your dream but the interest rate of 6% on a 40-year mortgage is much more than you can afford.
Imagine you could borrow the money at 4% interest for two weeks and then renew the mortgage every two weeks thereafter, but the interest rate could soar way above 4%. Would you run the risk?
That is how the Convention Center Authority proposes to finance its project. Its bonds will be re-sold every two weeks. Because it will initially borrow enough money to pay the interest for the first five years, a bank will guarantee the bonds for those five years. They run virtually no risk.
But after five years, with no money set aside for interest, it is unlikely that the bank or others will guarantee the bonds. Without a bank guarantee, the interest rate will shoot through the ceiling. And the taxpayers will be stuck with the bill for $25,000,000.
Convention Center sponsors
clutching at straws
The Jan. 28 Sunday News in an article entitled "See you in September" reports "[Chairman Ted] Darcus, a city-appointed board member, holds the 'swing seat' that switches between the city and the county every four years. This year, the seat swings to the county, and will give the county the majority on the seven-member
According to the article, the project sponsors and Authority may ask Judge Joseph Madenspacher to prevent the county commissioners from making their appointment until after the convention center is up and running.
By the same logic, Bill Clinton might have suspended the results of the election in 2000 to prevent George Bush from becoming president. Also George Bush could suspend the results of an election in 2008 should a liberal Democrat win. But why should laws and contracts be allowed to stand in the way of the powerful and greedy?
In actuality, the commissioners don't get to appoint the new chair. It's up to the seven Authority board members to choose its leader.
Was Historic Preservation Trust hijacked
by Convention Center sponsors?
Rather than 'preserving' historic properties in its charge, the Trust has permitted partial demolition of the Thaddeus Stevens and Lydia Smith houses and the gutting of the landmark Watt & Shand building.
A look at the Trust's board suggests why:
Correction: In an earlier edition we erred in stating Caroline Steinman Nunan and Carolyn L. French were board members of the Historic Preservation Trust. They are not.
Nancy C. Bell is a managing director with the Stevens & Lee law firm. Stevens & Lee is the registered lobbyist for High Industries. High is also a 44% sponsor of the project and its general partner.
One of her areas of practice is Regulatory and Government Affairs which, according to their website, "...helped bring about legislation...allowing Pennsylvania's third-class counties to impose a tax on hotel room occupancy to provide revenues to build sports complexes and civic centers..."
H. Scott Poole, Esq. is a vice president of Fulton Financial. Fulton is a 12% sponsor of the project.
- Martha Armstrong is the wife of State Senator Gibson E. Armstrong, a leading proponent of the project who has amended laws to directly benefit it.
Convention Center Authority projections
Already dead wrong
The recently released Lancaster County Convention Center Authority Plan of Finance states: "Conservative Projections: Hotel Room Rental Tax base projected to grow at 2.5% annual 2006-2013."
But the just-released Smith Travel Research report shows a decline of revenue by 2.3% from 2005.
The Authority overestimated the hotel room rental tax revenue by about 5% for the very first year and the projections are pivotal in order to close bond financing.
Sponsors facing legal obstacles to
Convention Center construction
- The County is appealing to the Commonwealth Court the decision by Judge Madenspacher that the County's Guaranty Agreement is valid.
An issue being raised is whether increasing the amount of the Convention Center Authority's (LCCCA) bond beyond the amount guaranteed by the County requires the County's consent where debt service on the entire bond amount is equally guaranteed.
Another focus of the appeal is that the Guaranty Agreement is invalid because it was signed by the former Chairman of the Board of Commis-sioners in violation of County Ordinance 73.
This is because the Trust Indenture entered by the LCCCA did not contain taxpayer protections that
were required by Ordinance 73 as a precondition to the County entering the Guaranty Agreement.
Still another contention is that 2003 Guaranty Agreement is an invalid "midnight contract" that
was adopted by the prior lame-duck Board of Commissioners just before leaving office, solely
as a means to remove from the incoming Board the ability to decide whether the County should
guaranty the LCCCA's construction bonds.
- The County is appealing to the State Supreme Court the Commonwealth Court's decision concerning validity of The Redevelopment Authority of the City of Lancaster's (RACL) Act 23 grant.
The County's lawsuit contends that recent amendments to Act 23, which Senator Armstrong took the lead in arranging last year, violate the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution because they give unfettered discretion to a municipality (such as the City of Lancaster) to decide which Act 23 projects must pay local real estate taxes and which Act 23 projects need not do so.
(That Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development has approved 20 years of annual $1 million grants to RACL under Act 23, which will be used to repay a $14 million Act 23 bond RACL is selling to help finance construction of the Marriott Hotel).
- Litigation concerning whether the hotel would indeed be exempt from real estate taxes could be initiated in the future by the School District or the County.
COMMENTARYAnticipating new leadership, David Hixson desperate to show Center inevitability
According to the Jan. 24 New Era, David Hixson, Convention Center Authority Executive Director, told City Council, "In September, we will be several months into the vertical construction of the project. We will be a year away from completion. To try to obstruct progress would work against the project and the community."
Hixson knows very well that construction funding for the project cannot be made available until ongoing litigation is resolved. Even if the Authority prevails in court, which is questionable, this could take well into 2008.
Thus the Authority's actions of spending revenue from the Hotel Room Sales Tax is recklessly risking millions in public funds in order to put on a show of construction.
If the new leadership decides to alter or terminate the project, the fault will not lie with them but with the current officials who are trying to thwart the outcome of a legal and appropriate transition.
But this won't be the first time that such tactics have been used to promote the project. The former county commissioners prematurely sold $40 million in bonds and thus willfully wasted a million dollars in interest payments and fees in order to tie the hands of the incoming current commissioners. History repeats itself!
Shellenberger's criteria for
reconstituted Authority board
"Feasibility, transparency, audit, and accountability," said Commissioner Dick Shellenberger at Tuesday's work session: "These are the values the new appointee needs to bring to the Authority board.
"The person must understand that highly reputable companies have examined this project and that the Authority needs to take their recommendations into account.
"They need to remember their board is accountable to the taxpayers," Shellenberger continued. "The public should be able to ask questions and have them answered in a timely fashion. And it’s important to look at audits to see that the millions of dollars in payments have been proper."
Commissioner Molly Henderson added, "This is a pivotal decision for our board. It might be helpful if members of the current Authority board come in to brief us."
NewsLanc.com to become a foundation
Robert Edwin Field, NewsLanc.com president, announced the recruiting of an advisory board from the community in preparation for the entity soon filing an application to become a 501(c)3 foundation.
"NewsLanc.com was never intended to be privately owned and for profit. But it was desirable to determine how NewsLanc.com would evolve before seeking foundation status."
With 501(c)3 status, contributions to NewsLanc.com will become tax deductible. Field said "Access to grant money, private donations, bequeaths and an endowment fund will enable NewsLanc.com to indefinitely provide an alternate source of news and commentary pertaining to major Lancaster events and issues."
Management of NewsLanc.com foundation will be determined by a board of directors. A revenue goal of $250,000 a year by 2008 would enable a doubling of current staff, added features and broader coverage.
Hold onto your wallet;
former Mayor Charlie Smithgall is a
candidate for county commissioner
When former Mayor Smithgall first came into office, the annual City budget was a little over $24 million dollars. Eight years later, the Smithgall administration bequeathed Mayor Rick Gray and the City of Lancaster with a first year budget of slightly over $39 million dollars!
Will District Attorney Totaro now do his job?
Why has District Attorney Donald Totaro spent costly staff time for almost a year investigating the Conestoga View sale, but shown no initiative in responding to a public plea from three of seven board members to investigate possible inappropriate spending by the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority (LCCCA)?
On Sept. 12, 2006, three members of the LCCCA board wrote to District Attorney Donald Totaro, "We request that you expand any investigation of billings by Stevens & Lee pertaining to Conestoga View to billings by Stevens & Lee pertaining to the LCCCA and, if no investigation is taking place, that you initiate one."
The board members specifically directed Totaro's attention to billings in the amount of almost $7 million in legal fees on the basis of more than 200 invoices with no information attached other than "For professional services rendered on behalf of the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority."
In response to a NewsLanc.com inquiry, a district attorney spokesperson replied that, "The FBI said they received those letters and we are satisfied that an investigation of the Stevens & Lee bills to the [LCCCA] had taken place. That settled it for us."
Subsequently, the sole member of the FBI central Pennsylvania division said, "I cannot confirm nor deny" that such an investigation had taken place.
Was it reasonable for the DA to presume that the only FBI agent between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh had spent the necessary weeks of his time to adequately investigate a Lancaster County matter, setting aside all federal chores, including prevention of terrorist activities?
With the witch hunt concerning the county commissioners now in the past, perhaps Totaro can take time from campaigning for a county judgeship to undertake an in-depth inquiry into how $18 million dollars of taxpayer money has been spent or squandered. Or must we await Sept. 15, when county representatives become the majority on the board and can engage investigators to do the district attorney's job for him?
Shellenberger once again abused
by Intelligencer Journal
Commissioner Dick Shellenberger was accompanied by a number of local dignitaries when he gave an exclusive interview to Dave Pidgeon of the Intelligencer Journal that was published on Jan. 18. (Apparently it was Shellenberger's hope that now that he was not running for reelection that the monopoly press would relent and fully report what he had to say, especially with observers present).
Shellenberger referred to notes as he expressed his ideas on a number of important issues that confront the commissioners during the balance of their term. Commenting on the resulting article, an observer said, "[Instead] we got the same old information - Convention center, grand jury, comments from Senator Armstrong and on and on...[It was as though] Dave had the article written and he filled in a few quotes and details."
Reportedly it was Shellenberger's commitment to communicating to the public and the inability to have his views and aspirations for the county reported through the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers that drove him to pay for an ad in the suburban Merchandiser / Penny Saver to announce his decision not to stand for a second term along with his reasons.
The fault may not lay with the reporter but with an editor who chose what was to be appear and who may have added content. (See the Watchdog for an egregious example of spin from this Jan. 18 Intelligencer Journal news article).
not seeking re-election
Commissioner Dick Shellenberger by-passed the monopoly Lancaster newspapers and placed an ad in this week's Merchandiser / Penny Saver to announce he will not run for re-election.
Shellenberger was trapped between: 1) District Attorney Donald Totaro, who intimidated the commissioners with what proved to be empty threats of prosecution if they did not agree to a total of $500 in fines to justify Totaro's year-long investigation that came up with scant evidence of any wrongdoings; and 2) vicious orchestrated attacks by the monopoly Lancaster newspapers upon him and Commissioner Molly Henderson, especially on the part of the New Era that repeated the same empty charges in banner headlines day after day after day.
NewsLanc.com deeply regrets this development, not only because Shellenberger has been disserved personally, but more importantly because this is evidence of how a small group of willful and greedy persons of inherited wealth and positions have misused their power to usurp the rightful privilege of the citizenry to choose their elected officials.
Convention Center project
attracts national media attention
In its February edition, Budget & Tax News, a monthly national publication focusing on government economic issues, published an investigative report on the proposed downtown Lancaster convention center/hotel project.
According to the article, "In 1999, a $75 million convention center and hotel was conceived for downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania...Today the project, which hasn't begun construction, has mutated into a $175 million behemoth..."
The report ("Lancaster Convention Center Battle Shatters Penn. Amish Country Calm") was written by Christiaan A. Hart-Nibbrig, former News Editor of NewsLanc.com.
Has Authority falsified budget
to comply with court ruling?
In what appears as a baldfaced attempt to circumvent a judicial requirement for a balanced budget, the Convention Center Authority conspicuously underestimates and omits major past expenditures in its budget for next year.
In October, Judge Joseph Madenspacher ruled that project sponsors must have a balanced budget before construction funds were released.
More than half of the $18 million the Authority has spent to date have been paid to five consultants: the Stevens & Lee law firm ($7 million); Bulls Advisory Group ($800,000); Growth Business Development ($800,000); Metrovision Community Development ($700,000) and Cimbrian (formerly Kelly Michener) public relations ($600,000).
Yet the Authority budget for fiscal year 2008 shows only Cimbrian listed as an expense, but at only $3,500 per month, a far cry from the PR firm's previous $20,000 monthly average. They expect the public and the judge to believe they are cutting back their public relation by about 75% the year before they plan to open the facility?
And if the other consultants aren't necessary in the future, were they in the past?
The budget also does not include litigation fees despite the fact there are currently three separate pending lawsuits in Harrisburg courts. Have they discovered that the $100,000 a month in litigation attorneys has also been superfluous?
Grand Jury report inconclusive;
cites lack of corroborating evidence
Grand Jury Report findings:
- Although Report offered tantalizing views of back room dealings and juicy tidbits of gossip, there were scant if any findings of wrongdoings.
- No accusation of crime concerning Gary Heinke appointment, and only tenuous evidence of Sunshine Law violations pertaining to sale of Conestoga View.
- It appears likely that Molly Henderson and possibly also Shellenberger and Shaub did not violate the Sunshine Law.
- Shaub and Shellenberger were for privatization of Conestoga View Nursing Home even before Shellenberger took office. (Editor's note: "Privatization" was a Republican buzz word at that time, perceived as a panacea for "big government." Shellenberger did not conceal his views about privatization and the voters elected him).
- Shellenberger and Shaub, and apparently Stevens & Lee, felt it was appropriate to discuss a flat fee because law firm was accepting the assignment "at risk" that they would not receive any compensation unless and until the commissioners would authorize the sale.
- Although there was a desire to keep consideration of a sale secret during the period of exploration, this was not necessarily illegal or even improper. In Shaub's opinion, it involved the future of Conestoga View personnel and secret discussions of matters involving personnel are permissible.
- Shaub favored sale and voted for it initially with Shellenberger. (Henderson voted against the sale initially). Shaub voted against the sale only after receiving assurances that other commissioners would vote for it.
- Shellenberger thought his friend Gary Heinke would make a good candidate and wanted him to be considered by commissioners. Shaub apparently also thought well of Heinke. Henderson voted against hiring Heinke during an appropriately private commissioners' meeting. Henderson only joined Shellenberger and Shaub in voting for Heinke at the public meeting as a customary show of unanimous support.
- Henderson is virtually exonerated by the Report.
- John Espenshade of Stevens & Lee was skillful in coaching and guiding commissioners on how to avoid violating Sunshine Laws.
- Report concluded that Sunshine Laws are almost hopelessly vague.
NewsLanc.com retracts its criticism of Espenshade and Stevens & Lee for supposedly allowing clients to violate Sunshine Laws.
NewsLanc.com re-affirms its concern that Grand Jury findings hardly justified its time and expense to taxpayers.
Click here for the Grand Jury Report in its entirety, and the responses of Commissioners Shellenberger and Shaub.
Click here to read the Grand Jury report in pdf form.
Click here for excerpts from the Grand Jury report.
Read carefully, pay particular attention to the revealing footnotes, and reach your own conclusions.
GRAND JURY: Shaub "incredible," exonerates Henderson
According to a press release from the office of Commissioner Molly Henderson: "The 37 page Grand Jury report released today vindicates Democratic Lancaster County Commissioner Molly Henderson's position on the Conestoga View sale process and the hiring of former County Chief Administrative Services Officer Gary Heinke, and strongly contradicts the claims of now-resigned Republican Commissioner Pete Shaub.
"The Lancaster Grand Jury report confirms Henderson's statements that former Commission Chairman Pete Shaub, who resigned shortly before the report was released, directed that Commissioner Henderson be kept in the dark about the work of the Conestoga View sale "team" for over a year, even concealing his own involvement in preparing an April 1, 2005 PowerPoint presentation to Commissioner Henderson."
The Grand Jury Report states in part: "A constant theme of the off-site meetings was that no one outside of "the team" should know about the plan to, or even the possibility of, selling Conestoga View. Commissioner Shaub specifically told team members that Commissioner Henderson should be kept in the dark."
The Report also says: "Commissioner Shaub denied this accusation during his grand jury testimony and attempted to place the blame for keeping Commissioner Henderson in the dark on Mr. Espenshade. The grand jury found this testimony to be incredible and not worthy of belief, in that the rest of the witnesses stated that it was Commissioner Shaub's directive."
Commissioners not yet ready to choose majority appointee to Authority Board
At their Wednesday (January 10th) meeting, the county commissioners were asked by Mr. Bill Bonanno, an avid supporter of the convention center project, whether they had considered "(Robert) Edwin Field" for the upcoming vacancy on the Convention Center Authority board. In September, the county appointees will become the majority. (Editor's note: Field is the publisher of NewsLanc.com).
Commissioner Molly Henderson responded in part: "I'm glad you brought that issue up because I did want to address that just briefly. Certainly that is not on the agenda and that is not where we're going at this time... I personally have been approached by several people who have offered their services or are interested in serving on the board. Certainly the position would require a tremendous amount of study, background information and knowledge. At this time I have not moved on this position or taken any action."
Convention Center Authority
Thwarts Nomination of Alternative
to Chairman Ted Darcus
The Lancaster County Convention Center Authority nominating committee's meeting Jan. 4 began at 7 p.m. and ended 11 minutes later. The recommendation of the Ted Darcus-appointed nominating committee was to retain Darcus as Chair for the next year.
Jack Craver, a committee member, then nominated Joseph Morales as Chair. Morales appeared surprised and said nothing. Committee Chair Willie Borden consulted with Executive Director David Hixson, who consulted with the Stevens & Lee solicitor, who said that the nomination needed a second to be moved to a vote before the full board. So the nomination was killed.
When the entire board meets on January 11th, it would theoretically be possible for Morales to be nominated as chair and subsequently elected, assuming Morales consents to be chair. However county appointees Laura Douglas and Deb Hall will be absent.
If the the choice of officers were carried over to a meeting where where all seven members were present, it is almost certain that Morales would become the next chair since his vote would be added to the three county appointees.
Darcus, a city appointed board member, is to be replaced in September by a member to be chosen by the county commissioners. (There are always three city and three county appointees and the seventh appointment is rotated every four years between city and county). If the then four county appointees vote together, they will control the majority of the board and will be able to choose the next chair and set future policy.
According to the second lead article in the Dec. 28 Intelligencer Journal, former Lancaster County Commissioner Paul Thibault has announced acceptance of an appointment to the Board of Commissioners.
However, this is before Pete Shaub resigns, an evaluation of candidates by President Judge Louis J. Farina, and the position being offered to Thibault.
Apparently the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. desires to dispense with the formalities.
From the report that he "would be 'honored' to take a seat at the commissioners' table once again," Thibault seems like a fitting successor to the impetuous Pete Shaub. Finding a replacement for Shaub through the end of 2007 will be up to county President Judge Louis J. Farina.
According to the Jan. 5 Intelligencer Journal, "The judge has not yet named an interim commissioner, although sources have said former Republican county commissioner Paul Thibault is a leading candidate."
Is this sheer newspaper boosterism of Thibault because he supports the convention center project or are we to believe that Judge Farina has determined the candidate even before reviewing candidates and the judge confides what he is going to do to the monopoly press?
Pete Shaub's forthcoming
resignation long overdue
The low esteem in which his fellow commissioners held the erratic Pete Shaub was demonstrated when they deposed Shaub to appoint newcomer Dick Shellenberger as Chairman.
Those attending public meetings noted how Shaub's main agenda seemed to be to belittle Shellenberger and Molly Henderson, seizing every opportunity to make them look bad in public and allegedly through leaks to the press. A rather charismatic figure, Shaub projected himself as the protector of the citizenry.
Now with Shaub moving on, the soon to be appointed and current commissioners should be able to work together in a civil and productive manner.
Shaub's departure is an immense gain for the community but may bring to an end a rare period of a bipartisanship by Republican Shellenberger and Democrat Molly Henderson.
Art Morris' revenue sharing proposal
has merit. But Mayor Gray,
first help yourself!
In what may prove to be a historic column in the Dec. 24 Sunday News, former Lancaster Mayor Art Morris studiously compares the deteriorating fiscal situation of Lancaster City with the growing good fortune of Manheim Township and makes a compelling case for a countywide revenue sharing program.
According to Morris, "The City is in the unenviable position of having a much lower tax base than Manheim Township but having to provide services to a population of 55,000 while Manheim Township serves a little more than 33,500 persons."
Morris also points out that the very nature of being an urban center of a region creates a need for more core services and cites as an example that the cost to the City of providing police service is 2.8 times greater despite the City only having 3/5th the population.
NewsLanc.com agrees that a fiscally sound and properly governed City is essential for the long term well being of the entire County. If the City is allowed to rot, the rot will spread to the suburbs and to the rural areas. A healthy City in turn generates prosperity and security for the entire region.
Nevertheless, NewsLanc.com cannot ignore the contradiction of providing aid to the City while the City ignores sound fiscal policy by heavily subsidizing and providing $36 million in guarantees for the Convention Center / Hotel Project. Earlier this year the PKF Consultants' Feasibility Study indicated the project would run a deficit of as much as $4.8 million annually. At the now higher price tag, the deficit could reach well over $5 million annually.
The convention center portion of the project is in part subsidized by the countywide Hotel Room Sales Tax. But losses as predicted by the PKF Consultants Feasibility Study resulting in the bankruptcy of the hotel would be borne by the City alone.
Convention Center Authority bills
$234,709 for one month!
NewsLanc.com examined a recent LCCCA "Pay the Bills" statement and thought the public might want to know what the board is paying for with 100 percent taxpayer money. For just October:
Stevens & Lee* (lawyers) $86,516.68
Fenningham, Stevens, Dempster (lawyers) $36,115.91
Holland & Knight (lawyers) $3,218.41
Bulls Advisory Group ("Executive Advisory Services") $50,617.73
Cimbrian (formerly Kelly Michener public relations) $23,262.50
Cooper Carry (architects) $3,808.80
Growth Business Development ("Advisory Services") $14,400.00
High Associates ("Developer's fee")$16,769.00
*Stevens & Lee is also the registered lobbyist for High Industries, the general partner of Penn Square Partners.
Did Lancaster Newspapers libel
A report released Dec. 19 by former United States Attorney James West on the Conestoga View sale is highly critical of the actions of County Commissioners Pete Shaub and Dick Shellenberger, and the law firm of Stevens & Lee.
However, the report indicates that Commissioner Molly Henderson was conspicuously not part of the Conestoga View sale process; in fact, according to everyone involved she was completely unaware of the transaction while it was negotiated.
During its extensive coverage of this issue, all three Lancaster Newspapers have used countless articles and editorials (sometimes difficult to tell them apart) to paint a picture of the commissioners acting in unison. Henderson's photo is nearly always along side those of Shaub and Shellenberger.
West's conclusions, which largely come from former County Solicitor, John Espenshade, and are corroborated by invoices and meeting notes, show that Conestoga View was a process conceived and executed by Shaub and Shellenberger with full awareness of the Sunshine law. Henderson was clearly "out of the loop."
Lancaster Newspapers' reporters and editors had good reason to suspect that Henderson was not a part of the "secret" sale negotiations. If so, they may have used 'actual malice,' the legal standard for libeling a public official (NY Times v. Sullivan, 1964), in its coverage of Commissioner Henderson.
A jury might conclude that Jack Brubaker, Ernie Schreiber, Marv Adams et al. had ';knowledge of falsity' and showed 'reckless disregard for the truth' in their relentless, politically and psychologically damaging attacks against Henderson, an honorable and dedicated public servant. If a jury were to add punitive damages to actual damages, the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers may not be able to afford to be a monopoly any longer.
Is Lancaster part of Pennsylvania?
According to the Convention Center Authority's "Proposed Business Plan," the State will contribute $34.25 million in grant money for the highly controversial and economically dubious project. That means Lancaster will have to go to the end of the line for soliciting state funding for future and more promising projects.
Meanwhile, the Lancaster County Commissioners had to reach into the county's scant reserves to continue to fund a $300,000 matching grant so that our libraries can maintain regular hours and minimal staffs. Also school children in some Lancaster schools have had to sign out text books because there were not enough money available for each child to have a copy to take home.
Is the State spending wisely? Are we using our fair share of State funds in our best interests?
DA Totaro on the spot
after Shellenberger statement
County Commissioner Dick Shellenberger lit a fire under District Attorney Donald R. Totaro when, after paying a $200 citation for violation of the Sunshine Act, he explained: "I relied in good faith upon the guidance of the County's former legal counsel." The county’s 'former legal counsel', John Espenshade, is a partner at the Stevens & Lee law firm.
Shellenberger added: "One of the meetings was with the former Solicitor [Espenshade] at his office, and I understand members of his firm were fully aware that all three Commissioners were to attend the second meeting. Nonetheless, I was never advised that my involvement in either meeting would lead to a Sunshine Act violation."
The district attorney should take appropriate actions against Espenshade and Stevens & Lee, be it through prosecution or minimally by filing a formal complaint with the Lancaster, Reading and Commonwealth Bar Associations.
Commissioners Plead Guilty to
Equivalent of 'Jaywalking'
All three county commissioners put a merciful end to a destabilizing and expensive half year grand jury investigation by agreeing to pay a $100 fine for something that they had publicly acknowledged and apologized for several months ago.
According to the April 26, 2006 Lancaster New Era, "In a four-page apology they delivered to county residents March 31, the Lancaster County Commissioners admitted multiple flaws in the 'process' of selling the Conestoga View nursing home last year."
Having so reported, readers might have expected the New Era to have covered the story less sensationally rather than running a five column banner headline stating "Commissioners plead guilty."
Hopefully District Attorney Donald Totaro will now turn his department's attention to a more deserving target for investigation: The $17 million spent to date by the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority.
And deserving careful scrutiny for possible breaches of the law are also ongoing representations made by representatives of Penn Square Partners and the Authority to public officials that appear to have been misleading and possibly criminal.
Chairman Shellenberger's Statement
In a news release, Commissioner Chairman Dick Shellenberger stated in part:
"I did not intentionally engage in any deliberate wrong doing. To the contrary I relied in good faith upon the guidance of the County’s former legal counsel...
"Indeed, one of the meetings in question was with the former Solicitor at his office...Nonetheless, I was never advised that my involvement in either meeting would lead to a Sunshine Act violation."
Commissioners' appointees to take control of Convention Center Authority Sept. 15
At the Dec. 13 commissioners' meeting, a NewsLanc.com reporter asked whether consideration has been given to any candidates for the pivotal fourth seat on the seven-person Board of the Convention Center Authority. (The Ted Darcus seat is alternated between county and city bi-annually).
Chairman Dick Shellenberger said he had had "discussions" with Senator Gibson Armstrong on the matter.
Commissioner Molly Henderson said she had not discussed the appointment and said the appropriate place for the matter to be brought up was at the commissioners' work session.
A visibly agitated Commissioner Pete Shaub indicated he had not been part of any discussion regarding the filling of the seat.
Shaub goes ballistic (again)
The question during the public comment period concerning the fourth county appointee to Convention Center Authority prompted yet another volcanic emotional response from Commissioner Pete Shaub.
Before Chairman Dick Shellenberger could finish his response, Shaub interrupted:
"Excuse me, we're not going to do a little dance here," said Shaub. "Have you had discussions or not?"
When Shellenberger tried to respond, Shaub again interrupted: "Dick, did you and Molly have discussions without me? Just answer my question!"
Finally given the opportunity to clarify his answer, Shellenberger said his discussions were with State Senator Gibson Armstrong. "I have been in discussions with the Senator."
Commissioner Molly Henderson added: "There have not been any meetings. Those would come in the [commissioners'] work session."
When spectator April Koppenhaver then criticized Sen. Armstrong's intervention, Shaub went ballistic again.
"Dick, I'm going to get up and leave. I'm not going to sit here and let you let anyone defame Senator Armstrong," he said, gathering his notebook and writing materials and rising from his seat, before sitting down again.
Shaub's attempt to curb free speech shows that when that speech is critical of a supporter of the $185 million mainly publicly financed and guaranteed project, the Constitution of the United States must take a back seat.
Desperate Convention Center Sponsors
may decline County junk bond guarantee
In recognition of their risk of losing current court appeals or the appeals extending into 2008, Convention Center Authority and Sponsors appear on the cusp of dropping their requirement of County guarantee of Convention Center bonds.
Of great concern to the Sponsors and the Authority is that control of the Convention Center Authority Board will revert to the County Commissioners on September 15th when the county gains majority representation on the Authority board. The Sponsors face the risk of exposures of questionable practices and possible scrapping of the project.
On 12/12, the Intelligencer Journal reported, "According to sources who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the subject, [State Senator Gib] Armstrong and [Commissioner Dick] Shellenberger are seeking a compromise on a vital piece of financing: the construction bond guaranteed in part by the county."
In reality, dropping the guarantee and thus ending the litigation is totally within the power of the Convention Center Authority. The Commissioners have no say in the matter.
Therefore any "compromise" sought would likely have to do with the choice of a fourth member to take office on September 15th.
It clearly is in the public interest that the Commissioners appoint a person of unquestioned integrity and competence and who is committed to investigate how the Authority has spent more than $17 million of tax payer money and to bring transparency to the Authority's activities.
The City would continue to guarantee $36 million in hotel "junk" bonds at an annual risk to City taxpayers of $2.5 million. This is in addition to heavy subsidies and waivers of other reimbursements by the City.
Including the $17 million already spent, the Convention Center / Hotel Project is projected at over $185 million, more than seven times the cost of Clipper Stadium. Taxpayers would bear almost 90% of the cost and risk of the project. The recently completed PKF Consultants feasibility study recommended the project be scaled down or another use found for the site. A Fox 43 / Opinion Dynamics poll indicated that 78% of those with an opinion oppose government guarantees.