NEWS AND COMMENTARY ON LANCASTER ISSUES THAT MATTER
Physician Praises New Addiction Treatment
At the annual year-end dinner of the Lancaster County Drug and Alcohol
Commission, Dr. Samuel Rice spoke about heroin and opioid addictions and the need
to reduce addicts' dependence on these substances in a humane and
responsible way, including permitting them the use of synthetic opioid treatments
as methadone, which allow the patient to consume the substance in a more
regulated way while also assisting in breaking the chemical addiction.
Dr. Rice was instrumental in bringing a detoxification hospital to Lancaster
and continues to work as the Medical Director of the White Deer Run
rehabilitation clinic, which has a Lancaster branch.
"Before we had a methadone clinic in Lancaster, addicts were driving daily
to Coatesville to get their fixes, Dr. Rice said, arguing that it is inhumane
to essentially force people to do this. "There are many people dying because
they don't have medication-assisted treatments."
"I think there's too much stigma and too much red tape associated with
methadone," Rice continued.
The bulk of Dr. Rice's speech, however, was devoted to talking about the
success of a newer drug, similar to Methadone, called Suboxone or buprenorphine.
Suboxone, Dr. Rice explained, was specifically developed for opioid
addiction, and is less addictive than its predecessor.
Dr. Rice highlighted a number of
studies in which the drug was very successful. "In one study, 75% of those who
received buprenorphine versus a placebo were retained at one year. No one in the
placebo group was retained." "In another study, 80% of those with counseling
and Suboxone were retained."
Suboxone is also unique in that it is available at the pharmacy with a
prescription from any doctor who has been certified, which only requires a small
amount of training.
Rice spoke of the need to get beyond stereotypes when it comes to heroin and
opioid addictions. "Not everybody who's on Suboxone is necessarily a heroin
addict who's in the gutter, although I see a lot of those patients too."
"I have a patient who is an international business executive who was an
addict for 20 years who had repeatedly relapsed and finally came to see me." With
the help of Suboxone, Rice continued, "he's doing much better now. He
travels everywhere and takes his Suboxone with him."
"Lancaster is extremely fortunate that we have Rick Kastner and are able to
provide many of the services that we do," Rice said.
The purpose of the event was "to thank the Commission staff and the drug and
alcohol treatment providers" with whom the Commission partners, explained
Executive Director Rick Kastner.
Kastner said that the Drug and Alcohol Commission has contracted with Ganse
Apothecary to provide Suboxone "to at least 15 clients for whom we can afford
to provide the treatment."
Kastner added, "We see a lot of heroin addicts come in and out of hospitals
and clinics. They never seem to be able to get out of that revolving door."
Rice was presented the Professional Service Award for his 30 years of
service, particularly in the area of addiction medicine.
Approximately 45 persons were in attendance at the dinner held at
Millersville University, including County Commissioners Dick Shellenberger and
Government Study Commission Seeks Help of League of Women Voters
In an effort to continue to educate the public about proposed changes to
Lancaster County's form of government, a Lancaster County Government Study
Commission volunteer spoke to the League of Women Voters Monday about who the
study commission is and what they are doing.
Kaye Pulkrabek, who is also an active volunteer in Manheim Township,
explained that the Government Study Commission was created by ballot initiative in
2006 to study and consider possible changes to Lancaster County's current form
Currently, the three County Commissioners are the top elected officials in
But that could change.
Having held some 30 meetings and interviewed some 55 individuals, including
County employees at all levels, the Commission voted 8-3 on August 21st that
changes should be made to County government, including increasing the number of
County Commissioners to five and creating a County Executive position.
"It's an impossible job for three Commissioners to do," said Government
Study Commission Chair Carol Phillips, who was present at Monday's briefing.
"The idea of a powerful executive frightens me," said Bonnie Miller, a
member of the League of Women Voters.
Philips replied, "We are looking at an executive appointed by the five
Commissioners, but by a super majority. It would take four out of the five."
The Government Study Commission is holding a meeting at 7 PM Tuesday at the
Township Building in East Hempfield for the purpose of beginning to draft a
Home Rule Charter.
"We are very desirous of a lot of public input," said Phillips. "We would
most appreciate the help of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters in helping
get the word out."
Phillips indicated that Home Rule has only been successful in those other
counties which have really made the effort to educate and inform the public.
Government Study Commission member and recent judicial candidate Sam Mecum,
who was also present, explained that the primary topics of discussion Tuesday
night will include the precise powers and responsibilities of the County
executive and how to implement minority party representation, including the idea
of segmenting the County into seven distinct voting districts.
With Tuesday night's meeting, the Study Commission will be moving from the
study phase of their mandate to the proposal phase.
Another Sunday News Puff Piece on Trolley Cars
In a 22 column-inch puff piece in the Sunday News of Nov. 18th headed
"Streetcar group picks board, seeks momentum," less than one inch is devoted to
the merest mention of wide scale public disenchantment with the proposal.
The article concedes in brief: "... there's been considerable criticism from
those who worry that a streetcar system would be an expensive anachronism,
dependent upon public subsidies to survive."
While trolley advocates are quoted at length, there isn't a single comment
from opponents of the project. This is typical of how the monopoly newspapers
cover projects endorsed by their owners. Whatever happened to the days when
the newspapers would take opposing sides on local issues?
Totally disregarded are the low ridership on the current "trolley bus"
(only eight passengers per hour); traffic congestion caused by the trolleys
running in the center of the street and, at intersections, in the curb side lane;
dangers to pedestrians because of silent running and slow braking; and
whether the estimated $300,000 annual deficit is a far too optimistic
The power elite has been drafting board members from every institution in
town to make a show (more a sham) of support for the project. But critics have
yet to be invited to participate.
LETTER: Faulty Visions
The "vision" for Lancaster City in the 1960s and 1970s resulted in the
fiasco known as "Urban Renewal" including Lancaster Square, where
irreplaceable history, livability, walkability, and even TWO downtown
Farmer's Markets were sacrificed for an unrealistic Utopian plan from which
Lancaster City has never recovered. (Besides the Central Market, the Arcade
Market was off N. Prince St).
It would appear that there IS a contemporary "vision" for downtown
Lancaster. The plan is to re-invent downtown Lancaster as a place where
tourists, business people, and the financially well-off would want to
congregate and spend money. This is evidenced by the emphasis on the arts,
including art galleries, the PCA&D, the Academy of Music, the proposed
trolleys, and of course the taxpayer-financed hotel and convention center
The fatal flaw in this "vision" is that it ignores the vast majority of
Lancaster City residents. Working people can't afford to spend hundreds of
dollars on pieces of art, little things like groceries and a place to live
take up too much of our income. Neither can working people afford tickets
to performing arts. Working people and their families don't attend
conventions. And people who shop primarily at Wal-Mart, Dollar General,
Dollar Tree, or Sav-A-Lot won't be shopping at any consumer shows.
The one piece of "economic development" which has so far resulted from the
taxpayer-financed hotel and convention center project proves this point.
Zimmerman's Family Restaurant is now a yuppie bar. Zimmerman's regulars are
mostly gone, replaced with a more upscale crowd.
The problem with this "vision" is its sustainability. When "economic
development" is based on the shifting sands of luxury spending, its future
is cloudy at best. Had the vision for downtown Lancaster been built on the
solid rock of drawing residents to live, shop, and play downtown, the future
of Lancaster would have been far more secure.
Personally, I am convinced that the inevitable expenses from the
taxpayer-financed hotel and convention center project, the streetcar
project, and other costs associated with this contemporary "vision" will
harm Lancaster City residents far more than they could ever possibly benefit
from any of these.
LETTER: No Clear, Viable City Vision
Once the Youth Intervention Center was constructed at Sunnyside,
particularly in its prominent location, the peninsula was cursed with its
I would be afraid that if low-income housing were to be constructed on
Sunnyside, it would resemble the horror ridden housing projects of the 1960s:
isolated by the poverty as well as geography.
There are no simple answers. I watched my College Avenue neighborhood
disintegrate after the F&M housing was constructed in the late '80s. The
college students were herded into the dorms and their humble apartments went to the
lower income families. A year after I sold and left, the block was deemed
"blighted" in the press by the candidates for city council. Needless to say,
my compassion has its limitations.
This "conversation" is not a non-sequitur to this newsgroup. There has
been no clear, viable vision for the city since the 1970s (or earlier) from
governmental entities. While Old Towne and similar private projects exemplify
great skill, talent and vision, there is no genuine plan to address the
I am not convinced that a prison must be built in the city. Ryker's is not
particularly convenient to the NYC courthouses.
The next pending debacle will be Lancaster Square. (Unless, of course, the
trolley rears its head.
A Call for a County Health Department
In its Nov. 16th newsletter,
The Hour Glass Foundation
calls for the establishment of a Lancaster County Public Health Department.
It cites a Drexel University study which "identified significant gaps in the
coordination of public health services in Lancaster County, including
environmental hazards such as water quality and lead exposure, solid waste
management and vector control, as well as emergency preparedness and coordination."
The news letter also states "...a public health department in Lancaster
County could coordinate public health-related activities throughout the county,
collect and maintain information on public health-related activities and
monitor the health status of the population, and be the go-to place for residents
with public health related concerns.”
The Hour Glass Foundation was formed in 1997 for the purpose of "Enabling
informed growth management decision-making for Lancaster County."
Manheim Township Commissioners Hear Testimony Regarding Crossings Plan
In one of a number of ongoing public hearings, the Manheim Township
Commissioners heard four hours of testimony Thursday night, including complaints from
residents adjacent to the proposed Conestoga Crossings shopping center, and
cross-examination of a consultant hired to review the traffic study.
In what was essentially a legal proceeding, Harrisburg attorney Bill Cluck
called witnesses to testify concerning the feasibility of the proposed
development. Cluck made headlines last month when the Commissioners refused to
accept testimony from his coalition of anonymous clients, "Lancaster for Smart
Growth," on the grounds that they do not constitute a bona fide organization.
Attorneys for the High Real Estate Group then had the opportunity to
John Nawt, a consultant with GAI, called by Mr. Cluck as an expert witness
on traffic engineering, responded to questioning from High Group attorney
Caroline Hoffer regarding specific points in his previously-submitted written
Nawt stressed that the Crossings shopping center "cannot open until the
bridge and road developments are substantially completed" under current township
ordinances and spoke of the need for comparing "current-year traffic
conditions" to "opening-year traffic conditions" in order to get it right.
He also criticized the two High-Group-commissioned Traffic Planning &
Design, Inc. (TPD) traffic studies for failing to address "right-of-way" issues
associated with the proposed traffic modifications.
At one point, High Group attorney Caroline Hoffer forced Nawt to admit that
the current land use ordinance does indeed permit the construction of office
buildings, contrary to what he had asserted earlier in the night.
Two previously-anonymous residents Mr. Cluck called to testify were Mike
Stephenson and Dori Dianna, who live together at 1101 Farmingdale Road across
the Conestoga Creek from the proposed site.
The couple have owned the 3-acre tract of land for 16 years and enjoy the
peace and quiet of their property. "It's secluded, it's quiet, other than route
30 traffic, and I have no neighbors," Dianna said. "I like the outdoors and
I enjoy the wildlife and just the privacy."
She also indicated that the Creek is prone to flooding, recalling an
instance in June of 2000 when the water level rose to "within 30 feet" of her
residence. "The water table also sometimes rises and floods my basement," she said.
Asked by her attorney, Mr. Cluck, about how the development might affect her
quality of life, Dianna indicated that there are already traffic delays of
up to 15 minutes associated with the railroad crossing on the southern end of
Farmingdale between Oreville Road and Wickersham Lane and said, "I can't
imagine all that increased traffic on Farmingdale. There would definitely be an
increase in accidents."
Some of these accidents, she said, end up in her front yard.
She also listed noise, trash, and pollution as concerns. She concluded by
saying, "I don't feel that the proposed shopping center is a responsible use of
Mike Stephenson echoed his partner's concerns. "We have well water," he
said. "All four houses down at the end there have well water. We're going to get
significant runoff of antifreeze and oil and things from cars that are going
to pollute our aquifer."
"Construction of a large parking garage and the lighting for it will
probably pose a large problem for us," he continued. "I think our property value
will decrease with a large parking garage adjacent our house rather than just
Asked on cross-examination by Paul Minick, an attorney for the High Group,
whether she "would like to see the property stay as it is," Dori Dianna
admitted, "That would be nice, but it's not realistic."
Carol Simpson, President of the Board of Manheim Township Commissioners
told them, "Let me assure you that we are sensitive to your concerns."
She then said, "Let me respond to your statement that this is not a
responsible use of the land. What, in your view, would constitute a responsible use
of the land?"
Dianna searched for an answer, saying, "I am not an expert, so I don't know
if I can really answer that but this is a huge project with a lot of
potential adverse effects."
No questions were asked or substantive comments made by the handful of
members of the public who attended the four-hour hearing at the Manheim Township
Municipal Office Building, Thursday night.
The next hearing is scheduled for Monday, December 17th in the same
Convention Center Bookings Anticipated
At Wednesday's Marketing and Hospitality Committee meeting of the Convention
Center Authority, Josh Nowak, local Director of Sales and Marketing for
Interstate Hotels and Resorts, reported that there have been no new signed
contracts since the October LCCCA Marketing and Hospitality Committee meeting.
However, negotiations are in an advanced stage with two separate "fraternal"
organizations, one of which is religious, both of which plan to book convention
space for the next three years.
According to Nowak, both organizations would have meetings of similar size,
each meeting of which would bring 3,000 to 4,000 people into downtown Lancaster
over a three to four day period over a weekend. Together these
organizations have the potential to generate $65,000 in exhibit hall rentals and
$700,000 in hotel room rentals over the three year period of these two pending
contracts. In addition, two other organizations have signed unofficial
"letters of intent" to book space.
Nowak also announced that pre-opening expenses were $5,450 below budget for
their most recent month, and $64,170 below budget year to date. Interstate
Hotels has been pursuing an aggressive schedule of attending convention sales
events in places like Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Atlantic
City. Mr. Nowak has also been organizing "familiarization tours" or "fam tours"
as a part of their "sales blitz," which since the project is still under
construction consists primarily of visiting potential customers, organizations,
and convention marketing events to make presentations.
Chris Barrett, President & CEO of the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and
Visitors Bureau reported that there are 21 trade shows scheduled in Lancaster
County so far for 2008, a base they hope to be able to build on.
Commentary: Hunger Leads to Bad Choices
According to a recent Associated Press article, the U S. Agriculture
Department reported that 35.5 million people went hungry for at least some
portion of last year.
What the article does not mention is a problem equally if not even more
serious. Poor people by necessity consume the worst type of diets, filling
themselves with starches and sweets to ward off hunger pains. One can
readily observe that poor people in the USA tend to be obese, not emaciated as is
the case in countries were people actually are near starvation.
A poor diet combined with being overweight undermines their health, vigor,
generates health breakdowns that are expensive to treat (often directly or
indirectly at the public's expense), and shortens life span. And poor eating
practices continue as part of life style even when adequate funds
Tragically, the bad dietary habits of the parents are passed on to their
children by what is served and the dietary example set.
Poverty costs too much to be tolerated by society. A combination of
education, moral suasion and food stamps are all part of an amelioration.
A very helpful government program is to subsidize lunches and sometimes
breakfasts served in public schools. NewsLanc is researching and will
address how well the school child feeding program is succeeding in the Lancaster
City School District in coming months.
Trashy Waste Management Statistics?
In response to a NewsLanc inquiry of Michael J. Devaney, Manager of the
City's Bureau of Solid Waste & Recycling, about the accuracy of information he
delivered at the City Council meeting yesterday, he responded as follows:
"The average number of pounds per home generated dropped drastically from 2006
to 2007. Prior to the start of the refuse and recycling, the City had nearly
4,000 units with no refuse or recycling collection and those 11,163 units were
averaging approximately 87.7 pounds of waste per week. Now, with 16,385
participating households we have seen the average pounds of waste generated
weekly drop to 41 pounds, or a 54% improvement. A single hauler refuse
collection system lends itself to more accurate data collection."
NewsLanc cautions readers that these figures may not compare 'apples with
apples' or are based on questionable data. It is improbable that citizen
residents would generate 46% less trash in 2007 than in 2006 regardless of who
was doing the hauling.
Recorder of Deeds Blasts Election Handling
At the Commissioners' public meeting Wednesday morning, County Recorder of
Deeds Steve McDonald criticized the County's handling of last week's elections.
At issue were comments made by County Director of Elections Mary Stehman to
the Sunday News, in which she acknowledged problems with many voters having
cast two votes for the same candidate on the three-page ballot. Stehman said
that the County Elections Board is in consultation with Hart, the manufacturer
of the voting machines, to help resolve these issues.
"The 'Help America Vote Act' directed us to educate the public about
elections and how to vote," McDonald pointed out. He likened Stehman's comments to
those of a losing football coach who says, "Although we came in with a plan,
we really didn't implement it well" as if such issues were unanticipated.
"There was no education, no speakers bureau, no explanation on the county
website, no explanation of what the public should expect when they got to the
polling place. We would have expected that, if there was going to be potential
confusion with the ballot, that we would have had more education and
assistance out there," he continued. "The director's comments particularly
concern me because there was a clear identification of what would happen, but no
actions to account for these issues."
Commissioner Molly Henderson noted that the ballot was perhaps "cumbersome"
for many because of its length. Commissioner Sharon Nelson said that she did
not personally witness any voting problems, but understands how the ballot
could have been "very confusing." Nelson went on to say, "The training for poll
workers is also very complex and, for those volunteers who do not attend
training, I'm amazed that they are able to understand what's going on."
County Appoints New Director of Human Resources
At their weekly public meeting Wednesday morning, the County Commissioners
voted to hire Jane E'Del as Director of Human Resources for the County of
Lancaster effective November 19th, 2007 with an annual salary of $87,500.
The County screened 20 candidates from a nationwide search, interviewed four
candidates, and recommended two highly qualified candidates to the
Commissioners. Ms. E'Del was selected for her education and experience.
Born and raised in Lancaster, she holds a Master's degree in Human Resource
Management from Saint Francis of Loretto University and is an adjunct
instructor in Human Resource Management at that institution. She has twenty years of
business experience, for the past three of which she served as Director of
Human Resources for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. She also
holds a certification in Equal Opportunity Employment Counseling.
Ms. E'Del will replace current part-time Acting Director of Human Resources,
Neither Intell or NewsLanc Reports on Trash Add Up
According to the Nov. 14th Intelligencer Journal report on the City Council
meeting the evening earlier: "The City saw a 54 percent decrease in the amount
of refuse collected from January to June of this year compared with numbers
from 2006, Michael Devaney, manager of the city's Bureau of Solid Waste &
Recycling, said during a report to City Council. For the same time period, the
city saw a 68 percent increase in the number of households that participate in
NewsLanc's reporter noted similar statistics.
But NewsLanc's editor finds it highly improbably that city folk are
discarding 46% less trash than last year. Clearly something else is involved.
Therefore NewsLanc will follow up with the Bureau of Solid Waste & Recycling to find out what actually has occurred and bring accurate information to its
Are Convention Center and Hotel Bonds Junk?
If a municipality issues a bond and the bonds trade in the market place and
have a total face value of $20 million, what is the market value of these
[convention center and hotel] bonds? I believe they may be JUNK!!!!
The convention center and hotel bonds would indeed be junk bonds were they
not guaranteed by Wachovia Bank for five years. As a result of Wachovia's
guarantee, the bonds are rated AA and constantly resold at then-prevailing
interest rates for loans of only two week duration. (Such bonds are often called
"low floaters.") Since interest rates for very short terms are historically
much lower than interest rates for a year or more, this results in considerable
savings. "Swaps" are used to prevent a large swing in interest rates
either up or down for the bonds issued for the convention center and the hotel.
For the bond guarantees, Wachovia annually is paid slightly less than 1% of
the amount of outstanding debt.
At the end of five years, the LCCCA and Penn Square Partners will either
have to find another creditworthy source to take over the guarantee of their
respective bonds, or Wachovia will need to renew its guarantee, or, if neither
is available, Wachovia would have to buy up all the bonds. While this seems
like an innocuous undertaking for so large and apparently solvent an
institution, there is no way to predict for certain the nature of the economy and the
credit market five years hence.
For example, the current financial strains triggered by sub-prime lending
has caused Wachovia to write off billions in losses. We are currently in the
midst of a relatively silent but arguably the most serious fiscal crisis in
decades, perhaps since the Great Depression. One indication is the fall of the
dollar over the past several years from about $0.80 to the EURO to the
recent $1.47 to the EURO.
If the convention center and the hotel are performing poorly, this will
further complicate matters. No other institution may be willing to guarantee the
debt and Wachovia would be under pressure from its bank examiners to
foreclose or set aside large reserves to cover potential future losses.
LCCCA Reports to City Council re Minority Hiring
The extent of minority-owned contractor investment in the Convention Center
Project was among the topics discussed at Tuesday night's Lancaster City
Convention Center Authority Chairman Art Morris reported $10.6 million in
"Minorities-Owned Business Enterprises" (MBE) and $5.7 million in "Women-Owned
Business Enterprises" (WBE) contract bids awarded.
He reiterated that the authority "does not set goals for workforce
participation" but merely for MBE & WBE inclusion. "We do not track total new
In response to a question from City Council President Julianne Dickson,
however, Morris said that of all workers at the construction site, "40% are women
Morris stressed that "while the Convention Center Authority is able to
facilitate the process, we do not have any financial resources available to commit
to job training." "Success of such a program," he continued, "will rely on
MBE and WBE organizations to identify candidates."
The General Manager of the Hotel and Convention Center, to be hired by the
Authority in December, will be in charge of hiring decisions and will be "a
very important person," according to Morris.
City resident Randolph Carney asked Mr. Morris if he had a number or
percentage of full-time jobs that will be available upon the opening of the
Convention center, stressing the need for a livable wage. Morris responded that he
does not have those numbers at this time.
County to Apply for Federal Historical Preservation Funds
The County Commissioners are expected to vote Wednesday on a resolution
introduced by Scott Standish, Director of Long Range and Heritage Planning for
the Lancaster County Planning Commission, which seeks to designate the County
as a "Preserve America" Community.
The "Preserve America" program was introduced by Executive Order of
President Bush on March 3, 2003. It directs federal agencies to coordinate with and
assist state, local and private-sector entities to promote heritage
awareness, responsible economic development, and tourism.
"What this program does is bring recognition to those who are doing their
part to preserve our heritage," explained Standish.
Whether Pro-Life or Pro-Choice, all are disturbed about the following:
"The United States ranks near the bottom for infant survival rates among
modernized nations. A Save the Children report last year placed the United
States ahead of only Latvia, and tied with Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia." -
In 2008, NewsLanc plans to write about health care in Lancaster. Looking at
a single region will provide visitors with insights into what is taking
place here at home and the broader issue of national health policy.
Hopefully we will spark a constructive debate among NewsLanc viewers.
Wachovia Bank Experiences Huge Losses
According to published reports, Wachovia Bank, the guarantor of the
Convention Center / Hotel Project bonds, experienced a loss in the value of its
mortgage-related securities of $1.1 billion last month. This was in addition to
writing down $1.3 billion for the third quarter of the year. And, as is the
situation with many financial institutions impacted by the subprime
mortgage implosion, the extent of current and future losses remains indeterminate.
Better timing could not have been found for the sale of Project bonds.
Interest rates were at a low, lenders were throwing money around, and it was just
before the worst institutional financial crisis in the past decades became
Sometimes the bad guys get lucky!
LETTER: County Office Building a "Wise Investment"
The Lancaster Sunday News published on November 11, 2007 carried a front
page article titled, "Money pit on North Queen."
The Lancaster Newspapers are ALREADY making excuses for Lehman and Martin
The new County Commissioners have not yet even taken office, and have not
yet had a chance to look at the numbers. Lehman and Martin and Stuckey have
NO IDEA if selling 150 N. Queen St. is feasible or not.
The 150 N. Queen St. building is well over 30 years old, and was desperately
in need of major renovations. The previous owner had made no indication that
he planned to bring the building into compliance with Lancaster City code
and safety standards.
Then there is the issue of renting vs. purchasing. The previous owner would
have had to dramatically increase the rent, perhaps even double it, if he
had paid to renovate the building so it would pass Lancaster City code
inspections. The inevitably much higher rent easily justifies the County's
purchase of the building instead of renting.
As for the purchase price: the previous owner was paid the assessed value
for the building. *Can you imagine the headlines if County Commissioners
Shaub, Henderson, and Shellenberger had paid over TWICE the amount that the
building was assessed for?*
The truth is, the County purchase of 150 N. Queen St. will prove to be a
wise investment long before the terms of County Commissioners-elect Lehman
and Martin and Stuckey have expired.
LETTER: Sunday News "Fatherly Advice" to Commissioners-Elect
In his editorial column published on November 11, 2007 (not available
online), Sunday News editor Marv Adams gives some fatherly advice to County
Commissioners-elect Lehman, Martin, and Stuckey. It is obvious that Marv
Adams expects them to be quiet and compliant.
Lancaster County faces major challenges over the next four years. The move
of County offices must be completed, and additional court rooms must be
built. The ultimate fate of Sunnyside will likely be decided. Funding for
farmland preservation will be examined, likely to be cut significantly. And
the population of Lancaster County will exceed half a million.
The final report of the "Government Study Commission" will be made public in
a matter of months. Much effort will be made to convince the public to adopt
whatever is proposed. The next election for County Commissioner will likely
look very different than the election of 2007. And Craig Lehman may very
well be the last Democrat to ever be seated as a Lancaster County
Four years from now, the convention center will have been open for two and
one half years, assuming the current schedule is achievable. By then, the
amount of economic development generated by the project should be at least
partially known. The final cost of constructing the facility will be public
knowledge, and some idea of the operational losses of the convention center
will be known.
Will Lehman and Martin and Stuckey raise taxes to keep the convention center
from closing, and violate their campaign promises? How will Lehman and
Martin and Stuckey fund other County programs and initiatives? Will Lehman
and Martin and Stuckey freeze or even shrink the size of County government?
Or, will they follow in the footsteps of their spiritual forebears, former
County Commissioners Paul Thibault, Terry Kauffman, and Ron Ford, and
continue to increase County spending much faster than the rate of inflation?
But most important of all:
What will Marv Adams - or his successor - be writing about Commissioners
Lehman and Martin and Stuckey two, three, and four years from now?
My prediction is that as long as Lehman and Martin and Stuckey toe the line
drawn by Marv Adams (or his successor), they will be commended and praised.
But if Lehman or Martin or Stuckey start asking hard questions, they will be
treated every bit as slanderously as Henderson and Shellenberger have been.
Just wait and see.
"Peace and Quiet" or License to Steal?
In its editorial of Nov. 11th, the Sunday News interprets the recent
elections as a sign that "Maybe what voters really want is peace and quiet."
It goes on to say "...the electorate seems to be sending a message that
people are tired of upheaval and dissension." Later it states: "Find a way
to rebuild consensus .... Rebuild shattered morale among county
employees .... Answer tough questions when they come .... Show principle
Penultimately it proclaims: "The best way to rebuild [broken trust with
the voters] is by transparency and accountability."
NewsLanc sadly agrees that the voters want peace and quiet. But
commissioner acquiescence to The Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. (LNP), The High Group
and others who use their power to rip off the taxpayers was hardly in voters'
The morale at the three newspapers due to its years of unethical
reporting on behalf of their parent company interests requires more rebuilding than
do that of county employees. With the unlamented resignation of commissioner
Pete Shaub, relative peace descended on the county government.
Concerning answering tough questions, when will our three newspapers
start asking them....such as why is Penn Square Partners (a/k/a Penn Square
Pigs) receiving half of the proceeds for the Naming Rights to the publicly owned
Convention Center when their only investment is in the hotel?
As for transparency, note that the Sunday News explicitly damns coroner
Dr. Gary Kirchner for "refusing to file his records with the prothonotary"
and for "guinea pigs, for heaven's sake." But it makes no mention of
reporters from the Intelligencer Journal illegally obtaining information from
Kirchner, for which they were accused of a crime by state authorities. Some
Let the Sunday News, the Intelligencer Journal and the New Era look into
the mirror to see who really lacked "principles." Shellenberger and
Henderson sacrificed themselves for the public good in resisting taxpayer
guarantees of debt for the Convention Center Project. The newspapers ran
interference for a Convention Center Authority under the sway of Penn Square
(a/k/a...) and permitted what was supposed to be a $70 million project half
funded by private enterprise to swell to what now will likely reach $200
million almost totally at taxpayer expense and risk.
Let editors Marv Adams and Gil Smart dare to investigate their own
house. Then we will see a display of principles ... but it will be very brief, for sure.
"People in Glass Houses...."
A sound editorial in the Nov. 10 Intelligencer Journal turns ironic
when it concludes as follows: "It also shows that there's been no
fundamental change in Washington in that those with the most money usually can buy
legislation they want."
Legislation benefiting the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. and The High Group
(AKA Penn Square Partners) certainly has established that the same holds
true for Harrisburg!
Thoughts Concerning the Consolidation of the Saturday Intell and
1) Until recently, the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. (LNP) had done a great
job in keeping three papers viable while the trend in the rest of the country
has been otherwise. (The once mighty afternoon Philadelphia Bulletin fell
about 30 years ago.) A radio executive pointed out recently that newspapers are
growing thinner due to a drop in advertisements. And over the last couple
of years LNP's biased conduct - especially the New Era - has offended many
of its readers in peripheral areas where they can choose to take the Reading,
Harrisburg, York, Chester or Philadelphia papers. And then
there are those who are turning exclusively to the Internet. Furthermore,
discount coupons that have enabled the expensive Sunday News to have a
circulation larger than the combined Intell and
New Era can now be downloaded even
more readily than one can cut them out. In time, NewsLanc can help to
facilitate the process through links.
2) What we are seeing in Lancaster newspaper partisanship is not
atypical of journalism throughout the history of our country. However, what is
different is the participation of the monopoly newspapers in what many consider
a gigantic rip off of the taxpayers (the convention center / hotel project),
its continuing chronyism on behalf of its partner The High Group, and its
potential for future raids on the public treasury and other ethical abuses. In
this LNP has broken new ground. And for this NewsLanc and others must hold
it fully responsible.
3) With proper leadership people who are more committed to the job
than to themselves NewsLanc will rival LNP in ten years and possibly
supplant it in twenty. Everything is shifting to the Internet and there will be
still further alternatives available, all at the expense of the newspapers which
face ever increasing costs of paper, wages, and circulation. In five to ten
years LNP may cease to be profitable and, in time, may run big
losses . . . provided NewsLanc remains, builds an organization with perhaps ten
seizes classified and other forms of advertisements, develops an extensive
readership list (NewsLanc can send the "paper," we don't need to deliver it nor
will our readers need to come to us), and wins the confidence of countians.
The times are propitious and NewsLanc has the vision and the money.
The question is will it be able to attract dedicated, competent journalists?
Progress Continues at Convention Center Site
At their November 8th Facilities Programming Committee meeting, the members
of that Committee received an update on construction progress at the
convention center site from Tom Smithgall of High Associates and Tim Sullivan of
Reynolds Construction Management.
"The underground plumbing is now essentially installed," reported Sullivan.
"We have made progress on the electrical work, 60% of bowstring trusses are
now erected, and the installation of a large grease trap near the exhibit dock
loading street area is complete."
Smithgall reported progress on utility connections, including water. One
issue that remains is installing gas. "The nearest gas hookup is in front of
Trinity Lutheran Church on South Duke Street and we'll need to run an extension
over to the site," he explained.
Present on the Facilities Programming Committee Thursday night was Kevin
Fry, who was appointed by the Commissioners to the Convention Center Authority
Board late last month. Fry listened attentively to the reports and asked
Sullivan if he could schedule a tour of the construction site.
"New Era . . . Going, Going, Gone?"
A posting at 5thEstate.com reports
that top executives of Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. conducted two meetings with
staff at the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc.'s office on Thursday, Nov. 8, to
discuss a drop in circulation for both the New Era and the Sunday News, the resulting
revenue problems, and the lay-off of five New Era employees. The article
also states that Intelligencer Journal circulation is slightly up.
Separately, a regional manager for a radio chain informed
in general, revenue of radio stations and newspapers has been heavily
impacted as the result of advertisers deserting to the Internet.
Downtown "Trolley" Bus Carries Only 96 Passengers Daily
According to a spokesperson for the Red Rose Transit Authority, the trolley
bus carries 2,900 passengers a month. That comes to 96 daily and, based on
the 12 hour daily schedule, an average of about 8 an hour.
Businesses normally expand and upgrade when there is strong demand for their
product and services.
Does it seem logical to spend $14 million of taxpayer money to bring back
trolley cars and to subsidize the service for upwards of $300,000 a year when
there is so little indication of demand?
At the present ridership rate of 34,800 per year, $300,000 annually would
subsidize each ride by over $8!!!
Wouldn't it make business sense to first publicize the bus trolley loop and
provide it free or for fifty cents instead of the current $1.35 to determine
how much demand exists?
What History Teaches Us
In "American Creation," Pulitzer Prize winning author Joseph J. Ellis
describes how, during the final four years of the War of Independence, George
Washington deployed most of his troops to create a line separating the
English forces from the bulk of the population in order to prevent the colonists
from going over to the Tory cause. Support had ebbed and flowed for the
American cause depending upon whose troops were nearby.
Ellis points out that by 1778, the majority of the people simply wanted
the war to end so they could get on with business and a normal way of life.
So much for "freedom fighters!"
With this in mind, one can better understand the lack of attention most
of the population of Lancaster showed in selecting commissioners to the
outrages concerning the convention center / hotel project. If people are not
willing to support efforts to free them from foreign oppression, how likely are
they to get riled up over the misconduct of the local monopoly newspapers and
the power elite?
Martin, Stuckey, Lehman Elected as Commissioners;
Totaro Leads Five Republicans to Judge Victories
There is an old saying which must be reverberating for Molly Henderson
this day after election: "Don't get in a p---ing contest with a skunk," the
skunk in this case being the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. Plucky Molly
went down to defeat with 16,872 votes vs. fellow Democrat Craig Lehman's
Meanwhile cross-filed Donald Totaro led all Common Pleas Judge
Candidates with a whopping 52,124 votes, vs. 37,641 for Margaret Miller with the four
other Republican candidates just slightly behind.
Nelson Polite, Jr., Joe Morales and Pat Coller, all Democrats, swept the
Lancaster City Council elections.
A triumphant Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray who led the campaign in the
Democratic party against incumbent commissioner Henderson told a NewsLanc
reporter: "It's a good night for Democrats, whether you're from the city or the
After his mugging by the dragged out grand jury investigation and
District Attorney Totaro's and the newspapers' distortions of its findings,
Commissioner Dick Shellenberger surveyed the political landscape and declined to
stand for reelection. Henderson fought the good battle but, despite an
expensive media campaign and an exhausting schedule of pressing the flesh, she was
unable to overcome Totaro's grand jury witch hunt and the way its findings had
been portrayed in the monopoly Lancaster newspapers.
NewsLanc wishes the victors well. But we will be watching!
Editorial: New Era Election Day Editorial Sinks to New Low
Disregarding the custom of newspapers not to editorialize about candidates on election day, New Era Editor-in-Chief Ernie Schreiber turned history upside down with the following distortion: "Voters have a chance today to chart a new course for the county commissioners' office, one based on fiscal responsibility and conservative Lancaster County values that were somehow lost the last time around."
"Fiscal responsibility?" Wasn't opposing a county guarantee of convention center bonds and the sale of Conestoga View Nursing Home the height of conservative fiscal responsibility? George Bush ran on privatization and has practiced it to what many consider an excess over the past six years.
"Lost the last time around?" Dick Shellenberger has been Mr. Social Conservative throughout his term.
"Conservative Lancaster County values?" What could be more conservative than farmland preservation and resisting tax guarantees of bonds for a convention center / hotel project that has exploded in cost over the past few years from $70 million to close to $200 million?
This was Schreiber's last shot at plucky Molly Henderson. He saved his salvo for election day. But that's Schreiber's way. As NewsLanc stated some months ago, the sooner the monopoly newspapers get rid of mean-spirited Schreiber, the better. His exit would be a sign of a desire to return to traditional unbiased journalism.
New Era Again Puts Headlines Ahead of Democracy
Before the morning of election day was over (11:38am to be precise), the
New Era was reporting the following:
"LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. - Republicans Scott Martin and Dennis Stuckey grabbed convincing but unsurprising leads in the race for Lancaster County commissioner, a New Era survey of early-morning voters found.
"And for the third seat, historically held by a member of the minority party in this solidly GOP county, Democrat Craig Lehman was charging ahead of both incumbent Democrat Molly Henderson and independent candidate Jere Swarr, the informal survey found."
Such reporting, especially as it applies to candidate Molly Henderson, is extremely prejudicial to candidates running behind in a tight race. It discourages their supporters to go to the polls.
The sampling was only of 131 voters. Certainly the time of day and the location of the polling would tend to skew the results. Also this is a statistically insufficient sampling.
The New Era knows that. It calls this an "informal poll." If it isn't legitimate, why publish it?
So what is the purpose? To sell newspapers at the expense of democracy? To undermine the chances of incumbent Commissioner Henderson?
NewsLanc's president Robert Field brought the unfairness of such reporting to the attention of New Era Editor-In-Chief Ernie Schreiber after the 2006 elections. He dismissed the complaints out of hand.
Commission Solicits Public Input for Long-Term Transportation Plan
In their first of three initial public forums Monday night, the Lancaster
County Planning Commission provided attendees with a brief overview of their
mission and obtained feedback from nearly every audience member in the room.
"The question is, What are the transportation issues that need to be
addressed today to prepare for the next 25 years?" explained consultant Debbie
Thompson of Strategy Solutions.
The County's Long Range Transportation Plan was last updated four years ago.
"I think one of the weaknesses of the current plan is that it does not have
a strong implementation component," Brian Funkhouser, a consultant with the
Harrisburg-based Gannett Flemming group, said to the audience. "PENNDOT and
others need to be aware of what the plan goals are and what their role is in
Certainly the most innovative and productive part of the evening came when
the approximately 35 attendees of last night's forum at Southern Market Center
were asked to respond to a number of questions about transportation
priorities using a wireless response device similar to that used in many TV game
The first question was a demographic one. By gathering their wireless keypad
responses, the consultants were able to report that, at the time the
question was asked, 11 attendees were from the city, 13 from the suburbs, and 6 from
elsewhere in the County.
Out of some 40 categories audience members were asked to rank in importance,
the leading concerns were:
Other concerns explicitly raised by attendees included parking at
Lancaster's Amtrak Station, promoting shuttle service in downtown Lancaster, and
implementing the Lancaster Streetcar Initiative.
Transportation investments align with land use planning
Transit links to employment centers
Public transportation - and -
Funkhouser presented figures that echoed the concerns of the public. "10% of
households in the county do not have access to a vehicle and that number is
25% for city households." He also pointed out, "The number of vehicles on
County roads has nearly doubled in the past 25 years, so if it seems like there
are more cars out on the road, it's because there are."
Additional public forums will be held Wednesday, November 7th at Manheim
Central High School, and Tuesday, November 13th at the Quarryville Public
Library. The times for both forums are 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
"These public forums are important because we get some feedback and, quite frankly,
some validation," said Planning Commission member Ray Agostino, who is also
the Manager of East Lampeter Township.
Updates on the plan, including statistics on audience responses, are to be
posted on the
Any individual with comments or questions for the Commission is strongly
encouraged to contact
David Royer, Director of Transportation Planning for the County of Lancaster.
The Planning Commission hopes to have the Long Range Transportation Plan
drafted by June 2008.
NOV. 6 IS ELECTION DAY!
Tomorrow, Tuesday, November 6th, is election day.
Polls are open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. To view a list of polling places,
In addition to the County Commissioners race and the judicial elections both statewide and locally, there are candidates running for local offices in your area. To find out who is on the ballot,
click here for a list of candidates.
Need additional help determining who's who statewide and countywide? See this
Voters Guide compiled by the League of Women Voters.
Also don't forget to check our website for the news and commentary on the candidates that you won't read in the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers!
You may visit NewsLanc.com for election results at 11:15 pm on Tuesday and again at 7:15 a.m. on Wednesday. You can find the latest results for all races at all times at
the County's website.
Editorial: Lancaster Newspapers Played Fair; NewsLanc and Others Helped
In anticipation that the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers would continue the
bias, distortions and mendacity representative of their coverage of the
convention center / hotel project coverage and other matters, NewsLanc established a
"Molly Watch" to point out such abuses of the public trust.
Guess what? We never wrote about a single abuse.
We are very grateful that in some ways the newspapers are beginning to
return to honorable journalism now that their owners' interests are no longer so
blatantly at stake. Yes, there are exceptions, such as puff pieces to further
the rezoning of The High Group's proposed "Conestoga Commons Shopping
And none of the editors yet feel at liberty to mention, let alone
editorialize, against the highway robbery of Lancaster Square Partners (a/k/a
"Lancaster Square Pigs") mesmerizing the compliant Ted Darcus and David Hixson into
agreeing to pay half of the proceeds from Naming Rights to the Partners,
although Penn Square Partners have no investment or ownership in the convention
center portion of the project. If editors and reporters were allowed to write
about this usurpation of perhaps $1.5 million, they would kick Penn Square
Partners and its parent companies' posteriors from here to Sunday.
NewsLanc and other local critical web sites deserve credit for the partial
reform of the Lancaster Newspapers. "Speaking truth to power" websites which
attract an estimated thousand visitors a week, newsletters that reach over a
thousand downtown shoppers, and radio spots that talk to 80,000 people three
times each once or twice a month have shined a bright light on media abuses.
Hopefully Lancaster is entering an era whereby an alternative press will
take hold on the Internet to the benefit of all the local media and certainly
Looking at Lancaster, Pennsylvania on Dick Shellenberger
For a short but accurate summary of the honorable, albeit brief,
political career of Commissioner Dick Shellenberger, NewsLanc recommends you read
"Moral individuals need not apply" posted at
the Looking At Lancaster blog.
It starts: "The year 2003 was an election year, with the biggest local
race being for the three Lancaster County Commissioners. 2003 was also a year
when 'morality' was the major campaign issue, which in Lancaster County means
'conservative Christian'. Consequently, when the local Republican committee
went looking for candidates for County Commissioner, a conservative Christian
was high on their priority list."
Is Craig Lehman the Convention Center Candidate?
An article in the Nov. 3rd New Era headed "Crossover cash fuels Demos in
commissioner race" discloses that major money behind commissioner candidate
Craig Lehman's campaign comes from those earning millions from the convention
center / hotel project.
According to the New Era, "Lehman, in turn, cashed in on
such as S. Dale High, the owner of High Construction, which is responsible for
building the downtown center, and James Pickard, who once chaired the
Convention Center Authority Board.
"Lehman also garnered financial help from former county administrator Tim
Kirchner, a registered Republican who now works for Stevens & Lee, the legal
firm that represented the
Convention Center Authority
in its lawsuits against
Election Day Tuesday will determine whether Craig Lehman or convention
center critic Molly Henderson will be the minority commissioner.
Editorial: RE-ELECT "Plucky" Molly Henderson
Molly Henderson's career has been a profile in courage. She has stood up against vicious and baseless attacks from the most formidable and self serving of foes in order to serve the best interests of the citizenry and taxpayers.
How many would have had the integrity and courage to resist the self serving monopoly Lancaster Newspapers and The High Group by opposing taxpayer guarantees of the $200 million convention center / hotel project?
The Chamber of Commerce and business interests favored construction of the Rt. 23 Corridor through the heart of county farmland, but she was one of the first officials to oppose it.
She acknowledged that the public should have been given more time to provide input pertaining to the proposed sale of Conestoga View and publicly apologized. The sale itself was unpopular in some quarters but has proven beneficial to patients, staff and tax payers alike.
"Plucky" Molly has also led in bringing about farmland preservation, urban enhancement grants for our towns and the city, the Clipper Stadium, the Pennsylvania Academy of Music’s new building, safety training, park enhancements, a County Comprehensive Plan, the Youth Intervention Center, and periodic evening commissioner meetings.
She stood up for us. Isn't it time we stand up for her?
Five Reasons to VOTE NO on Donald Totaro for Judge
When reporters from the Intelligencer Journal were given immunity from prosecution concerning illegal access to records in exchange for testimony, District Attorney Donald Totaro failed to investigate their editors.
When three members of the Convention Center Authority asked him to investigate millions of dollars of unsubstantiated payments, he claimed that the FBI had already investigated the matter. The FBI never contacted the parties.
When Assistant U. S. Prosecutor Jonathan Luna was murdered in Lancaster County and the FBI itself was implicated, Totaro declined to investigate.
When a convicted rapist confessed to crimes for which Ted Dubbs had spent five years in prison, Totaro took almost a year before sending a detective to investigate so that Dubbs could be set free.
Totaro conducted a year long political witch hunt of the county commissioners, intimidating them to accept a plea bargain for violations of the Sunshine Act which the actual subsequent grand jury report did not substantiate.
City Council Candidates Make Final Pitches to the Public
The six candidates for Lancaster City Council participated in a two-hour
debate at Southern Market Center on Thursday night.
The topics of discussion included stimulating downtown business, city
traffic, helping children in poor living situations, preservation of downtown
buildings, animal cruelty, and helping nonprofits serve the residents of
Perhaps the most exciting moment of the night came when Joe Morales,
Democratic candidate for City Council, responded to Republican candidate Kathleen
Harrison's complaint on the issue of nonprofits and social services, that "too
much federal funding is going to areas like Pittsburgh and Harrisburg" by
firing back, "Our money is not going to Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. Our money is
going to Iraq. The fact is that the federal government is not in a position
to be giving the money that they once did." This drew murmurs of agreement
from members of the audience.
On this issue of nonprofits and social services, Republican candidates Brian
Reynolds and R. B. Campbell both asserted that City Council's role is, in
Campbell's words, "Communication and coordination."
Another issue on which Campbell and Reynolds both largely agreed was that of
downtown business revitalization. "We have a large pool of people just
outside the city, but they don't come in," said Reynolds.
Campbell insisted that it only makes sense for developers to build and for
existing stores to stay open later if they are "able to project that the
demand will be there in order to make it profitable to them."
Morales disagreed. "I think that this is a chicken and egg problem," he
explained. "You're waiting for demand to stay open later. I think it's the other
way around. If you keep them open longer, people will come."
Democratic candidate Pat Coller looked to the opening of the Hotel and
Convention Center, saying "Since the Convention Center and Hotel is on the way,
every block that I walk in that area I find new places opening up."
On the issue of city roads, Reynolds said, "We should look outside the city"
for parking. He also addressed the issue of large trucks using city streets,
saying "Maybe we could contact people like Rand McNally or MapQuest to try
to block city streets from their driving directions." Campbell and Harrison
suggested that the city needs to produce new, more detailed and visually
Incumbent President of City Council, Nelson Polite, agreed with Reynolds,
saying "I would search for and encourage the use of satellite parking at or
near the entrance to our city at a reasonable cost and encourage city residents,
especially seniors, to use alternative modes of transportation, including
Asked by moderator Lauren Fuller how the City can help children in
substandard living conditions, R.B. Campbell said, "I'm a strong supporter of rental
housing" and urged, "It's long overdue for rental properties to be
Joe Morales repeatedly cast himself as an optimist, saying on this issue,
"It takes a community but I think there's a lot more going right than going
Democratic Candidate Pat Coller asserted a link between poverty and crime,
while Brian Reynolds said that it is important for kids to learn vocational
skills as part of their education.
Nelson Polite, echoing Campbell's point, pledged that housing will be
inspected on a regular basis as opposed to merely on a "complaint basis."
All of the candidates agreed that preservation of historic downtown
properties is an important objective and that developers need to find responsible
ways of renovating such properties, but all of the candidates likewise insisted
that the City has learned its lesson since the ill-conceived Urban Renewal
projects of the 1960s.
In their opening and closing remarks, Brian Reynolds stressed his 16 years
of business experience, Kathleen Harrison pledged accountability to the
citizens and claimed that it is time to balance the Democratic-controlled City
Council with Republican voices, R. B. Campbell stressed his commitment and
nonpartisanship, Joe Morales pointed to his soon-to-be-completed Masters Degree in
Public Administration, Pat Coller asserted that the Democratic candidates care
about the voters, and Incumbent Nelson Polite stressed his experience as a
The event, which attracted approximately 40 attendees, was hosted by the
League of Humane Voters of Central Pennsylvania.
Results of Nov. 6 Election
According to the Lancaster Count Board of Elections, results will be
posted within twenty minutes of receipt throughout the evening of Tuesday,
November 6, and possibly into the early morning hours, on
the County's website.
Craig Lehman's Strange Answer
As reported by the New Era on Oct. 31st, the following question was posed to
all candidates for the positions of county commissioner:
New Era: The current board of commissioners has fought a long legal battle
to withdraw county government from the public-private partnership behind the
county convention center. What do you see as the role of county government
regarding that project?
Craig Lehman: "I do not support any additional public funding for
construction and any
shortfall must come from private sources, not from Lancaster County
Isn't Lehman aware that the convention center has no private investors? It
is totally owned by the Convention Center Authority and funded with public
funds, bond guarantees and the use of first revenues to pay debt service. So
who are the "private sources" to whom he is referring?
County Selects Farmingdale Rd Site for $5M Morgue and Forensic Center
At their weekly public meeting Wednesday, the County Commissioners voted
unanimously to select 821 Farmingdale Road in East Hempfield Township as the
future home of the planned County Morgue and Forensic Center.
The tract of land is currently owned by the Lancaster County Solid Waste
Management Authority, which has agreed to sell it to the County for $1.
According to County Engineer David McCudden, the proposed 12,000 square-foot
facility would cost approximately $5 million. Asked by Bill Bonanno of Rapho
Township how the County plans to pay the cost, Commission Chair Dick Shellenberger
said, "It will be paid for with bonds. There is no other pot of money that I know
All three of the Commissioners agreed that the site is in good proximity to major
traffic arteries and that the potential of using some of the land between
Farmingdale Road and Good Drive for a County Park would be a wonderful thing.
"The Solid Waste Authority has been very generous," said Shellenberger. "That they
allowed us to own the property rather than rent was, I think, just a blessing."
It remains to be seen how the residents of East Hempfield will react to the
County’s move. Although County Engineer David McCudden indicated that he has held
"cursory consultation with the Township Manager and Township Planner," he
acknowledged that zoning issues and other procedural hurdles remain.
Construction of the morgue and forensic center is slated to begin in the fall of
Commissioners Keeping Faith With LCCCA
At the County Commissioners' Tuesday workshop meeting, Chairman Dick Shellenberger said they are still reviewing the Convention Center Authority's request that the commissioners voluntarily agree to changes to the agreement of Oct. 16.
Two items of concern deal with the right of commissioners to continue to make appointments to the board during pending litigation, and division of legal costs.
Donald LeFever, County solicitor, explained: "Their original suit as filed requested an injunction to prevent the County from making any other appointments to the Convention Center Authority during pending litigation. "
Shellenberger said: "The agreement has to be re-worked . We're working on it." Shellenberger also indicated that the Commissioners asked their special counsel on Friday to withdraw the county's appeal.
Whether the Appeal can be withdrawn before a decision is uncertain since April Koppenhaver, who joined the Commissioners' appeal, is not party to the settlement between the Commissioners and the Authority.
Deb Hall Steps Down from LCCCA Board; Commissioners Appoint Kevin Fry
In a unanimous vote during their weekly worksession Tuesday, the County
Commissioners appointed Kevin Fry to replace Deb Hall on the Lancaster County
Convention Center Authority Board of Directors. Commissioner Nelson made clear
that Hall had requested to be removed "for personal reasons."
Fry, the Commissioners indicated, is a commercial real estate agent with extensive
experience in economic planning, real estate, sales, construction oversight and
"This is not a new name," said Commissioner Nelson. "He has been vetted in front
of the public."
No objections were raised to the appointment. Commission Chairman Dick
Shellenberger said, "I think his credentials are there and I'm glad we're
bringing someone with Mr. Fry's experience onboard."
Commissioner Molly Henderson said, "I certainly appreciate Mr. Fry's willingness
to come onboard and serve" and also noted that she appreciates Deb Hall's service
as a member of the Board.
Fry's appointment extends through September 2011.
Planning Commission Event Not as Advertised but Still Useful
Lured to what was represented as a Lancaster County Planning Commission and Study Steering Committee event to "receive an update on our progress so far" and to hear "your ideas and comments for the future of Harrisburg Pike," well over a hundred people were surprised to find only exhibits, no formal presentation, and little if any attempt to solicit input from the public.
Furthermore, the presentation was not by the County Planning Commission, but rather by KCI Technologies which the county has engaged to perform a study.
Some of the KCI reps seemed surprised when told that the meeting had been advertised as an exchange of ideas and, only after suffering criticism from the crowd, got out pencil and paper to start taking notes.
Subjects raised by many were as follows:
The heavy traffic on Harrisburg Pike and the lack of alternate routes when an emergency occurs.
Fear that installation of a median strip along the portion passing through the Franklin & Marshall campus would eliminate the continuous turning lane and thus lead to unnecessary back-ups, especially when one lane was blocked.
Concern about the heavy traffic that would be generated at the proposed Conestoga Crossings Shopping Center across from Long's Park near Rt. 30 and the Independence site in Hempfield which is being considered for mid-rise residential development.
The threat to School Lane Hills posed by possible residential development of the F & M athletic fields that would connect Harrisburg Pike with Wilson Drive and possibly other School Lane Hills streets. Concern was expressed of a lack of coordination between Manheim Township and the City. A KCC spokesman said representatives of the municipalities were finally going to "sit down together."
One visitor expressed frustration that rezoning was taking place prior to the determination of the future of the Harrisburg Pike.
Another complained that $27 million in tax payer funds would be expended in upgrading the Rt. 30 interchange and only one traffic light would be eliminated.
The NewsLanc reporter's feelings echoed the concerns of some of the attendees: Was the meeting a sincere effort to obtain input from the public or simply so much public relations fluff?
Whatever were their intentions, the KCI reps certainly got an earful!
MT Commissioners & Sunday News Quash Democracy
In the Oct. 28th lead article "Suburb tosses 'citizen group,'", the
News reports that the Manheim Township Board of Commissioners ruled "Lancaster
for Smart Growth" could no longer be party to the hearings for the proposed
High Group's "The Crossings" shopping center because its attorney, Bill Cluck,
refused to identify more than two local participants.
Amusingly, the Sunday News says "Others aren't so sure," cloaking the
identity of "others." Might we guess that "others" is the way that the
gets around identifying its parent company's partner, The High Group?
The supposed news article goes on to state: "And that has led some to
speculate that Lancaster for Smart Growth is merely a 'front' group that doesn't
represent citizens at all but is perhaps even a rival developer who wishes to
see The Crossings go down in flames." Once again, notice the use of "some."
Who? High? The Sunday News? Santa Claus?
Even more relevant, what is the problem if rival developers are funding the
opposition, so long as locals are involved and the information provided is
accurate? The involvement of rivals can be positive, because how else could
opponents afford an attorney and research to combat the High juggernaut? Note to
the Sunday News: This is the American way, practiced by Alexander Hamilton,
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
Furthermore, it is dangerous to one's livelihood and social standing to be
seen as opposing the power elite here in Lancaster or, for that matter, most
anywhere. According to our source who chooses to be unidentified (but three
guesses), business contacts and friends will in private praise and encourage
your efforts but don't expect for them to sit next to you at a Rotary meeting
or invite you any more to their parties.
Lastly, if the Sunday News is averse to anonymity, let it stop attributing
objections to "others" and "some" and accurately describe the source of the
Editorial: Penn Square Pigs?
How long will it take for the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. and
The High Group to recognize that they far overreached when they negotiated with
a compliant Convention Center Authority Chairman Ted Darcus and Executive
Director David Hixson for half of the revenue from the sale of convention
center naming rights, worth as much as $3.5 million per Sen. Gibson Armstrong?
We have yet to encounter any citizen who is not shocked and outraged by
the disclosure. And it is only a matter of time before word gets around to
almost everyone in the county.
NewsLanc's greatest chore has been to cut through the mythology that a
benevolent elite power structure still watches over and pursues what is best
for our community. It is difficult when this was in large part true of
earlier managers of the newspapers and The High Group.
But their altruism stopped some time ago. The convention center / hotel
project woke up some to the change, but not most. The issues were
complicated and most people were distracted.
But diverting as much as $1.75 million from the taxpayers to a
partnership that has no financial or ownership interest in the convention center part
of the project is so blatant, so greedy, so antisocial as to be apparent to
As a result, Penn Square Partners has been dubbed "Penn Square Pigs" by
a noted local Scalawag. Unless they act quickly to rescind claims to money
that rightfully belongs to the taxpayers, that label is likely to stick.
Commissioner Candidates Discuss Local Issues at F&M Forum
Farmland preservation, eminent domain, the Route 23 bypass, the proper
function of county government, and, of course, the Convention Center were among
the topics of discussion at Thursday night's Commissioner candidates debate at
Franklin & Marshall College.
All five candidates attended the 2-hour debate, hosted by the League of
Women Voters, and approximately 50 audience members were present.
On the issue of the convention center, each of the candidates pledged that
no additional public general fund dollars will be used to cover construction
costs associated with the controversial $170 million project. Incumbent
Commissioner Molly Henderson said of the partial legal settlement being considered
at the time with the Convention Center Authority, "If that happens we should
all be so happy about that. Prioritization of debt service is something I
have been very concerned about over the past few years."
Republicans Scott Martin and Dennis Stuckey, and independent candidate Jere
Swarr, bemoaned the costs of the litigation and divisiveness arising out of
the project. Martin said, "We've already seen" that Clipper Stadium has been
"a staple of economic development and revitalization in that northwest
corridor." Stuckey said, "I believe it will be a success for the downtown area. If
not, we'll pull together the people with the brains to make it a success."
"Failure is not an option," he insisted.
Jere Swarr said, "It's time we pull together as a community and make it
work.... I congratulate R.B. Campbell, Art Morris, and Tom LeCrone. I think
they have business savvy."
All candidates agreed that preserving farmland is an objective both noble
and imperative. As she did in previous debates, Henderson pledged to sustain
farmland preservation "at the level it has been" and added, "We should look at
the possibility of using a portion of the hotel tax for farmland
Martin disagreed, saying, "We can't promise you that we can continue
farmland preservation at the same level. It depends on the budget."
On the issue of the role of County Government, Stuckey seemed to effectively
capture the sense of all of the candidates when he said, "The County can be
a leader in helping local governments form coalitions on a regional basis
that help make them more effective for their taxpayers."
Swarr opined that "It is expensive to have so many municipalities. There is
duplication of services."
On the issue of the proposed Route 23 Bypass, Henderson, Craig Lehman, and
Swarr were unanimous in opposing the project on the grounds that it would run
through some of Lancaster County's most beautiful farmland. "What we might
find ourselves doing if we build a new road is killing all the existing
business on route 23," continued Lehman.
As for the Republicans, Martin said, "There is nothing legally or
statutorily a County Commissioner can do to prevent Route 23 from being built." "This
is up to the local municipalities," he continued. "A county commissioner
getting involved in that is, in my mind, nothing more than political
grandstanding." Stuckey said that he wants to wait until the draft environmental
the proposed interchange is released before opining on the matter.
Asked by panelist Dr. Charles Greenawalt about eminent domain, Stuckey
characterized it as an "absolute last resort," and Swarr vowed never to use it.
Henderson agreed that "taking private property for the sake of private
property" is inappropriate but suggested that 150 North Queen Street was "friendly
eminent domain" since the County appraised the property and compensated the
owner equitably. Martin scoffed at the idea. "I don't think there ever is
eminent domain that is really friendly," he said. "We're trying to create
cooperation and we give them an iron fist the face? I am not in favor of eminent
On the issue of development, Henderson and Lehman both stressed the need for
funding infrastructure improvements while Republican Scott Martin complained
that "it's cheaper for someone to buy property in the suburbs than to
develop existing infrastructure in the cities." "We should be making a concerted
effort to troll for entrepreneurs," he said.
Asked by panelist Ben Simmoneau of WGAL-TV whether he thinks County
government should be changed, as the Government Study Commission has been
considering, Stuckey joked, "I think that County government should be changed by
Martin and I being elected County Commissioners." He then proceded to give a
preliminary "no" but said he would have to see what the Government Study
Commission recommends before making a final decision.
Molly Henderson said she would consider some changes, including enhancing
minority party representation in county government and possibly increasing the
number of county commissioners to five from the current three.
Martin and Lehman indicated that their support depends upon what precisely
the Study Commission recommends, while Swarr refused to answer altogether,
saying that for a commissioner candidate to answer this question would present a
"conflict of interests."
Lehman stressed his years as a budget analyst. Henderson pointed out that
she's "the only candidate who has on the job experience." Martin also referred
to his work as a budget analyst and professed a passion for local government.
Stuckey called for healing of the "dysfunction" he says has recently
plagued the County. And Swarr pointed to his township supervisory experience,
promised to return power to the people, and promised to post his latest list of
contributors on his campaign's web page. "Not one dollar from a PAC," Swarr
Each of these candidates is asking for one of your two votes on Tuesday,
County Offer Approved by Authority
The Lancaster Convention Center Authority Board narrowly passed a proposed
agreement from the County Commissioners to prioritize debt service payment
before operating and other costs of the $170 million convention center/hotel
In City Council chambers, Chairman Art Morris conducted an orderly
discussion, which included votes on the county/authority motion and two amendments. The 4-3 vote approved the Oct. 16th offer by the County Commissioners of a
partial settlement to drop its legal challenge if taxpayers were protected with
first priority given to debt service.
The board also approved a non-binding request that discussions be continued
to modify the Oct. 16th agreement to include some or all of the additional
terms of the Authority's counter proposal of Oct. 17th.
Over a period of about 45 minutes, Morris moderated a civil exchange of view
between members of the public and board members. Before the pivotal votes
were taken, Morris commented: "A county withdrawal is not significant to us. I
see this settlement more public relations than substance."
Board member R. B. Campbell who cast the pivotal vote to table the
resolution nine days earlier, stated: "I have yet to hear from our solicitor any harm
or downside that will occur by signing the Oct. 16th agreement."
Although discussion was vigorous, the only discordant and somewhat bizarre
moment came when former chairman and current board member Ted Darcus angrily
commented: "This [proposal] is a travesty. Flim flam and stinking from here
to heaven that stinks. And all we are getting is what we got to go with Oct.
16th because of the commissioners, the commissioners...."
When interviewed following the vote, County Commissioner Chairman Dick
Shellenberger said he would be receptive to discussions to modify the Oct. 16th
agreement to conform more closely to the Oct. 17th proposal.
"This is what we have been working towards for two and a half years," said
Commissioner Molly Henderson when reached after the vote. "This is a day for
protecting Lancaster County taxpayers. And I certainly appreciate the cooperation of the Convention Center Authority."
Without the agreement whereby all Convention Center revenues will first be
applied to paying principal and interest on an initial $44 million in bonds,
an Appeals Court decision against the Convention Center Authority would have
caused its bonds to bear an addition 0.3% service fee, or about $3 million
over the duration of the financing. Also, future refinancing of the bonds will
have to give priority to repayment of debt service.
Henderson Launches 'Molly Minutes" on Local TV
Commissioner candidate for re-election Molly Henderson launched a local
television campaign based on one minute spots.
In the first, she defends her position on the convention center,
pointing out that over a three-and-a-half year period the project ballooned from $70
million to almost $200 million. She also notes that ownership of the
project went from an equal partnership between private funders and the public to
one where the taxpayer has to run almost 100% of the risk.
The convention center 'Molly Minute" can be viewed at
Agreement Could Save Convention Center Authority $3 Million Plus
Without the agreement expected to be reached today between the County
and the LCCCA whereby all Convention Center revenues will first be applied to
paying principal and interest on an initial $44 million in bonds, an Appeals
Court decision against the Convention Center Authority would have caused its
bonds to bear an addition 0.3% service fee.
Projected over a 40 year period, the additional financing cost would
likely amount to well over $3 million.
With bond debt being prioritized, the County runs little risk that its
guarantee of 50% of the debt service will be required.
Also the agreement assures the County that any future refinancing of
Convention Center debt will also require that debt service be prioritized over
Although the agreement will provide technical protection for county
taxpayers, it is unlikely to provide much protection in reality. When
revenue is applied to debt service and there are not sufficient funds left to pay
operating expenses, the county will be faced with the predicament of either
providing an additional subsidy or allowing the Convention Center to close its
doors. A vacant Convention Center would doom the adjacent Marriott Hotel and
provide a desolate and derelict block in the center of the city.
One way or another, taxpayers would have to add to their current $3
million annual subsidy in order to keep the center open.
Combining Beauty and Brains
At Tuesday's meeting of the Lancaster City Council, member Louise
Williams announced a partnership between Empire Beauty School and Domestic Violence
Services of Lancaster to provide salon professionals with training to
recognize signs of abuse, given that women are likely to disclose such matters only
through conversation with people they trust.
This is an excellent example of outreach that costs very little and can
accomplish so much.
County Planning Commission to Discuss Future of Harrisburg Pike
The Lancaster County Planning Commission and Study Steering Committee will
be holding an Open House at the Health Campus of Lancaster General Hospital on
Monday, October 29 from 6-9 p. m. in order to "receive an update on our
progress so far" and to hear "your ideas and comments for the future of
Harrisburg Pike," according to information made available at Tuesday's Lancaster City Council meeting.
Editorial: Commendable Zeal, But Needed Elsewhere
It is admirable that a hundred persons would show sufficient interest to
attend a meeting of the Manheim Central School Board to question the payment of
$40,000 in special bonuses of $2222 each to eighteen teachers who served as
mentors for eighth graders who were having trouble with their assignments.
If citizen protest were in proportion to the misuse of public funds,
then about 600 should show up at the Convention Center Authority board meeting
on Thursday to protest the giveaway to the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers,
Inc. and The High Group of half of the proceeds for Naming Rights valued by
Sen. Gib Armstrong as high as $3,500,000.
It is easier to whip up support among parents who are friends and
neighbors and where going to a meeting is mutually reinforcing and binding, than to
attract individuals to a county-wide meeting where they have few if any
friends present to provide mutual support and approbation.
In short, if you are to exploit the public, do it regionally, statewide
Would Turnabout be Fair Play?
According to the Oct. 23rd New Era, "On Monday, the [Scott] Stuckey / [Dennis]
Martin team also announced it is officially asking the current board of
commissioners to go into lame-duck mode and not initiate any new programs,
construction or debt until the new board takes office. 'My personal belief is this
current board no longer has the will of the people behind it,' Martin said.
Therefore, he said, decisions about where to build the new county morgue,
farmland preservation bonds and prison construction should wait."
Not only did the prior board of commissioners not heed Martin's request,
but they purposefully and prematurely sold a $40 million bond with a county
guarantee under conditions that tied the hands of the incoming board from
disengaging itself and county taxpayers from the convention center project.
Courts have ruled such actions by an outgoing board to improperly
bind an incoming board to be illegal and therefore voided, but the current
commissioners failed to mount a timely legal challenge. In fact, the issue
was only broached years later when the Convention Center Authority, the
Redevelopment Authority of Lancaster and Penn Square Partners brought suit
against the county commissioners in 2006.
Proceeds from Conestoga View Sale to Provide Children's Dental Care
At their public meeting Wednesday, the County Commissioners approved a
resolution whereby the County will contribute $900,000 to a charitable grants fund
with the purpose of helping Children ages 0-5 obtain dental care.
Those monies are to come from the "Better Lancaster Fund," established from
the County's 2005 sale of the Conestoga View nursing home.
"At the time of the sale," explained Commissioner Molly Henderson, "we
wanted to set aside a portion of that money as a sort of legacy fund and we had
the further discussion, what better investment could we make as a community
than in our children the little ones."
"The reason for it is that there aren’t many dentists who want to see kids
on Medicare or Medicaid," said Commission Chair Dick Shellenberger.
Reaction to news of the establishment of the charity fund from members of
the public was positive. "Having worked with kids through the Head Start
program, I know firsthand the importance of dental care," said City resident John
The fund, which will start awarding grants as early as December of this
year, is to be established in partnership with the Lancaster County Community
Foundation. Director of Development & Marketing for the Community Foundation,
Scott Gentry, said that "while the Board of Commissioners is the initial donor,
we hope to then encourage other charitable organizations to donate and they
will be able to do so by credit card via our website.”
The County Commissioners also approved a resolution at their weekly
Wednesday meeting to hire Mechanicsburg-based KCI Technologies "to provide
construction management and consultation services in conjunction with construction
phase activities for the renovations of the County Administrative Center." The
contract period for the agreement is from October 15, 2007 to January 15, 2008
with compensation not to exceed $83,789 for the three-month period.
Convention Center Generating Minority Jobs
During a spot survey of workers exiting the Convention Center construction
site on Monday afternoon, a NewsLanc reporter observed 17 Caucasians and 15
people of color.
Of the latter group, seven were thought to be African-American, four Latino,
and four were unidentified.
NewsLanc will conduct spot surveys each month.
More Signs That the Intell is Regaining Integrity
There were three items in the Oct. 23rd Intelligencer Journal that it is
further regaining integrity after years of bias, distortions and omissions
concerning the convention center / hotel project.
The Local page featured "Traffic plans in question" pertaining to the
application for rezoning for the The High Group's proposed "Crossings" shopping
center on the Harrisburg Pike across from Long's Park. Unlike past coverage,
this article was no High Group public relations puff piece.
The Intell reports that attorney William J. Cluck, representing
Lancaster For Smart Growth, disclosed that the traffic survey commissioned by the
Township was deficient in normal scope and content and "blames this on Manheim
Township, whose traffic engineer at the time was John Schick of Rettew
Associates." Cluck pointed out that Schick also works for Rettew Associates for
which The High Group is a major client, thus posing a serious conflict of
interest. "'Because of that relationship,' Cluck said, 'the township did not
require High Real Estate to do the appropriate analysis of the intersections in
East Hempfield Township.'"
In the same issue, Jeff Hawkes, who has emulated a scared rabbit in
recent years as he tiptoed around the convention center issue, wrote "Evaluating
Molly Henderson." Hawkes gets some things right, for example when he refers
to former Commissioner Pete Shaub as operating "with all of the finesse of
a wrecking ball", "erratic, ham handed, vituperative" and "as a commissioner
undermined the public's trust in county government."
Hawke does not give Henderson all the credit she deserves for
cooperating with Shellenberger in order to minimize Shaub's disruptiveness and
successfully, constructively pursue county business. Henderson has remarked to
friends that the day Shaub resigned was the happiest day of her life!
In pointing out the numerous positive things that Henderson has
accomplished, Hawkes steered clear of mentioning her brave stance against the
convention center project.
The third positive item was a long and cogent letter to the editor by
Shawn M. Reilly headed "Concerned on Harrisburg Pike plans." Reilly
excoriates officials for plans to build a median strip in the center of Harrisburg
Pike. He persuasively maintains that it will lead to a severe traffic problem
during rush hours and impede emergency vehicles from getting to their
Perhaps Hawkes in his column or the Intell in an editorial will find
sufficient boldness to call for public hearings before the project proceeds any
Republican Candidates Skip Millersville Debate
Candidates for County Commissioner Molly Henderson, Craig Lehman, and Jere Swarr participated in a forum at Millersville University Monday night.
The debate, which was sponsored by the Pennsylvania League of Humane Voters, was moderated by Dr. Bill Dorman, chair of the Department of Communications & Theatre at Millersville.
The candidates addressed a variety of issues including farmland preservation, economic development, and electronic voting, in making their cases to the public.
Notably, Molly Henderson was the only one who raised the issue of the Convention Center project, claiming to her credit, "I have questioned excessive public risk in the $170 million Convention Center."
On the issue of property value assessments, all three candidates agreed that it would be imprudent for the City of Lancaster to undertake its own assessments. Democratic Candidate Craig Lehman said, "I don't think we need to do it more frequently. We need to make sure that when we do reassessment, we do it fairly for everybody." Molly Henderson agreed, emphasizing that "it is extremely expensive to do reassessments," while Independent Candidate Jere Swarr said, "Why are taxes so high? Because 25% of city properties are exempt," echoing a sentiment expressed by Lancaster City Mayor Rick Gray earlier this month.
Responding to a question about wage disparity, Craig Lehman complained that "we have a problem where young families are simply being priced out of the housing market" and proceeded to advocate economically and socially diversifying our communities.
On the issue of land development, all of the candidates present agreed that, as Henderson put it, "The governmental structure of Pennsylvania allows for the determination of zoning in each township or municipality. The county cannot reach into a township or municipality and tell them where to build and what they can build." Molly Henderson went on to stress that "we have a window of maybe 10 years left that we can do real farmland preservation. We will not get the soil back. Once it's gone, it's gone" and that she is "willing to make the commitment to the continued preservation of farmland at the level it has been." Swarr stressed that there is too much "red tape" when it comes to development and said that he would "increase incentives to encourage growth in our brownfield areas."
On the issue of electronic voting, Swarr defended the 2002 purchase of "eSlate" voting machines, required by the "Help America Vote Act", saying, "If you don't like the electronic voting machines you can do a paper ballot. I don't think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. With the old lever machines, you didn't have a paper trail either. I think we need to stick with it." Lehman asked, "Which is more important: To protect our democracy or to quibble over which machines we're using?"
For her part, Molly Henderson said that the eSlate machines have not been certified on a State level. She continued, "In the spring, I voted against buying more of these machines because you can't verify them. It is incumbent upon the industry out there to come up with a product that is reliable and can't be hacked into."
In their concluding remarks, Molly Henderson highlighted her four years of experience on the current Board, Swarr insisted that he is the only one running with township experience, and Lehman pointed to his nearly 15 years as a budget analyst as his most significant qualification.
Approximately 75 persons, mostly students, were in attendance.
An Ethicist's Take on "Did Field Play the Race Card?"
Let me first say, I'm not sure why Art Morris referenced [former LCCCA
chairman Ted] Darcus's race in the first place. My sense is that there is a higher
percentage of African American leaders who are Republicans in Lancaster than
is typically the case elsewhere.
Second, your letter plays the ad hominem card in a way which does implicate
Darcus's race. Frankly, both comments are condescending in my opinion albeit
unintended. Darcus's race is beside the point; it's his actions and decisions
which should be the subject of praise or condemnation.
Editorial: Sunday News's Molly Bashing Campaign
Usually newspapers will run but a single editorial endorsing the
candidate of their choice, both out of fairness and also because there are other
campaigns to be commented upon. But in an editorial entitled "Perfect
Timing," Sunday News editor Marv Adams launches an early attack on Molly Henderson.
Rather than praising the commissioners for having worked out an
agreement with the owner / operator of Conestoga view and the local Medical Society
that meets with near universal approval, he suggests somehow that all of this
is a political ploy to further the election of Henderson. Sure Marv,
Republicans Dick Shellenberger and Sharon Nelson are part of Henderson's campaign
Adams says: "We'll gloss over the offer to withdraw the commissioners'
appeal in the
convention center authority case, in exchange for a pledge to repay the
county-backed debt first..... And we'd note how disingenuous this offer is
-- considering that the
anti-convention center forces' ally, April Koppenhaver, isn't withdrawing
her own appeal in the same case."
Whether or not Koppenhaver withdraws her appeal and regardless of the
Appeals Court's decision, the public is served by what the Authority's own
solicitor acknowledged had been a "verbal agreement" between the former
commissioners and the Authority. He said the Convention Center Authority had
requested it not be formalized prior to obtaining their final bond financing so that
it could be offered as a concession during bond negotiations. Was the
News's reporter asleep when the matter was clarified at the LCCCA board
meeting? Or was he or she out fishing?
As for Adams's claim that Conestoga View was sold at a "bargain" price,
he should direct his criticism to the two appraisers who established the
value, not the commissioners.
Finally, Adams should consult his own news pages. He'll learn that it
was Penn Square Partners who brought suit against the county, thus "threw the
One time "Molly bashing" is fair play before an election. But two
Sundays remain. Let's see if Adams devotes his editorials and columns to other
races or continues the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers's vendetta against
Henderson for her brave stance against their parent company's convention center
Our District Attorney Ignores What the Bible Teaches
Late Friday morning under an overcast sky, an author, a movie maker, and two
members of the NewsLanc staff retraced the last moments of Jonathan Luna's
life, as he was driven from the Reading / Lancaster Turnpike Interchange to
the secluded back lot of a rural industrial building several minutes away.
When directions were sought to the murder scene, persons at the local Turkey
Hill knew exactly where the car was abandoned and the body found despite
three years having past.
There likely were two cars, the one with Assistant U. S. Prosecutor Luna, a
young African-American, bleeding profusely in the back seat and another that
may have reconnoitered in the half-mile-long parking area just outside the
Members of Luna's family were permitted to erect a cross with his name and
date of birth and date of death at the spot where he his body was found,
cringing under his car which had been hung up over a hidden stream with the motor
The second car probably came from Reading or Lancaster. Why else was Luna
transported from Southern New Jersey where he apparently had been taken after
he left his Baltimore office in the middle of the night, driving glasses and
cell phone left on his desk, a partly drawn document due in court the first
thing the next morning incomplete on his open computer?
A visit to the Baltimore Court House a day earlier had indicated the
multiple video cameras which would have captured Luna and whoever was with him as
they walked through and departed the building. The FBI will not disclose what
the cameras show. Nor will the FBI disclose what was seen by security cameras
at the federal parking garage.
Just days after Luna's death, the FBI leaked false reports to Baltimore
newspapers that were meant to discredit Luna and discourage further reporting.
It was the FBI who a year later tried to convince the Lancaster Coroner to
change the autopsy report from homicide to suicide, despite over thirty stab
wounds to hands, body and back and a deep gash to Luna's throat. In an
editorial, the Sunday News indicated they weren't buying any suicide explanation.
The Old Testament teaches that a town must assume responsibility for
strangers who are murdered within its vicinity. Luna's death took place in Lancaster
County. But District Attorney Donald Totaro has declined to investigate,
despite the obvious involvement of the FBI in a coverup concerning his death.
Since Totaro and the FBI won't talk about the murder, we'll just have to
await the movie.
OP ED: "Code Words" Published in Sunday News
I write in response to the letter [Oct 7] of Field, Harper, Koppenhaver, et
al. regarding the allegation that the Sunday News and Art Morris' column
violated their policy about the convention center project and its board. The
letter then goes beyond that point to attack Ted Darcus with thinly veiled
racist labeling as "manipulated," "compliant" and "beyond his experience and
I have known Ted Darcus for most of his years in Lancaster. He has had
a long history of success in his chosen profession at the Boys and Girls Club
and in his civic commitments. If one attribute stands out among many it has
been his willingness to take on the toughest assignments both at the club
and in our community. He has done that with a high degree of success, and
Lancaster is a better community for his involvement.
Our great American democracy is at its best when we debate our issues,
not when we engage in personal attacks. When people use divisive labels and
code words, it's usually a clear signal that they have lost the debate.
Editors Note: The Oct. 7 letter from Field, Harper, Koppenhave, et al.
In "Editorially Speaking" on Apr. 22nd, you stated the following concerning
Art Morris's twin roles as a newly appointed board member of the Convention
Center Authority, and as a columnist and member of the editorial board of the
"There could also be the appearance of a conflict, because Lancaster
Newspapers (you know the disclaimer) publishes the Sunday News and is involved as a
half-partner in the hotel project through Penn Square Ltd. LLC.
"Because of this, Mr. Morris and the Sunday News editors have come to the
same conclusion: He will not write columns about the project and the convention
Yet on Sept. 30th Morris devoted his column headed "Man of tough choices,
leader who makes a difference" to lauding Ted Darcus, the controversial former
chairman of the Authority and currently a board member.
Darcus is admired for his service to the youth of the community and seen as
a basically decent human by even his detractors.
But many who followed the Convention Center Authority also recognize him as
an autocratic leader who stifled discussion, ignored facts, and was
manipulated by overpaid consultants to do the bidding of your employer, Lancaster
Newspapers, Inc. and The High Group, partners in sponsoring the convention center
Morris points out that Darcus is "A Republican which is not the party choice
of most African-Americans." Some feel that this combination of being both an
African-American and a Republican resulted in a compliant Darcus being
appointed with the support of the power elite to positions way beyond his
experience and competence, both on City Council and the Authority.
Morris's column seems to have been written for the purpose of defending
Darcus at a time of disturbing revelations and immense criticism pertaining to
his term as chairman (and president) of the Authority.
But the issue here is not the competence of Darcus. Rather it is the
integrity of the Sunday News which jettisons its policy without any apparent
LETTER: Armstrong Says Naming Rights Worth $2 - $3.5 Million
I found the following statement in an article titled "Center funding gap
closed" which was published in the Lancaster New Era on August
"[State Sen. Gib] Armstrong said the sale of naming rights to the convention
center will raise at least $2 million, but probably closer to $3.5 million.
"He said there 'supposedly are several' prospective buyers, but he declined
to name them."
That was over 14 months ago. Where are they now?
Editor's note: Although Penn Square Partners has no investment or ownership
interest in the convention center portion of the project, the Convention
Center Authority contracted to give them 50% of the proceeds from the sale of
the Naming Rights.
Letter: LCCCA's Responsibility to Hold Accountable
I agree... that the past is subject to as much scrutiny and justice
as the future. Stopping the project is not a viable option, but holding all
the promoters fully accountable for all their actions - past, present and
future - is the LCCCA board's responsibility. Also - consideration in the design
of the convention center, to the extent that it can be changed without
further cost, needs to focus on what will happen to this facility after it's no
longer a convention center. The LCCCA board needs to place a deed restriction
on the property that it will never be able to be used as a casino or for
gaming/gambling of any kind.
Letter: "The Best Thing That Ever Happened"
....It is extremely unlikely that the politicians and plutocrats will allow
[Convention Center] project to "fail". They will simply raise taxes to cover
losses, or beg and plead for additional state funds, or refinance the
The local media - newspapers and TV - have succeeded in spreading the lie
that this project makes economic sense. Of course, any project of this
size, cost, and magnitude does not and cannot. It is physically impossible
for the current project to generate enough economic development and new jobs
to justify nearly $160 million in taxpayer dollars AND guarantees PLUS tens
of millions of dollars in interest over 40 years. They have succeeded in
convincing a public that mostly DOES NOT CARE about the facts - just look at
the group of people who support the project that have started attending
meetings since the bond sale, they specifically do not want to hear any
facts and figures.
The most likely scenario is this: the convention center will host a small
number of conventions every year. The first few years will likely benefit
from the novelty of a new facility, but since conventions rotate between
locations, this cannot be sustained. But the key is, every single event
will be proclaimed in the headlines as "proof" the project is "already a
success". The fact that the convention center will inevitably lose much
more money than currently anticipated will be conveniently ignored, or spun
Every business that opens in downtown Lancaster from now on will be
proclaimed in the headlines as "proof" the project is "already a success",
whether or not the hotel and convention center project had any influence
whatsoever on it or not (this is like including LGH's planned parking garage
on the YMCA site as economic development resulting from the baseball
stadium). The fact that the hotel and convention center will create barely
a fraction of the currently anticipated economic development will be
conveniently ignored, or spun beyond recognition.
I am convinced that the project will be sold to the public as the best thing
that ever happened to Lancaster City and Lancaster County, no matter how
poorly it does financially, or how much it actually costs taxpayers. It
will be up to people like us to publicize the actual facts and figures,
since the local newspapers and TV stations will gladly sell the "spin."
Government Study Commission to Spend $151,865 to Educate Public
In a meeting lasting the better part of two hours Tuesday night, the nine members of the Lancaster County Government Study Commission grappled with the question of whether the proposed County Executive should be elected or appointed.
Facilitated by consultants from Franklin & Marshall College, their debate over the advantages and disadvantages of election as opposed to appointment, separation of powers, and checks and balances was reminiscent of the great Constitutional debates that gave birth to our national government.
When a straw poll was finally taken at the end of the night, 5 Commission members favored appointment, 3 favored election, and member Greg Sahd abstained on the grounds that he does not favor having a County Executive at all.
The Commission encouraged active participation from the audience.
Following this discussion, the Commission proceeded to discuss their budget. Commission member Greg Sahd questioned whether $50,000 allocated for "Public Education" was really necessary. Heidi Wheaton defended the allocation, citing F&M’s report that County Executive proposals in other counties failed due in part to a lack of public awareness.
Sahd was not the only one who was concerned. A number of audience members voiced similar opinions. "It seems to me," said one gentleman, "that we're paying the media to do what they should be doing already." Others murmured in agreement.
Among the ideas the audience expressed as to how to inexpensively and effectively inform the public: post flyers in local libraries, hold additional meetings around the County, utilize school e-mail lists, take out ads in the paper, and post information on the County website.
Commission member Bill Saylor seemed to agree: "Spots don't inform," he said. "They alert the public that something is going on but they’re not good at actually conveying information."
Others, however, defended the budget. Commission member James Miller described the budget as "money well spent."
Appearing to have grown weary after two hours, Commission Chair Carol Phillips finally called a vote on the $151,865 budget, which was approved by a vote of 7-2.
COMMENTARY: When Interests Do Not Conflict, Intell's Coverage Praiseworthy
NewsLanc invites its readers to visit
http://local.lancasteronline.com/4/210954 for a thorough and
accurate description of what transpired at the Convention Center Authority board
meeting on Oct. 16th as ably reported in the Intelligencer Journal.
Apparently its reporters are capable of seeing, hearing and speaking truthfully when
the parent company's financial interests are not at stake.
For all practical purposes, an agreement between the Authority and the
County Commissioners is mere window dressing, but there is much to be said for
allowing the defeated commissioners (and the vast majority of the public) to
save face for the purpose of restoring community comity.
As pointed out here and in the Intell article, the financing on the
convention center already requires that revenues be first applied to debt service.
So the only thing at issue is the unlikely event that the bonds would be
refinanced and a subsequent lender would not also require prioritization of
When there are not sufficient funds to pay the convention center bills,
the same parties will propose more preposterous and expensive schemes on the
pretext of generating more convention center and hotel business. This is but
Authority Tables Commissioners' Offer; Appeals Court May Yet Decide
On the advice of the Convention Center Authority's litigation counsel
John Fenningham, a vote was postponed for nine days on the proposal by the
County Commissioners to resolve pending litigation between the bodies.
Two main reasons were cited:
1) It is not certain that the Appeals Court would allow the
commissioners to withdraw their appeal without the consent of April Koppenhaver, who
had joined with commissioners in the appeal.
2) Both the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Lancaster (RACL) and
Penn Square Partners (PSP) at the very last minute indicated that they might
also join in the settlement, after having opposed it.
Commission Chairman Dick Shellenberger explained that the commissioners
had only received an overture from RACL and PSP a few minutes before the
commissioners' meeting and could not evaluate it. He did give assurances that,
if the proposal was accepted by the Authority, the commissioners would
look positively upon broadening the agreement to include the other parties at a
Observers were surprised and somewhat intrigued that R. B. Campbell
broke with fellow county appointees Laura Douglas, Deb Hall and Thomas LeCrone to
cast his swing vote with the three city appointees, Chairman Art Morris, Joe
Morales and Ted Darcus.
Commissioner Molly Henderson was also present and was visibly upset with
the postponement of action.
It was unclear what the Authority would do if Koppenhaver or RACL or PSP
did not join in an agreement to end all current and potentially future
litigation. But there was a sense of expectation that a general resolution may be
on its way. That may be....unless the Appeals Court rules in the interim.
Letter: Not the End, Rather No End!
I truly wish the end to taxpayer problems was near, but the way I see it
they are only beginning! If it goes like most other convention center
I have seen thru the years get used to hearing-
(1) First there will be the many millions of dollars of overruns!
(2) Then all the excuses that the contractors cannot meet the deadlines
(3) Then the extra cost to get the center up & running!
(4) Then the lack of enough bookings to keep the doors open!
(5) Then the excuses that they cannot attract more conventions &
(6) Then the need to spend more money on marketing so they can attract more
And around and around and around we will go for the next twenty years or more.
Commissioners Set to Approve Settlement
At their Oct. 16th work session, the Lancaster County Commissioners
unanimously approved a motion to consider a partial settlement with the Lancaster
County Convention Center authority whereby the County would drop their legal
challenges if the Convention Center Authority agrees to pay off the debt on
its public bonds before other operating expenses.
Solicitor Howard Kelin noted how promises made by the former board of
commissioners had not been reflected in the actual agreement between the County and
the Convention Center Authority. He pointed out that the proposed
settlement would create a new legal duty on the part of the Authority to prioritize
payment of debt service on convention center bonds and thus protect taxpayers.
(This is of special importance should the bonds be refinanced in the
All three Commissioners spoke enthusiastically about the proposed
"I have been asking for taxpayer protection since spring 2005," Commission
Chair Richard Shellenberger. "It’s been a long time and we’re thrilled at this
Molly Henderson said that she believes that the agreement will "give comfort
to the taxpayers" and expressed "hope that the authority will see the
benefit of this and how it does impact the entire population of the county"
Sharon Nelson agreed: "I think you've said it. I think anything we can do to
protect the taxpayers of the county. And that we can move forward in a way
that's productive for everyone."
Every county resident who spoke during the public comment section of the
meeting seemed equally pleased.
Addressing the Commissioners, Bonnie Miller of Manor Township said, "I'm
happy about what you’ve done to protect middle class taxpayers. Thank you so very
Glenn Spangler of Lancaster agreed, saying, "I apologize for what you had to
go through in the community. I think you worked very diligently to protect
us," but cautioned that there will be additional hurdles to overcome in the
The prior board of Commissioners had guaranteed public financing of half of
a $40 million construction bond for a period of 40 years. With interest the
bond amount increases to $60 million.
Letter to the Editor: Thank You Commissioners
Thank you, Commissioner Shellenberger & Commisioner Henderson for trying
protect the Lancaster County Taxpayers. Ten years from now when Lancaster
County is drowning in high taxes hopefully the taxpayers will remember your efforts!
County of Lancaster News Release
County Commissioners Shellenberger and Henderson announced today a proposed
settlement with the Convention Center Authority that would protect County
taxpayers by requiring permanently that the Authority use hotel tax revenues
to first pay debt service that includes County guaranteed debt. The
agreement would also settle part of the lawsuit the Authority filed against
the County in 2006. Commissioner Nelson, who was not part of the litigation,
supports the agreement. The Commissioners will address the proposal at their
work session on Tuesday.
In March 2007, the Authority refinanced its $40 million borrowing from 2003,
which is subject to a County guaranty approved by the prior Board of
Commissioners. The refinancing package requires the Authority to prioritize
use of revenues from a countywide hotel tax to first pay its debt service
before paying other operating costs.
The County had previously objected that a lack of such prioritization in the
2003 financing documents exposed County taxpayers to tremendous risk. "Our
chief fiscal concern," explained Shellenberger, "was that the original
project financing from 2003 did not require the Authority to prioritize its
use of hotel tax revenues to pay debt service that is subject to the
County's guaranty." Absent such prioritization, Henderson noted, "the
Authority could use tax revenues to first pay other operating costs,
creating debt service shortfalls County taxpayers would be required to fund
under the guaranty agreement."
Adding to the County's concern was that although the Authority had publicly
promised in 2003 to include such prioritization of tax revenues in its
financing, the documents approved and signed by the prior Board of
Commissioners did not require prioritization.
Because of that omission, even though the Authority's March 2007 refinancing
requires prioritization, Shellenberger and Henderson remain concerned for
taxpayers in the event of future refinancing. Noted Shellenberger, "Because
the Authority is not legally required to include prioritization in its
financing package, it has the right to remove this taxpayer protection from
any additional refinancing." Henderson added, "Our proposed settlement
creates a new legal duty requiring the Authority to maintain prioritization
in any refinancing of County guaranteed debt."
Shellenberger and Henderson further observed that in May 2005, when they
asked the Authority to implement "Ten Steps for Taxpayer Protection," their
number one request was the prioritization of hotel tax revenues. Henderson
said, "The first taxpayer protection step we requested in May 2005 was
prioritization of hotel tax revenues to County guaranteed debt to minimize
default risk to County taxpayers, and this agreement will ensure that
In exchange for permanent prioritization by the Authority, the County will
agree to withdraw its pending appeal before the Commonwealth Court of a 2006
decision by Judge Madenspacher that the County guaranty is valid.
Shellenberger said, "At this point the project has been financed, is
underway and will be built even if Judge Madenspacher is overruled," and
Henderson noted, "I am of course concerned that before very long the
Authority will need additional funding, and this agreement will ensure that
future refinancing by the Authority does not eliminate taxpayer protection
provided through prioritization."
PSP to Pay Authority 5% Instead of Normal 20% to 40% But....
The indefatigable NewsLanc investigators have been scrutinizing the
various contracts between the Convention Center Authority and Penn Square
Partners (PSP) and have discovered that PSP has a "sweetheart deal" whereby they
are only paying 5% of revenue for the right to be the concessionaire at the
convention center rather than the industry norm of 20% to 30%.
Especially because the contracts called for PSP to pay 10% over the
"threshold" of $7,300,000, this sounded huge! Even if they only met the
threshold and paid a minimum of 20% instead of 5%, the Authority would receive an
additional $1,095,000 annually!
But alas, when NewsLanc consulted the PKF Feasibility Study, it found
that revenues from concessions are anticipated to run about $300,000 a year,
not the envisioned $7,300,000. If the Authority received 20% instead of 5%,
it would only pick up an additional $45,000. At 30%, the additional amount
would be $75,000.
So why the underpayment of concession rental and the incredulous
"threshold" of $7,300,000? NewsLanc supposes we can only expect so much competence
for $8,000,000 in legal fees and millions more for marketing cosultants.
Nevertheless, PSP should agree to increase the fee to industry
standards. They should also abdicate any share of convention center naming rights.
And S. Dale High should waive his preferential treatment for putting his name
on the building. Not having any ownership interest in the convention center
itself, they are no more entitled to any of these things than the so called
man or woman in the street.
But why would High and the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers begin to play
Mayor Gray Puts Politics Ahead of a Peace?
Mayor Rick Gray of Lancaster leaped onto center stage to badmouth a
proposed agreement to settle outstanding litigation between the County
Commissioners and the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority, even though the
City has no involvement in the convention center portion of the project.
According to the New Era of Oct. 15th, "Gray said he had offered to
arrange such an agreement two years ago after his election. That offer was
rejected by Henderson."
Yet, from the outset, providing priority to payments of county
guaranteed bonds was the request of commission chairman Dick Shellenberger.
Shellenberger pointed out that the previous board of commissioners had required such
assurances when they authorized the bonds but the priority requirement
mysteriously was omitted from the actual documents.
Gray's claim that he had made such an offer apparently came as news to
Henderson and county solicitor Howard Kelin. According to Henderson,
"Neither one of us remembers anything like that."
The obvious questions are:
1) Why has Gray interjected himself into a matter strictly between the
County and the Authority?
2) With the election only three weeks away, did Gray want to prevent
candidate Henderson from reaping praise for helping to resolve the remaining
When a candidate for mayor, Gray had promised immediately after his
election to convene a meeting of various parties on both sides of the convention
center issue and either move ahead or find another use for the Watt & Shand
site. Instead, within days he threw his entire support to the project.
Letter to the Editor: Supplicating Defense of Ted Darcus
In a letter to the editor and in the editor's column on Oct. 14th, the Sunday
News has once again spilled its ink to propagandize on behalf of its pet
project, the white elephant convention center. This time it is a supplicating
defense of former Convention Center Authority Chairman Ted Darcus, who was
cynically lionized last week by Sunday News columnist and current Authority
Chairman, Art Morris.
No one disputes that the project is going forward, contrary to Editor
Adams's assertion. But the fact is that under Darcus the Authority board
rubber-stamped millions of dollars in questionable consultant payments. This was
100% taxpayer money. Darcus rejected pleas by the public and fellow board
members to examine the propriety of these invoices. Not once did Darcus look
into these payments or provide justification for their remittance. Darcus
never answered questions from the public. The public is paying for nearly 100%
of the project and he would not allow citizens' question to be answered. Think
about that. And his style, characterized as 'imperious', was heavy-handed
in the extreme.
The letter writer simply underscores the hyprocisy of Morris and the
blatant bias of Lancaster Newspapers, which published a statement that Morris
would no longer write about the convention center project. Not only did he use
his prominent column to do so, but he completely revised Darcus's record to
make him seem like some kind of champion on the board. He was not. If we
were honest, we would admit that Darcus, a YMCA manager, Willie Borden (an
electrician), and Joe Morales (a youth administrator) had little to no expertise
administering publicly financed convention centers. But they are minorities,
which makes them politically problematic to criticize. That shouldn't
matter. What Field, Harper et. al were pointing out was that the newspaper and
Morris lied about using his column to promote the project, and Morris lied about
Darcus, expecting that because Ted was black he was immune from criticism.
Sorry, LNP was wrong, Morris was wrong, and Darcus did a disservice to the
entire community, especially the black community.
Let's lose the political correctness and call a token a token. Just
when we thought the bar on journalistic ethics could not get any lower,
Lancaster Newspapers has gone below ground.
Editors Note: The above is from an African-American.
Letter: "We should not tolerate such racist allegations"
I am responding to the Oct. 7th letter from Robert Field, Ron Harper Jr. and
April Koppenhaver concerning the Sept. 30th column by Art Morris. The writers
took exception to the fact that, while serving as the current chair of the
Lancaster County Convention Center Authority, Mr. Morris had written his
column on the past chair of the authority, Ted Darcus. Had their letter
confined itself to this topic, it would have been an acceptable exercise of
The writers chose to attack Mr. Darcus by asserting that the combination of
his race and political affiliation had translated to his being manipulated
and appointed to positions in the community "way beyond his experience and
competence" by a "power elite." As a community, we should not tolerate such
racist allegations. Ted Darcus has consistently demonstrated his ability and
willingness to provide leadership. He is an individual of character and
integrity who takes his position on issues based on his own thoughtful
analysis and is certainly not one to be compliant or manipulated by others.
I would hope that all of us in Lancaster County would find the tenor of
allegations against Mr. Darcus an unacceptable form of public discussion and
would recommit ourselves to focusing on issues without resorting to
unfounded personal attacks.
Editor's note: The letter appeared on Oct. 24th in the Sunday
described on these pages and in a letter to the newspaper what we have good reason
to believe took place. We are not playing the "racist card" by reporting
actual and relevant information; the "racist card" in this situation has long
been played by the "power elite" through their exploitation of Mr. Darcus.
End to Conestoga View Litigation
At the County Commissioners' meeting of Oct. 10th, Assistant Solicitor Mel
Newcomber announced that an arrangement has been reached between CHR, the
owner / operator of the Conestoga View Nursing Home, and the County Medical
Society whereby the first floor of the Alms House structure will be made
available rent-free for a possible medical museum.
The museum would be operated by a non-profit foundation with 501(c)3
status which would raise funds for the purpose which could be treated by the
donors as tax deductible.
Chairman Dick Shellenberger confirmed that the agreement resolves all
litigation pertaining to the sale and called the settlement "a good thing."
What the Intell and New Era Failed to Report
None of the local media outlets reported any of Molly Henderson's comments
about the hotel and convention center project. Here is a verbatim transcript
of her comments:
"When we first came to office in '03, I supported the project. At that time,
it was a 50-50 public-private partnership, it was 70 million dollars. There
was no bond guarantee. After being in office for about a year, I started to
look at the project. It had changed dramatically, and has changed
dramatically. It is now almost entirely public funding. Not only the
convention center, but the hotel in addition. I believe if additional
funding is needed, and it will be make no mistake, additional funding will
be needed we need to look to our private partners, Penn Square Partners,
to put in their equal amount."
S. Dale High Personally Controls Naming Rights for Convention Center!
It was not abuse enough that Penn Square Partners (a partnership of
subsidiaries of the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. and The High Group) are to
receive 50% of the proceeds from the naming rights to the Convention Center,
which is 100% owned by the public.
A study of documents rushed through the Convention Center Authority in March
discloses that S. Dale High shall have "the right of first offer with
respect to all Naming Rights."
The Authority must first send High written notification "stating all of the
terms upon which the Naming Right will be marketed." High then has fifteen
days "to notify in writing of his acceptance or rejection of the terms."
Apparently High has not only come up with a way for the Partners to pocket
half of the proceed for the naming rights to something in which they have no
ownership, but has effectively deterred the rights being sold to the highest
bidder rather than to himself.
How does a private citizen obtain such a valuable concession from a public
body? Why High? Why not John Doe?
Why is the public likely to be deprived of legitimate naming revenue,
perhaps as much as a million dollars?
So much for the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. and S. Dale High being altruistic
benefactors of our community!
5th Estate Claims Newspaper Bias
For in depth coverage including a video of how the the monopoly
Lancaster Newspapers recently slanted their news coverage to promote their
candidate over incumbent and convention center critic Molly Henderson, please visit
Letter to the Editor: Support is Tacit Approval
We must all acknowledge that the current LCCCA board with one or two
exceptions is working very hard to belatedly bring some degree of
accountability to the project. The problem is, the time for accountability
is long past, sealed for all time on the day the construction bonds were
We must also acknowledge that the agreements forged over the last eight
years are extremely disadvantageous to both the LCCCA and Pennsylvania
taxpayers. The vast majority of these agreements are heavily biased toward
the Penn Square Partners, which will invest no more than $11 million cash
into this project, with the remainder of their "investment" to come from
future profits earned on the involuntary expenditure of taxpayer dollars.
Politicians have repeatedly colluded to rewrite State law to provide funding
specifically for this project. Plus, the secrecy behind this project, and
the manner in which it was railroaded through, have completely
disenfranchised the public from having any kind of say whatsoever about it.
Even former County Commissioners Paul Thibault and Ron Ford, during their
lame-duck time between the election and the end of their terms, passed a
(probably illegal) guarantee for the convention center construction bonds,
then borrowed $40 million (at a cost to taxpayers of about $2 million) to
make certain their successors could not possibly stop the project.
It does not matter what the current LCCCA board does. The planning behind
and agreements for this project are blatantly immoral, sinful at best, and
in many cases probably illegal. To support this project in even the
slightest way amounts to tacit approval of the methods that created it, and
of the contracts that will burden us all for decades.
I am convinced that offering any kind of approval for this project is
telling the politicians and the plutocrats that they can get away with this
kind of thing anytime they want to. Already we are seeing pie-in-the-sky
proposals for both a streetcar system and a performing arts center, and the
trolley supporters have already come up with ways to circumvent the legal
approval process. The attitudes that have allowed this project to rape and
pillage the taxpayers must not be permitted to continue.
Mayor Gray, Sunday News Misconstrue City Assessment
It is apparent from the front page Sunday News article of Oct. 7th titled "Assessing the city’s fiscal future; A new look at real estate values could mean higher taxes, heavier coffers for Lancaster" that both Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray and the newspaper have ventured into complex matters that they do not properly understand.
Assessments do not determine real estate property taxes. The sole purpose of assessment is to make sure that all properties are assessed at about the same ratio to their actual market value. (Market value is what the property would actually sell for.)
It doesn’t matter one jot if every property in the county and the city were assessed at 50%, 75% or 100% of their true market value, so long as they are about equal in the ratio of assessment to market value.
What determines real estate tax bills is the various tax millages established by the county, local school boards and local municipalities. So if every property dropped from 100% to 50% of market value, the same tax revenue would be achieved by simply doubling the millage. If the assessment ratio dropped from 100% to 25% of market value, the same tax revenue would be achieved by quadrupling the millage.
Therefore, so long as the reassessment of 2003 was competently performed, there is little reason to undertake a general or city wide reassessment so soon. Rather taxes can be adjusted by varying the tax millage.
The Sunday News points out that real estate values in general have soared over the past few years and reports "Gray told of a property owner who bought a city home, assessed at under $100,000, for $220,000." It is hard to judge a countywide reassessment on the basis of a single transaction, inevitably some individual assessments will be low and some high, and then there are always gullible buyers!
If indeed real estate values in the city are set at a lower ratio than those throughout the county, then city folk are the beneficiary of the error! They will be paying less than their fair share of county taxes. And this will help offset their city school and city taxes.
If there were a good reason for citywide reassessment, it would be that whole categories of properties were undervalued compared to other categories, for example industrial to commercial or commercial to residential. This is unlikely.
It is too bad that Mayor Gray did not take into consideration the real estate tax subsidies and added costs for services when he disregarded his reservations and helped ramrod through the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers, Inc.'s and The High Group's convention center project. Furthermore, the project will have a numbing effect upon the trend towards center city residential gentrification and thus thwart the increase in market value of downtown properties. Such a pity.
Central Market Shows the Way
Saturday visitors to the Central Market were welcomed by vendors
offering breakfast staples, delicacies and other items in the side street and
joyful music of the talented five piece Gadjo Playboys ensemble.
Regular Saturday shoppers were joined by hundreds of others, bringing
vibrance and color to the usually somber downtown streets.
The crowd was representative of all ages and a mix of Lancaster
citizenry, an experience similar to walking through Central Park in New York City.
It was heartening to see countless infants in slings around the necks of their
mothers and in carriages and other ladies who were clearly expectant.
Sponsored by merchants in the Central Market, this was an example of how
to truly invigorate downtown by building on successes rather than reaching
out for expensive gimmicks.
According to their website at www.GadjoPlayboys.com: "Formed in 2001, the Gadjos are a collection of five gifted musicians who respectfully attempt to walk in the footsteps of the likes of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli. The music, reminiscent of 1930s Parisian string jazz clubs, is hot, sophisticated, and swings... big time.
"The tone is unmistakenly human and hits both your heart and your brain's
rhythm box with equal impact. There's something about the appeal of the music
which tends to span generational gaps and hurdles genre associations. Even
those new to this style of audible incantation grasp its spiritual groove and
immediately identify with it."
Audios of their performance are available at the website and are well
worth the listening.
Mayor Faces Difficult Sales Job
According to the Oct. 4th New Era, Mayor Rick Gray told a state House committee
that Lancaster City will face financial ruin within a few years.
He set forth five possibilities for changes in laws to deal with the problem,
one being the adoption of legislation that would reimburse cities on a formula
basis for the real estate taxes lost through nonprofit organizations being
considered tax exempt.
He said if exempt properties in Lancaster City were put back on the tax rolls
that it would bring in $4.3 million in tax revenues.
What Gray did not mention was that a good portion of the tax exempt
properties will be his $180 million convention center / hotel project.
Gray may find it hard to obtain tax concessions with one hand while he is
giving away and guaranteeing vast sums with the other.
Intell Continues to Get Grand Jury Report Wrong
In an Oct. 5th article "County commissioner hopefuls find there is plenty
to debate," the Intelligencer Journal incorrectly says that the 2005 sale of Conestoga View, the then-county-owned nursing home, "prompted a grand jury
In fact, the grand jury was convened to investigate the hiring of Chief
Services Officer Gary Heinke. The
District Attorney's office stated that "The decision to submit
the Heinke matter to an Investigating Grand Jury was made after the Lancaster
County Board of Commissioners and their designees initially failed to
respond to a request for production of documents through traditional investigative
means." (The commissioners were sandbagged because they never were given
adequate time to respond.)
It was only after the grand jury determined that Heinke had not
falsified his application for the job, that District Attorney Donald Totaro asked
permission of President Judge Louis Farina to widen the investigation to the
sale of Conestoga View. To Farina's shame, he allowed Totaro to continuously
expand the investigation into a witch hunt that produced 16 accusations set
forward by Totaro of which none were found by the grand jury to
Nevertheless, through floating the threat of indictment for matters
unknown to the commissioners, Totaro intimidated the three commissioners into
accepting a plea bargain for minor violations subject to a $100.
This enabled the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers to mislead the public by
treating the very minor violation as the crime of the century with headlines
almost comparable to the end of the Second World War.
Tom LeCrone Proves to be No Push Over
Personnel Committee Chair Deb Hall was unable to attend, so that left
only two voting members: Joe Morales and Convention Center Authority Board
newcomer Tom LeCrone. Board Chairman Art Morris sat with the committee but,
in his "ex officio" capacity, had no vote.
LeCrone, who only a couple of days ago received a draft proposal for
the executive director job description, requested an opportunity to review
and discuss possible changes with the consultant. Morris wanted a vote right
away to "keep things moving" and proposed the entire board meet in executive
session to review the current 27 applicants.
LeCrone countered that the board should either engage a professional
executive search firm or re-advertise the job opening using a more accurate and
comprehensive job description in order to avoid having to "select the best
candidate from a 2nd tier" of earlier applicants.
In the end it was agreed that LeCrone would review and endeavor to
improve the job description and that information would be gathered concerning two
or three leading executive search firms prior to a committee meeting to be
scheduled for next week. Then the full board will have the opportunity to
decide whether to
review the current applications, re-advertise with an updated job
description, or engage a search firm.
Contrary to his 'yes man' role under former chairman Ted Darcus, Morales
actively and constructively engaged in the discussion.
Contributor: Art Morris Should be Ashamed
It is common knowledge that Art Morris has been leading the inquisition
against the county commissioners, particularly Molly Henderson, for the sale of
the Conestoga View nursing home. It was a shrewd and devastating maneuver to
place Morris on the convention center authority board, and even shrewder to
place him in the dual positions of executive director and chairman.
Morris, who has championed this ill-conceived and shameful project from day
one, is now using his platform as Sunday News columnist to revise recent
history. His tribute to the previous LCCCA chairman, Ted Darcus, makes Darcus
seem like a cross between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Horatio Alger. Morris
forgets(?) that it was Darcus who refused to look into the excessive
consultants' payments during his term as chair. It was also Darcus who stubbornly
without good reason refused to answer questions from the public for YEARS!
It was Darcus who cancelled meetings on the day they were scheduled, and who
sent materials to board members to be voted upon with inadequate time for
What a cynical and manipulative man is Arthur Morris. He knows very well
that Darcus has been an impediment to conscientiously administering this
project, yet he cynically uses Darcus's race as cover for his revisionist history.
Darcus has been bad for the entire community, and he clearly sold blacks out
as he's done Massa High's bidding. Art Morris should be ashamed of himself
for making that seem heroic.
Editor's note: Given the African-American source, " ...he's done Massa
High's bidding" is not meant as a racial slur. Otherwise we would not print it.
Instead, it is a comment which succinctly sets forth the writer's understanding
of sociological and historic circumstances. In this difficult situation,
NewsLanc.com has weighed freedom of speech against political correctness and has
opted for the former. Mr. Darcus is most welcome to respond.
"Guilty Beyond a Reasonable Doubt"
Recently the New York Times reported that over 200 convicts have been
exonerated of serious crimes (including murder) as a result of DNA testing, a
procedure that was not available at the time of their trials.
Judges instruct jury members that they should vote for conviction if
they believe the party is "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." Prosecutors
should recognize that there is almost always some degree of "doubt" and should
take care to avoid wrongful convictions.
But even under the most conscientious circumstances, innocent people do
go to prison.
So when evidence becomes available that an error may well have occurred,
the authorities should swiftly and happily reopen the case. Provided the
prosecution has acted honorably, there is no shame nor should there be blame
for an erroneous conviction.
What is shameful and blameworthy is District Attorney Donald Totaro's ten
month delay before investigating a confession by a serial rapist to crimes
for which innocent Ted Dubbs had already spent five years in prison. When
Totaro finally sent a detective to investigate, Dubbs was released from prison
within ten days.
What the FBI Wanted Classified as a Suicide
In "The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna," Bill Keisling describes Luna's wounds as follows:
"Both of Jonathan's hands were badly lacerated and 'shredded,' obviously
in defense against a sudden flurry of vicious knife slashes. Jonathan had
been stabbed in the back several times. These wounds fell in the middle of his
back and near the shoulder blades. Nearly impossible to inflict on oneself.
"Jonathan's neck was slit open in the right side, and all the way around
the throat. The slit to his throat cut deep, several inches in places.
"Jonathan's scrotum had been slashed open. His genitals were strangely
and viciously mutilated."
Keisling attributes the description to a worker who had closely examined
According to the author, the fourth edition of the book will soon be
All Commissioner Candidates to Participate in Forum
Candidates for Lancaster County Commissioner Molly Henderson, Craig
Lehman, Scott Martin, Dennis Stuckey and Jere Swarr will participate in a forum
moderated by Professor Robert J. Friedrich starting 6:30 p.m. on Thursday,
The forum will take place at the Bethel AME Church located at 450 East
Strawberry Street, Lancaster.
The program is scheduled to end at 9:30 and there will be a reception in
the Heritage Center next door.
Friedrich is an associate professor of government at F & M. Janelle
Stetson of WGAL-TV and Hector Valdez of WLCH Radio Centro will serve on a panel.
The event is free and open to all.
Marv Adam's Promise re Art Morris's Column, Word for Word
In "Editorially Speaking" on Apr. 22nd, Sunday News editor Marv Adams said the following:
"Mr. Morris has a contract with the Sunday News to write one column per
month. If he were a regular reporter or editor, he could not have been appointed
to the board. That is part of our ethics policy.
As a columnist, he is free to voice his opinions and let the chips fly. But
as a member of this board, he needs to work as part of a team.
There could also be the appearance of a conflict, because Lancaster
Newspapers (you know the disclaimer) publishes the Sunday News and is involved as a
half-partner in the hotel project through Penn Square Ltd. LLC.
Because of this, Mr. Morris and the Sunday News editors have come to the
same conclusion: He will not write columns about the project and the convention
center board." (Emphasis added.)
But when the convention center hotel business interests of the monopoly
Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. are involved, it doesn't matter what their editors
How very sad.
Autopsy report in Luna murder illegally withheld
In a front page article on Sept. 30th, the Sunday News reports "Private
investigator Ed Martino has written a letter to coroner Dr. G. Gary Kirchner,
asking Kirchner to 'comply with the law and file all autopsy records in your
possession, up to and including the year 2006.'"
It concludes with the tantalizing observation from Kirchner: "'If that
autopsy record gets out," he said, "there's going to be hell to pay.'"
Why does it fall to a private investigator to request information that
District Attorney Donald Totaro should be seeking? The FBI requested that
Totaro take jurisdiction of the case but he declined.
And although there is an abundance of evidence pointing to FBI
complicity, if not in the murder itself in a cover up of FBI wrongdoing prior and
afterwards, Totaro preferred to allow the most important Lancaster murder of the
century to go uninvestigated by his office while he spent a year
unsuccessfully seeking felony and misdemeanor charges against the county
The FBI tried to get Kirchner to reclassify Luna's death from homicide
to suicide despite over thirty stab wounds, many in his back! To its credit,
the Sunday News editorialized about the inanity of the FBI's attempt and
implied distrust of the FBI motivations.
Is the article an attempt by the the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers to
deflect criticism from its favorite Totaro, who is running for judge, to
Kirchner, a long time whipping boy?
NewsLanc would prefer to think that the Sunday
News is once again trying
to draw public attention to the failure of the local and federal authorities
to faithfully investigate the vicious murder in the line of duty of the
young African-American, an Assistant United States Attorney.
EDITORIAL: Guilt by association!
Intelligencer Journal for real:
"Bob Guzzardi, a controversial figure who once owned a gym that attracted
gay people in Philadelphia and who has bankrolled politicians in the past,
recently targeted Republican state Rep. Scott Boyd with a poll and telemarketing
campaign aimed at residents of Lancaster County." (Emphasis added.)
NewsLanc as parody:
The High Group, whose hotels provides accommodations for hundreds of gays,
is a sponsor of the convention center / hotel project. (They have thousands
of guests each evening of which about 15% are likely to be gay.)
Senator Gibson Armstrong and Representative Mike Sturla belong to an
organization that accepts gays as members. (The General Assembly.)
Sunday News / Morris Renege on Promise: Morris's Column Defends Former
Authority Chair Ted Darcus
When Art Morris accepted an appointment by the City of Lancaster to the
Convention Center Board and then was elevated to chairman, he promised in
print not to discuss the convention center in his monthly column in the
Yet he devoted his entire Sept. 30th column to a defense of his
predecessor as Authority chairman, the embattled Ted Darcus. Darcus was recently
reappointed by the City to another board term.
Once again we see the other side of Art Morris. The one that likened
Molly Henderson to a cow. The side of Morris who would see no evil, hear no
evil, speak no evil concerning the convention center project over the years
while he savaged the commissioners for their legal but hurried sale of Conestoga
NewsLanc.com has praised Morris for freeing the Authority from the the
incompetent and heavy handed leadership of Darcus. Darcus and the other city
appointees force-fed the $200 million albatross to a public that polls showed
opposed the project by a ratio of almost 4 to 1. Darcus oversaw the
one-sided deal between the Authority, which he was obliged to protect, and the
predatory Penn Square Partners. (Penn Square Partners currently consist of
subsidiaries of the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. and The High Group.)
By praising Darcus, Morris is implicitly defending himself for his
acquiescence and the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. for their ongoing abuse
of the power of the press.
The four county board appointees will have to decide in January whether
Morris, who has broken his public pledge and thus compromised public
confidence in his leadership, should continue as the Authority chair.
Morris Brings Openness and Delegation to Authority
Convention Center Authority Chairman Art Morris is making use of the
talents of the four highly qualified, majority county board appointees and has
shunted most of the research and decision-making to the various subcommittees.
Morris invited visitors to the Authority Board's monthly meeting to
attend and address their comments to the relevant committees at their meetings.
He indicated that although the board as a whole must finalize decisions, he
and the others will pay much attention to committee recommendations.
Rather than feeling frustrated by prior gag rules and thus hurling
accusations and blame at the Board as was the case during Ted Darcus and David
Hixson's draconian and benighted leadership, the same audience members
complimented the current board members for their obvious dedication, hard work and
It is a pity this wasn't the situation a year ago.
Intell Engages in Gay Bashing on Its Front Page
In a front page article on Sept. 29th headed "Senate race takes a turn," the
Intelligencer Journal emphasizes that a supporter of candidate Steve
McDonald has gay connections.
The second paragraph says: "Bob Guzzardi, a controversial figure who once
owned a gym that attracted gay people in Philadelphia and who has bankrolled
politicians in the past, recently targeted Republican state Rep. Scott Boyd
with a poll and telemarketing campaign aimed at residents of Lancaster County."
The Intell goes on to quote Guzzardi as saying "I'm willing to be called gay
or whatever people want to call me."
But what does Guzzardi's sexual predilections, whatever they may be, have to
do with the Senate race? Guzzardi isn’t even the candidate. And would it
matter if he were?
Is there no length the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers won't go to influence
elections so that our officials are both beholden and intimidated? Guzzardi, a
political activist who has contributed to many candidates of different
persuasions, describes himself as a fiscal conservative and a supporter of limited
government. His views on various subjects are available at
Penn Square Partners Inexplicably to Receive Half of Proceeds for Convention Center Naming Rights!
It was revealed at the Sept. 27th Convention Center Board meeting that
50% of the funds to be received for the convention center naming rights are
to go to Penn Square Partners, although the Partners only have a financial
interest in the adjoining Marriott Hotel!
(Penn Square Partners consists of subsidiaries of the Lancaster
Newspapers, Inc. and The High Companies.)
April Koppenhaver, local business woman and political activist, reported
that when she asked chairman Ted Darcus why, he blurted out to the effect
"They asked for it so we gave it to them." (Darcus remains on the convention
While Darcus was chair, the then-minority county board members
complained bitterly that they would only get to see lengthily and complex contracts
shortly before the meetings, thus preventing them from carefully reviewing and
discussing the terms and conditions.
NewsLanc's president Robert Field urged the board to commence a review
of the major contracts with the purpose in mind of renegotiating conditions
that are not normal and equitable and, where appropriate, seeking court relief.
With Another $1,000,000 Cost Overrun in August, Convention Center's Contingency Close to Depletion
It was disclosed at the Sept. 27th Convention Center Board meeting that
the cost overruns for the last 30 days came to over a million dollars. All but $200,000 in contingency funds have been exhausted with the project only
Art Morris, Chairman, said that they planned to be "proactive" by making
Wachovia Bank, the bond sponsor, aware of the problem in preparation for
asking them to approve budget alterations. Morris also said there may be an
additional $1,500,000 in state funds (read taxpayer money) available to
offset anticipated further extras.
Totaro Disregarded FBI's Request to Investigate Murder
The following is an excerpt from "The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna" by
"Two days after [Assistant U. S. Attorney Jonathan] Luna's murder, on
Saturday, December 6, 2003, citing an unnamed 'law enforcement official...who spoke
on the condition of anonymity,' the Baltimore Sun reported, 'authorities
could announce as early as Monday that the slaying was unconnected to Luna's job
and was expected to be handled as a state murder case by the local
prosecutor in Lancaster County, Pa not as a case of federal kidnapping or the
killing of a federal law enforcement official.'
"Lancaster County District Attorney Donald R. Totaro, for his part, sounded
less than enthusiastic, and kept referring reporters back to [U. S. Attorney]
Tom DiBagio's office in Baltimore."
Totaro declined to look into one of the most important murder cases in the
history of Lancaster County! Most likely because he wasn't about to
investigate the FBI who were deeply involved in illegal drug related activities that
Luna was ordered to discuss in court, and thus one or more agents were prime
suspects in Luna's murder.
The FBI turned the case over to Totaro because they were confident he
wouldn't do anything.
And they were right!
The book is currently out of print due to heavy demand. NewsLanc is advised
that a fourth edition will be available in another six to eight weeks.
Keisling has recently been engaged by a major news network as a consultant.
Commissioners "Ready To Fill Convention Center Board Vacancy"
At the County Commissioners' Sept. 25th public meeting and in response to
an inquiry from NewsLanc, Chairman Dick Shellenberger announced that the
commissioners would soon take action concerning the seat for a county
representative that became available on September 15th on the Convention Center
Currently Deb Hall is authorized to serve beyond her normal term,
awaiting word whether she will be reappointed or the commissioners will conduct a
search for her replacement.
Shellenberger advised that all three commissioners had recently met for
lunch with Art Morris, Chairman of the Authority, to hear his views on "what
kind of people would best serve on the Board."
Shellenberger said that the commissioners are now ready to address the
Fair and Balanced Coverage of Commissioner Campaign?
The Sept. 26th Intelligencer Journal ran a photo and article entitled
"Democrat launches fall commissioner run" featuring Democratic candidate Craig
Lehman and also discussing the campaign in general.
But what remains to be seen is whether the Intell and siblings New Era
and Sunday News will give coverage in equal amounts and impartiality to
Commissioner Molly Henderson, the other Democratic candidate.
Since Henderson was a staunch opponent of further county taxpayer
subsidies and bond guarantees for the convention center / hotel project
cosponsored by the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers, Inc., the editors may be tempted to
curry favor with their employer by providing greater coverage and articles
favorable to Lehman.
Perhaps some reader will volunteer to monitor and report weekly
concerning whether the Democratic race does receive fair and balanced coverage?
Not So, Smart II
In "Smart Remarks" of Sept. 25, Sunday News Associate Editor Gil Smart
defends the convention center projerct on two grounds:
"That's not real good, having your customers...trundling by the crumbling
structure, the homeless types that lingered in the broken-brick courtyard."
But City officials and Lancaster Square Partners rejected proposals to
build upscale residential condominiums with street front shops. Not only
would the aesthetics have been more pleasant, but there would have been
pedestrian traffic every day of the year, not a void for the two-thirds of the year
best when the convention center is inactive.
Smart then goes on to opine: "I am told that there are people waiting
in the wings to make sure this thing is going to go, who - once assured it is
- will pull their own triggers. Is this true?" (By "pull the triggers", he
means locate downtown.)
In other words, "Build it and they will come."
He concludes: "... if the convention center/hotel does not spark a
significant wave of private development in its wake - then the whole thing will
have been a waste."
Intell Demonstrates It Can Responsibly Report News
In a Sept. 25 front page article headed "Judge, officials criticize
illegal immigrants", the Intelligencer Journal reports the views of a
local lawmaker and others "who are urging a tougher stance against illegal
However, ideological balance is provided in the third paragraph as
follows: "Critics said the report's methodology was flawed. They also rebuked a
state appeals judge for speaking at the event, calling it inappropriate for a
sitting jurist to appear at a partisan political rally."
And again a dissenting view point is given in the sixth paragraph:
"Robert Nix, chairman of the Pennsylvania Hispanic Republicans, called the
use of such statistics 'political opportunism.'"
Furthermore, towards the end of the lengthy article, Nix's views are
The reader is invited to compare the cited article with the one sided
advocacy pieces the Intell and the other monopoly newspapers have recently
published concerning the proposed "Crossings" shopping center sponsored by
convention center partner The High Group.
While NewsLanc is pleased to praise an article in the Intell for practicing good journalism, it is unfortunate that this is seldom the case when its parent company Lancaster Newspaper, Inc., its partner The High Group, or
their cat's paw District Attorney Donald Totaro are involved.
Ignoring the Obvious About Downtown Truck Traffic.
A lead article in the Sept. 23rd Sunday News is entitled "Keep on
truckin,' but not in city. Lancaster once again ponders what do about drive-through
truckers, but who will take them?" Northbound trafffic on Queen Street and
southbound traffic on Prince Street are designated as the main truck
An earlier county planning commission study indicated that 90% of the
trucks on city streets were making local deliveries so even if an alternate
routing was available around Lancaster City, most trucks would still use city
According to the article, "....with the convention center only 19 months
away, officials are again dreaming the impossible dream" of doing something
about relieving truck traffic.
But wait a second. If truck traffic is 90% local, if Queen and Prince
streets are the main corridors north and south, then why is the mayor and the
self-anointed Lancaster Streetcar Company advocating that we further congest
those two streets by running streetcars up them?
It isn't good planning. Rather it is special interest money-grubbing
from the federal trough and yet another annual deficit to be subsidized by
local tax payers.
And drivers including convention visitors would find it even harder to
get around town.
There is no reason to believe that more people including conventioneers
would rather ride a street car than take a fifty cent, well marked,
downtown loop bus; a far superior, flexible and cheaper solution.
It seems as though there isn't much that can be done about the truck
traffic. But why make things worse?
More "Crossings" Hype by Intell
Still another one-sided puff piece extolling the virtues of the
proposed "Crossings at Conestoga Creek" shopping complex appeared in
the Intelligencer Journal of Sept. 18th.
The promotional piece presented as news was headed "Crossings progress
on Web Proposed MT shopping center detailed online."
As in the past pseudo-news articles, High Real Estate executive Benjamin
Bamford is the only person quoted and no comments by critics of the project
Readers should be pressing the Intell to reveal whether parent Lancaster
Newspapers, Inc. has an ownership interest, direct or indirect, in the
proposed project or is simply compromising journalism ethics as a favor to The
High Group, its convention center hotel partner.
Center contract extends beyond 10 years;
Management firm would consider modifications
The following are excerpted responses dated Sept. 17th from Jim Biggar, Senior Vice President Operations, Interstate Hotels and Resorts to inquiries:
NewsLanc: Is the contract with the LCCCA typical of contracts IHR has with hotels as far as delegation of so much power and length of term?
IHR: Very typical in that the manager acts as agent of the owner with clearly defined responsibilities and accountabilities. It provides enough latitude for the manager to perform its duties on a daily basis, yet it clearly defines limits of authority. A 10 year-term with renewable term options is very common for a hotel/convention center management agreement. (Emphasis added)
NewsLanc: Is the contract typical of any IHR existing contracts with convention centers concerning delegation of power and length of terms?
IHR: Same as above.
NewsLanc: Would IHR be willing to discuss modifications of the contracts after September 15 when the LCCCA Board is reconstituted, considering the majority of members would so desire?
IHR: IHR is always available to meet with our clients to discuss elements of contracts that may need clarification or to consider proposed modifications. Decisions regarding such modifications are made on a case by case basis.
Intell Editorial gets Totaro / Dubbs Half Right
Give the editors of the Intelligencer Journal some credit. They ran an
editorial on Sept. 17th entitled "True confessions" and ever-so-gently
criticized District Attorney and county judge candidate Donald Totaro for his
ten month delay in getting around to confirming the confession of serial rapist
Wilbur Cyrus Brown II which led to the release of Charles "Ted" Dubbs
from prison after serving six years for two sex crimes he did not commit.
But note the timidity of how the Intell editors put it: "Although the
district attorney's office deserves credit for its diligence to see justice
done, questions persist about the length of time it took from Brown's initial
confession in November until Dubbs was freed in September."
"Although the district attorney's office deserves credit for its
diligence to see justice done..." Give us a break!
Apparently Dubbs didn't have influential friends so Totaro didn't give a
damn. It took court prodding and three-quarters of a year before Totaro
bothered to even have Brown interviewed. Meanwhile Dubbs remained in prison.
"Justice delayed is justice denied." A district attorney should be
guided by that, let alone someone who seeks to be elected judge.
From Shaub, to Totaro, to Lancaster Newspapers ... Connect the Dots!
lawsuit by Gary Heinke filed September 6th provides a vivid description of alleged antics of former county commissioner Howard "Pete" Shaub and contributes to understanding the special relationship among Shaub, a vehement defender of the convention center project; the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers, Inc., a partner in the project; and District Attorney Donald Totaro who conducted a year long witch hunt whereby the grand jury, from its own investigation, found no wrongdoings.
In a law suit against the County of Lancaster and Commissioners Richard Shellenberger, Molly Henderson, and Shaub, former Lancaster County Human Services Administrator Gary Heinke expresses his outrage at his mistreatment by former Commissioner Pete Shaub and the "lies" perpetrated by the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc.
Among accusations against Shaub, Heinke relates: 1) Shaub demeaned and humiliated him at public meetings; 2) harassed him by telephone day and night, including weekends; 3) blackmailed him on his annual evaluation; 4) threatened him physically; 5) piled more work and more projects onto him, and shortened his deadlines; 6) demanded that he illegally assist Shaub in getting re-elected; 7) and demanded that Heinke assist him in undermining Shellenberger by organizing a campaign against Shellenberger in order to ultimately force Shellenberger to relinquish the chairmanship of the Board so that Shaub could reassume that position.
Heinke also states that "the Lancaster Newspapers published accusations against [Heinke] regarding his ... alleged role in selling the Conestoga View Nursing Home. The accusations were absolutely false...."
Heinke also claims the commissioners "failed to come to [his] defense when the newspapers falsely impugned his reputation and called for his resignation..."
Contrary to popular belief (which results from what is read in the monopoly newspapers), the findings of the grand jury report of August 8, 2007 that was convened to investigate "...the hiring of Gary Heinke..." suggests that no law was broken by Heinke or the commissioners.
However, not having received the grand jury report and under great pressure from Totaro, all three commissioners agreed to minor violations of the Sunshine Act and paid $100 fines.
The monopoly newspapers either disregarded or downplayed that the grand jury found none of the sixteen accusations to be credible and instead trumpeted the petty violations in banner headlines as though they were the crime of the century.
What the grand jury actually reported was "... [Pennsylvania’s Sunshine] Act is very limited in the conduct prohibited." It then went on to explain for two pages that the Act did not prohibit actions when they acted in accordance with the advice of their solicitor and the jury urged the law be tightened.
The grand jury report is posted in its entirety at http://newslanc.com/grand_juror_report_final.pdf. Be among the first to read it! And notice how Totaro’s allegations are in the main portion and the findings of no guilt are usually found in the small print of the footnotes.
High Group to Benefit from $2 Million Fed Grant
According to the Sept. 14 New Era, Senators Arlen Specter and Bob Casey
announced that $2 million toward improvements for the Route 30 and Harrisburg
Pike intersection have been included in the Senate Transportation appropriations
Ben Bamford, development manager for High Real Estate, is quoted: "It is
encouraging. I think the senators understand what we're faced with with the
breadth of this project."
Isn't it remarkable at a time when municipalities are shoving their cost of
infrastructure onto developers, that our federal government is offering to
pay for offsite improvements to benefit The High Group and facilitate the
rezoning of their property?
It may be "encouraging" to High Realty, but it is discouraging for taxpayers
who don't happen to be in that charmed circle and who have to pay the $2
Consider this still another victory for the powerful Lancaster elite.
Contributor: Trolleys Make No Economic Sense
There has been much publicity recently in the local media about the
streetcar system in Lancaster City. So far, most of the discussion has
centered around optimistic but vague generalities. Before this proposal
takes on a life of its own, it is time to stop and look at some of the
The real problem with the streetcar proposal is the ongoing cost to local
taxpayers - forever. The only source of facts and figures available to the
public so far is the February 2006 "Stone Consulting and Design" marketing
study. This report estimates the proposed streetcar system would attract
240,000 riders a year, of which 204,000 - or 80% - would be tourists. Total
annual operating costs for the streetcar system are estimated to be $685,
207.48. At $1.20 for a full fare, or $0.80 for a discounted group fare,
total ticket sales are estimated to be $247,680.00. This leaves an estimated
annual operating deficit of $437,527.48.
Using numbers from the Stone study, each rider would need to be subsidized
at a cost of $1.82 each. The study anticipates a partial offset of this
operational deficit from advertising sales, concessions, and logo licensing
sales, which would provide an additional subsidy of $53,000 a year, or 22
cents a ticket.
It is totally and completely unrealistic to expect 204,000 tourists a year
to ride the streetcars. Most tourists park downtown, check out the museums
and Central Market, get something to eat, and get out of town. Convention
attendees wouldn't ride the trolley unless they are coerced to; day trippers
will want to park close by, and hotel guests from the county will ride in on
the hotel shuttles.
Marketing studies like the Stone report, which are written to justify a
proposal, ALWAYS paint an unrealistically rosy picture of the situation. It
is extremely likely that operational losses would be much higher, and
ridership much lower, than ANY study will ever report.
This operational deficit must be paid for by someone. Corporate sponsorships
would AT BEST cover but a small part of the ongoing operational losses, and
corporations won't guarantee a sponsorship indefinitely. Since there is no
Federal or State money available to fund the operation of such a streetcar
system, and the tracks will be almost completely within the city limits, it
would be Lancaster City taxpayers who get stuck paying the bills. Even the
Stone report estimates an annual cost to Lancaster City taxpayers of
$384,527.48, or a real estate tax increase of $20.57 per $100,000 of assessed
The Stone report estimates that only 36,000 riders a year, or 20% of the
ridership, would be local residents. That is a grand total of about 100
local riders a day for the two streetcars that are anticipated to operate
every 10 minutes for 11 hours a day. A 20 minute round trip equals 33 trips
a day for each trolley, or 66 trips a day total. That amounts to ONE AND ONE
HALF Lancaster City and County residents PER ROUND TRIP. Obviously the
streetcar proposal is NOT intended to be primarily for local residents.
Of course, these figures do NOT include construction and acquisition costs,
which the Stone report estimated to be $14,124,543, or $5,391,047 per mile.
The current thinking is that one of the local senators or representatives
would come up with enough money from "earmarks" to fund the project's
construction. But "earmarks" are currently under attack both in Congress and
in the Pennsylvania State Legislature.
It all adds up. Even at the overly-optimistic estimate of 240,000 riders per
year spread out over 20 years, construction costs average out to a taxpayer
subsidy of over $2.94 per passenger, in addition the operational losses of
the streetcar system.
Will someone please explain how this can possibly make any kind of economic
What is Mayor Rick Gray Desperately Trying to Cover Up?
When a candidate for mayor of Lancaster, Rick Gray promised if
elected he would call together opposing sides concerning the Convention Center
Project for the purpose of either confirming that it was worthwhile or to move
on to another plan for the Watt & Shand site. But within days of his
election, he reneged on his promise and fell right in line with Penn Square Partners,
the sponsors of the convention center project.
A few months later, perhaps suffering from a bout with his conscience,
Gray appeared before the County Commissioners and challenged them to order a
feasibility study. They did and it was highly negative, but then he, the Authority
and Penn Square Partners refused to give it any consideration.
Now on September 11th Gray again went before the commissioners and
pleaded with them not to perform their duty to either reappoint Deb Hall to a
second term on the Convention Center Board or name someone else to fill the county
appointee opening as of September 15th. He asked them to instead allow their
successors in 2008 to make the appointment.
Then later in the day Gray appointed former authority chairman Ted Darcus
as a replacement for City appointed board member Willie Borden who Gray had
allowed to remain on the board although his term had expired almost a year
ago. It appears that this has long been the plan of Gray and Penn Square
What is it that Gray and Penn Square Partners fear? Having four
conscientious county appointees overseeing the conduct of the convention center
authority? Investigation into the fairness and propriety of contracts between the
Authority and either Penn Square Partners or The High Group? Digging into
how millions of dollars were squandered over the past five years on
consultants that no competent board chair or executive director would have required;
consultants who would hardly, given the hundreds of thousands of dollars in
monthly fees, question the soundness of the project?
Hopefully Commissioners Dick Shellenberger and Molly Henderson have not
been so intimidated, so eviscerated by District Attorney Totaro's year long
grand jury witch hunt and the ongoing misrepresentations and exaggerations by
the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers that they no longer have energy left to
perform their responsibility to fill the vacancy.
Should that be the case, there never will be accountability for the
money wasted and past decisions.
D. A. Totaro Finally Acts to Free "Ted" Dubbs From Prison!
Three-quarters of a year after another man confessed to two sexual assaults
for which Charles "Ted" Dubbs had been sent to jail, District Attorney Donald
Totaro finally appeared before Judge David Ashworth on September 11th and
requested that all charges against Dubbs be dropped.
Ashworth immediately granted the request and Dubbs was promptly released
According to the Sept. 12 Intelligencer Journal, it took Totaro until Sept.
5th to have the confessed rapist, Wilbur C. Brown II, interviewed by a county
detective, at which time Brown revealed information concerning the rapes
that was not public. Also, the two eye witnesses who were pivotal in Dubbs's
conviction expressed doubt about their identification of Dubbs upon finally
getting to see a video of Brown.
How adequate were the safeguards taken by Totaro and his staff to guard
against traumatized victims identifying someone because he looked like their
assailant rather than being their assailant? Or was their only concern to get a
conviction? Apparently the identifications were the evidence that led to the
conviction. If we can be sent to jail simply because we look like a perpetrator
of a crime, then there but for the grace of God may go all of us.
Apparently Totaro was not concerned that an innocent man may have already
have served over five years in prison for crimes he didn't commit. It isn't as
though Dubbs was part of the corporate power elite! In that case, he likely
would have been out of prison in a week or two after Brown's confession.
Question: If Totaro conducts a fruitless witch hunt against county
commissioners which only serves the purposes of Lancaster Square Partners, if Totaro
refuses to investigate the murder of federal prosecutor Jonathan Luna which
only serves to cover up for the FBI, if Totaro allows innocent Ted Dubbs to
remain in jail for almost a year which serves no purpose whatsoever...what sort
of judge will he make?
A Cheaper Solution?
New Era (9 / 10): "While the popularity of the symphony is music to
everyone's ears, it's a
tough fit for the 684-seat Fulton Opera House. The solution? Maybe a new
performing arts center, seating up to 1,800, in downtown."
NewsLanc: Perhaps we can avoid another boondoggle and just have the
orchestra give extra performances.
Trolley Car Propaganda
The September 9th Sunday News ran a long article extolling the virtues of bringing trolley cars (they call them "street cars") back to Lancaster. The article is available at http://local.lancasteronline.com/4/209236.
NewsLanc comments item by item and endeavors to provide the missing balance:
1) The formation of the Lancaster Street Car Co., a Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation, is recognition that no "for profit" company would be willing to invest in the trolley system.
2) How does a trolley "stitch the city together" any better than a bus? If "fifty-cent fares" is the key, we could simply subsidize loop buses.
3) "The 2.6-mile loop would cost an estimated $14.1 million." Guess who will pay the $14.1 million. If you say we taxpayers, you got it!
4) The idea is that it would be 'financially sustainable.' But the published projections by the sponsors indicate an annual loss of about $300,000. Research trumps wishes. So who gets to pay the $300,000 deficit that is likely to soar? Again, taxpayers.
5) But wait. "...backers will certainly look for philanthropic dollars..." More wishes.
6) "...backers will chase advertising dollars..." But buses also run advertisements yet Red Rose Transit System requires taxpayer subsidy.
7) "...tax exempt status to provide donors with tax advantages and help solidify corporate partners..." Tax exempt status means indirect tax payer subsidy.
8) "...fine tune the route and design of the proposed system, with an eye on minimizing traffic disruptions." They acknowledge that running trolleys down the street and stopping every time someone wants to get on or off disrupts traffic.
9) "Streetcars would operate at about 10-minutes intervals around a north-south loop along Queen and Prince streets, from the city Amtrak station to Southern Market Center at South Queen and Vine Streets." These main streets are already congested several hours each day.
10) "There are, backers acknowledge, a lot of legitimate concerns about the project. Traffic is a major worry...[they] may in fact reduce traffic volume, if people park at the edges of the city and use the trolley to get around town." The Amtrak station is the "edge of the city?" And even if parking garages are finally built at the station, would commuters be willing to park cars there and have to wait for a trolley rather than park downtown?
11) "Conventioneers and visitors ... might want to visit Clipper Magazine Stadium or go antiquing in the 300 block of North Queen Street." Conventioneers will come to Lancaster to watch our local baseball team? Shoppers won't take a loop bus or walk a couple of short blocks to visit antique stores?
12) "It can be built quickly, inexpensively, right into the street to get around without a car more easily." It requires $14.3 million minimum to create the infrastructure for the trolley line. It costs nothing towards added infrastructure to simply run a distinctively painted loop bus.
13) "This is not some harebrained idea," said Jack Howell of the Lancaster Alliance. Seems so to us!
Columnist Misses the Point re Electronic Machine
The column by Helen Colwell Adams in the September 9 Sunday News entitled
"Electronic voting doesn't get everyone's vote" completely ignores the main
reason for insisting that all voting machines, electronic or otherwise, be
equipped with verifiable paper trails.
If each vote is not verified by the voter and is not tallied on paper, there
is no way for obtain a recount. Thus voting machines can be rigged to
provide false outcomes. And there are plenty of circumstances of wild
variations between polls and voting results to believe this has already been taking
place in other parts of the country.
What should not be made available is a written confirmation of the
individual's vote. This accomplishes little if anything, because the individual can
verify their vote by seeing it on the screen. But a written receipt to prove
how the individual has cast his or her ballot encourages vote buying.
As Representative Mike Sturla has proposed, we need to be able re-count the
actual votes to make sure that the reading of the electronic voting machine is
To avoid election tampering, California is requiring that all electronic
voting machines without a verifiable paper trail of votes cast should either be
modified to do so or be replaced. And to avoid election tampering is why
Commissioner Molly Henderson voted against and NewsLanc vigorously objected to
Dick Shellenberger and Pete Shaub acquiring electronic voting machines
without a verifiable paper trail that were being cast off by Oregon.
More Criticism of Library Plans
NewsLanc's representative discussed the plans for enlarging and
refurbishing the Lancaster Public Library on Duke Street with a member of the Board
of Directors of the Philadelphia Library System.
The member was highly critical of the Lancaster proposal to relocate the
children's section from the second floor to the basement area which is
without windows and has a low ceiling height of only 8 feet, 7 inches.
The Philadelphia board member said they were moving their children's
section from ground level to an upper floor at their main library so that it
would benefit from additional roof top lighting. She pointed out that their
planners and architect recognize that the children's area must also be
attractive for parents who accompany the children.
No Equal Justice
In November of last year, an incarcerated serial rapist confessed to two
attacks on women for which Charles "Ted" Dubbs has been serving a five year
Over three-quarters of a year has past but, according to the September 7
Intelligencer Journal, all that District Attorney Donald Totaro has to say
about the matter is that the investigation was continuing into next week.
Perhaps Dubbs is innocent. Perhaps Wilbur C. Brown II is lying,
although there is no indication there is any personal acquaintance between the
two. The likely truth is for a judge and possibly a jury to decide.
But over three-quarters of a year is a very long time for a possibly
innocent man to have to wait for Totaro to finish an investigation.
In a democracy district attorneys and judges are mandated to provide
equal treatment to the little guy (and gal) as to the rich and powerful, not to
spend their time pursuing the goals of the rich and powerful.
Totaro wasted a grand jury's time for a year checking on unfounded
accusations against the commissioners and intimidated them into accepting $100
fines to put the investigation behind them, but he doesn't have time in almost a
year to determine if Dubbs should get a new trial or be released!
But what else can we expect from a district attorney who won't even
investigate the murder on his doorstep of Assistant U. S. Prosecutor Jonathan
EDITORIAL: Guilty When Charged!
Most people assume that Senator Larry Craig of Idaho was guilty of
soliciting in a men's room for a homosexual act. Although an understandable
conclusion, it is politically naive.
A half century ago labor organizers who had the temerity to venture into
parts of upstate Pennsylvania were approached by police and advised that if they
weren't out of the region by the end of the day that they would be charged
with homosexual activity. Especially given the opprobrium that such an
accusation would carry in that day and age, they could not pack quickly enough.
Just this past year we saw county officials faced with the veiled threat of
indictments for reasons unstated. They recognized that the indictment in
itself would make it impractical for them to remain in office, let alone run for
reelection. So they accepted a plea bargain for minor violations of the
Sunshine Act that never would have held up in a court of law. (At least elsewhere
than Lancaster County...but that's another story.)
So guilty or not, Craig faced the harsh reality of an arrest on a morality
charge. Any publicity would be career ending. He made a calculated gamble,
just as did Commissioners Dick Shellenberger, Dick Shaub and Molly Henderson,
that pleading guilty to a very minor violation would go virtually unnoticed. He
The world for elected officials and people of prominence is not the same as
for the rest of us. And if the general public doesn't understand this,
District Attorney Donald Totaro and his ally, the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers,
Inc. (with their headlines), sure did when they sent convention center
adversary Dick Shellenberger "packing" and may yet achieve the same end with Molly
Mayor Gray is Looking in the Wrong Direction
Despite what a columnist in the Patriot-News projects would cost
taxpayers $92 in subsidies per round trip, Mayor Rick Gray of Lancaster City
supports the proposed Corridor One rail system because "Route 283 is overcrowded
already," according to an account in the September 3rd Intelligencer
However, I-283 goes to Harrisburg while the goal is to improve service to
Philadelphia and New York City. Apart from a few Amish, how many take the
train to Harrisburg now? Harrisburg is only a 45 minute drive and, once
there, public transportation is a problem.
The biggest obstacle to using the commuter line is lack of parking at
the train station. Except for early birds, one has to come ahead of time and
park a couple of blocks away. If Gray really wanted to attract more riders,
he should have advocated the acquisition of the sites that were for sale
across the street from the station and the building of a parking garage with a
The anxiety over finding a place to park and the need to walk
significant distances to and fro, especially with packages, are more of a deterrent
than taking five more minutes on the train to get to Philadelphia. And anyone
that doesn't find the commuter trains comfortable ought to experience a
flight in economy class on an airplane.
Intell Panders for Proposed High Shopping Center
The lead article in the Local/Business section of the September 1
Intelligencer Journal, subtitled "'Crossings at Conestoga Creek' proposal touted as
'smart growth,'" is a virtual promotional piece for High Real Estate Group
Benjamin Bamford, senior development manager for the developer, is the only
person interviewed. The article goes on for two dozen paragraphs and is
without representation by critics of the project.
Bamford sets up straw men and then knocks them down, avoiding real issues
such as commercial sprawl and traffic congestion.
NewsLanc take no stand on whether the site should be rezoned from industrial
to commercial. But NewsLanc does decry the Intell whoring its news pages
on behalf of its convention center partner, The High Group.
If High wants to promote its projects, let them buy an advertisement!
Have the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers lost all sense of journalistic ethics
and standards? Are the newspapers to serve as the propaganda arm for the
parent company and convention center project partner, The High Group? Sadly, the
answer to both questions appears to be yes.
What Should Become of Lancaster Square?
In his August 30 column entitled "Lancaster Square: It's a dirty job,
but...", Jeff Hawkes asks: "So what might work? Upscale condos? Shops?
Galleries? Offices? A compatible mix? Don't forget the carousel."
The problem isn't with the open area or the Bulova Building. Nor is it the
lack of a first floor lobby for the Brunswick. Rather it is with the long
term inadequate downtown market for a three or four star hotel which led to
the de-flagging of the original Hilton and a series of dysfunctional successors
including the current Brunswick.
There is no point in belaboring past possible betrayals of public and
fiduciary trusts that prevented the Brunswick and Lancaster Square from being
converted into the convention center / hotel at a third of the cost of
mis-locating the project at the Watt & Shand site.
And clearly with the Marriott Hotel in the future, prospects for the
Brunswick are even dimmer.
Fortunately there is a solution that has been at hand for the past
couple of years and will become even more practical in the future. The expanding
Pennsylvania Academy of Music (PAM) will need dormitories for students coming
from throughout the nation and the world, and for additional class room and
practice space. Furthermore the movie house can be converted into a second
concert hall and theater for use of PAM and others, perhaps even for the
Harambee project of Bethel A. M. E. church which provides dramatic reenactments of
the days of the "underground railroad" transporting escaping slaves to as
far north as Canada.
PAM could gradually grow into the building. It should be acquired now
by a trust and the remaining guest rooms and public areas could be managed by
Interstate Hotels or another company.
This isn't a new proposal from NewsLanc's president. But perhaps with
the convention center issue now settled, the time has come when attention will
be paid to it by Mayor Rick Gray and the trustees of PAM.
Convention Authority Seeks 'Two Headed' Executive Director ... Is This an Attempt to Perpetuate Ineptitude?
At the Convention Center Authority meeting on August 30 the board approved
a $5,000 budget for an advertisement that would in effect discourage
qualified candidates for applying.
The proposed ad calls for two diametrically opposite backgrounds and skill
sets: 1) "Proven effective leadership skills at directing and operating a
convention center..." and 2) "a strong individual to provide leadership,
influence and direction for the current facility construction activities..."
Let's see: The person should be an engineer or architect and have spent at
least a decade in commercial construction. And the applicant should also be a
graduate of business school and have devoted a decade to sales and marketing
management. Now who is going to meet that criteria?
Is it possible that Chairman Art Morris doesn't know that it is the
contractual and industrywide responsibility of the Authority's architect to supervise
construction, oversee change orders, and approve payments? And if Morris
feels that engaging a construction consultant would expedite the process, then
the board should hire such a person in addition to an executive director.
(The $100,000 a year for a construction consultant is small change to an
Authority that approved $400,000 in extras to construction contracts for the
Certainly construction expertise is not part of the job responsibilities of
an executive director of a convention center.
Either this bifurcated job description represents incredible naivety on the
part of members of the Personnel Committee, or it is an attempt to discourage
qualified applicants and attract others so lacking of skills for managing a
convention center as to cause them to be inept, malleable and subject to
influence of sponsor Penn Square Partners and other financial interests. In other
words, more of the same.
Hopefully after September 15 when the county appointees become a majority on
the board, the Personnel Committee will be reconstituted and come up with
criteria and advertisements that serve to attract qualified candidates for the
executive director position. Meanwhile, let's not waste $5,000 of taxpayers'
money on foolish ads.
Editorial: Tonight is the Swan Song of Ted Darcus and Dave Hixson
Thursday, August 30, is the last regularly scheduled Convention Center
Authority meeting before Tom LeCrone takes over the seat of Ted Darcus and Executive
Director Dave Hixson departs for a position in private enterprise.
NewsLanc does not contest that they are basically decent individuals. Darcus
is especially to be commended for his volunteer services on behalf of inner
However, neither brought the experience or management competence that were
required for their highly responsible positions, and their inadequacies and
resulting malleability were likely the reasons they were chosen.
Hixson acknowledged earlier in the week at a Finance and Audit committee
meeting that he knew little of the hospitality or convention center business and
needed marketing consultant Daniel Logan to educate, prep and accompany him to
meetings, at a cost to taxpayers of close to a million dollars.
The law firm of Stevens & Lee invoiced more than $7 million for purposes
Darcus refused to make public, but we surmise it was largely to direct the two of
them in even the most routine of their decision making; witness the dozen plus
pages written by Authority counsel in response to a simple request for copies
of public documents by incoming board member Tom LeCrone.
Logan and Stevens & Lee are but two examples. Millions more of the over $20
million in pre-construction expenditures were paid to other consultants to
guide Darcus and Hixson through what for more competent executives would have been
NewsLanc surmises this was no accident but rather the way that Lancaster
Square Partners, consisting of The High Companies and the monopoly Lancaster
Newspapers, Inc., were able to influence the process from the background. The
consultants, receiving $20,000 or $30,000 a month in some cases, were unlikely to
tell the Authority: "Let's stop wasting money. This project makes no sense."
To the utter frustration of project critics, Darcus would not permit a public
dialogue with board members, let alone consultants. (The one time Darcus
dropped his guard, the financial advisor blurted out that the Authority might have
to go to the County for a financial bail out in five years!)
So good-bye to Ted and Dave. In time we will forgive you for the millions
down the drain, this albatross of a project and the added blight to downtown. But
we will hold others responsible now and in the future. And we will not
A Journalistic Hatchet Job
Having once been the conscience of Lancaster, it is sad how far Intelligencer Journal columnist Jeff Hawkes has slid since he caved in to employer pressure on the convention center / hotel project.
His August 28th column, "Fear is friend of home-rule opponents" is an unsubstantiated attack on James Bednar, James E. Huber and Gregory Sahd who served without compensation on a committee to study a possible change in the form of county government. The three committed the apparent sin of filing a dissenting minority report favoring retaining a three person board!
Rather than setting forth any substantive arguments, Hawks associates their actions with those of Portugal’s King John II who was skeptical of Columbus's plan to cross the oceans to find a shorter route to Asia and two other similar circumstances.
He concludes "These are just three of countless examples of how playing on fears and defending tradition is a time-honored practice."
So according to Hawkes defending tradition is reprehensible and we should willy-nilly turn our back on what has worked in the past. His column is a tribute to rhetoric over reason, to innuendo over substantive arguments.
NewsLanc has no truck with Bednar, Huber and Sahd nor have we had the human resources available to study the complicated issue. But we recognize a journalistic hatchet job when we see one!
Interstate Hotel's "Suits" Impressive
The "suits" representing Interstate Hotel & Resorts, Inc. (IHR) appeared at the Convention Center Marketing Committee meeting and seemed to make a favorable impression.
IHR's qualifications for managing convention centers were clarified at the outset. They represent over half a dozen convention centers across the country including major facilities at Oakland, Myrtle Beach, San Francisco and Orlando.
IHR went to lengths to demonstrate how their joint management of the center and the forthcoming Marriott would benefit from the sharing of costs and from access to valuable marketing data provided without cost from Marriott.
Although IHR’s slide show indicated that their revenue projections were based on the (long out dated) C. H. Johnson and (the subsequently withdrawn) PricewaterhouseCoopers market studies, Senior Vice President Jim Biggar privately advised NewsLanc that they had also referenced the 2006 PKF Consultants' feasibility study that had been commissioned at considerable cost by the county commissioners.
Committee members Laura Douglas and Deb Hall objected to the IHR requests that a marketing budget be approved prior to the preparation and presentation to the committee of a marketing plan. IHR's vice president Brian Sparacino said that this was their normal procedure but acquiesced to Douglas and Hall's request.
Joshua Novak, their local manager, defined the prime market areas as Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D. C. and described efforts over the next few months to provide information to convention planners throughout the targeted region.
The main reservation that hotelier and NewsLanc.com representative Robert Field had with information presented was the burdening of the convention center with 47% of the joint convention center / hotel maintenance personnel expenses. Even though the center’s square footage is slightly larger than the hotels, the maintenance required for 300 hotel rooms far exceeds what is required to service the open space and low utilization of a convention center.
During the comment period prior to IHR's presentation, Ron Harper, Jr., of
5thEstate.com likened the engagement of IHR to a "shotgun wedding" with Dale High telling the LCCCA that they accept IHR or he would not move ahead with the project.
Field posed a number of questions on behalf of NewsLanc, most of which were answered during IHR presentation. Yet the most important one continued to hang in the air: "Would IHR be willing to discuss modifications of the contract after September 15th when the LCCCA board is reconstituted?"
Editorial: Who was Running LCCCA?
If Chairman Ted Darcus and Executive Director David Hixson weren't qualified to run the Convention Center Authority; and if Stevens & Lee received over $7 million dollars and other consultants millions more to guide them on their way; and if Stevens & Lee also represented the The High Companies that also are the general partner of Penn Square Partners and a major construction contractor, who indeed was running the Convention Center Authority?
At Long Last: Open Discussion, Candid Exchanges
The handful of spectators at the Convention Center Authority's Finance & Audit Committee meeting witnessed an open, substantive and illuminating dialogue between NewsLanc’s representative Robert Field and Executive Director David Hixson with committee chair Laura Douglas and board member Ted Darcus occasionally joining in.
Field centered his questions on the engagement of Daniel Logan as a marketing consultant and Hixson readily responded, an exchange never permitted at Authority Board meetings when Darcus was chairman.
Field mentioned that over several years that Logan had been paid close to a million dollars and yet, according to an Authority staff member, that he had never produced any written work product. Hixson responded that Logan had spent much time educating Hixon concerning the hospitality industry and preparing him and accompanying Hixson to meetings.
Field said that there was scuttlebutt that when Logan had managed the Brunswick, that: 1) Logan had been non-responsive to repeated overtures from City officials to discuss the possibility of the Brunswick being renovated and enlarged into a convention center and host hotel; and 2) Logan later wrote a report for the Authority discouraging the Authority from locating the convention center at the Brunswick.
Hixson said he could recall no such report and that Logan’s negative evaluation was but part of the input sought.
Shelly Weikert, assistant to Hixson, volunteered that she thought well of Logan and he had spent many hours working on Authority business.
A pregnant moment occurred early on when Field suggested that the committee look into how Logan was engaged, what worked he had done, why he was paid so much and whether he actually ended up with the funds or was a conduit. At the mention of the word "conduit" Hixson’s head jerked, a reaction that Field interpreted as that of an honest man.
None of the issues were resolved, including why Logan was chosen as a consultant considering he had just started a one person company and his qualifications for the assignment seemed questionable.
And an implicit question was at whose instance was Hixson hired as executive director when he lacked executive experience, relevant knowledge and required so many millions of dollars of consultants to assist him in his attempts to perform his duties.
Intell Gets Its School Terms "Bass Ackward"
An Intelligencer Journal editorial of August 27th supports school openings
in late August to provide "...high school students time to adjust their
internal clocks to prepare for Scholastic Aptitude Tests that typically, (sic) are
taken in the fall." It claims the traditional school starts after Labor Day
was based upon an "agrarian model... that fit with farm schedules."
First of all, summer vacations have more to do with the seasonal
temperatures than agrarian interests, otherwise city schools would not have
traditionally started after Labor Day.
Secondly, August is the most popular months for vacations in the Northern
and Western hemispheres for the obvious reason that it is the hottest month of
the year. Also the oceans and lakes are much warmer.
Starting schools before Labor Day works a huge hardship not only on family
vacation plans but on business people here and elsewhere who depend upon the
summer help and tourist trade for their livelihood. It isn't just a case of
not being able to find workers because they are back in high school and
colleges. It is also a loss of a week of prime business out of the short
traditional vacation period in July and August.
NewsLanc agrees with the Intell that a longer school year is beneficial. But the obvious solution is to extend the school year a few more days into June
when it will not have nearly as many negative effects.
Committee Chair Responds re Meeting in Private Venue
In an E-mail to NewsLanc, Finance and Audit Committee Chairperson Laura
Douglas gives the following explanation for holding a public meeting in a
suburban Lancaster location:
"In answer to the question on NewsLanc.com of 8/24/07, as chairman of the
Finance and Audit Committee, I made the decision to offer the conference room
at MAX International for these meetings in order to provide a venue conducive
to a working committee without the scheduling difficulties that have been
encountered regarding the City Council Chambers.
"These meetings have been and still will be open to the public, which is why
the address was published in the notice (directions below). Members of the
public are very welcome to attend. Although the conference room cannot
handle a large number of people, it should be able to handle those who regularly
attend committee meetings. Should it become too crowded, we will again check
the availability of Southern Market Center.
"Directions from Lancaster City to MAX International, 2360 Dairy Road:
Columbia Avenue to Route 741
Right on 741 to the T-junction at Route 283
Left on 741
2nd left right by Flory's Mill (if you go under 283, you've gone too far)
Under railroad tracks and right on Dairy Road
MAX is about .8 mile out Dairy Road (Blue sign)
North on Queen to Train Station.
Left and right to Fruitville Pike
Fruitville Pike North to 30W/283W
Left onto Route 283
2nd exit - Route 741 East Petersburg
Left at end of ramp
Back under 283
Immediate right next to Flory's Mill
Under railroad tracks and right on Dairy Road
MAX is about .8 mile out Dairy Road (Blue sign)"
NewsLanc comments: With all due respect to board member Douglas, NewsLanc
suggests that meetings open to the public be conducted in public facilities
at convenient locations. What by some is well meant could be used for
sinister purposes by others.
Whether National, State or Local ... There ain't no Free Lunch!
An August 26th New York Times front page article headed "Pennsylvania
Political War Over Planned Tolls on I-80," states the "plan is to generate
about $950 million a year through the sale of bonds backed by tallowy revenue
and other state sources over the first 10 years, with about $500 million going
to road and bridge projects throughout the state, and the remaining $450
million going to subsidize mass transit in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and other
The approval of the Federal Highway Administration must be obtained and this
would be the first time in the nation that a state was authorized to collect
tolls on an Interstate built with federal funds.
The purpose envisioned for allowing states to charges tolls was to generate
funds for maintenance and improvements, which, as stated above, is not the
Rendell Administrations intention.
Supporters of the toll point out that 70% of the revenue will come from
out-of-state vehicles. Sound familiar? That is the same argument used locally
to justify the Hotel Room Sales Tax for the purpose of funding the white
elephant of a convention center.
What our politicians obviously don't take into consideration is the impact
on the economies of the communities along the vast stretch of I-80 that will
find it harder to attract and keep distribution centers and will suffer from a
drop of travelers.
It seems every politician wants to figure out ways to load more and more debt
and expenses on the taxpayer, fund huge projects that generate momentary
revenue and patronage galore, and then retire with either good jobs or fat
pensions. They will leave "monuments" but also weakened economies and oceans
of red ink to be paid for by current and future generations.
NewsLanc didn't originate the following, but it sure deserves repeating:
"There ain't no such thing as a free lunch!"
Tourist Bureau Loss a Drop in the Bucket
The August 26 Sunday News headlines: "Tourism aid takes detour to big
cities. While Pittsburgh and Philadelphia feast, Lancaster County, others get
small slices of pie. Local bureau loses $250,000."
NewsLanc has more news for the Marv Adams and Company and the rest of the
monopoly Lancaster Newspapers: Having mortgaged its share of future state aid
for about $20 million for the Convention Center Project, Lancaster will be
sucking hind teat for years to come.
But that isn't the worst of it! Once the Convention Center project is
unable to meet debt service on its bonds (as has been predicted by the PKF
Consultants feasibility study), the portion of the Hotel Room Sales Tax revenues
now going to the Visitors Bureau will be diverted to bond payments! The
current loss of $250,000 will seem like a drop in the bucket!
Then we will hear cries from the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers for a
Convention Center Hotel casino to help bail out the project...and to make Penn
Square Partners (in which they have a 50% interest) a fortune.
Having fleeced the city and county tax payers, they will then prey upon the
people of modest means we see purchasing lottery tickets at convenience food
Have they no shame?
LCCCA Interstate Contract
The following is a synopsis of the obligations of the parties per the management contract between the Convention Center Authority and Interstate Hotels Company. It was prepared for the Authority's board by Executive Director David Hixson.
INTERSTATE HOTELS COMPANY ("Interstate")
Authorized (by LCCCA) as the exclusive agent to act as operator and manager of the Convention Center during the Management Term often (10) years;
By virtue of the first bullet point, Interstate has "exclusive responsibility" and "complete and full control and discretion" in the operation, direction, management and supervision of the Convention Center (subject "only" to the limitations expressed in the QMA;
In managing and operating the Center, Interstate is authorized to do the following:
Determine all terms for admittance; and charges for room, facilities, commercial space (if any), equipment rental, telecommunications services, audio/visual equipment, labor and other amenities and services;
Determine all credit policies;
Establish entertainment and amusement policies;
Provide event management;
Administer and assure compliance and direct the performance of all agreements pertaining to the use of the Center;
Establish catering and food and beverage policies;
Determine all labor policies, including wages and salary rates and terms, fringe benefits, etc. (in accordance with the Approved Annual Operating Projection);
Coordinate and implement all sales, advertising, public relations and promotion policies with respect to the Convention Center (in CONSULTATION with the LCCCA/PDCVB);
Execute and administer contracts for all events;
Establish and maintain the master set of all booking records and schedules;
Coordinate with operations of the Hotel in order to take advantage of cost efficiencies;
Administer and cause compliance with the obligations of the Convention Center under the following agreements: REOU Agreement (now replaced by Declaration of Condominium documents); Booking Policy; Concession Agreement; Parking Agreement among the LCCCA, the Hotel Owner and the Lancaster Parking Authority; Hotel Facilities Lease for the Leased Space; Joint Development Agreement; and any other agreement entered into between the Authority and Hotel Owner, so long as a copy of such agreement is provided to the Manager;
Arrange for utility, telephone, extermination, security, trash removal and other services for the operation of the Convention Center;
Purchase all inventories and all necessary additions to and replacements of Operating Supplies, FF&E and such other services and merchandise as are necessary for the proper operation of the Convention Center;
Hire such persons or organizations as Manager may deem necessary to provide advice with respect to Manager's operation of the Convention Center, including attorneys, accountants and other professionals and specialists provided, however, (i) excluding attorneys engaged by insurers in accordance with applicable insurance policies, the Authority's Approval shall be required to engage attorneys and (ii) the Authority hereby Approves engaging the attorneys listed on Exhibit B attached hereto;
Cause all needed repairs and maintenance to be made to the Convention Center;
Institute proceedings for the collection of rents and other amounts due for services rendered, property let or merchandise sold;
Interstate is required to provide Pre-Opening Management Services, as outlined in the QMA, and Technical Services, as outlined in the QMA and as needed;
As part of the above bullet point, Interstate is to prepare and submit to the LCCCA for approval a 'Pre-Opening Budget";
As part of 'Pre-Opening Management Services', Interstate must prepare and submit an "Operations Manual";
Interstate must comply with all applicable public bidding law requirements;
Interstate must submit to LCCCA for approval: 1) Service contracts or vendor agreements that extend beyond the term of the QMA; 2) Any lease, license or concession agreement in which the term is greater than one (1) year; 3) The purchase of goods, supplies and services from Interstate or an Affiliate (unless the prices and terms thereof are competitive); and 4) Any contract that contemplates, entails or relates to any rebate, discount or other remuneration not accruing to the Authority's account;
LCCCA is authorized to hire a "Manager" for the Convention Center;
LCCCA must approve a "Pre-Opening Budget" detailing the anticipated expenditures of the Manager's "Pre-Opening Management Services" (NOTE: The QMA states the Authority's approval should occur not less than sixty (60) days prior to the Pre-Opening Management Services beginning date. We are obviously well within that period of time.);
LCCCA must establish an "Agency Account" for all monies received by the Manager;
As part of "Pre-Opening Management Services" LCCCA must approve an "Operations Manual", as prepared by the Manager (NOTE: The aforementioned "Agency Account" must be established and money deposited prior to approval of an "Operations Manual");
On or before the Commencement Date, LCCCA must deposit cash in the Agency Account in an amount equal to fifty (50) percent of the Operating Expenses;
Upon Opening of the Center, LCCCA shall review and approve an Annual Operating Projection for the Center, as developed and submitted by the Manager (NOTE: The Authority shall review the Annual Operating Projection and either Approve or notify Manager of any objections to the Annual Operating Projections in writing within ten (10) days of its receipt thereof the Authority's Approval shall not be unreasonably withheld or delayed. In the case of a dispute, the final Annual Operating Budget shall be determined through arbitration;
On or before the Commencement Date, the Authority shall deposit cash into an Emergency Reserve Account in an amount equal to fifty (50) percent of the Operating Expenses;
LCCCA must ensure Manager is complying with all applicable public bidding law requirements;
LCCCA must pay for and maintain insurance sufficient to furnish the Authority and Manager reasonable and adequate protection in the management and operations of the Center;
LCCCA must approve: 1.) Service contracts or vendor agreements that extend beyond the term of the QMA; 2.) Any lease, license or concession agreement in which the term is greater than one (1) year; 3.) The purchase of goods, supplies and services from Interstate or an Affiliate (unless the prices and terms thereof are competitive); and 4.) Any contract that contemplates, entails or relates to any rebate, discount or other remuneration not accruing to the Authority's account;
LCCCA and its representatives (i.e. auditors) should routinely inspect the books of account and other records reflecting the results of Operation of the Convention Center;
LCCCA shall review and approve an Annual Financial Statement for the Center;
LCCCA must ensure the Manager's complete compliance with the OMA. Interstate Hotels Company ("Interstate").
Authority Meeting to be Held at Private Location
According to the Convention Center Authority official schedule: "Monday,
August 27, 2007, 6:00 p.m., MAX International, 2360 Dairy Road, Lancaster, PA
17601 - Finance & Audit Committee Meeting"
Why would a meeting that is required to be open to the public be held in a
It is Not True That Contracts Cannot be Set Aside!
At the Personnel Committee meeting of the Convention Center Authority that
took place August 23, Art Morris, Chair, had David Hixson, Executive Director,
read a synopsis of the Authority's contract with Interstate Hotels in which
the Authority abdicated all rights to oversee the operations or enter into
contracts pertaining to the convention center relating to the ten years of
Interstate's contract term.
In response to a question from an irate county appointed board member (it
was either Laura Douglas or Deb Hall), the solicitor told the board that the
Authority had no recourse but to accept the terms of the hitherto agreed to
This is not the case!
"Willful behavior," "fraud," "personal malfeasance unrelated to the
contract," "material misrepresentation," "failure of the parties to have 'clean
hands,'" and whether the arrangements are "equitable" are some of the reasons
why a court can set aside this and other one sided contracts. In addition, and
yet to be researched, there may be state statutes requiring that public
contracts be commercially reasonable.
Another reason is, according to a Supreme Court decision, an outgoing board
may not enter into contracts to unreasonably restrict the power of future
boards. Preventing Authority influence for ten years is an extraordinary
period of time.
Morris and others on the board should insist that all Authority contracts be
reviewed to determined whether they are commercially reasonable and / or
whether they had been unduly influenced and otherwise tainted.
COMMENTARY: SOMEBODY CALL THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY ...
(Oh, they already did and Donald Totaro said there was no problem)
The first of what NewsLanc predicts will be many sordid revelations became
public at the personnel committee meeting of the Convention Center Authority on
Thursday, August 23rd, with the report that the Convention Center Authority
has NO authority over the management of the convention center.
This should come as no surprise except to those who have slept or been
distracted over the past years. Board member Laura Douglas and the two County
appointees, Deb Hall and (former member) Jack Craver, continuously criticized
chairman Ted Darcus and Executive Director David Hixson for withholding long and
complex agreements to shortly before a vote was to be taken ... often a day and
sometimes only hours beforehand.
In 2006, the three County appointees formally protested to District Attorney
Donald Totaro the conduct of Darcus and Hixson to District Attorney Donald
Totaro and asked him to investigate concerning the billings of over $6 million
dollars by the law firm of Stevens & Lee on the basis of invoices that gave no
further particulars than "For professional services rendered."
Totaro responded that Douglas, Craver and Hall had made no specific charges
of criminality and claimed "the FBI in Harrisburg has looked into this
situation, and they have not found any evidence of criminal activity." Douglas all
but called Totaro a liar by saying: "We have no reason to believe that the
FBI has sought and reviewed the Stevens & Lee billings. So I hope that Mr.
Totaro is not using the FBI as an excuse for inaction."
Common Cause wrote Governor Ed Rendell in May of 2006 that "There has been a
very disturbing lack of transparency with regard to how this is being
conducted...The question that most deeply concerns us are those that speak to the lack
of accountability and transparency in the administration of this project."
A year ago NewsLanc posed the question of what work Daniel Logan, an
Authority consultant, had performed for more than $700,000 in payment (ultimately
close to a million dollars). Authority staff members responded to a NewsLanc
inquiry that there is no record of work product by Mr. Logan other than a slide
show presentation based upon a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a
report that PwC had actually formally withdrawn as no longer relevant to the
Perhaps Totaro was too busy maneuvering to be become a judge to take notice
of this extraordinary revelation!
Again and again, board members and prominent citizens protested the heavy
handed, misguided and yes ...conceivably criminal activities of the Authority
and those promoting the project. (For example, the PwC's market study was
represented as a "feasibility report" on an application for a $15 million State
grant. The president of Penn Square Partners, Nevin Cooley, five times
misrepresented the market study as a feasibility report in a letter to the Lancaster
School Board! The market study was also misrepresented as a feasibility study
to the Lancaster City Council and withheld from council member Luis Mendoza,
thus preventing him for reading the report and discovering how negative it
actually was about the project.
And where has District Attorney Totaro been over these years? Has Totaro
been working for the public who elected him or the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers,
Inc. and the High companies who force-fed this $200 million white elephant
down the throats of taxpayers over the objections of at least 80% of the county
population, their elected commissioners, and common sense?
The time for recognition of abuses of public trust is upon us. People
including the complicit district attorney (who seeks to become a judge!) need to be
But who will investigate the investigators?
LCCCA Personnel Committee Meeting Got Ugly. And Uglier.
It was revealed for the first time for some Convention Center Authority
members that the LCCCA has NO authority over the management of the
High's handpicked Interstate Hotels controls literally
every facet of the convention center operation for at least ten years from
the day the facility opens. The LCCCA even has to pay disputed bills, then
submit to "arbitration".
Both Joe Morales and Deb Hall were shocked to
(Yes, this is City appointee Joe Morales that had the power to
make the difference - to even halt the project! - but who sat quietly and
Ted Darcus' dictates for the past four years.)
Art Morris revealed that he has been making contact with management from
other convention centers on his own initiative. Deb Hall questioned why he
was doing this without the knowledge or approval of the LCCCA board, and Art
Morris replied quite defensively. This resulted in a heated discussion
between the two.
According to a report posted at http://lookingatlancaster.blogspot.com/, "...The real fireworks happened
AFTER the public left the room; reportedly Art Morris had some less than kind
words to say about Deb Hall."
And that is the short, short version...
Public Input at LCCCA Meetings
Concerning public comments at Convention Center Authority meetings,
Newslanc.com has been advised: "The board's policy is to provide a public comment
period early in the meeting and then an opportunity for the public to comment
on individual agenda items."
Fair enough! This is a welcome change from the former policy whereby
members of the audience were only allowed to speak for three minutes, usually at
the outset, and could not comment on agenda items.
F & M vs. School Lane Hills
From discussions with a high college official several years ago,
NewsLanc.com has been aware that Franklin & Marshall College owns the athletic fields
along Harrisburg Pike situated to the west of President Avenue and the main
portion of the campus. Part of the strategy of the college to generate new
areas for athletic field to the north of the campus in the former Armstrong plant
location has been to free up those playing fields for other campus related
Many elderly alumnae desire to spend their last active years near their alma
mater so that they can share memories with fellow graduates and participate
in cultural activities. Not only is this desirable for our seniors, but it
leads to more and larger bequests for colleges and universities which directly
benefit students and faculty and indirectly serves the community.
Unfortunately, there have been no signs indicating that the open areas are
college property. (NewsLanc's publisher had suggested this to F & M's
president.) So discussion of development comes as a shock to School Lane Hills
homeowners, many who purchased their properties because of the proximity of the
park like setting.
Nevertheless, what is good for F & M has usually been good for its
neighborhood and the region. So the public as well as the College should enter into
discussions with open minds and with the goal of finding compromises that
will serve the purposes of all concerned.
Perhaps a greater endangerment to School Lane Hills is the suggestion that a
new north / south road be built through the current athletic fields to
connect School Lane Hills with Harrisburg Pike. One of the major reasons for
the continuing attractiion and high properties value of School Lane Hills is
the excellent planning that minimizes through traffic, thus making it safe for
children and adults to walk, bike and play in the streets. To open up
Wilson Drive or another access point to the Harrisburg Pike would be to drive a
stake through the heart of the community.
Full disclosure: The publisher of NewsLanc.com, a real estate developer of
a dozen residential communities in the USA and abroad, resides in School Lane
Selling Newspapers Corrupts News Reporting
The people of Lancaster had it direct from "the horse's mouth," although we
mean no disrespect for Sunday News Editor Marv Adams. Adams describes the
mission of newspapers is "to report the news in a compelling and interesting way
to sell newspapers."
Unfortunately for our nation and our democracy, we are seeing an abdication
by the Fourth Estate of their responsibility to ferret out stories and speak
truth to power. They no longer perceive themselves as professional
journalists who serve as the watchdog of government and special interests and who
invest time and money in digging out facts and tracking a story. Rather they
entertain their readers with reports of common crimes, petty scandal and human
interest stories, items that include a couple of quotes, can be quickly
written, and can be turned out without the reporter understanding much about the
Without independent and prideful news departments committed to providing an
essential check on government and power, our citizens remain uninformed and /
or misinformed and our republic is crippled. And publishers are not going
to spend money for such a purpose and displease their peers in business and
government, as well as advertisers, unless they are faced with solid competition.
Business and government will always tend to get in bed together. The
Lancaster convention center / hotel project is but a local example of a national
epidemic. What makes it so special is that the contagion has spread right here
in our own county, after decades of enlightened leadership by powerful but
well meaning forces.
The Wall Street Journal has recently been gobbled up by the owner of Fox
News. Even the much vaunted New York Times and Washington Post suffer extreme
stock holder pressure and financial constraints. The Los Angeles Times and the
Philadelphia Inquirer are but shadows of their former selves.
So long as there is an unbridled Internet, there will be some outlet for
information and discussion. However, it is hard to envision from where funds
will come to finance true journalism which requires hours and days of tough
minded and knowledgeable study and investigation. Hopefully well funded
nonprofit web sites dedicated to investigatory reporting will emerge so that our
national democracy can once again be defended.
But what is to become of our beloved Lancaster?
Letter: Lanco Yokel Correct
I am in complete agreement with Lanco Yokel's comments regarding the
nauseating public group grope of "King" Arthur Morris. It is evidently forgotten
that it was the same Morris who has unwaveringly and on-the-record rah-rah'd
this project since its inception, choosing to ignore reams of evidence
(Brookings, PKF, millions spent on do-nothing consultants, common sense, etc.) that
raised rational concerns about the viability and administration of the
project. (Didn't NewsLanc, itself, directly feed Morris the information? They did.)
Consensus builder? Would someone please give me a break? This is the same
Morris who savaged "the Commissioners" for the Conestoga View sale,
knowing full well that Henderson was completely out of the loop in the "secret
negotiations", and that a far greater transgression was occurring over at the
LCCCA. Did NewsLanc forget that a substantial part of its reporting
underscored this fact? NewsLanc staff personally handed Morris newsletters saying
Let me say it so everyone can understand: Art Morris was the leader/point
man of the completely blown out of proportion red herring inquisition on
Convention Center opponents Dick Shellenberger and Molly Henderson. He was
working with project sponsors Lancaster Newspapers in this effort to destroy them
because of their position opposing convention center financing. Doesn't that
mean anything to anyone? Wake up.
And what of Morris since he's been on the board? The very first thing he
did at his very first meeting (days after his appointment) was vote to 'Pay the
Bills.' Did he abstain or ask to have a little time to review the tens of
thousands of dollars in public money about to be disbursed? No. Just like
his predecessor, he rubber-stamped them. That board has rubber-stamped about
$20 million taxpayer dollars. Same song with Accountable Art.
Finally, a word about the love 'fete' that occurred last week (and continues
with the slobbering praise from the Lancaster Newspapers editorials this
week). Sorry for pointing this out, but it was the brilliant Morris who wrote
the agenda for that meeting, folks, trying to fasttrack the Executive Director
appointment before the county takes a majority. The same people who hype
Morris' brilliance paper over the likelihood that the brilliant Morris knew
exactly what he was doing, saw that he was outgunned at the meeting, and
backtracked. He was probably surprised by the outpouring of love; as for me, I was
sickened by it.
So, to all the self-proclaimed geniuses out there beating the drums for King
Arthur, does it feel strange to echo what Lancaster Newspapers is saying
about the Convention Center Authority? Seriously, does it feel weird to be
agreeing with a local institution -- the newspaper -- that has contributed to
lowering and disgracing the already low standards of journalism? That's gotta
be a funny feeling.
Lanco Yokels Says: "Long Live the King [Morris}
For an amusing commentary and legitimate concern, NewsLanc.com recommends a
visit to http://lancoyokels.blogspot.com/ for the more recent attack by Lanco Yokels on Convention Center Authority Chairman and interim Executive Director Art Morris.
Last week's fear of many convention center opponents was that Art Morris
would force through a selection of an executive director before September 15th
when County appointees become the majority on the Authority Board. This week
LancoYokels expresses a concern that Morris will delay the choice of a new
executive director indefinitely in order to maintain total control in his own
If Morris is "King," he still only has one vote in seven. And unlike the
City appointees who routinely acquiesced to the will of past chairman Ted
Darcus, county appointees Laura Douglas, Deb Hall, R. B. Campbell and Tom LeCrone
are experienced and successful managers who are going to speak their own
minds and vote their consciences.
From a Contributor: Broken Promises $75 Million Hotel and Convention Center Now $170 Million PLUS INTEREST
Private investment would fund much of the estimated $45 million it will take
to convert and expand the former Watt & Shand Building into a 281-room luxury
hotel and new retail shops.
Cash "private" investment is now $11 million. $25 million additional is to
be paid back over 20 years from future profits. The 300-room hotel is no
longer listed as "luxury", and the design includes NO retail.
(Note the Brunswick hotel at Queen and Chestnut was headlined in the local
newspaper as a "luxury Hilton" when it opened in the early 1970s.)
# # #
But officials hope to use local and federal tax credits to reduce that private
cost by several million dollars.
Tax credits were lost because an 18-story hotel tower is out of character for
the site. Any possibility of tax credits were lost when the Watt & Shand
building was demolished.
# # #
The 61,000-square-foot convention center and an accompanying expansion of the King Street Parking Garage would be built solely with public dollars, at a combined cost estimated at $30 million.
The LCCCA web site lists 183,917 square feet in convention center space,
plus 66,745 square feet of "shared" space that will be mostly paid for by
the LCCCA (in other words, with taxpayer dollars). Total cost to taxpayers
of the convention center (according to the LCCCA's March 27, 2007 "Sources
and Uses" document) will be $97,507,456 not including cost overruns,
interest, or bond guarantees. This does not include ANY parking AT ALL.
# # #
They also are proposing that another $15 million be raised through bonds
floated by a newly formed convention center authority.
The total LCCCA construction bond was nearly $64 million dollars for 40
years, not including interest or bond guarantees.
# # #
The investments, supporters say, would create hundreds of new jobs, bring as
many as 200,000 new visitors to Lancaster each year.
Nothing more than fiction. This would require an average attendance of
nearly 550 different people from outside of Lancaster County every day of
the year, including every holiday, with no days dark. Alternatively, it
would require nearly 3850 visitors from outside of Lancaster County every
week; this would mandate a MAJOR convention every single week of the year.
# # #
When fully operating, the hotel and convention center would have about 577
full-time jobs and generate about $11.15 million a year in personal income,
according to the study summary.
Although the summary does not specify wages, the overall figures imply jobs
paying, on average, $19,000 a year or about $9 an hour for a 40-hour week.
In early 2007, Interstate Hotels spoke at an LCCCA board meeting about
"full-time equivalents" for employees of both the hotel and convention
center. It does not make economic sense to hire full-time employees for
either the convention center or for banquet facilities in the hotel (with
the exception of a few management positions). And it is likely most hotel
employees would also be part-time, so Interstate doesn't have to pay
The equivalent of 577 full-time employees seems to be unrealistic, given the
actual prospects for utilization of the facilities. In any event, $19,000
is not a living wage, and $9/hour part time is not even enough to support
# # #
The project would pump as much as $110 million into the local economy during
construction, and more than $30 million a year when fully operating
HOPEFULLY a $170 million project would "pump as much as $110 million into
the local economy". As for "more than $30 million a year when fully
operating"????? Only if 200,000 visitors from outside Lancaster County
would actually visit the facility each and every year.
# # #
Without the hotel tax, the convention center would run an annual deficit of
more than $600,000, the feasibility study found.
Once again, this figure is overly optimistic. The 2006 PKF study estimates
operational losses of between $2 million and $4 million for the combined project convention center / hotel project, AFTER taking into consideration receipts from the hotel room sales tax. The deficits are largely guaranteed by county and city tax payers.
# # #
The cost of converting and expanding the Watt & Shand building into an
upscale hotel with restaurants and retail shops is projected at $45 million.
Demolishing the Watt & Shand building and replacing it with new
construction, with one restaurant and no retail shops, will cost $72,273,716
PLUS INTEREST, according to the LCCCA's March 27, 2007 "Sources and Uses"
document. Of this amount, $37,273,716 are taxpayer dollars, plus over $5.5
million in interest for the $14 million State "IFIP mortgage", which is
guaranteed by Lancaster City taxpayers.
# # #
One of the programs, known as Tax Increment Financing, is run by the
Lancaster Redevelopment Authority. Through TIF, real estate taxes are
reduced by 60 percent on the assessed value of new investment.
Since Penn Square Partners (PSP) will pay NO taxes for at least 20 years, no
TIF funding is available.
# # #
Project cost would also be reduced through federal tax credits aimed at
preserving historic buildings. Those credits could knock 20 percent off the
federal taxes owed on portions of the project.
Once again, PSP will pay no taxes for at least 20
years, so no tax credits are available. These were lost when plans
including a hotel "skyscraper" were rejected for historic tax credits in
early 2003. Even if these plans had been revised, they were lost forever
when the Watt & Shand building was demolished.
# # #
Even after the TIF exemptions, a new hotel would generate more than $475,000
a year in local property taxes if assessed at its investment amount of $45
million, the New Era analysis found.
In negotiations with the city of Lancaster, PSP refused to pay real estate taxes for 20 years, a demand to which the City eventually yielded. PSP will pay no taxes on the property for 20 years. This is why PSP threatened to pull out of the
project unless the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Lancaster
purchased the site from them, in exchange for over $7 million in "reimbursed
expenses" (actually State loans that were turned into grants), for a
property the PSP originally purchased for $1.25 million.
This project has been nothing more than one broken promise after another.
As time goes on, more and more promises made about this project will be
proven to be worthless.
Lanco Yokel Skewers NewsLanc
In an article critical of NewsLanc.com coverage of the recent Convention Center Authority meeting (the article is posted in its entirety under
Letters to the Editor), Lanco Yokel charges:
"Think -- who's in charge of convention center construction for the next however many months? A professional from the convention industry whose future career prospects will hinge partly on his or her performance in Lancaster? Nope, a political appointee who, we may presume, will not be looking for any jobs in the convention business after his stint on the LCCCA is over. $40 million over budget? Oh well, Art did the best he could. He wouldn't even let us pay him, how can we be critical?"
NewsLanc's publisher is a builder / developer. Although himself an applicant for the LCCCA board for the purpose of possibly serving as interim chair, he recognizes that Morris' background as former head of the city public works department and as an engineer better qualifies Morris for seeking and weighing the advice of the architect, engineers, general contractors, sub-contractors, the Authority's construction consultant and others, and making an informed decision.
It is likely and proper that the skills of the next executive director will be in the areas of organizing, selling and marketing the convention center; not in providing construction advice. Morris' expertise therefore is especially valuable for the chairman / CEO.
Of course, one can assume base motivations. But NewsLanc's publisher who has had opportunities to size Morris up and, despite occasional sharp disagreements, would be very surprised and disappointed if that were the case.
The Authority is not relying on a single person. Morris is and will be backed up by R. B. Campbell and soon Tom LeCrone to supplement competent veterans Laura Douglas and Deb Hall. We now have a worthy team in place.
Inexperienced Executive Will Be In Charge Of Sales And Marketing Of Convention Center
Joshua Nowak of Plymouth Meeting, PA has been named by Interstate Hotels to be director of sales and marketing of the Convention Center / Hotel Project.
Although his resume indicates a decade of solid experience with hotels, there is nothing to suggest expertise or experience concerning the sales and marketing of a convention center...a task of a very different nature.
Furthermore, Interstate Hotels itself has little experience in the convention center business.
This is further evidence of how those who have directed the Authority's business heretofore have selfishly and recklessly flouted the most basic business principles, since it appears that the Authority has no recourse to insist upon a more qualified individual for the most important position bearing on the future of the convention center and hotel.
Editorial: Committed Citizens Replace Predators
Anyone present at Wednesday's Convention Center Authority Board meeting would have witnessed who indeed are the true lovers and defenders of our community.
They would have seen that those who had been the most outspoken critics of the convention center / hotel project were the very persons working the hardest along with the Art Morris and current and a future members of the board to make the project as good as is possible given the circumstances.
Noticeably absent were the usual defenders of the project. They had served their masters and / or were feeding at the public trough. There interest has apparently waned.
Let us hope that the citizenry which has been so aroused by the obscene ramming through of this flawed project by an unholy coalition of corporations, the monopoly newspapers, and indirectly by the district attorney and the president judge, will coalesce into a long term force for defense and improvement of our community.
Art Morris Causes The Lions To Lie Down With The Lambs
Whatever suspicions long time critics of the convention center had about the motivations of Convention Center Authority chairman Art Morris were dispelled at an hour long public meeting progressed early Thursday evening. Gradually the respect and affection for Morris by all of the members of the board and the normally recalcitrant members of the audience became palpable.
The word on the street had been that Morris intended to ram through the selection of a replacement for David Hixson as executive director prior to September 15th when county appointees would become the majority and thus take over effective control.
Early on, member designate Tom LeCrone spoke from the audience concerning research he had performed and cautioned about rushing the selection process, and board member Laura Douglas, Deb Hall and R.B. Campbell echoed such sentiments.
Then Morris himself expressed concerns that they might be moving ahead too fast, and suggested that the board might simply approve the engagement of the professional services of Thomas G. Ecker for assisting them in the process of preparing the search for a new executive director but table at least until the end of August consideration of a budget for advertising costs and travel expenses pertaining to such a search. This was done.
County Commissioner Molly Henderson, speaking from the floor, urged: "The Authority must be led by an outstanding national convention center executive with a history of success." LeCrone and NewsLanc's publisher Robert Edwin Field individually suggested advertisements be placed in professional journals and appropriate national periodicals rather than seeking such specialized expertise regionally.
One issue was whether the new executive director should be primarily an expert in construction or in convention center management. Randy Carney suggested from the floor that, since the management of the center had been contracted to Interstate Hotels for ten years, the board had little say concerning operations. Board member Joseph Morales responded that the board still had significant overesight responsibilities and, under certain conditions, could penalize or replace Interstate.
By unanimous board agreement, the issue of the job description and qualifications of a new executive director was referred to Hall's personnel committee for vetting and reporting back at the end of the month.
"Lame ducks" Ted Darcus and Dave Hixson seldom said a word. It was clear by the emphasis placed on a thorough search by Morris and the three current county and the appointed future county member that the board would seek to find far more qualified leaders in the future.
Morris described how he has been spending a lot of time making decisions concerning construction change orders and, without complaining, indicated that he has sought and obtained cooperation of his private clients to postpone some of his normal duties. He reluctantly acknowledged that he was working almost full time as chair. Moreover, the board empowered him to act as interim executive director, thus giving him even more work to perform.
Had any person been suddenly transported from the acrimonious and finger pointing meetings of the past years to what turned into an almost lovefest among current board members and former critics, they would not have known what to make of it.
For example April Koppenhaver, LeCrone and others suggested that Morris should be compensated. Morris acknowledged their and a similar suggestion by Field at an earlier meeting, but said it was simply a matter of personal preference on his part not to be paid for his service to the public.
Some may have wondered: Had Morris been chairman a year earlier and permitted such open and constructive discourse, would the project had been radically scaled down or eliminated? The answer is apparent. It served the purposes of High Industries and the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers to disregard veracity and bully through approval of their convention center / hotel project. It now serves their purpose to allow a far more independent and competent Morris to help bring together the community behind the project.
Prepared Comments of NewsLanc.com's Publisher to Convention Center Board
I have come to suspect that the reason for much of the $8 million dollars of billings form the law firm of Stevens & Lee was their need to carry out the most routine of tasks for Authority managers. We recently saw an example of this with the 12 page law firm response to a simple request for copies of board member briefings by incoming board member Tom LeCrone.
Even if the motivations in choosing past leaders were pure, not paying a qualified chair and not hiring an experienced and highly talented executive director ended up costing the Authority millions of dollars in extra legal fees and most likely many millions more elsewhere. This is a classic case of being "penny wise and dollar foolish."
One of the important tasks to be undertaken is the review of contracts with Penn Square Partners, various High companies and others suppliers of goods and services and renegotiation where contracts deviate from what is considered normal in the industry. This should not be delayed.
The future introduction of gambling to offset heavy predicted losses needs to be taken into consideration, even though now both are but a possibility. The Authority should make certain that contracts concerning the use of common areas assure that it would be the tax payers, and not Lancaster Square Partners or the High management companies, that would profit.
Standing up to powerful establishment members is not a task for the weak, but rather requires a mature, competent, knowledgeable, very experienced, and self confident executive.
And to avoid the undue influence of the local establishment concerning his or her future employment, it would be better if the person selected were not from this part of the State. Advertisements of the opening should be placed in professional periodicals and newspapers such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
And the most effective way to obtain a fully qualified individual is not just advertise the position but, if permitted by law, also to engage an employment agency, in the trade referred to as a "head hunter," to conduct a search for qualified individuals and encourage them to apply for the position.
A thorough process will take at least two months, possibly longer. But the reward will be someone capable of doing a good job.
In order to meet industry wide norms, I suggest the salary be around $200,000 a year, subject to the qualifications of the individual. There should also be a moving allowance of $10,000.
The right executive will save millions, likely tens of millions, over the next two years and for the future. But if we fail to learn from the sorry lesson of the past, despite the best efforts of the chair and other board members, we will continue to waste and misuse the tax payers’ money.
One More LCCCA Board Seat Opening
The terms of two Convention Center Authority members expire in September.
Ted Darcus will be replaced by Thomas LeCrone, a professional management consultant with considerable expertise in finance and administration. Most recently, LeCrone stepped in to serve as interim County Administrator and successfully revised and reformed the county budget so as to avoid the need for millions of dollars of additional taxes.
Current board member Deb Hall has proven herself a stalwart defender of the tax payer and deserves much praise for her brave and selfless services. For example, Hall demonstrated great courage in calling for an investigation of unsubstantiated and dubious charges amounting to millions by consultants. She has earned the gratitude of our community.
However, the board's challenges have evolved from whether there should be a convention center to how to make the most of this project. The County Commissioners have an opportunity to appoint someone with first hand convention center experience, be it in sales and marketing, design, or management.
Art Morris and whoever will be chair in January cannot adequately guide the completion of construction and launching of operations on his or her own. He or she will need board members and committee chairs who bring solid experience and acumen to their specific assignments.
There are highly qualified candidates available for this vital appointment. The commissioners should fill this opening with the most experienced and qualified person for the task. They owe this to Morris or his successor, to the community, and to themselves.
From NewsLanc's Publisher
First, thanks to the handful of you who contribute articles or letters to NewsLanc.
I noticed that Judy Strausbaugh, Business/Political writer Sunday News is moving South for a new job at the same time that Gil Smart seems to be soul searching in public concerning the ethics and practices of the LNP. And I considered it remarkable that Art Morris would criticize in his column F&M for not
paying its fair share of taxes and for planning to use what most people consider a park for business purposes.
Concerning Judy, my sense was that she had class from my couple of conversations. So I was surprised at the drivel and deceptions in her reporting. I suspect the compromises or changes by editors got to her.
Both actions may have reflected NewsLanc's challenge to "speak truth to power", one passively, one actively.
Obviously the past efforts of many of you and the current efforts of a few are having a positive effect on the community. It will be a shame that having lost a battle and yet set to win a war if many may have lost heart and are dropping out.
Please ... share your thoughts and your talents with NewsLanc.com. Newslanc is our combined effort.
And I can assure you that some big stories are in the works. The convention center project may be moving ahead and should be supported for the good of the community, but the misrepresentations and possible inappropriate use of funds will not go without investigation.
Morris "Speaks Truth" to F&M College
On July 29th (while yours truly with kin was coping with the wilds of Colorado), former mayor and now Chairman of the Convention Center Authority Art Morris was busy speaking truth to power in his Sunday News column of July 29th.
After explaining and complimenting the complicated and important real estate dealings and aspirations of General Hospital and Franklin & Marshall college concerning the former Armstrong tract to the north of the Alumni Sports and Fitness Center and the soon to be completed College Row on Harrisburg Pike, Morris expresses his concerns about two matters:
1) "F&M has not committed to making any real estate tax payment to the city or to the school district for its portion of the former Armstrong buliding site or for the almost $60 million in nontaxable property it currently owns. I think this is a mistake. I do not agree with Mr. [John] Fry's assessment that the overall economic impact of F&M justifies no in-lieu-of-tax payment... It is time for the college to follow the lead of its partner [Lancaster General Hospital], and make a meaningful in-lieu-of-tax payment."
2) After acquiring another 65 to 70 acres of the former Armstrong site, "...what we don't know is what F&M will do with .... its 54-acre Baker Campus, west of the college on the Harrisburg Pike in Manheim Township...Community leaders ought to encourage F&M to hold public meetings in Lancaster to discuss its plans for this site."
Baker Field is used by neighboring Lancaster County Day School (LCDS) and many community sports organizations. F&M may indeed hold title to the land but, as a good citizen, it should take into consideration the needs of LCDS and others. After all, it is State and public funds that are heping to make F&M's expansion possible.
Gil Smart Reflects on Convention Center
(Reproduced in its entirety with permission)
Thursday, August 2nd, 2007...1:46 pm A rambling discourse on the convention
*Editor's note: Way long. You've been warned. *
Okay Artie, I'm game.
In the comments
Artie See - whose writing I enjoy - notes that while we agree on many
issues, he believed that "we disagree on the *single* largest expenditure of
taxpayer dollars in Lancaster County history."
Well, maybe. I wrote about the convention center all of once in my column,
way back in 1999, when we were still talking about a 61,000-square-foot
facility (which, these days, seems almost quaint). I expressed some doubts
that the promises being made then could be kept. Now that the project's been
supersized, I'm virtually certain that the promises - the projections -
won't be met.
And I agree that there has been much wrong with the way this project has
progressed. That there was no itemization of the billing from Stevens & Lee
was, and is, ridiculous. That project proponents decided to simply ignore
the Brookings Institution and others who suggest that the convention market
is soft - and that the assumptions underlying this project may be invalid -
But while I may dislike various aspects of the project, the jury's still out
on others - and perhaps on the project as a whole. I'm on the fence, in
other words. And when am I, of all people, ever on the fence about anything?
At the same time, I have some definitive ideas on how we got here in the
Lancaster Newspapers and Fulton Bank got involved in this project
essentially for two reasons. The first was that both have multi-million
dollar investments in the center city, and wanted to protect those
investments. A falling-down structure just a few doors up from your
corporate headquarters, on arguably the most important corner of the
downtown crossroads, simply ain't good for business.
Beyond this, though, I will argue that a genuine altruistic impulse was
involved in their decision to get involved in the project. I can tell you,
working here, that this is an old-style paternalistic company, and that's a
very good thing for the people who work here. The company feels a sense of
responsibility to its people, and to the community. And it was in part
because of that sense of responsibility that LNP took on this project. Many
of us who work for these newspapers wish it had been otherwise, for as my
boss, Marvin Adams, has written on several occasions, we have *not* covered
this issue as we would have had someone else been running the show. We have
absolutely pulled punches. I can't tell you how many stories I've seen of
this community or that community which has similar, successful convention
centers. But where are the stories on communities where convention centers
I can tell you of one, I've been there personally: Niagara Falls, N.Y. We
stayed in a Holiday Inn directly across the street from the convention
center; it was nice, but we were literally half a block from the 'hood.
Boarded up buildings, liquor stores, you know the drill. Right next door to
the hotel was this tree-lined courtyard, obviously meant to be an outdoor
mall. Every single one of the shops was closed, out of business. Down closer
to the falls itself was another outdoor mall, about a third occupied,
including the smallest, saddest-looking Hard Rock Cafe I've ever seen.
As I wrote shortly afterward, if this is the honeymoon capital of America,
no wonder half of all marriages end in divorce.
But on the other, Canadian side of the falls, the town is thriving. They've
got a casino. And that has helped turn it into a tourist Mecca; the place
was bustling where the American side was empty. I counted seven of those
huge construction cranes - the likes of which now tower over the old Watt &
Shand building - on the Canadian side. That is an undeniable sign of
progress, of success.
That is why I would wholeheartedly support the idea of putting a slots
parlor into any Lancaster convention center/hotel. That is a persistent
rumor that won't go away, probably a whole bunch of nothing. But if it were
something - it would go a very long way toward making the whole venture here
a success, putting it on more secure fiscal footing.
I wonder, though, if those who have opposed the convention center on the
basis of fiscal doubt would then support it - or whether they'd cast their
lot with the anti-gambling moralists of the world.
Could the hotel/convention center be successful without this? Perhaps -
though it depends on how you define "success." I've had several local public
officials assure me that there is all sorts of ancilliary development
waiting in the wings to make sure that this is actually going to happen, and
that if it does this restaurateur or that retailer will certainly pull the
trigger. And then we'll have all sorts of concomitant, *taxable* growth in
or near center city. And then, even if the center/hotel itself doesn't meet
projections, it still will have realized the goal of revitalizing Lancaster,
and the financial impact of failing to meet projections could then be
Maybe. I've no idea how much of this waiting-in-the-wings development is
real, concrete, committed, how much of it is theoretical. I do know that the
job of luring retailers, restaurants and similar uses to the center of town
is now in the hands of the James Street Improvement District and its
director, Lisa Riggs, whom I've worked with on numerous occasions and about
whom I can say, she knows what she's doing and she's good at it. It is not
as if the city, at this point, is just permitting this thing to be built,
sitting back and hoping they will come; the JSID in particular is out there
beating the bushes. That is a hopeful development, and one wishes it might
have materialized four or five years ago, rather than at this late date.
And so this, then, is what I think about the convention center. A decidedly
mixed bag. And I might have written about this at some point had it not been
for the fact that I have, on occasion, been called upon to cover this. Now
our staff writer Judy Strausbaugh, who has covered the convention center
issue, is leaving to take a position down south, and I may have to begin
covering this issue again. Personally, I'd rather spend the next year back
in court. But as a general rule, I have tried to avoid opining about things
that I have actually had to cover. And that's true of this issue in
Those who have suspected this are right: Anti-convention center opinion
hasn't exactly been encouraged around here. Things might have been a little
more, shall we say, fair and balanced had one of the newspapers, anyway,
opposed it - or pushed harder for accountability. Even if all three
newspapers supported it after long, thoughtful consideration, it just looks
A while back I wrote in the print edition of the parallels between this
project, on the local level, and the Iraq war on the national level.
Parallels in how the "product" was sold; you might consider Judith Miller
and "The Watt & Shand Building will remain dark forever" (project opponents
know exactly what I'm talking about) in the same vein. In both cases, the
assertion that we had no choice but the current course of action was and is
I have been a critic of how the national media treated the run-up to war,
but locally I am *of* the establishment - a fact driven home to me when the
establishment attorney kicked butt - as the establishment attorney would -
and saved *my* butt in court last week (of course, as a buddy noted, had I
not been of the establishment I wouldn't have written the story, nor found
myself in court as a result, in the first place). I'm not going to come out
shiny happy in favor of the convention center, because I'm not shiny happy
in favor of it. But neither am I convinced that it is guaranteed to fail in
the broad scope of its aims; not *merely* to meet its own fiscal
projections, but beyond that.
And even if it does - well, this isn't the war in Iraq. No one dies. At
worst, taxes go up, perhaps way up; but if that were to happen, it in fact
becomes - or could become, if the local "insurgents" managed it correctly -
the death knell for the establishment as it is now constituted in Lancaster
County. People here are going to remember, as well they should, whose idea
this was, who pushed and pushed for it, the promises made. And there again
is the parallel with Iraq, in that if it does fail, its proponents will be
saddled with that failure, it will be hung around their necks like a yoke. I
don't know that the establishment grasps this; I don't know that project
opponents fully grasp it, either. Success *or* failure, the convention
center marks a turning point, *the* turning point; and if it is to mark the
end of an era, the question down here, as it is *up there* with the Iraq
war, is the same:
What comes next?
Mayor Gray's Contradictory Approaches
NewsLanc.com is full of praise for Mayor Rick Gray's efforts to encourage the use of motor scooters, bicycles and even motorcycles in order to reduce downtown congestion. Scooters have become very popular in major metropolitan areas. And in relatively level Lancaster County, many enjoy bicycling around town.
However, the mayor also supports the bizarre notion of bringing back trolley cars to Lancaster. These behemoths add to traffic congestion on our relatively narrow streets and, because they cannot pull over to the side of the street to pick up passengers, traffic must come to a halt at almost every street corner.
(They are also downright dangerous since they run silently and cannot readily stop.)
So Mr. Mayor, which way do you want to turn? Less traffic congestion with sensible scooters, motorcycles and bicycles, or greater congestion with trolley cars?
Helping Homeless Helps Convention Center And Library!
According to the July 31 New Era, plans are underway by the Interagency
Council for the Homeless to provide the chronically homeless with a safe place
to go, not only for shelter, showers and laundry facilities, but also for
medical and dental services. The facility will be located at the Water Street
Rescue Misson in the 200 block of South Prince Street.
The homeless situation has become so serious that, as part of its soon to be
formally announced expansion and renovation plan, the Duke Street library is
planning to relocate its children's section from the airy, well lit,
spacious second floor to the windowless, low ceiling, often flooding basement …
mainly to discourage the homeless from using its basement as a refuge.
Those behind the Water Street project, be their motivation altruistic and /
or self serving as in the case of the convention center hotel sponsors, are
to be commended.
It is very gratifying to see citizens taking on the very difficult and
frustrating task of providing for people who often are mentally challenged and or
suffer from psychological dysfunctions. This an especially unenviable task
because most of these poor souls cannot be expected to be able to extricate
themselves from homelessness.
There was a time when many of the homeless among us would have been placed
in institutions. Decades ago the courts decided that this was unwarranted
incarceration when there was no evidence that individuals posed a serious threat
Now that the library leaders' concerns about the homeless using its rest rooms
and lower level facilities will be lessened, they should alter their renovation
and expansion plans so that our children and their parents will continue to
be located on the soon to be expanded upper level where there are windows,
open areas, and a high ceiling.
Why would our community want to donate millions to have children and their
parents stuck in a basement without windows and where the ceiling is but 8'
7", hardly higher than in a mobile home?
Full disclosure: NewsLanc's publisher provided the initial input and seed
money for library expansion and his wife is a member of its board of trustees.
Contributor: "Dirty Little Secret" About Municipal Internet
There's one dirty little secret they carefully *don't* tell you about
municipal wireless Internet access: It doesn't work indoors unless you're
VERY close to a wireless access point. In theory it sounds nice. In
practice, the legal limitations on the power radiated by such systems limit the
effective coverage to a hundred feet or so.
To make it work in residential sections the city would have to erect at least a couple of transceivers on almost every city block. A truly workable system would also require an extensive fiber optic distribution system, highly sophisticated
electronic systems to properly control it, and expensive, highly-skilled labor to run it.
Even a Blind Chicken...
With encouragement of State Rep. Mike Sturla, a group has been meeting since December to consider the installation of wireless Internet service throughout the City of Lancaster.
The plan is part of Mayor Rick Gray's long term strategy.
This sure beats the white elephant of the Convention Center project and the idiotic concept of bringing back trolley cars to the narrow streets of Lancaster.
According to a New Era article of July 28, State Representative Mike Sturla Gray said costs could range from $250,000 to $1.5 million.
At a time where Lancaster, as a microcosm, is following the ruinous direction of the nation by wasting its resources in foolish endeavors, it is encouraging that at least one project is being considered that will add to the knowledge of our youngsters, the attractiveness of our community, and the competitiveness of our economy.
As they say, "Even a blind chicken occasionally pecks a kernel of corn."
What a relief!... Stevens & Lee investigated its billings. Claims accurate (except for $60,000 overcharge)
In an attempt to ward off the legal audit requested by three County appointed members of the Convention Center Authority in anticipation of County reps becoming a majority in September, the law firm of Stevens & Lee reported to the Authority that it has conducted an audit of its own billings and (Surprise! Surprise!) they found all in order except for a $60,000 oversight. Then they engaged a former supreme court justice to bless the findings.
(Are we to believe that retired state Supreme Court Justice Stephen A. Zappala spent a month reviewing work sheets for the last half dozen years and questioning a couple of dozen lawyers, paralegals and staff members concerning their accuracy? Obviously not.)
The self-audit should be taken with a grain of salt unless and until the law firm explains in detail its methodology and permits qualified outsiders to verify proper scope and accuracy. Independent auditors must review not only the daily work sheets for the billings but have access to the employees, preferably under oath, to determine whether the work sheets are accurate.
Anything less is simply a matter of window dressing.
Hopefully Chairman Art Morris and board members will set up a special committee to spearhead the investigation of the $8 million in payments to Stevens & Lee and the almost one million dollars in payment to the marketing consultant Dan Logan who, NewsLanc has been told by a knowledgeable Authority source, never produced any written work product.
But if you want to accept Stevens & Lee assurances at face value, we have a bridge in New York City that we would like to sell you.
Intell Endorses NewsLanc's Position on Voting Machines, Albeit a Year Late
In a wise but belated editorial, on July 27th the Intelligencer Journal states their view that "The need for a paper trail has always existed. Congress was wrong for not mandating it; states were shortsighted for not instituting it."
And Commissioners Dick Shellenberger and Pete Shaub were wrong for purchasing used electronic machines without a paper trail last year. NewsLanc alerted the public and its publisher addressed the board of commissioners and provided them with findings concerning the failures and dangers of such voting machines, to no avail.
Only Molly Henderson voted against the purchase.
As for the Intell, better late than never!
Morris Dumps Stevens & Lee; Engages New Authority Solicitor
Chair Art Morris lost little time in bringing about a change in legal representation for the Convention Center Authority.
Prior to his appointment to the board, Morris had criticized the law firm of Stevens & Lee for having the audacity to invoice over $8 million dollars and to provide no more information than the same statement on each invoice: "For service rendered to the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority."
Come September when county representatives become a majority on the Authority board, they should follow up on the request some months ago by the three current county appointees for a legal audit of the Stevens & Lee invoices.
A legal audit would seek to establish what work was performed at what time by what Stevens & Lee staff members and at what hourly rate. This is the normal information that law firms and other professionals, working by the hour, provide to their clients.
According to the July 27 Intelligencer Journal, Christina Hausner of Russell, Kraft & Gruber LLP was appointed as the new Authority solicitor. She served as an Authority board member from 1999 until 2003.
The Intel chose to bury the news of Stevens & Lee replacement on the flip page about two-thirds into an article headed "Center Director to Step Down." Of the three monopoly newspapers, only the Sunday News, perhaps due to columnist's Morris influence, had the courage to criticize Stevens & Lee's failure to provide the usual information along with its invoices.
Gone but Hardly Done With
David Hixson, who resigned as executive director on July 26th, may be through with the Convention Center Authority. But the Authority is hardly through with David Hixson.
On September 15th, majority control of the Authority will revert to County appointees, although Art Morris, a City appointee, will remain as Chair until at least January. One of the first questions to be entertained by the reconstituted board will be past dealings by Hixson, and especially his engaging and his relationship with a relatively unknown Daniel Logan. Logan received almost a million dollars from the Authority over the course of several years and yet it is difficult to identify any written work product.
If Lancaster County had a legitimate press rather than the self interested monopoly Lancaster Newspapers, they would be all over the Logan / Hixson relationship.
And if the County had a competent district attorney rather than the self serving politico Donald Totaro who appears to be the pawn of the monopoly press and a powerful corporate elite, the D. A. would be actively investigating Hixson and Logan.
Perhaps with more truth than he realized, City appointee Joe Morales told the
New Era about Hixson, "I often thought ... you were too good of a man for this job. You were a man who tolerated a lot." Before the year is over, we are likely to learn more about what Hixson tolerated.
So it is not "Adios, Dave" but rather "Hasta luego."
Shellenberger Criticizes Feds Instead of Apologizing
Concerning proposed federal legislation that would require the expensive modification or replacement of the used electronic voting machines that the County purchased in 2006, the July 26 Intelligencer Journal reports: "County commissioner chairman Dick Shellenberger, a Republican, criticized congressional Democrats Wednesday for trying to push through an 'unfunded
This is difficult to accept from Shellenberger who, in the face of voluminous evidence that electronic machines without a paper trail were unreliable and subject to manipulation, voted with then Commissioner Pete Shaub to purchase the used equipment.
Commissioner Molly Henderson opposed the purchase.
By the time the county purchased voting machines being discarded by others, there was overwhelming evidence of the unsuitability of machines without a paper trail. NewLanc.com reported on the issue and editorialized against the purchase. Its publisher appeared before the commissioners and provided them with compelling data.
We all make mistakes from time to time. Wouldn't it be refreshing if a public official for once, without the spur of a grand jury investigation, said
"I was wrong and I am sorry."
A Tale of Two Cities: New Orleans and Lancaster
Despite a vigorous prosecution by its district attorney, a New Orleans grand jury refused to indict Dr. Anna Pou on three homicide charges for the deaths of patients from overdoses of pain killers.
In New Orleans, the citizenry was fully familiar with the chaotic and dangerous circumstances during and in the immediate aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Furthermore, newspaper coverage was objective in the coverage of Dr. Pou's plight.
But our Lancaster commissioners faced a totally different situation. Like the New Orleans grand jury, the Lancaster grand jury investigation did not find grounds for indictment. Its main criticism was of the vagueness of the Sunshine Act.
But unlike in New Orleans, District Attorney Donald Totaro was allowed to drag out an investigation of the commissioners for a year (not a month as it should have been) and terrorize Dick Shellenberger, Pete Shaub and Molly Henderson with a threat of indictment for reasons unknown to them. Indictment would have destroyed their political careers and subjected them to great cost and danger.
Dr. Pou did not accept a plea bargain because she had the public's understanding and honest newspapers setting forth the facts. But our commissioners, unaware of the findings of the grand jury, agreed to a plea bargain for minor Sunshine Act violations and $100 fines. Then the monopoly newspapers treated the matter as the crime of the century with banner headlines for days in a row.
Congratulations to the New Orleans grand jury. Shame on Judge Louis Farina for allowing Totaro to carry on a year long witch hunt and to stray far from the original authorized purpose.
As for Totaro, he should be investigated by a new grand jury for prosecutorial abuse and possible criminal conduct. But there is no way Farina, the monopoly newspapers, or the corporate elite in this community will allow that to take place. Instead they will see he that he becomes a judge.
Lancaster is but a microcosm of the United States. Just look what is happening here and nationally. Pray for our endangered community and country. And speak truth to power!
And The Lies Played On
"I was unaware of the fact that the state was taking this action... There was no notification to the owners."
---- Tom Smithgall, Executive Vice-President Penn Square General Corp. and Spokesman for Penn Square Partners, after receiving notice from the Pennsylvania Historic and Musuem Commission/ Bureau for Historic Preservation, indicating the Watt & Shand building would be 'delisted' from (i.e. taken off) the National Registry of Historic Places.
Lancaster New Era, July 20th, 2007
A letter dated April 24, 2003 from the same Bureau for Historic Preservation addressed directly to Smithgall calls into question Smithgall's veracity. The letter reads, in part: "Given the extent of development and demolition, it is our opinion that the project as proposed does not meet the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation & Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings and therefore will adversely affect the Lancaster Historic District."
The letter goes on to criticize the developers' plans for complete demolition of the "Oberlander [sic] Building and the construction of a 12-story tower ... on top of the Watt & Shand Building. Its location on top of the historic building is grossly out of scale and character with the historic building."
Based on earlier plans for the partial preservation of the Watt & Shand building (the entire building, except the facade, ended up getting razed), the letter states: "The project will also result in a substantial change in character to the Watt & Shand Building because of the extensive change need to make the building a convention center hotel."
Given Tom Smithgall's prior knowledge of the historic status of the Watt & Shand building and the position of the State's Historic Commission on its planned demolition, his feigned surprise ('unaware of the fact') is appalling.
More depressing, yet again, has been the complete abdication of Lancaster Newspapers to even pretend to do the job of professional journalists. NewsLanc.com published and posted this information more than one year ago http://newslanc.com/bhp.pdf. The letter from the Bureau was publicly read to Tom Smithgall at a public meeting, a meeting at which all three Lancaster Newspapers were present.
Where its special interests are involved, Lancaster Newspapers as a company has abandoned integrity and turned into a journalistic laughingstock. And it is embarrassing the entire county.
County to Dump Recently Purchased Used Voting Machines?
According to the July 20th New York Times, "House officials said the
compromise would ensure that all voting machines nationwide would have some kind of paper trail in 2008 through which voters could verify that their ballots were
properly recorded and that could be used in recounts. Under the plan, New
York, which has delayed replacing its old lever machines, would be the only
state that would have to change its entire voting system by November 2008."
NewsLanc.com editorialized against Commissioners Pete Shaub's and Dick
Shellenberger's folly in purchasing electronic voting machines without a paper
trail that were being replaced by Oregon. (Commissioner Molly Henderson voted
against the acquisition.)
Now it appears the County will soon be required to replace those machines
because it has been demonstrated that they are not tamper proof and they
provide no verifiable paper trail of the balloting.
Apparently this was another of Shaub's foolish initiatives. Shellenberger
was given the same information that caused so many states and soon the federal
government to dispose of such machines. Shellenberger certainly had the guts
to reject the machines but he simply could not resist what seemed like a
Dick, we have a great bridge for sale cheap if you are interested!
US$ Down by a Third Over a Decade; Lancaster’s and Nation’s Fiscal Follies
Over the past two weeks, your reporter has visited Canada and Eastern Europe and has experienced the severe decline in the value of the American dollar. It is said that the value of a nation’s currency reflects the true strength of its economy.
Less than a decade ago, a US dollar was worth about $1.40 Canadian. Five years ago one US$ equaled about 1.2 Euros. Today, a US$ is worth about $1.03 Canadian and about 0.8 Euro. To what do we attribute an almost 50% devaluation? And how does this apply to Lancaster? (An occasional letter chides the editor for straying from Lancaster issues and would limit our scope to criticizing the monopoly newspapers and the convention center! Please be patient.)
Although our nation was beginning to dig itself out of a budget deficit at the turn of the century, we have since expended hundred of billions, perhaps over a trillion dollars, on the War in Iraq. We also have spent billions annually on a futilely conducted War on Drugs. Meanwhile we have reduced taxes on the very rich, top 3%, by hundreds of billions and gutted the estate tax, now euphemistically referred to as the Death Tax. We spend so much beyond our means that we have had to borrow huge amounts from abroad, and the value of our currencies has suffered accordingly.
Pouring funds into wars and prisons makes work, but it doesn’t generate capital or consumer goods. It is like building automobiles and then dumping them in the ocean. We have not felt the pain for such wasteful spending (unless a dear one happens to end up in prison) because the Chinese and others have been so kind as to provide us with ample consumer and capital goods on credit.
Now is this a departure of the federal government from good, solid, conservative Lancaster values and practices? Hardly! After wasting much of $20 million of Hotel Room Sales Tax, the Convention Center Authority is spending at least another $170 million to build the misconceived center project. Thereafter annually for 30 years over $3 million a year in Hotel Room Sales Tax revenue plus say $4 million in projected operating losses will go down the drain, that’s $7 million x 30 years = $210 million. We have built a $400 billion albatross, again the equivalent of building automobiles and dumping them in the ocean.
Just think what our taxpayers and our country could do with the money being wasted in Iraq and the War on Drug (not to mention the precious lives destroyed by both) and what we in Lancaster County could have done with the $400 million now and in years to come.
We can disagree about Iraq, the War on Drugs, and the Convention Center (and the likely forthcoming equally absurd trolley cars.) But what ever you and I may think, the drop of the value of the US$ by one-third is an objective measure of where we as an economy stand in comparison with the rest of the world.
Our news coverage in July will be sparse. Our editor is out of the country and our staff is temporarily depleted.
We invite you to listen to our July 10th radio spots which can be accessed in the collumn on the left.
Be assured that NewsLanc will return in the next few weeks, better and stronger than ever. Or as circumstances necessitate, even sooner.
Thank you for your understanding.
Judge Farina Declines Interview
President Judge Louis J. Farina has declined to be interviewed by
NewsLanc in reference to alleged improprieties by District Attorney Donald Totaro pertaining to the recent grand jury investigation.
In a letter dated July 5, Farina writes: "Grand Jury investigations are secret. The only thing that can be and was made public is the Grand Jury's report when approved by the Supervising Judge. Beyond that there is nothing more I can or will say."
NewsLanc had not sought additional information concerning the grand juries deliberations but rather whether Farina, as Supervising Judge, had provided appropriate oversight, particularly regarding the following:
Whether the expanded scope was being used for a virtual witch hunt,
Why an investigation of elected officials was prolonged for a year and into the primary season,
- Whether as "Supervising Judge" he had noted contradictions between the biased manner sixteen areas of possible concern were presented despite being later dismissed as unsubstantiated in the main text and by footnotes, and
- Since the grand jury did not accuse the commissioners of Sunshine Act violations based on its findings but rather recommended the plugging of apparent loopholes, had he inquired of Totaro what had caused the commissioners to agree to a plea bargain for a violation they apparently had not committed.
Below is our publisher's letter requesting a NewsLanc interview:
Dear Judge Farina:
...Careful examination of the District Attorney Donald Totaro's introduction and the actual artfully written grand jury report pertaining to the county commissioners causes me much concern about the appropriateness, longevity and outcome of the investigation. I count sixteen issues insinuated of possible impropriety and all sixteen dismissed for lack of evidence, albeit one must often read the footnotes to learn this. The findings of violations of the Sunshine Act were predicated solely on the commissioners' statements.
From the report and through discussions with two of the commissioners prior to and after their plea bargain, I believe that Totaro abused his prosecutorial discretion by coercing pleas of guilty that clearly were contrary to the facts. A potential candidate for a judgeship, Totaro had personal reasons to find something amiss. The investigation was strung out for a year and apparently sought to cause the commissioners to contradict earlier testimony. The commissioners were placed in a Kafkaesque position of not knowing for what alleged misconduct they were repeatedly being interrogated.
It appears there is a need for another grand jury investigation, this one to determine if Totaro improperly used the threat of forthcoming perjury indictments to coerce plea bargains. An indictment would have virtually forced them to resign from their positions, and certainly would have made it impossible for them to seek re-election. So this isn't just an issue of unfairness to individuals, but a virtual coup.
I understand that the investigation as later modified and expanded was authorized by you and under your supervision. I request an opportunity to interview you to learn your views and what might be done to remedy injustices...
Letter to Editor re Lambert case
I am not sure what you're implying but the federal judge who briefly freed Lisa Lambert was in contact with her prior to the hearings and believed her pity party. Lisa Lambert is a manipulator. Her counsel was equally manipulative.
I was a witness to this horror and believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that Lambert murdered Laurie Show and received the correct sentence.
Letter to Editor re Lambert case
Regarding the content of your article below, I would have to go back and review some of the articles that appeared in the Sunday News, Intelligencer Journal and New Era to be certain, but it is my recollection that the newspaper coverage of the Lambert case was balanced, and that some of their reporters were instrumental in exposing the misdeeds of the prosecuting attorney and other law enforcement officials. I do not recall any reported conduct by officials that would be regarded as criminal, although civil suits for constitutional infringements might have had validity.
To be sure, there was a rallying around those law enforcement officials by the local establishment. However, the lead prosecuting attorney, Jack Kenneff, who probably would have become the DA for Lancaster County and then a county judge based on historical career progression in the DA's office in Lancaster county, unceremoniously left the DA's office.
Had the federal judge (Dalzell) ordered a retrial at the time in a different venue, there is no doubt that would have had a much higher likelihood of being sustained. On the other hand, the fact that Dalzell ordered release because of his finding that the due process violations in the Lambert case were so egregious was not unprecedented. Such a result has been upheld in landmark cases by higher courts that often have been criticized as "liberal," e.g., the Warren Court. However, certainly since Reagan, overwhelmingly, federal appointees to district and higher courts have been "conservatives".
Editor's note: NewsLanc will be reporting more concerning the Lisa Lambert case in the future. If we had mistakenly critized the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers, we will publicly apologize.
Trolley Survey a Classic 'Push Poll'?
A "push poll" is when questions are phrased in a manner that will evoke a sought after response.
On behalf of the Lancaster Alliance, the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College conducted a telephone survey of 408 Lancaster County residents living within a twenty mile radius of Lancaster City.
The poll never mentions, let alone asks, whether the system should be built with $20 million dollars of public money or that it would operate at a loss of over $300,000 a year.
The poll does not mention that trolleys would contribute to traffic congestion and pedestrian danger.
That so reputable an organization as the Center for Opinion Research should be party to such a propaganda effort does not do credit to them or to the college they represent. But it is evidence of the corrupting power of the Lancaster establishment and the monopoly newspapers.
Below is the information provided to those queried. Judge for yourself whether this is a biased presentation for the purpose of eliciting seemingly favorable responses.
"Lancaster is considering installing a modern, steel-shelled street car system. Street cars will look historically authentic inside and out, but will off modern amenities including air conditioning and barrier free access. Street cars will be pollution free and run I the lane of traffic at or near the speed limit, along a 6.2 mile route.
"Street cars will operate on the parallel streets of Queen and Prince Streets, between Liberty and Vine Streets. Street car service will be provide 14 hours per day, with stops every ten minutes with 15 stops along the way.
"Street cars will link a variety of destinations, including the train station, Clipper Magazine Stadium, the Fulton Theater, the Southern Mark, the planned convention center, and a variety of stores, restaurants and offices.
"The fee for riding the street car will be 50 cents or less."
Puppy Farm vs. 'Puppy Mill'
When I was eight years old (admittedly a long time ago), I bought a puppy from a neighbor for a dollar. The dog lasted almost 20 years.
Recently someone I know paid $1800 for a pup, and got the runt of the litter.
My point: If millions of children are to have dogs, they have to be bred somewhere in adequate number. And pups should be available at a reasonable price, with most no more than $250.
To me the issue isn't whether to oppose industrial breeders raising thousands of pups each year. It is whether the mothers and pups are provided a hygienic environment with adequate opportunities to exercise and "nest."
So let's press the state to do its job of setting humane standards and to routinely and rigorously inspect breeding facilities. Let's empower the inspectors to impose heavy fines for infractions. And let's make it possible for youngsters to own a dog without the parents having to raid the college fund.
-- The Editor
Celebrating the Fourth of July: Unsung heroes
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...
"IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776 The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America."
"Blessed is the Eternal our God who opens the eyes of the blind, provides clothes for the naked, brings freedom to the captive and whose power lifts up the fallen."
Traditional Jewish prayer.
As worthy as our elected leaders and our soldiers may be, it is not they who have been the wellspring of democracy. So on this Independence Day, let us give credit to our political activists, the most prominent for the moment being Al Gore and Michael Moore. (Read Gore's "The Assault on Reason." See
Moore's "Sicko.") Both deal with the same basic issue: How do we defend and perpetuate the values and goals of the Declaration of Independence.
Painfully, history has taught us that there will always be the usurpers lusting for wealth and power, be the system capitalism, fascism or communism. They seek to dominate the press. And with the advent of radio and television, our public is more interested in entertainment than facts.
We in Lancaster are but a microcosm of our nation, subject just as much to propaganda, manipulation, and exploitation. Dare we break away form the monopoly press and speak truth to power?
So on this Independence Day, let us not just honor our brave soldiers and past elected officials. Let us also pay homage to the likes of Tom Payne, Frederick Douglas, and Eugene Debs, tens of thousand of patriots who nationally and locally help "open the eyes of the blind" and defend and perpetuate our democracy. So long as the "Spirit of 1776" is to be preserved, their and our work is never done.
The Right Way; The Wrong Way
A decade ago a clergyman called together his congregation and challenged them to come up with a way for expanding their facilities. A senior member asked who would lead such an effort? The clergyman answered: the board of directors. The member scoffed at the notion, pointing out that boards were for routine operations; building programs should be run by members with appropriate expertise and commitment.
The moderate size congregation explored building a new house of worship in the suburbs or remaining, enlarging, and modernizing their existent downtown location. A committee's unanimous conclusion was to stay downtown. As they literally were walking to the door, three members of the committee agreed to jointly purchase the essential next door property to assure its availability.
An ad hoc group of the clergyman, the business man president, a general contractor, a real estate developer, two others in the construction industry, a part time fund raiser for a local educational institution, an attorney and a few others coalesced. Important design decisions were arrived at through the pooling of expertise, albeit at times after heated debate.
An architect was engaged to in large part carry out the committee's design and criteria. A past president was chosen as the general contractor. Two-thirds of the funds necessary were raised by volunteers through an in-house campaign, the rest funded through a mortgage.
The project was completed on schedule and met all expectations. The total cost was perhaps one-half what it would have been had the usual vultures been allowed to participate.
But ten years later when two of the leaders of this venture identified the need and provided seed money and expertise to expand and modernize a vital public facility, they were soon shown the door, the architect and fund raisers were allowed to run amok, and the seed money was soon consumed.
The vultures had descended. And the well meaning but naive board president had been quickly co-opted.
Perhaps more on this later.
Part Two: Exiling The Competent
Once the vultures are alerted to a potential public or semipublic project, they use their influence to intimidate, deceive or subtlety co-opt the organization leaders. Just lunch with an important official or an invitation to a gathering at a home of a community leader can turn heads. It is ego enhancing to be warmly received by the local corporate and cultural elite, to bask in new found recognition that most of us feel should be our due.
What the predators require in order to feed fully at the public trough is poorly informed leaders and, even more importantly, the avoidance of competent, public spirited advisors. Hence, committees are formed with people of little knowledge or interest and the early initiators of the project are marginalized or ostracized.
The deluded organization leader is no longer exposed to expert and well intentioned advice. He or she puff themselves up but are sorely over their heads. So it is the consultants and the contractors who are really making the decisions, much to their enrichment at the expense of the public.
And since decisions concerning design and function are now left to a group of board members who were appointed to oversee routine operations and they are being poorly advised, atrocious decisions are made concerning both design and expenditures. The core purposes of the project become severely compromised.
These comments are based upon relatively recent and ongoing happenings here in Lancaster apart from the disreputable convention center / hotel project.
More later, if it proves necessary.
Part One: The Feeding Trough
No matter how well intentioned the initiators of a community project are, as soon as word gets out the vultures begin to circle and before long attempts at good design and economy are supplanted by notions of who is to get what. Those concerned with value and economy are swiftly pushed out or marginalized.
Firms ostensibly offering fund raising advice seek to seize control of the enterprise and turn a meal into a feast. Architects and designers are eager to join the party and obtain swollen fees.
Many of these projects have true merit, so the public and the usual local philanthropists pledge their support based on the good purpose rather than its implementation. They are not able to evaluate whether the original accurately perceived $5 million budget has now been bloated to $10 million. Nor can federal, state and local governments discern this (if they care at all) when they provide grants.
In a situation underway, even the government official charged with oversight responsibility does not care to call a meeting.
Hopefully NewsLanc will not have to report more about this later. But if we must, we will.
Not so, (Gil) Smart
NewsLanc is an admirer of Gil Smart but he is mistaken in his Sunday News June 24th column "Smart Remarks" in drawing a parallel between his using the family car without permission with the savage killing of three family members.
In the former case, Smart in disobeying his parents by visiting a girl friend in far off Virginia was motivated by one of the most primal and positive human instincts: "Be fruitful and multiply." At his age of eighteen, the courtship could have legally culminated in marriage.
But in the case of the accused Alec Kreider, the alleged murderer was acting in an impulse anathema to normal human instincts and the strictures of all cultures. You do know that when you are a kid.
Yes, Alec is a teenager and that should be taken into account in his trial and, if found guilty, his sentencing. (NewsLanc would oppose a death penalty.) And Smart is right in reminding us to take his age into consideration.
But let us not minimize the extent of the heinous crime with far fetched analogies. Allowance can be made for 'kids being kids.' But not for kids being ruthless murderers.
A Breath of Fresh Air, But Is It Enough?
In a letter to the June 24th Sunday News, Lancaster County Convention Center Authority Chair Art Morris acknowledged that the LCCCA erred in handling the request by board member designate Thomas LeCrone for copies of briefing materials. LCCCA counsel sent a seven page letter turning him down when, as Morris says, "...we could have contacted Mr. LeCrone and ... such a call may have resulted in an acceptable modification to the original request without the need for any legal opinion... We pledge to do better."
Faced with the scheduled transfer of control of the LCCCA board in September from a City to County majority, sponsors and Mayor Rick Gray recognized that they could no longer control the LCCCA by the appointment of unqualified but loyal individuals who would take their lead on all matters from highly paid consultants and lawyers. In a well orchestrated dance, appointment of a replacement member was postponed for half a year, Morris appointed after the project was assured, Ted Darcus stepped down as chair, and Morris was elected chair. All this took place before the county members gained majority control in September.
NewsLanc.com early recognized the outstanding qualifications of the former Lancaster City mayor and predicted and welcomed such an appointment.
The questions still up in the air with Morris are: (1) Will he be able to devote the virtual full time needed over the critical next two years as the Chair / CEO to provide proper oversight to this $200 million dollar project? (2) Will Morris be hesitant to investigate possible corruption and misrepresentations in past handling of $20 million in public money? (3) Will Morris seek to renegotiate contracts that unduly favor the sponsors and consultants with terms and conditions that are contrary to normal business practice?
The board is being 'penny wise and dollar foolish' by refusing payment to its chair / CEO, whoever that might be now and in the future. And if Morris is not willing to investigate the past and challenge current arrangements that are so unfair to the tax payers, he may be replaced in January by a county appointee when elections of officers take place.
Rep. Joe Pitts facilitates the subjugation of Third World women
According to the Associated Press, Congressman Joe Pitts votes for constraints on foreign aid that have lead to "an alarming shortage of contraceptives, particularly in poor rural areas." By conditioning American aid upon health organizations not distributing birth control devices and family planning information, the US is perpetuating the subjugation of women, curtailing economic development, and undermining democracy.
When Pitts votes to prevent distribution of birth control devices and to prevent abortions, he exposes young, defenseless girls in Third World Countries to AIDS, subjects them to unwanted pregnancy, deprives them of an opportunity for the most basic education, and continues their utter subordination to and victimization by males in their society.
Experts in economic development such as CARE International advocate the education of girls in order to empower them and to enable them to start small businesses of their own. In societies were men are usually dysfunctional, women are the brightest hope for bringing about constructive changes for their sons and daughters and their communities.
By pandering to religious ideologues, Pitts dooms third world women and their families to continued poverty, abuse and early death.
Is it time for Pitts to retire and a more enlightened Republican take his
How a monopoly press creates civic dysfunction
"Why do reason, logic, and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions?" -- Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia 2/12/2003
"The news divisions …are now seen as profit centers designed to generate revenue and, sometimes, to advance the larger agenda of the corporation that owns them… And when the people are not informed, they cannot hold government accountable when it is incompetent, corrupt, or both." Vice President Al Gore, "The Assault On Reason," 2007
Gov. Rendell: Have the courage of your convictions!
On June 19 in a letter the Intelligencer Journal, Jerry Policoff wrote: "A single-payer health plan is strongly opposed by the health insurance industry because they are the only ones who stand to lose if it passes."
The Editor responded "The governor has said that while he personally favors a single-payer plan, it stands no chance of passage."
Mr. Policoff is more in tune with our changing times than Governor Rendell.
While the Health Industry opposes the expansion of the Medicare program so that the government would pay most of the health bills and cover all of the population, a striking reversal in the attitude on the part of big business in recent years makes this reform not only possible but likely. At a cost of $3 an hour to cover the typical worker, industry cannot compete with their rivals throughout the world because most developed nations provide a single-payer system and fund the program through general tax revenue. For example, how can General Motors compete on an equal footing if they must pay hundreds of dollars more to build a car than a competitor in Canada, Japan or Germany?
Meanwhile the USA's level of public health does not compare favorably with Canada and many other nations with a single payer system and yet we spend far more per person.
In the opening paragraph of "Redefining Health Care", the authors state: "The U.S. Health Care System is notorious for its high costs, which Americans traditionally assumed was the price of excellence…There is compelling evidence that much care falls well short of excellence, that both too little and too much care is provided, and that alarming rates of medical error persist…Although U.S. costs are high…there were 45.8 million Americans without health care coverage in 2004, up from 39.8 million in 2000."
The clincher: "Higher expenditures on U.S. health care do not result in longer life expectancy for Americans than for citizens of other developed countries, or more years of good health."
The authors go on to make the case that the U.S. health care system encourages "cost shifting" from hospitals to insurance companies to doctors to patients and around again. It does not reward practices that actually reduce the overall cost of health care.
Nevertheless, old mind-sets prevented the authors from giving consideration to a single-payer system. When co-author Harvard Business School Professor Michael E. Porter, addressing a group of business school alumnae and spouses, was asked why he was dismissive of the Canadian systems that costs 20% less, he failed to provide a cogent reason.
Momentum for a single payer system is growing. It is time for Rendell and other officials to take heed.
PAM expansion brings world class architecture to City
The Steinman family elders deserve much of the credit for the magnificent structure of the Pennsylvania Academy of Music (PAM) currently taking form in downtown Lancaster, a few doors down from the Fulton Opera House in the first block of North Prince Street.
Pedestrians marvel at the bold and functional design of the structure and the magnificence of the veneer of stone imported from Spain.
Some felt that the price tag for the school and concert hall of around $22 million was excessive. But local backers were correct that a building designed by the late and great Philip Johnson and built to world class acoustical standards would be a symbol of a new Lancaster and would put downtown Lancaster on the tourist map for those interested in experiencing outstanding architecture.
PAM has the potential of expanding into a campus for talented high school music students attracted from throughout the world. It could achieve many times more for revitalization of downtown Lancaster than the ill-conceived and misguided convention center project that is more likely to be a blight. When it came to the convention center, the Steinman elders had the best intentions, but they were not well advised by corporate management.
And unlike the CC project, there are no taxpayer guarantees. The PAM facility is being funded through grants and generous contributions.
Details, photos, plans and a virtual tour of the building can be viewed at http://www.paacademymusic.com/facility-new.php.
Not Our District Attorney!
"A clear case of intentional prosecutorial misconduct" that involved "dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation."
This was not (at least not yet) the findings of our state's disciplinary committee about District Attorney Donald Totaro. Rather it pertains to the prosecutor of the Duke University lacrosse team members on rape charges.
To date, no one in authority here or the monopoly newspapers have had the guts to examine Totaro's mishandling of the grand jury investigation involving our county commissioners.
But the description resonates for anyone who has carefully read the Grand Jury report and who is aware of the way a powerful corporate elite, largely of inherited wealth or following in a father's footsteps, is able to fill positions and manipulate both government and authority officials for their own self-serving purposes.
"The New Era understated Marriott Hotel loss by $1.8 million annually"
To: The Editor, Lancaster New Era
From: Robert Edwin Field, Lancaster Township
In your article "The real numbers: Probing Penn Square project's bottom line", a misleading impression of profitability is given when you state: "On the hotel side, PKF [Consultants] says the Marriott will earn only $124,000 a year."
As clearly indicated by PKF, the $124,000 is before the cost of interest and fees on $40,000,000 in bond debt. Interest and service charges will amount to around $2,000,000 a year. Thus, PKF anticipates that the Marriott will actually lose over $1,800,000 annually.
It was my first hand knowledge of the weak demand for hotel rooms in downtown Lancaster that first stirred my concern about the viability of the convention center project. Over two days I met with the Rufus Fulton, then CEO of Fulton Bank; Jack Buckwalter the Chairman of The Lancaster Newspapers, Inc.; and finally Dale High of The High Companies.
Fulton referred me to Buckwalter. Buckwalter said High was the person who had analyzed the prospects and suggested I meet with him. High, a fellow hotelier, didn't disagree with my analysis of the current weak downtown hotel market but said he was counting on the convention center project to attract companies to downtown Lancaster and their presence plus the convention center visitors would generate business that would make the hotel feasible. In short, "If you build it, they will come."
I would admire High's bold vision were it not that his subsidiaries will receive large fees from various stages of development and operations while the Lancaster City taxpayers will run almost all of the risks.
Editors Note: A recent examination of the NewsLanc files uncovered an e-mail to the journalist from publisher Robert Edwin Field stating for attribution purposes that the PKF Consultants projected a hotel loss of over $1.5 million. The New Era once again chose to mislead its readers. Shame on them.
Convention Center Authority (at long last) seeks attorneys
With Art Morris having replaced Ted Darcus as chairman, the Convention Center Authority is "currently seeking proposals from law firms to serve as Solicitor," according to a June 14 announcement.
Morris had publicly objected to the current solicitor's failure to provide detailed invoices for the approximately $7 million of purported services they supplied to the Authority.
Normally law firms provide a break down with invoices of hours worked, by whom, when, at what rate, and for what general purpose. Stevens & Lee only provided invoices stating, "For legal services rendered on behalf of the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority."
It should be noted that the purposeful choice of Authority board members of little relevant competence but much allegiance to a powerful corporate elite effectively meant that every business decision had to be made by outside counsel and consultants. As an example, the recent simple request by board member designee Tom LeCrone for copies of briefing papers was foolishly rejected by a seven page letter from Stevens & Lee that probably cost the Authority and taxpayers around $2,000.
Lancaster's Real Scandal of the Century
NewsLanc questions whether 50 persons ever read the Grand Jury Report. Instead, the public's information came from days of repeated newspaper headlines in the monopoly Lancaster press (Lancaster Newspapers, Inc.) vilifying the commissioners for pleading guilty to a minor violation which the actual report suggests they never committed.
(The Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. is a 50% partner in the Convention Center Hotel project about which the County Commissioners have strenuously raised many valid objections.)
District Attorney Donald Totaro says the Grand Jury investigation of the County Commissioners was to inquire into violations of the state's criminal laws regarding a job application. The Grand Jury soon established that there were no violations.
Thwarted, Totaro then obtained permission to investigate the sale of Conestoga View Nursing Home, in part to determine whether one or more of the commissioners had personally benefited. The jury again cleared the commissioners of any wrongdoings.
The county commissioners told the Grand Jury that they delayed publicly discussing the possible sale of the Conestoga View Nursing Home to minimize anxiety on the part of nursing home staff and patients.
The commissioners explained they sold to the operator because of its satisfactory performance over a decade, willingness to provide guarantees of future patient care levels, and payment of a price established by appraisals.
The District Attorney had sought the Grand Jury investigations to investigate alleged major felonies. Now after a year, he faced the humiliation of having his Grand Jury exonerate the commissioners of all accusations. The DA's reputation was about to be besmirched and his likelihood of becoming a judge compromised.
Totaro drew up the testimony and called the commissioners back repeatedly over the year, challenging their memories about details of long ago discussions. The commissioners believed they were faced with an indictment for perjury due to some unwitting contradiction that might force them from office and certainly would make it impossible to run for reelection.
There was no way for them to know that the grand jury was ready to exonerate them on all accounts. So they reluctantly accepted a plea bargain to a minor violation which they believed they had not committed.
In fact, the Grand Jury faulted the obscurity of the Sunshine Law, not the commissioners. The commissioners were acting on the advice of the county solicitor and the solicitor was probably correct in his interpretation of the vague law. And to have violated the law, the commissioners would have had to do so intentionally, which was an absurdity since counsel was present.
The monopoly newspapers played up the minor violations which carry a $100 fine as though the commissioners committed the crime of the century.
For three days the newspaper ran banner headlines across their front pages.
This is how a petty violation was used to drive one out of office, prevent another from running for reelection, and to put in doubt the reelection likelihood of a third.
Totaro goes on to run for judge. The monopoly Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. and its partners get to build its convention center project.
Is Totaro guilty of an extreme example of prosecutorial abuse?
Was there linkage?
Now Lancaster has legitimate reasons to impanel a Grand Jury to investigate what might indeed be serious crimes.
Daniel Logan Revisited
NewsLanc.com visitors may recall articles in December 2006, questioning whether the more than $700,000 paid to the consultant, Daniel Logan, President of Growth Business Development, was justifiable. NewsLanc.com opined "… there appeared to be very little substantive work product to show for the huge amount of money."
At the June 7 Convention Center Authority meeting, Brian Sparacino of Interstate Hotels & Resorts, the manager for both the hotel and centers, stunned board members by telling them point blank that Interstate would not work with or even communicate with Logan. He spurned Logan's services and indicated they consider him a competitor.
So much for spending $700,000!
But Mr. Logan will not be cast adrift. Executive director Dave Hixon said Logan would be kept on contract just in case there was a need for his services in the future.
Good-bye Ted; Welcome Art
Ted Darcus is a very nice guy who has long served youngsters in the community and would make a great next door neighbor. Unfortunately Penn Square Partners and others used him as a tool to control the management and the direction of the Convention Center / Hotel Project. His tenure as chairman of the Convention Center Authority (LCCCA) has cost the citizenry millions of dollars in unnecessary consuslting fees and resulted in the worst public project in the county's history.
Sometimes a tree can tell a lot about a forest. No better example could have occurred than when board member designate Tom LeCrone criticized David Hixson, Executive Director, and indirectly Darcus for having made him wait over two months for the copies of briefings provided current board members that he sought to to orient himself for the position he will assume in September. Instead of receiving $20 in copies, for which he would gladly had paid, the Authority spent about $2,000 to obtain a seven page letter from the law firm of Stevens & Lee turning down his request.
(Incidentally, it may be LeCrone who will become the chairman come in January when a vote is taken.)
Board member and county appointee Laura Douglas is a competent lady who manages a moderate size local business. It took her less than two minutes to figure out and decide that the request by LeCrone was different from requests from the general public. She would have set a policy that future board members would receive orientation papers while they wait to take office.
But Darcus and Hixson were not appointed because they knew how to run a business or could make even the most rudimentary decisions on their own. They were there to be told what to do by lavishly paid consultants who in turn were chosen to do the bidding of those behind the convention center.
And this is how the project was perpetuated, expanded, and eventually rammed through despite every danger signal, every legitimate objection; a triumph of greed and hubris over intelligence and experience
Good-bye Ted. Continue your good work with young people. Please never take a government position again.
Welcome Art. You may be too cantankerous to be an ideal neighbor. But we are grateful that you have taken the job and relieved that now the LCCCA management will reflect intelligence and some independence.
Highlights from Convention Authority Meeting
1) The hotel tower exterior will be clad with cast concrete panels designed to simulate limestone as originally designated. Dryvit System synthetic stucco will only be used on the lower rear section of the convention center.
2) The Convention Center Authority board unanimously elected former Lancaster mayor Art Morris as its chairman. Morris graciously praised Ted Darcus for three years of service as chairman.
3) Tom Smithgall of Penn Square Partners said completion date will be delayed until end of 2008. Construction has been slowed by much rock and and excessive foundation water, possible an underground stream.
4) Designated county appointee Tom LeCrone said he asked Executive Director Dave Hixson for copies of hand outs to board members so he could get up to speed, waited for over two months for the copies, and instead received a seven page letter from the law firm of Stevens & Lee telling him he can't have them.
It took board member Laura Douglas only a couple of minutes to point out the obvious: LeCrone as a member designate is a special case and an exception should be made for him.
As for the Stevens & Lee's seven page letter, it probably cost the Authority about $2,000. Stevens & Lee has received $7 million in fees from the Authority to date. So what's new?
Lanco Yokels' comments on Mayor Rick Gray's strategic plan at
Bait and Switch?
NewsLanc is receiving mixed information from usually reliable sources concerning what material will comprise the exterior of the Marriott Hotel.
The original plans and photos showed an attractive, durable sandstone exterior. A recent report indicates the architects say no change has been made.
But discussions at the Convention Center Authority (LCCCA) meetings and a report concerning the contracts actually let to subcontractors indicate that a far less expensive and problematic Dryvit System has been substituted. Dryvit is the trade name for a system that utilizes a thin synthetic stucco surface over a rough plaster and plastic mesh layer on top of insulation board.
The manufacturer of Dryvit has been plagued with lawsuits in recent years pertaining to water penetration. The system also requires very expensive re-caulking and repainting every eight to ten years.
Since the Marriott will tower above downtown, it will be especially exposed to wind and driving rain.
A builder / owner who used Dryvit on mid-rise structures has reported considerable expense of maintaining the system and serious problems of water infiltration over the years.
The LCCCA meets June 7 at 7 p.m. Perhaps then the public will learn whether the Marriott will have the attractive and durable sandstone exterior as originally proposed. Or has Dryvit been substituted to initially save money but at the prospect of generating even greater operational losses in the future?
LGH earns $98 million for taxpayers. LCCCA wastes $100 million.
We get what we pay for!
The June 3 Sunday News published an informative lead article headed "LGH operates on $98 million surplus" revealing the immense profitability of the General Hospital, the compensation levels of its executives including five who receive around $500,000 each per annum, and how the profits will benefit the public. (LGH is a non-profit corporation.)
One's first reaction upon seeing compensations reaching $600,000 a year is to be upset. This is human. But we live in a capitalistic system and, provided pay is comparable to what successful top executives are making in comparable industries, there is no good reason for complaint.
Most of us would agree that LGH is well run and applaud them for earning almost a thousand dollars per county family which they will plow back into improvements and the community.
But how do we feel about how the way the County and Lancaster City are run? Keep in mind a commissioner earns $83,439 and the Mayor $73,459. Occasionally we are able to attract very competent individuals who can afford to perform these jobs for far less than they could earn elsewhere. But that doesn't happen very often.
And then we come to the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority (LCCCA) which is proceeding to build the incorrectly designed project in the wrong location and at a cost of double what the private sector would have achieved.
Who was the Chair and Chief Executive Officer of this important body? Unpaid Ted Darcus working part time surrounded mostly by relatively unprofessional, inexperienced city appointees who voted as a block. Without qualified professional leadership, how could we have avoided LCCCA being pre-empted by High, the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers, and the law firm of Stevens & Lee?
Now it appears that former mayor Art Morris will be taking over as chairman / CEO of the LCCCA at a critical time and he also will not be compensated. Yet to do that job properly requires a 50-hour week even for someone as talented and experienced as Morris. Morris likes to talk about his humble beginnings and there is no suggestion from his long record as a public official or his lifestyle that he is a man of great means. So unlike Darcus he may have the talent, but like Darcus he certainly won't have the time.
There is an old saying that "You get what you pay for." And it sure holds true in Lancaster and especially with the convention center project. The question is how long can we afford not to pay or to underpay our leaders?
Don't just blame the monopoly newspapers, blame ourselves!
A prominent reporter with the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers who dealt with Convention Center issues recently inquired how he could obtain a copy of the PKF Feasibility Report of March 2006!
The point here: The newspapers' editors and reporters neither studied the PKF report -- the most important factual information ever generated about the project -- nor was a copy retained in their mammoth data base. They studiously avoided the information because it was counter to the interest of ownership.
This is an example of what Al Gore talks about in "The Assault On Reason" as summarized by a New York Time's reviewer as follows: "Mr. Gore's central argument is that 'reason, logic and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions and that the country's public discourse has become 'less focused and clear, less reasoned.'"
As Gore points out, the desire of the general public during the age of television is to be entertained, not informed. And there is "…an increasingly conglomerate-controlled media landscape."
And especially here in Lancaster, dominated by powerful corporation interests and an entrenched and self perpetuating establishment, even when the public is provided with factual information from other sources, there is a fear of speaking out.
In short, the Convention Center is a manifestation on the local level of the national dysfunction that brought us Iraq…a failure of the media to do its job…and of the public to give a damn.
Sponsor's Own Web Site Gives Lie to
Armstrong's Blame of Project Opponents
At last week's faux "ground breaking" for the Convention Center Project, Senator Gib Armstrong and others claimed the delays and increased costs were caused by project opponents.
A document posted on the Penn Square Partners web site contradicts the accusations:
As the Penn Square Partner's own posted history indicates, the partners and the Authority jointly stopped further architectural design until critical issues affecting the design could be resolved.
"In the summer of 2003, the Authority and the Partners agreed that it would not be prudent to spend any more money on architectural drawings until we both received confirmation from the state regarding our joint request for additional financial support of the project. The Authority and the Partners jointly directed High Associates to stop any further work by the architects. The delay in design was an owner-directive and not the developer's decision."
But AFTER clearly accepting responsibility for project delays, the same document attempts to shift the blame AWAY from the PSP and LCCCA:
"Delays in the project are caused by parking issues and issues with the Historic Preservation Trust. Although detailed design and building timelines are drawn-up, the Partners and the Authority have been unable to direct to the architects to complete its designs because two critical issues must be resolved to do so:
"After three years of negotiation, the Convention Center Authority and the Parking Authority have not come to an agreement about transferring ownership of the King Street garage. Control of the King Street garage was assumed in all previous designs for the convention center. As local political leaders attempt to forge a resolution to this issue, the Authority has agreed to explore alternate parking designs that do not include the King Street Garage.
"The Historic Preservation Trust (HPT) has an agreement with the Authority that requires it to define its program and to identify sources of financing to implement its plans to preserve and fund certain historic structures on the convention center property within a set timeframe. This has not been accomplished to date and must be in order to guide our project architect on how to integrate the HPT plan with the convention center plan. The Authority is redoubling its efforts to resolve this issue immediately.
"Both the Partners and the Authority have agreed to re-start architectural drawings once the parking and Historic Preservation Trust issues are resolved."
The final architectural drawings were provided by Cooper Carry in March 2006, nearly three years after the project redesign was authorized by the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority. See: http://www.pennsquarepartners.com/history.asp#Year2003
"April 2003 — Architects are directed to re-design the project to reduce construction budget costs both for LCCCA and PSP."
Instead, the project cost has since more than doubled.
However, there are hints that additional delays were caused by friction between the PSP and LCCCA. In an unprecedented move in March 2004 the LCCCA freely released the total amount of money that had been paid so far to High Industries. You can read the list at: http://www.5thestate.com/040318.htm.
Also in early 2004, demands for more money by the Penn Square Partners resulted in the LCCCA taking an option to purchase the Brunswick Hotel at Queen and Chestnut. This option was allowed to expire, but the fact the LCCCA was willing to spend many thousands of dollars on a negotiating tactic speaks volumes.
As evidenced by the PSP's own words and the LCCCA's actions, there can be no doubt that the delays and increased costs that have plagued the project had LITTLE to do with project opponents. The true cause was the PSP's incessant demands for more and more money.
Apparently making mendacious accusations is Armstrong's way of burying the hatchet and getting everyone behind the project. But then it is hard to break a habit.
What we owe our soldiers. . .
It is hard for those of us who have not had our lives interrupted by war or, worse yet, suffered the death of a loved one in combat, to reflect on our obligations to those who have sacrificed so much for their country.
NewsLanc proposes that we best honor these sacrifices through vigilance, the pursuit of facts, and the exposure of those who purposefully attempt to deceive.
Concerning Al Gore's recently released "The Assault on Reason", the New York Times reviewer states:
"Mr. Gore's central argument is that 'reason, logic and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important
decisions' and that the country's public discourse has become 'less focused and clear, less reasoned.'
"This volume moves beyond its criticisms of the Bush administration to diagnose the ailing condition of America as a participatory democracy — low voter turnout, rampant voter cynicism, an often ill-informed electorate, political campaigns dominated by 30-second television ads, and an increasingly conglomerate-controlled media landscape . . . ." (Emphasis added.)
About 75% of the public have lost confidence in the current mendacious, ideological, corrupt and incompetent national administration. And yet very few of us here in Lancaster are prepared to recognize similar symptoms in our own back yard. Instead, we have allowed ourselves to be hoodwinked and our real heroes to be pilloried.
There can be no better example than the manner whereby convention center backers avoided and distorted facts and through control of the media and with the assistance of the district attorney in defaming county commissioners were able to push through a $200 million project, almost totally funded or guaranteed by taxpayers.
Just as most of us remained silent when patent misrepresentations were being made about Iraq having been involved in the 9/11 tragedy, the Lancaster public, although alerted by a courageous few, chose to simply go along as though nothing untoward was occurring.
Compared to such ennui on the part of the American public, our soldiers have given years, limbs and even lives so that we could maintain a vibrant democracy.
The fault is not just with George Bush; or with the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers, Dale High and Gib Armstrong. The fault is also with us the public who prefer to spend our time being entertained rather than insisting that we be informed. And here in Lancaster we seek to "get along" rather than to speak out.
There is likely to soon be some major revelations of extraordinary abuse of the public trust on the Lancaster scene. We the public will be put to the test as to whether we will simply ignore official misconduct in high places or, like our soldiers, put something of ourselves at risk . . . to speak truth to power!
Failure to Pay Undermines Convention Center Project
Who has the most important job: The mayor of Lancaster? The County Commissioners? The Chief Executive Officer / Chair of the Convention Center Authority?
That's a tough question to answer.
So how much do we pay these important public officials?
The Mayor: $73,459 annually.
The Commissioners: $83,439 each, a total of $250,317. And add on an extra $1,000 the chairperson. So the total leadership package comes to $251,317.
The CEO / Chairperson of the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority: $ 0
How can we expect Art Morris or anyone else heading the Convention Center Authority to devote the 30 to 50 hours a week needed to make sure that close to $200 million, mostly public or publicly guaranteed money, is spent appropriately? How can we expect an unpaid CEO / chairperson to oversee plans to properly staff, promote and operate the facility?
If we can spend around that much for this turkey of a project, certainly we should ante up $50,000 to $75,000 annually over the next 36 months to enable the chairperson to devote sufficient time to see that it is done as well as possible.
Or perhaps Penn Square Partners would prefer not to have someone looking over its shoulders?
"Private Party Crashed" and "We've Got to Get Focused" are a Lot of Laughs
NewsLanc.com has acquiesced in the reality of the Convention Center / Hotel Project and is committed to helping to optimize its economy, promotion and operations. We owe it to ourselves, our kids and our grandchildren to try to minimize the losses.
However, for gut-splitting laughs about the May 23 private party thrown by the Convention Center Authority, we recommend "Private Party Crashed!" posted at the irrepressible Ron Harper's www.5thestate.com and Lanco Yokels' "We've Got To Get Focused!" at http://lancoyokels.blogspot.com. Harper cuts with a scalpel. Lanco Yokels tickles to death with a feather.
From a NewsLanc Contributor:
Uninspiring speeches, uninspired logo
At 3:30 p.m. May 23, 2007, an invitation-only "ceremony" was held behind the skeletal facade of the Watt & Shand department store to unveil
the official logo for both the hotel and the convention center. Everyone who is anybody who had anything to do with the project was there, with the
exception of State Representative Mike Sturla, and several members of the LCCCA board. Even County Commissioner candidate Jere Swarr somehow got an
invitation. Several tons of crushed stone were spread along a path and in front of the temporary stage, on top of the soil that once supported Watt &
Several elected and appointed officials spoke to the small gathering. State Senator Gib Armstrong spent a LOT of time taking credit for the project, but
took even more time to blast project opponents, using the same old falsehoods and untruths that have been so commonly used by project
supporters. Sen. Armstrong did mention the economic development that could result, if this project were to meet its expectations.
Mayor Rick Gray spoke next. He also attacked project opponents, but spent most of his speech using the same kind of reassuring rhetoric that he is so
well known for.
Former LCCCA chairman Ted Darcus was more charitable to project opponents, instead speaking of "obstacles". Mr. Darcus clearly claimed that this
project was initiated by the Lancaster COUNTY government, and that Lancaster City was simply following its lead.
After the speeches, a bogus "groundbreaking" complete with gold shovels unearthed wrapped-in-plastic stiff posters printed with the logo of the
hotel and of the convention center… Both logos are dull, uninspired, and uninspiring.
This event is reminiscent of a similar day of speeches on Sept. 25, 1971, when U.S. Senator Hugh Scott spoke of the "dramatic redevelopment" of
downtown Lancaster. Three years and three months later, the platform Sen. Scott was standing on - along with the surrounding multi-million dollar
structure - was being demolished.
Nominations Solicited for Forthcoming Ostrich Awards
You are invited to recommend articles from the monopoly press you feel qualify the reporter as a candidate for an annual NewsLanc Ostrich Award.
The soon to be coveted Ostrich will go to journalists who exceed even the formidable standards established over recent years by the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers for studiously ignoring facts lest they interfere with bias.
A jury of distinguished citizens (well, probably just NewsLanc.com staff members) will choose the winner(s).
The Ostrich awards will be announced in time to supplement the annual Keystone Awards bestowed (often in sublime ignorance) by the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association.
NewsLanc is also soliciting design suggestions for the Ostrich plaque. A $25 award will go to the winner. Contestants should fax a sketch to 717-393-4953, attention Lynn Montigny. Be sure to include contact information.
Gov Needs Course in Econ 101
Governor Ed Rendell addressed a group of business persons in Harrisburg yesterday and bragged about the success of his economic stimulant package which has funded billions of questionable projects across the state and necessitated a proposal to increase the state sales tax.
He talked about how a $10 million subsidy ultimately generated 150 jobs in Towanda, which may indeed be a laudable achievement.
But the governor requires a refresher course in Economics 101. In the 18th Century, John Marshall correctly taught that using resources for one task depletes resources available for another. The lesson being that government wants to make certain that the project it is funding is more important that how citizens would otherwise be using those resources. In an economy of fairly full employment such as today, Marshall's rule prevails.
But in the late 1930s and in response to world wide recession, John Maynard Keynes introduced the concept that during times of severe recession or depression, governments need to fund projects in order to put some of the unemployed to work and so their new purchasing power would generate jobs for others. This is called "priming the pump."
So, according to Keynes, Rendell may be correct in his assessment that a government subsidy for jobs for Towanda with its large unemployment rate is desirable. But a refresher course in Economics 101 would teach Rendell that funding a convention center / hotel project in prosperous Lancaster simply diverts investment from far worthier private and governmental projects and creates "negative wealth," many years of fiscal drain because of large operating losses.
National Media Quarantine Exit Poll;
But Not The New Era!
The New Era takes pride in publishing exit poll information by noon of election day. Many experts believe such information discourages voter turn out later in the day and thus can tilt the outcome of close elections.
The following is from an article published by the Pew Research Center in September 2006, in anticipation of the mid-term election. Interviewed is Joe Lenski, co-founder and Executive Vice President of Edison Media Research.
Lenski: "Well, I'll tell you a brief description of what we will be doing with the networks and the Associated Press. We're going to put in place systems in which no one, even at the networks, can view any of this data before 5 p.m. on Election Day. This will be very similar to procedures used in England and Mexico and other places to strictly control the dissemination of data, and the number of people who get to look at it before 5 o'clock. We'll have one or two rooms in which people will, in essence, be in a bubble, quarantined. They'll have to give up their cell phones, their pagers, any internet activity, anything of that sort and stay in that room until 5 o'clock in order to view the data so we know there is no possibility of communication with the outside world."
We Protest Keystone Award Re Conestoga View
As proof that "Ignorance is bliss," the Keystone Award judges for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association gave an award to the New Era's Jack Brubaker for reporting on the county commissioners ' sale of the Conestoga View Nursing Home.
In fact, both editor-in-chief Ernie Schreiber and Brubaker should be censured for their unwillingness to report how the three commissioners were exonerated by the grand jury of any legal wrongdoings pertaining to the sale and were coerced through outrageous prosecutorial abuse by district attorney Donald Totaro for a plea bargain for dubious violations of the Sunshine Act, a law so vague that the jury recommended it be revised.
Then the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers printed banner headlines day after day treating the minor violation that never took place as the crime of the century. (Was Totaro part of a coup by powerful establishment interests against the commissioners, especially Dick Shellenberger and Molly Henderson? NewsLanc.com is investigating).
We can understand the pressure that Brubaker and other journalists working for the monopoly newspapers have been under because of the parent company's conflict of interest as a convention center hotel 50% sponsor and its ongoing newsroom intervention, but we hardly consider Brubaker eligible for an award, unless it the Ostrich Award for ignoring the obvious.
As for Schreiber, he is too myopic and mean spirited for his editor-in-chief position. By reputation he was once one heck of an investigative reporter. That's exactly what Lancaster needs. Maybe he should come to work for NewsLanc.com.
To host conventioneers, City must avoid another "Katrina" like response to winter storms
The May 20th Sunday News reports that Mayor Rick Gray has reached out to the James Street Improvement District (JSID) for assistance in strategizing for improvements in services and for attracting businesses to downtown Lancaster.
This is a smart move because F & M College and the JSID organization have demonstrated both competence and energy in their improvement efforts.
Meanwhile Lancaster cannot afford another "Katrina" like response to a winter storm as was apparent this past winter when downtown was virtually shut down for three days with three foot icy snow banks along the curbs and blocking intersections, and with a quarter of the sidewalks left totally unshoveled.
And just as the Bush administration seemed oblivious to its negligence and folly in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, the city administration seemed unaware of its abject failure to re-open downtown and impervious to well intention advice from well meaning citizens with proven experience. (For example, they didn't even have the common sense to use rubber tired backhoes to open up intersections, something that could have been done swiftly and at a minor cost.)
One of the first tasks should be the review of City ordinances to make certain that store owners face stiff fines - perhaps $500 - for not clearing walks within 24 hours of a snow fall. And then the ordinance must be scrupulously enforced.
And if downtown merchants and landlords want to attract more shoppers, they have to pressure one another to meet their obligations.
So "kudos" to Mayor Gray for seeking help from JSID. Now let's hope he will listen to advice and kick the butts of those in his own public works department who studiously ignore problems and resist solutions.
Post Election Interview with Charlie Smithgall
Editor's note: An observer reported to NewsLanc that Dennis Stuckey and Charlie Smithgall were in a virtual tie until final votes were counted from the City of Lancaster. On the following day, reporter Lynn Montigny interviewed former Mayor Smithgall about his loss.
NewsLanc: Did you think it was right for the Republican Party to use their poll watchers to do exit polls?
Smithgall: I don't think they did, I think reporters do it.
NewsLanc: Was it right of the newspaper to publish the polls?
Smithgall: They do it all the time. They do it on every election; they call the election by 11 in the morning.
NewsLanc: Was it right for the New Era to publish that info, making the public think you'd already lost, thus discouraging your supporters from voting?
Smithgall: That's possible. I don't agree with exit polling but it's done. There's nothing I can do to stop it.
NewsLanc: Does it seem credible to you that the pivotal votes at the end that came from the city would have gone strongly against you?
Smithgall: They didn't go against me. I haven't seen the totals, the city results, but a couple of the ones I heard about, I won, but I haven't seen the total printout. I assume I won the city but I'm not sure. I know I won two precincts in the city, both were two to one. There's some precincts that there's no Republican voters in them. I don't know if what's in the newspaper is exactly accurate. Someone could transpose numbers. Sometime in the next week or so they should show the final results. What the newspapers pick up aren't the official results. Those come sometime later. The way we figure, last night I lost by 392 votes, the newspaper said 460. Either way we figure I lost by about 400 votes.
Bus service, no. Trolleys, yes?
In a May 15 column entitled, "Bus cuts would leave many on road to nowhere," Intelligencer columnist Jeff Hawkes sagely opines: "Local buses are not frills. They are a vital community asset, and the taxes supporting them help people be self-sufficient contributors to society." He goes on to say "a million-dollar funding shortfall might force [Red Rose Transit Authority] to eliminate six of its less-traveled routes."
Consider this in light of a rush by the corporate elite (including the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers) to bring trolley cars to downtown Lancaster at an estimated operating loss to the Transit Authority of over $300,000 per year, plus the initial construction cost to be borne by taxpayers of over $20 million.
Given Lancaster's relatively narrow streets, the silent running and slow to stop trolley cars will increase congestion, slow travel, cause 'fender benders', and endanger pedestrians, especially children darting out between cars.
Madness you say? Of course it is. But when our tax money is available to fund construction of "white elephants," we can count on powerful companies (as the High Group did with the convention center project) to muscle them through, the public will and future be damned.
Sunday News tops Orwell's 1984: Claims Brunswick
renovation result of Convention Center
The May 13 Sunday News headlines "With convention center underway, renovated
hotel gets ready to ride what officials hope is a wave of improvement."
It goes on to say "Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray said the project is a major
result of the development stoked by the Lancaster County Convention Center
Authority and Penn Square Partners, developer of the 300-Room Lancaster Marriott
at Penn Square."
This is a classic example of the winner, the monopoly Lancaster Newspapers
which is the 50% equitable owner of the Marriott, re-writing history.
The facts are that the current owners of the Brunswick had offered to
utilize the vast public space and potential for enlargement as a substitute for the
proposed convention center and to upgrade the Brunswick to its origins as a
four star Hilton. (The Marriott at most is to be a three star hotel.)
In effect, the new owners were told by former Mayor Smithgall and Gray to
"Sit down and shut up." To the mayors, saving the taxpayers $200 million by
supporting a sound project wasn't of interest.
Now with the convention center / Marriott Hotel project proceeding, the
Brunswick owners have downscaled their plans and are commencing in segments the
long postponed renovation of the hotel.
The most telling paragraph is buried deep in the midst of the overall
fantasy. It reports: "[Hamid Zahedi] said he is willing to sell the property to
the right buyer." Does this sound like someone happy about the future
prospect of downtown Lancaster and his investment?
Oh he is so happy about the convention center project, so very happy!
Gib, You can't be serious!
According to the May 9 New Era, Senator Gib Armstrong "said the need for boosting the penalties for breaking the [Sunshine] law was spotlighted by secrecy surrounding the September 2005 sale of Conestoga View, the nursing home formerly owned by the county."
In fact, the report concluded that the Sunshine Law is hopelessly vague and needs to be rewritten if it is to be enforced. And although the grand jury offered juicy tidbits of gossip of backstage discussions, there was scant evidence of actual violation of any law.
The three commissioners plea bargained to a minor violation after District Attorney Donald Totaro, in order to cover up the failure of his witch hunt, terrorized them into thinking that they might be indicted for some unspecified crime.
If Armstrong were indeed serious about effectively restricting discussions outside of the public eye, he would seek to make the Sunshine Act effective. But he, of all persons, certainly recognizes that would grind the wheel of legislation to a virtual halt and hardly be in the public interest. It is decision making, not just discussions, that need be public.
$4 million escrowed to defray anticipated CC losses
It was revealed at the May 9 LCCCA Finance Committee meeting that $4,111,129 in extra convention center bonds were sold and then escrowed to cover anticipated short falls from future operations in order to cover future interest payments.
This isn't as prudent as it seems because the PKF Consultants 2006 feasibility study indicated that the annual cash deficit for the center would come to $1.4 million annually and the combined deficit for center and hotel would amount to $4.8 million annually!
To cover such deficits over the life of the bonds, the convention center's escrow should have amounted to around $25 million instead of $4,111,129 and there should be an escrow of $60 million to cover the anticipated hotel deficit of as much as $3.2. (The calculations allow for accrued interest on escrowed funds.)
But who needs adequate escrows when you can tax county and city folk? Casino anyone?
Editorial:Can We Afford Smithgall As Commissioner?
Former Lancaster City mayor Charlie Smithgall was one of the prime supporters of the convention center / hotel project, an undertaking that may prove ruinous. And the hotel component, for which the City has guaranteed all or half of $36 million dollars, could cost the typical City household as much as $4,000.
In three or four years as both aspects of the project begin to hemorrhage the $2 million to $4 million as predicted by the 2006 PKF Feasibility Study, the Convention Center Authority will likely run to the commissioners with a plea to increase the hotel room sales tax to the maximum allowed by law to defray the debt service. And the City will likely come begging for some sort of relief to help it keep the hotel afloat.
So voting for Smithgall is comparable to putting a fox in charge of the hen house! We all like Charlie. But can we afford him?
City taxpayers being taken for another ride?
At the Lancaster City Council Committee meeting May 7, Jack Howell
gave a lengthy presentation on the status of the trolley project.
It seems a "committee" was formed to study the possibility of a trolley line in downtown Lancaster back in May 2006. Howell chairs this committee,
and its members include councilman Jose Urdaneta and City Director of Economic Development & Neighborhood
Revitalization Randy Patterson.
Members of this committee have already toured a number of cities across the US at taxpayer expense, "investigating" the practical application of a trolley system. In addition to the previous feasibility study, a survey is currently being conducted of local residents
to find out what percentage might actually utilize the system.
Howell, as a part of his presentation, admitted that one of the unanswered questions surrounding the possibility of a trolley system in Lancaster City is what he called the need for "institutionalized financing"
of the inevitable operating losses. Howell had earlier pointed out that this is clearly a Lancaster City project, and later mentioned that the
Federal government will not provide operational subsidies.
In response to a direct question, Randy Patterson acknowledged that funding the operating deficit remains one of the largest hurdles the committee still needs to overcome. If the committee cannot find a reliable source of funds for covering the losses of the trolley system, City taxpayers will once again be stuck with a tax increase to pay the bill.
Council Chair Julianne Dickson expressed serious reservations about the need for spending precious tax dollars on a project like this.
Unfortunately, this project seems to be following the exact same path as the taxpayer-financed hotel and convention center project: a plan has been
developed that will be presented full-blown to City Council, with convincing arguments as to why this project MUST be done. Once again, Lancaster City
is following a "me, too" approach, copying what other cities have already done (with varying degrees of success). Once again, the public has been
disenfranchised from participating in the process.