The LuLac Edition #1915, January 24th, 2012
Conference hijinks and fun.
Prospective Luzerne County Manager Robert Lawton. (Times Leader photo).
WB CITY COUNCIL PERKS/TRIPS
The Wilkes Barre City Council has again come under fire for its base salary of $13,000 a year for part time work as well as its acceptance of city benefits like health care and pensions. This information is nothing new, it came out again as part of the Right to Know request made by taxpayer advocate groups. The Democratic controlled Council set these parameters a few years ago and they have not changed them despite public pressure. Mayor Leighton who is paid over $70,000 a year has not taken a raise in the last 5 years.
It was revealed that Council members went on Conference junkets the last few years. A word on conferences: you do get a lot out of them because you get the opportunity to see what other areas do. Plus you get a bead on what challenges they are facing and what problem you might be hit with it in the future. The fact that the Mayor made trips for presentations along with his City Administrator is something that I as a resident of the city want to see. The job of Mayor as well as the City Administrator is to be the face of the City of Wilkes Barre. During the 80s, when Mayor Tom McLaughlin served, you knew he was the guy. His City and Chief Administrator at the time was the late Bob Wilkie. Both men sang from the same song sheet. You want that in a City Administration. You want the powers that be in Harrisburg and Washington to know your face, your name and your city. Travel judiciously and pick your spots.
As far as Council trips, not so much. From the Times Leader: Councilman Bill Barrett and Kathy Kane, who left council in December to become controller, say the city has benefited from numerous projects that they learned about by attending the conventions. Okay: name them. The only thing we heard from Kane as Council chairperson the last year was how much time residents could speak at Council meetings.
By admission these are part time people. It’s not as if this City Council , as a body or individuals are great and innovative thinkers that will change the city overnight with a dramatic idea. The Council has been nothing but a rubber stamp body under the Leighton administration. They should all stay home. However if there is information vital to city interests, they can always use the teleconferencing technology at LCCC.
The lame duck trip of Councilman Tony Thomas and Bernie Mengeringhausen in November to the National League of Cities in Phoenix is problematic. Since 2006 Thomas and Mengerinhausen have taken the trip with Kathy Kane and Bill Barrett. The four have made the same trip to the same conference but with the retirement of both Thomas and Mengerinhausen, what was the rationale for the latter two to attend? To say goodbye? Mengerinhausen’s replacement Kathy Kane was on the trip anyway. So he certainly didn’t have to introduce her around. Thomas’ assertion that he was going to stay involved in community activities so therefore the conference was a good thing for the city is ridiculous. From the Times Leader: “He (Thomas) continues to live in the city and plans to volunteer his time to help council members and other city officials in any way he can”. So does that mean that a person like Karen Ceppa or Bob Kadluboski or say a guy like me who continue to live in the city and are willing to help in any way we can are eligible for attending the conference? I mean that’s pretty vague criteria right there, isn’t it? Just because the money was in the budget for Mengerinhausen and Thomas doesn’t mean it has to be spent! I can understand how both men, who served as well meaning public servants might have gone because “the money was budgeted”. However, both should reimburse the city for at least half of their trips as a gesture of good faith.
But that won’t happen. Wilkes Barre officials will do what they want to do. Not because they are malicious, greedy or dishonest…but because they can. The electoral make up of the city lets them. It’s like a little kid, if there is no evidence of consequences, then any questionable behavior is not going to change. No one in the planning stages of the last trip ever said, “Hey wait a minute, we might get hell if Bernie and Tony go” because Kane and Barrett were on their way to landslide wins against GOP opponents who had no registration strength or organizational money behind them. The right to information requests are done with the right intentions but the energy is misplaced. It’s almost like watching a reality show about the Kardashians, the gossip is delicious, you rail against their lifestyles and you bitch about how horrible they are and how honorable you might be in their positions. But that’s it. Nothing will change in Wilkes Barre unless a group of people get united, form a coalition of people so pissed off they are willing to infuse serious money to get party registrations (it could either be Democrats or Republicans) and make a serious effort to overthrow the Democratic power structure. Right to Know requests might bring out dicey expenses but short of any criminal activity (of which there are none) only an electoral revolution will make any significant changes. The last Republican on City Council was Jack Jones two decades ago. And he became a Democrat!!!!. A good friend of mine who understand how politics works around here constantly tells me that politicos who take a chance and run for office deserve the perks, the amenities, the trips. They were the ones who go out and get the petitions signed, they are the ones that make small talk at the rallies and put themselves out there and win. And in a way he is right. Until there is a new wave of office seekers and a vastly different electorate in Wilkes Barre….look for more of the same. We’ll all make noise about it in the short run but in the long haul, nothing will change.
LAWTON ON THE WAY
The Times Leader’s Jennifer Learnes Andes is reporting that the Luzerne County Council has made an offer of $110,000 a year to Robert Lawton to be its first County Manager. Lawton, of Rio Vista, Calif., will start working here on Feb. 21 according to published reports.
The Times Leader story reports that Lawton has been principal management analyst for Solano County, Calif., since January 2010, acting as a senior member of an executive team that services a 909-square-mile suburban/rural county with a $761 million budget, 2,469 employees and population of 423,000.
Former County Budget Director Tom Pribula has been serving as Interim Manager. Lawton is going to have his work cut out for him for two reasons, the first is that this County is a total mess. The second reason is that no one save the new County Council and Interim Manager want to fix it. No one wants to make a sacrifice. Maybe it will be a good thing that Lawton knows no one here. We wish him luck and give him a few pieces of advice:
1. Don’t take it personally if people don’t like you because you’re an outsider. People from Scranton have the same problem.
2. If someone says you’re a cousin….don’t believe them.
3. If you do need to listen to anyone, the magic number is 12. The 11 County Council members and the Interim Manager. Everyone else will have an agenda.
4. Senunuas’ Bar is down the street from the Courthouse. It’s a college bar free of lawyers but the drinks are pretty reasonable. You may not think you’ll need this advice but I guarantee you will find your way there after one meeting with the hold over row officers.
5. Abe’s Hot Dogs, South Main, the original. Don’t settle.
6. If you are not an early riser, beware of Jim Bobeck, the guy likes to meet for coffee before dawn.
7. Everybody in the Courthouse is the most essential and hard working employee you will ever meet. They’ll tell you that themselves.
8. Find out exactly what the heads of the county employee unions do. The taxpayers really want to know.
9. FYI......The littered streets and couches on the side of the road, we're slobs.
10. There are two Steve Urbans on the County Council, one has hair, the other doesn’t. Both may seem like the same person so you’ll need to tell them apart.
11. Taxes. We have them. You can raise them. Employees. We have them. You can downsize or expand some as needed. You’re the man now. Don’t be afraid to make a choice. People will scream and threaten your job. Looking at your resume, I’m guessing you’ve left better jobs than this.
12. If you have an Ipod, at some point, after a tough day, you are going to need a mood changer. Here’s a song I guarantee you’ll be thinking about. Might as well have it in your music rotation.