Monday, December 19, 2011

Sun block working well in Montgomery County

  • I know we just visited this topic, but this is such an important issue I don’t think dedicating at least a few columns to it is going too far afield.
  • For those of you new to the area, or for those of you who have been sitting in the dark for the past several weeks, I’ll give you a little back story.
  • The Grand Jury investigating the goings on in county government just came back with a 69 page report. And while it was loaded with incidents the jury found to be appalling, none of it rose to the level of criminal charges, sanctions, fines or even a slap on the wrist, except of course for the not so minor detail of one of the county commissioners allegedly lying about his association with a company doing business with the county.
  • But just to make sure we’re on the same page here, we need to go back to 2010 to talk about why the Grand Jury was looking into the county government in the first place.
  • Early in that year one of my reporters heard from a friend, who has a friend who knows a guy, about two of our three county commissioners meeting at a local restaurant on the Tuesday before every commissioners meeting.
  • So, in the spirit of All the Presidents Men, said reporter heads over to the restaurant and grabs a nearby booth.
  • Sure enough, the conversation being overheard was loaded with governmental jargon.
  • It didn’t take much for the reporter to call the third commissioner, the one not invited to early morning coffee klatch, and ask if indeed some of the things she was hearing were being discussed at the official meeting the next day.
  • Not only were they being discussed the third commissioner confirmed, but the other two often seemed ready to vote on items that had hardly been discussed in public at all.
  • Well before all of this took place, another reporter was peppering one of the commissioners with questions about his connection with a consulting firm that was also a major contributor to his campaign, but that’s for another column. There’s also no real reason to keep telling you who the major players are in this space because I really want everyone to pay attention to exactly where the light should be shining, which is on the regularly scheduled meetings two of our three elected county commissioners readily admit to taking part in.
  • Just as a refresher, remember, there are no Sunshine law fines being levied.
  • Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    Matthews Arrested - Part I

    I'm still not finished with the 69-page Grand Jury report on the fall of Montgomery County Commissioner Jim Matthews, but I just had to stop and write this post. I really appreciate the way the report is written. In the report are words like stunned, unbelievable, and a cadre of others to describe their take on the shennanigans taking place in our county government. Here's just a couple to get you started on. I'm sure there will be several posts to follow, but thought we should get the conversation going with a couple of particularly good nuggets.
    First, the CBIZ contract. We believe it was pay to play all along, and still do, and yet our state laws are written in such a way that even the Grand Jury couldn't come up with charges. CBIZ is the consultant for the county's healthcare services. They were awarded a no-bid contract, and subsequently deposited more than $20K into Matthews campaign coffers. But that's not all. G. Fred DiBona sat on the committee that was formed to oversee the applicants for the contract, which was awarded to Blue Cross/Blue Shield. DiBona's father was the former CEO of Blue Cross.
    And the second one I'll throw out today is the county's head of Human Resources, Eleanor Schneider, who was promoted to the position by Matthews. Schneider, as we pointed out on several occasions, was Matthews secretary and not even remotely qualified to be director of Human Resources. The Grand Jury apparently believes the same, "We find that she is not qualified for a position of such importance."
    Stay tuned. I'll dig into it some more soon.

    Tuesday, November 8, 2011

    Election Night Mambo

    This could be a good one. I've been saying (whenever anyone asks) that I think this is going to be the most exciting off-year election we've had in years. The commissioners' race is going to be a shoot out for the third seat, but is anyone a hundred percent sure who the third highest vote getter is going to be? There's always the possibility that Montgomery County goes Democratic for the first time in history.

    Lower Providence has been buzzing since a local school official threw his hat in the ring for a supervisors seat. What say you Lower Providites?

    Norristown seems to have a race with two newcomers, which is good for the county seat.

    And of course, the icing on the cake will be which way the row offices fall. Five of the nine seats were picked up by Democrats four years ago, will that turn around this year or will we see the Dems grab even more seats?

    My prediction, close but no cigar for the Dems this time around.

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    Seeing the light in Methacton

    How is it possible that a school district still doesn't have lights for its high school football stadium? The Methacton School District has been debating the issue for years, and some how or another, or should I say someone or another, always gets their way and the lights never come on. The district must get a variance to have lights above 12 feet off the ground, and they've gone to Worcester supervisors to get one. Really, 12 feet off the ground? What can you light from 12 feet off the ground?
    I know I have a lot of Lower Providence and Worcester followers, so jump in here folks. Should there be lights, or shouldn't there be lights?

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011

    Honest services law and Anthony Biondi

    The law was changed last year, around the time Biondi was released from prison. What does this mean for former Norristown borough manager, Anthony Biondi? We don't know just yet.
    Two people in Philly who were convicted under the same law as Biondi recently had their convictions overturned.
    One gentleman was convicted of handing off an envelope with $20,000 inside to a developer. A short time later the assessment on the developers property was  dramatically lowered. Both men were convicted under the honest services law, but it was never proven that the envelope was a bribe.
    Biondi was convicted of steering $100,000 in work to a construction company that contracted out his dump truck, and for not reporting $15,000 in income from operating the dump truck.

    Monday, August 29, 2011

    Irene's Wake

    Tuesday, August 23, 2011

    'Storifying' Obama's presidency

    Monday, August 15, 2011

    Norristown crime and the Mayor Nutter approach

    Below is an excerpt from my column. Perhaps more importantly is an excerpt from an AP story on Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutters recent speech at Mt. Carmel church. 

    Let's start the conversation or Norristown will never be more than what it is today, a sad shadow of itself. 

    We cover a lot of communities, but none that need us more than Norristown right now.
    So what is our purpose? It’s certainly not just to report on what we find.
    We need to continually be involved in the events that shape our communities and lead the conversation on where to go from here.
    Unfortunately, Norristown is currently being shaped by violence. We’ve published stories about the recent murders, shootings and stabbings that have taken place in rapid-fire succession, and there is one recurring theme throughout the comments and on our Facebook page:
    There isn’t anything for the kids to do.
    While the community organizations and churches have been doing their level best to provide cookouts and activities, there is still a void left when the day is done.
    The robotics camp sponsored by Lockheed Martin is a fantastic four-day event, but it is just that: a four-day event.
    The Norristown Parks and Recreation Department’s summer camp is a great place for kids, as is the Police Athletic League and the George Washington Carver Community Center, but are they enough?
    Right now, they don’t appear to be.
    So with a little trepidation based on past history of being bombarded by the naysayers, I am going to continue on my crusade to bring Norristown back to its once proud place of prominence.
    Across the county, there are more than a few municipalities that provide a wonderful place for kids to go; places where young boys and girls can fulfill their need for that adrenaline rush many of us once craved like a treat from the ice cream truck.
    I’d like to see the residents of Norristown rally around the idea of building a skateboard park so kids will have a place to call their own.
    Upper Merion is in the process of building one for their youth; why not Norristown?

    This is a way to get kids off the streets, but in reality, it doesn't get to the root of the problem. 
    Mayor Nutter (click for video of the speech) gets right to the root, with a pick ax. 

    As an elected official and a "proud black man" in the nation's fifth-largest city, Nutter felt he had to go a step beyond ordering a law enforcement crackdown.
    So he channeled the spirit of another straight-talking Philadelphian: Bill Cosby. Nutter took to the pulpit at his church last weekend and gave an impassioned, old-fashioned talking-to directed at the swarms of teens who have been using social networks to arrange violent sprees downtown, injuring victims and damaging property. Moreover, he called out parents for not doing a better job raising their children.
    "You've damaged yourself, you've damaged another person, you've damaged your peers and, quite honestly, you've damaged your own race," Nutter said at Mount Carmel Baptist Church.
    The 54-year-old mayor, married with a teenage daughter and a grown son, called out absentee fathers and neglectful parents. He did not mince words, saying they need to be more than just a "sperm donor" or a "human ATM."
    "That's part of the problem in our community," Nutter told the congregation. "Let me speak plainer: That's part of the problem in the black community. ... We have too many men making too many babies they don't want to take care of and then we end up dealing with your children."
    Is Norristown a microcosm of Philadelphia's worst side?

    Tuesday, July 26, 2011

    Is all fair in love and politics?

    I don't know about you, but I try to be fair in pretty much everything I do. Especially in my personal relationships, but also in my professional relationships. I'm in a unique position as editor of the local paper in that I have a platform for expressing my views. I've made no secret of my political leanings, but I'd like to think I leave my bias at the door when it comes to coverage, and indeed, when it comes to the interviews I do with candidates for office. But that's just my opinion. What do you think? Can a journalist be apolitical? Can the editor of a multimedia company have his own views and still maintain fairness of coverage?

    Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    Liquor for sale, get you liquor

    So the state is once again talking about selling its liquor stores. Personally, I don't think any government should be in private business. They just have too many avenues to make sure they're the only game in town, which in this case, they are. Do you think the state should get out of the liquor business? Why? Why not?

    Monday, June 13, 2011

    Does the road toll for thee?

    Here is the beginning of this week's column in The Times Herald. I've put a link to the rest of it at the bottom so you can read it all if you'd like. I guess the question to ask is, shouldn't we the people decide if Route 422 should be tolled?

    “…Because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

    John Donne, the English poet, may not appreciate me using the above quote to go off on a rant about the tolling of Route 422 in Montgomery County, but I found it oddly appropriate.

    What has been translated into a poem was originally written by him as an essay in “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, No. 17”

    When I started researching the quote for this column I had no idea the entire essay is appropriate for an analogy to what appears to be happening with the possibility of tolling the state road.

    The essay begins, “No man is an island…” and continues to convince us that we’re all somehow connected; that whatever affects one, affects us all.

    Yet it appears as if the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission thinks itself an island.

    Why else would the authority approach the governor’s advisory committee on transportation funding, and our own county commissioners two days later, without putting the plan before the public?

    We are the pocketbook from which the commission wants to filch, so why not come to the public first?

    Perhaps it is because the public is becoming too savvy for such antics.

    The rest of the story.

    Friday, June 3, 2011

    Are you engaged?

    Here are our top stories for tomorrow's print edition. Which four should go out front...and in what order?

    UMASD slated to raise taxes: The Upper Merion Area School District has been hammered as a result of funding lost to property reassessments, and the district is going to have to raise local real estate taxes by 8%. Meanwhile, the district has to cut a check to GlaxoSmithKline for upwards of $2.5 million, because of a property reassessment settlement. The school board votes Monday on the property tax increase.

    UhOh: Less than a day after putting one its two nuclear reactors
    back on line following two unplanned shutdowns, the other nuclear
    reactor at Exelon’s Limerick Generation station shut down unexpectedly
    Friday morning, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

    1stGrads: PJP II graduates its first class

    Come on in, the water’s fine: UM supervisors approve lease agreement with Upper Merion Swim & Tennis Club – slated to open Saturday.

    Politically Direct with Moon Ahn

    Brochure use of logo OK: West Norriton solicitor says its ‘legal’

    Held from Thursday: Lower Providence supervisors authorize grant application for streetscape study of Ridge Pike.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011

    Primarily Speaking

    Today's when we separate the wheat from the chaff. I'll vote this afternoon, but to me, the primary is just a warm up. It's batting practice. There are some contested races out there, but not many. I'll get fired up about politics sometime around August. That's when I'll start interviewing candidates on Politically Direct. But that's still several months away. What will bring you out to the polls today? Civic duty? Habit?

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    How did you spread the news of bin Laden's demise?

    This is one of those moments in history when people will remember where they were when they first heard Osama bin Laden was killed. As the story began to unfold late Sunday night, our online editor, John Berry, was working feverishly to tell our readers what had just taken place.
    A quick SMS text to our subscribers was followed with a story on the website and then a post to Twitter and Facebook. By the way, text NorNews to 22700 to receive our breaking news headlines as they happen. There were an awful lot of people at the Phillies game last night when the news broke. Some of them may have gotten an SMS alert from us.
    In the best interest of good journalism I'd like to ask you, not just where you were when bin Laden's lights went out, but who you told and how.
    Did you text someone?
    Did you post to Facebook it?
    Did you tweet it?

    Saturday, April 23, 2011

    Accounting for Corbett

    I was thrilled when we elected a Republican governor, but a few of Gov. Tom Corbett's early moves have me a little puzzled.
    I understand the conservative mantra against taxes, but why he is taking such a hard stance against taxing the extraction of natural gas is beyond me. Call it something else if you have to, but if we're going to allow companies to drill, they should be required to put money aside for remediation and accidents that will happen and need to be taken care of, and not at the taxpayers expense.
    The other thing that has me confused is the nomination of Eileen Behr for Montgomery County sheriff with just a month to go before the primary. It just doesn't pass the smell test.
    What's your assessment of our new governor so far.

    Monday, March 28, 2011

    A taxing solution

    The comments have been flying fast and furious on a letter to the editor we published last week about teachers. I've caught grief about a couple of columns I've written about teacher pensions. On more than one occasion I have made it, or at least I've tried to make it, perfectly clear that this isn't about the teachers. It's about the never ending increases in property taxes to fund our public schools.
    In the middle of it all, one thing is certain, the current system we have is simply not working for all concerned.
    I threw out in today's column that we should go to a sales tax base for funding public education. I received the expected 'regressive tax' response from at least one reader. Of course, said reader didn't come back with an answer to the problem, just the complaint.
    One reader, Frank Toner, did. I wish I had remembered it for my column, but since I didn't let's bring it up here and keep the conversation going. Frank reminded me that a few years back presidential hopeful Steve Forbes,, floated the idea of a flat tax. I haven't spent hours researching this to find out if it will work, as some of my readers think I should with every topic, so I'll ask you, will a flat tax work?
    Is this a taxing solution?

    Monday, March 7, 2011

    Excerpt from my column: Unions must face pension crisis

    It’s going to take a monumental effort for Pennsylvania to weather the storm that is brewing in the Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS).

    I don’t think unions have to be busted to get it done, but union members do have to start paying more attention in class. And I would also appreciate it if every time some one brings up an idea that concerns unions that we don’t have to hear the Norma Rae, sweatshop, 20-hour workday song. We know the verses, and I don’t think any rational-thinking person would disagree with the lyrics. Unions were critical in the development of the industrialization of America. There were plenty of sweatshops in existence in this country, and there probably still are some, and reform was sorely needed.

    Union workers make up less than 12 percent of all workers in this country, down from a high of about 36 percent. And out of that 12 percent, more than 35 percent are public employees.

    There-in lies the rub.

    My best guess is union bosses saw the writing on the chalkboard and decided their best chance for survival would be to go after public sector jobs like a fourth grader going after the last peanut butter cookie in the cafeteria at lunch time. They did, and we’re all being put into financial detention because of it; not because of the unions themselves, but because of their ability to hold hostage school boards across the state, and their ability to buy politicians like so many extra cups of ice cream.

    I don’t blame the teachers. Who wouldn’t want a four, five or six percent raise every year, and after 25 years retire with at least 80 percent of your salary being paid to you for the rest of your life?

    In the public sector it works a little differently, especially when it comes to school districts here in Pennsylvania. Teachers’ unions apparently have the ability to hypnotize school board members into giving them raises every year, convincing them that they should only have to pay a small portion of their health care with some magical swinging watch that tells them all they have to do is go to the taxpayers for the money to fund all of the above, including a plump pension that will more than take care of them for the rest of their lives.

    In most private sector industries, pensions, as a way of providing retirement benefits for employees, have all but gone the way of the tetherball pole on the playground.

    The math — and trust me when I tell you English was by far my favorite subject — even for me, it just doesn’t add up.

    A report by the Manhattan Institute for Policy and Research issued last year projected the Pennsylvania pension fund to have a gaping $43.2 million hole. PSERS stated at the time that the hole was closer to $9 million. Either way, it’s a mighty big hole.

    “The employer (school district’s) contribution rate (to the teacher pension fund) has been set at 8.22 percent for the 2010-2011 school year. This represents a 72 percent increase over the 2009-10 rate of 4.78 percent. The latest projections from PSERS forecast the employer rate to exceed 20 percent in 2013 and spike to almost 34 percent by the year 2015. Although the rate will begin to decrease in 2016, it will continue to exceed 20 percent until the year 2032.

    This 19-year “plateau” of employer contribution rates greater than 20 percent would exceed a level of expenses for taxpayers, school districts and the commonwealth unparalleled in the 92-year history of PSERS.”

    All because of stock market losses. This comes straight from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association as an explanation for how they’re going to fill that $43.2 million gap.

    By the way, did the government bail out your 401k after the stock market crashed? No? I didn’t think so.

    Check out how other states are dealing with the same issue,

    Monday, February 21, 2011

    Can $100 million fix education?

    What would you do with $100 million?

    There are very few people in the world who ever have to answer that question, and it usually revolves around winning the lottery.

    I’m really not that greedy. I don’t have to win the super, mega, massive lottery. I’d be happy with the kind of super, pretty-big lottery. A million would do me just fine, thank you.

    But what if I asked the same question and put a little twist on it?

    This might not be as much fun as fantasizing about buying mansions and yachts, but it could be a little more productive.

    So I’ll ask again.

    What would you do with $100 million ... to fix education?

    I’m going on the assumption that no one is going to argue when I say that it’s broken, but I’m sure there are some who will make the case for us having one of the best educational systems in the world. While that statement is true — because of the use of “one of” in the preceding sentence — it is still a sad state of affairs when the most powerful nation in the world ranks behind that of Cuba, Canada and all of the “‘stans” in literacy. That’s right, Kazakhstan has a higher literacy rate than the U.S.

    Fast Company asked the same question, and came up with some answers.

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    Calling all bloggers, or potential citizen journalists

    The Times Herald will host a Community Media Lab seminar at 6 p.m. March 1.

    We are asking anyone in the community who has an interest in blogging to come join us for this informative session. We’re also asking any potential citizen journalists to join us as well. A citizen journalist is anyone interested in submitting photos or stories to The Times Herald on an ongoing basis.

    If you’re interested, or know someone who might be, contact Times Herald editor Stan Huskey at

    Thursday, February 10, 2011

    A big Montco GOP surprise

    The lead headline in The Times Herald actually should have read, "Brown, Castor win GOP nod."
    I actually wrote the headline "Castor, Brown win GOP nod" before I left for the evening. And while the headline in the paper is certainly accurate, the fact that Jenny Brown received more votes than Bruce Castor has to be the biggest surprise coming out of the convention. Could it be possible that come November we're looking at what will be a Josh Shapiro, Leslie Richards run county government with Jenny Brown in the minority?

    Tuesday, February 8, 2011

    Montgomery County's empire is burning

    The column was getting so much attention on The Times Herald's website that I thought I would post it here,, as well. Enjoy, and let me know what you think. Some are trying to figure out the characters, although, I do think I made it fairly obvious.

    Monday, January 17, 2011

    Conservative or liberal; you make the call

    My daughter, Emily, is in her first year of college. She’s at the University of Georgia. I would have preferred the University of Tennessee, but what’s a dad to do?

    She knows I’m conservative, and she has always been very proud of her liberal ideals. She’s been ecstatic since President Obama took office and has supported his quasi-socialist agenda, including a redistribution of wealth. (She was pained when he sided with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts.)

    Now those of you with kids in college, or have had kids in college, know there’s a very liberal mentality that permeates most campuses across the country, and Georgia is no exception. After sitting in on several lectures, she came to the conclusion that I must be some sort of uber-conservative for always railing against what I believe are blatant attempts to turn this country into a socialist nation.

    Emily was home over the Christmas break and decided she would challenge me on my opposition to higher taxes and the need for more government entitlement programs. She kept referring back to a particular lecture for support for her argument.

    Out of nowhere, I asked how she was doing in school. Now, Emily has always done very well, so I wasn’t shocked with the answer. She fired back with that condescending tone she takes when she has an answer nailed down that she had a perfect 4.0. She started complaining rather quickly right after the proclamation about how difficult it is to maintain, given her tough schedule and that she had to study constantly to keep it up there. She said she didn’t have any time to really enjoy being away at college because she was always studying.

    So I listened politely, like a good father does, and then asked her how her roommate was doing. She said her roommate was barely getting by and might flunk out. She said she’s always out partying and doesn’t show up for half her classes because she’s too hungover.

    I knew the answer I was going to get. I set her up like a bowling pin. I told Emily to go to the dean’s office and ask him to take 1 point off her grade point average and give it to her roommate.

    That way, both would then have 3.0 GPAs. Boy, was she ticked.

    I got an earful of how crazy an idea that was because she works so hard to get her grades and her roommate doesn’t do anything to earn hers, and basically, I must be losing my mind for suggesting such an outlandish idea.

    I just smiled and said, “Sweetie, welcome to the conservative side of the aisle.”

    I have to stop here to let you know the story above was sent to me by my wife, Sue. I wish I could take credit for it, but it was sent to her in an e-mail.

    However, if you can think of a better example of the difference between a conservative and a liberal, I’m all ears. The e-mail she sent contained the following as well, and I thought you might enjoy reading how other people define the differences.

    If a conservative doesn’t like guns, he doesn’t buy one.

    If a liberal doesn’t like guns, he wants all guns outlawed.

    If a conservative is a vegetarian, he doesn’t eat meat.

    If a liberal is a vegetarian, he wants all meat products banned for everyone.

    If a conservative is homosexual, he quietly leads his life.

    If a liberal is homosexual, he demands legislated respect.

    If a conservative is down-and-out, he thinks about how to better his situation.

    A liberal wonders who is going to take care of him.

    If a conservative doesn’t like a talk show host, he switches channels.

    Liberals demand that those they don’t like be shut down.

    If a conservative is a non-believer, he doesn’t go to church.

    A liberal non-believer wants any mention of God and religion silenced. 

    If a conservative decides he needs health care, he goes about shopping for it, or may choose a job that provides it.

    A liberal demands that the rest of us pay for his.

    And that’s where we stand today, folks.

    There was absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that health care needed reforming, but what we ended up with is a socialist policy that requires us to pay for health care for all. It’s time to repeal the health care bill.

    So the question stands, are you a conservative, or are you a liberal?

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    Who is to blame for Arizona shooting?

    That is the question isn't it?
    We need someone to blame after all.
    Surely it must be the mainstream media, which is apparently to blame for all our social ills.
    Perhaps it's the Internet, which is beginning to take a little heat off of mainstream media with its 24-hour instantaneous, sometimes inaccurate reporting of events.
    Or maybe, just maybe, Jared Loughner is to blame.