Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Haggerty Elected Chairman of Home Rule Commission

Mayor Jim Haggerty of Kingston (pictured to the left) has been elected chairman of the Luzerne County Home Rule Commission at the commission's inaugural meeting held Wednesday evening at Wyoming Seminary.
Veronica Ciaruffoli was elected Vice Chairperson, and Rick Morelli was elected Treasurer.

Haggerty is the three term mayor of the Municipality of Kingston and a practicing attorney. Kingston has operated under a home rule charter since 1976.

The commission is charged with the following:

"The government study commission shall study the form of government of the municipality to compare it with other available forms under the laws of this Commonwealth and determine whether or not in its judgment the government could be strengthened or made more clearly responsible or accountable to the people or whether its operation could become more economical or efficient under a changed form of government."


"The government study commission shall report its findings and recommendations to the citizens of the municipality within nine months from the date of its election except that it shall be permitted an additional nine months if it elects to prepare and submit a proposed home rule charter and an additional two months if it chooses to elect its municipal council by districts."

The commission also appointed a budget committee comprised of the elected officers to approach the county for money to fulfill its mandate of studying the county government.

The commission plans to meet every Wednesday at 7:00 pm at the Stettler Learning Resources Center, Sprague Avenue, Kingston.

Public or Private

We want a comprehensive study done of Luzerne County government, and that will not happen if every meeting, every hearing, and every proceeding is open to the public. The study commission needs to meet in private (at certain times) in order to find out what works and what doesn't work in county government.

The debate on whether to have private meetings became very public when commission member Walter Griffith released e-mail correspondence between other commission members and him. Mark Guydish of the Times Leader got into the fray and fell down on the side of "all public, all the time."

Griffith, Guydish, and others are just plain wrong on this issue on political and legal terms.

We had OVC legal correspondent, Bruce Haller research the issue for us. Here are some of his findings.

"Home Rule" is governed by Pennsylvania Statutes, particularly Title 53, Chapter 29. With regards to meetings, Section 2920 states:

"The government study commission shall hold one or more public hearings, may hold private hearings and sponsor public forums and generally shall provide for the widest possible public information and discussion respecting the purposes and progress of its work."

The reason for private hearings is quite obvious, and we believe is why the commonwealth allows a commission to meet in private. It is analogous to the concept behind whistle blower statutes.

How can we expect to get an honest and unbiased account of the workings of county government if every interview of current county employees is subject to the scrutiny of the witness's fellow employees, the general public, and his or her boss?

Let's take the following example. The commission is looking into the inner workings of the clerk of courts office. Does anyone truly believe that a current employee is going to tell the commission at a public hearing that many of his fellow employees' jobs are unnecessary or that the office of prothonotary and clerk of courts should be combined, resulting in the layoff of half the staffs? It aint gonna happen.

If the commission decides to hold all public hearings, they will not get the honest look at county government, which the public wants and so desperately needs.

Griffith, Guydish, and others believe the Pennsylvania "Sunshine Act" applies to the home rule commission. Bruce also looked into this issue.

The Sunshine Act only applies to "agencies." The agency definition in the Sunshine Act does not include home rule commissions. Bruce also reviewed the dozen or so "home rule" cases which have made it to the courts of the commonwealth. None provided any guidance, either way, on whether home rule commissions are governed by the Sunshine Act.

When we look further into the Sunshine Act, we see that agencies may meet in private to discuss certain issues. Personnel matters, collective bargaining matters, the purchase or lease of property, ongoing litigation, and matters involving lawful privilege are the exceptions to the public meeting standard.

It is not conceivable that the commission would ever fall into one of these exceptions. If is also nonsensical to believe that the home rule laws written by the commonwealth would provide a private meeting option if the Sunshine Act prohibited such meetings.

Face it, the Sunshine Act does not apply and thankfully so.

We would end our discussion with that, but Guydish and Griffith make us continue.

After pontificating about the need of a "no exceptions" rule to public meetings of the home rule commission, Guydish wrote:

"Commission members can call each other outside of meetings, they can exchange documents, thoughts and ideas when they are not together. "

This raises another issue, besides the fact that Guydish believes closed door meetings among a few members to hammer out the details and make the real decisions is fine, as long as they meet as a "committee of the whole" at a later date and run through the motions.

The issue is that committee member Griffith has already decided that everything the commission does is public, including e-mail messages between commission members. He has already provided e-mails concerning the "public/private meetings" debate to the Times Leader and other media outlets.

We strongly believe that most of the meetings of the commission should be held in the public, but we also strongly believe that the commission should and must, within its own discretion, meeting in private when necessary.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Another Day, Another Federal Subpoena

OVC has confirmed that Judge Mike Toole's tip staff, Thomas Marino has been served with a federal subpoena with regards to the ongoing corruption scandal in Luzerne County. An independent source familiar with the Wilkes-Barre jurist has corroborated the Times Leader story which appeared online today.

OVC wrote a few months ago that rumors were abound that Toole had come under suspicion from his days as a solicitor to the Wilkes-Barre Area School District. Two members of the Wilkes-Barre school board have resigned, including board president Jim Height. Brian Dunn has also resigned.

Height pled guilty last month to federal corruption charges, and Dunn has been charged federally, also.

More to come in the future.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Paperwork Prevents People From Seeking Public Office

Every so often we read a letter to the editor which strikes our fancy. Today was such a day when we read Democratic Kingston Council candidate Curt Piazza's letter to the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader.

Piazza ran unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic nomination to face incumbent Mayor Jim Haggerty (pictured to the left) in November. Piazza was defeated by Stephen Radzinski 494 to 402 in the May 19th primary.

Piazza wrote a letter to the editor, which appeared today in the Times Leader. He wrote it in response to the Times Leader's assertion that Piazza secured his council nomination the "easy way." The Times Leader was referring to the fact that Piazza was only one of two candidates on the ballot for four open council seats. Incumbents Republican council members Mike Jacobs and Sandy Kase won write-in nods on the Democratic side as well as winning Republican nominations.

Piazza took issue with this. He wrote:

"First there’s the paperwork: You have to follow the directions to the letter to fill out your nominating petitions. Then you have to trek out into the bitter cold to ask your fellow citizens and party members to sign your petitions. (This requires exactness too). Sometimes you have to put up with disgruntled residents slamming the door in your face.

Then you have to get your paperwork notarized and pay those fees. Then you submit your paperwork to the Election Bureau, hoping it will be approved. Then you have to submit a copy of the Statement of Financial Interests to your municipality.

All this takes a lot of time, patience and legwork; it’s not for the faint-hearted."

There are some interesting points to Piazza's writing. Piazza's biggest hurdle seems to be the "paperwork." In any borough in Pennsylvania such as Kingston, in order to appear on the primary ballot, one must get ten signatures from registered voters in his or her political party (actually nine, because you can sign your own petition.)

We are also curious why Piazza would have to "trek out into the bitter cold," since according to voter registration records, Piazza is residence is in a public housing building which encompasses at least fifty units. Records also show that many more than nine registered Democrats reside in that same building.

Be that as it may, if you have trouble finding nine registered voters of your party to sign a nomination petition (Jeddo Borough may be the exception,) you probably shouldn't be running for office.

Piazza's second bone of contention is the "statement of financial interest." The statement is a one page form which must be submitted by all candidates with your nomination petition. The form requires one to list their name, address, the office sought, occupation, real estate interests, direct sources of income, creditors, and interests in any business entities. The dollar amounts are not required.

Hardly a arduous task, ... or is it. Maybe Piazza has a point.

Piazza's opponent, and Democratic nominee Radzinski for mayor seemed to have a little trouble with this simple requirement. In a mistake which could have taken him off the ballot, if timely challenged by a Kingston Democrat such as Piazza , Radzinski filed his Statement of Financial Interest one week after the deadline. This is a fatal error which requires removal from the primary ballot. No such challenge was filed against Radzinski.

Being mayor of a town of 13,000 residents requires the preparation, reviewing, and filing of a lot of "paperwork." We wonder how overwhelmed Piazza would have been if he had won in May and then in the Fall. We also hope that candidate Radzinski is a little more careful and attentive if he ever becomes Mayor Radzinski.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Final Post Mortem

Buzz had his annual post Memorial Day computer geek retreat in upstate New York, so we've fallen a little behind, but let's take one final look at the May primary in Luzerne County.

For the first time in a long time, the Luzerne County GOP decided to endorse candidates in a primary election. We covered the GOP endorsement in a prior blog. They endorsed in two uncontested contests --- Register of Wills and Jury commissioner --- along with two judicial endorsements and an endorsement in both the Prothonotary and and Controller races. They went 2 and 2.

When Terry Casey became the head of the Luzerne County GOP last year, he promised a new revitalized GOP. Things looked promising at the beginning of this year with the opening of a county headquarters, the hiring of a full time executive director, and getting Karl Rove to speak to a large crowd at its annual dinner. The endorsement of primary candidates also seemed like a good start.

With the GOP hurting badly on a national level, the myriad of Democratic scandals in Luzerne County gives promise to the county GOP. Since the county is so predominately Democratic, even to the point that such former GOP strongholds like Kingston and Forty Fort have switched from red to blue in the registration department, it is no wonder that all of the tainted public officials so far are Democrats. What a time for a county GOP resurgence.

The county GOP endorsed the only 2 registered Republicans out of seventeen who sought the judge seats. Attorney Richard Hughes won the top spot, just barely, on the GOP side. Attorney Mike Pendolphi, the other GOPer finished a dismal 14 out of 17. On the Democratic side, Hughes finished 14 and Pendolphi finished dead last. It doesn't look the the county Democrats are willing to put their full faith and support behind a Republican. Hughes is going to have trouble this fall, but that's the subject of another posting in the future.

In the controller and prothonotary races, the county GOP endorsed Carolee Medico Olenginski for proth and Attorney Nanda Palissery for controller. Olenginski won, but Palissery finished fourth in a five person race.

OVC knows that both Walter Mitchell and Nanda Palissery were recruited by the county GOP leadership to run for the respective offices. This recruitment was accompanied with promises of endorsements, limiting opposition, organizational support, and mostly importantly, money. The leadership failed to secure the endorsement for Mitchell, and failed to provide financial or any other support for the endorsed candidates. In the proth's race it was mostly due to lackluster enthusiasm for the endorsed candidate, but in the controller's race it just seemed to be a lack of enthusiasm in general.

The Protyhonotary race was an uphill battle for Mitchell. Olenginski had a great edge in name recognition throughout the county, having been the elected prothonotary for four years from 1998 to 2002. She also was able to portray herself as a victim of the corrupt Democratic machine. Without financial or organizational backing, Mitchell's campaign was doomed from the start.

Olenginski faces political newcomer Nancy McGinley Bellas in the fall, and we believe this may be the race to watch. Eventhough Olenginski's tenure at the prothonotary's office was filled with what we may term "erratic" and "eccentric" behavior, her public image is that of someone who was victimized by the good ol' boy network. Olenginski has a good chance of become Luzerne County's last "elected" prothonotary. We say "elected," because home rule will almost certainly eliminate this as an elected position.

The controller's race is a different story. Bob Morgan faced no opposition in the primary and appears to be a strong candidate. Walter Griffith, on the other hand, is a poor candidate whose only appeal is his misleading pledge to be a "full time" controller, and the fact that he has read the county code from cover to cover. We hate to break this to him, but there's a big difference between reading and understanding. Where we have no doubt that Griffith read the code from cover to cover, his actions throughout the past few years have shown, also with no doubt that he does not comprehend or understand what he read.

Morgan will outspend Griifth by a considerable margin. He has the ability to raise a lot of money, whereas Griffith does not. Griffith is thought of as something of a parlor joke within the GOP money circle in Luzerne County, so don't expect the big checks to flow into the Griifth war chest.

Griffith won the primary on name recognition alone. His name has been on the ballot and in the news for the past few years. The name reconition factor is obvious by the fact that former Democratic county commissioner Edd Brominski finished a strong second on the GOP side. Voters knew the name.

Voters focused primarily and almost exclusively on the judicial races, and we'd be willing to wager the UNIVAC 3000 on the fact that most voters didn't even realize there was a race for controller or prothonotary on the ballot until the screen appeared on the ES&S iVotronic touch screen voting system. In these types of races, name recognition always triumphs.

Griffith will be outmatched by organization and money come November, and Bob Morgan will cruise to victory. The GOP missed an opportunity here to take over the controller seat, which in all likelihood will remain an elected position when the county final turns to home rule.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Election Post Mortem, Volume I

Buzz and I treated the OVC staff to a weekend off, but now it's time to do a little Monday morning quarterbacking. Let's first look at the Scranton mayor's race.

We were a bit surprised by the closeness of the Scranton mayor's race on the Democratic side. Mayor Chris Doherty received a tough challenge from Gary DiBileo. The final tally showed Doherty with 8,677 or 52.56% and DiBileo with 7,736 or 46.86%. On the GOP side Bob Bolus, a candidate who would be ineligible to serve because of a felony conviction from some 15 years ago, was the only candidate on the ballot. He received 837 votes, but there were 1809 write-in votes, most of which went to Doherty.

DiBileo is a former Scranton school director and former Scranton City council member. He challenged the two term Doherty for a rematch of the 2005 mayor's race. In 2005, DiBileo garnered 47 percent of the vote.

We believe Doherty has done quite an admirable job as mayor by making the tough decisions required of a small city mayor. His personnel decisions were not popular among the uniformed personnel, but they were the right decisions. Fortunately enough Democrats in Scranton had the wisdom to send Doherty on to a third term.

Now to Luzerne County.

We were pleased, but not at all surprised to see the Home Rule question pass with 77.46 percent. After all, if ever there were a time to fix a broken government, now is the time in Luzerne County. We are optimistic that the charter study commission which was elected on Tuesday will put forth a plan that will be acceptable to a majority of Luzerne County voters.

The biggest race, by far, in Luzerne County was the race for two judicial seats. Magisterial District Judge William Amesbury of Wilkes-Barre was the top voter getter by a wide margin on the Democratic side, capturing 10,393 votes to second place Attorney Tina PolachekGartley at 8,248 votes.

Amesbury also won one of the Republican nominations, finishing second behind Attorney Richard Hughes. The vote totals were 4,845 for Hughes and 4,701 for Amesbury.

Amesbury ran an excellent campaign. Although he was outspent by a number of his opponents, Amesbury got the most bang for the buck. Amesbury may not have been everyone's first choice, but we rarely heard a negative word about the amiable Wilkes-Barre magistrate during our travels during the campaign. He also came across as a hard working, honest, and sincere man who just seemed right for the times.

Hughes ran a well organized campaign and had strong support among the party faithful. Throughout the campaign we ran into many a GOP folk who stood firmly behind the Mountaintop attorney. Hughes has been something of a judge candidate in waiting. We heard rumors of him pondering a run in both 2003 (the seat won by Mike Toole) and in 2007 (the seat won by District Attorney Dave Lupas.)

The Republican faithful rewarded Hughes with the top spot in 2009. This was probably the most predictable result in the judicial race. We thought Hughes was a gimme for one of the GOP nod since early in the election season.

In an earlier post, we stated that Gartley won the Democratic nomination for one reason --- she was a woman. We stand by that statement.

There was nothing in the Gartley campaign that set her apart from a field of fine candidates besides her gender. In a year when the electorate became tired of the good ol' boy network, Gartley fit the bill.

Gartley's success is a major reason why Judge Joe Musto lost. Musto was perceived to be one of the good ol' boys (not in that he was corrupt, but the people wanted someone "new" and Musto was too much of the same.

The biggest losers in the election were Tom O'Connor and Gene Sperazza. Both men spent over a $100,000, and both faired poorly and well out of the mix. (O'Connor 8th and Sperazza 9th on the Democratic side and O'Connor 5th and Sperazza 6th on the GOP side.) Neither campaign took off despite the money spent.

Attorneys Joe Sklarosky and Daniel Zola showed some electoral prowess on Tuesday, and we would not be surprised to see them in a sequel in 2011. There are at least two, and as many as five judgeships up in 2011. Ciavarella's seat is up, as well as Hugh Mundy's seat. He will be 70 next year. Ann Lokuta will have exhausted her appeals by then, and thus her seat will be up. Finally, Judges Tom Burke and Peter Paul Olzsewski are facing tough retentions battles and fall to the "no" vote come this November.

If you thought 17 candidates was a lot, wait and see what we get in 2001 if five seats are up.

So the general election is a battle between Gartley and Hughes, since Amesbury is virtually assured election by having won a spot on both the Republican and Democratic sides. Hughes is a definite underdog, and we believe he will lose in November unless the Gartley campaign experiences a major blunder. We are not in a position to speculate on whether something may emerge to upset the Gartley ship of state, but we would not be surprised if something does emerge.

Tomorrow we will take a look at some other Luzerne County races of interest.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Election Post Mortem

We'll be doing an election post mortem within the next few days. We can't guarantee it gets done before Memorial Day, but we will give it a shot.

Two comments we have to make now are these.

Number One. We read in the Citizens' Voice that Tina Gartley downplayed the gender issue when explaining her victory. Tina Gartley won the Democratic nomination for judge in Luzerne County for one reason --- she is a woman. Or perhaps we should put it this way, does anyone out there truly believe that Gartley would have even come close if she were a man? We believe if she were she'd be down near Pendolphiland. More to come.

Number Two. How gullible is the Republican base? Daniel Zola, a thirty three year old Democratic attorney from Hazleton, whose greatest claim to fame is his love for hunting, finishes third in the GOP field. He does this by trying to scare the bejesus out of the GOP base with his crime ridden streets mailer and his Second Amendment rights mailer. Gotta give the guy credit. More to come.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Prediction Additions

Here are our predictions on the top three and bottom three on each side in the Luzerne County Judicial Race. The top threes are in order of finish. The bottom threes, you can mix and match.

Democratic Top Three


Republican Top Three


Democratic Bottom Three


Republican Bottom Three


Monday, May 18, 2009

Prediction time

Buzz has had the UNIVAC 3000 working overtime, so we're ready to make our predictions in selected races in Luzerne and Lackawanna County. The picks are not endorsements, but our belief on who will win. Our judicial picks for Luzerne County will be posted later this evening, because we are involved in a few judicial pick pools.

We'll start with a few picks in Lackawanna County.


Margie Bisignani Moyle (Dem)
John Pesota (Rep)

Scranton Mayor

Chris Dougherty (Dem)

Our selected Luzerne County picks are:


Nancy McGinley Bellas (Dem)
Carolee Medico Olenginski (Rep)


Nanda Palissery (Rep)

Kingston Mayor

Stephen Radzinski (Dem)
Jim Haggerty (Rep)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Practicing What You Preach

Apparently Luzerne County judicial candidate Mike Blazick's anti lawyer contribution crusade never stopped him from taking a job with a law firm that gave $1500 to the Committee to Retain Judge Michael T. Conahan. Pennsylvania Department of State records show that the Perry Law Firm gave a $1500 contribution on October 28, 2003. Blazick joined the Perry Law firm in 2006.

In addition to his former law firm's contribution to Conahan, there's an interesting parallel between Blazick and Conahan. In 1993, Michael T. Conahan, a magistrate from Hazleton came up with a novel idea in his judicial campaign. He refused to take contributions from lawyers and law firms. In 2009, Blazick revisited that political ploy with a vengeance.

Blazick has made lawyer contributions the cornerstone of his campaign, and we believe it is all just a political ploy. The fact that he never personally gave money to a judicial campaign can be explained by a number of reasons, and none of them add up to a belief by Blazick that such contributions corrupt the system. We do not believe for a minute that Blazick had the foresight to not give campaign contributions to Conahan or Ciavarella because he knew they were corrupt.

It is our belief that Blazick just doesn't give campaign contributions to any candidates. In fact, the only state campaign contribution we could find was a $60.00 contribution to the Harleysville Insurance PAC in 2008. It is our conclusion that Blazick doesn't give money to judges because of some high moral principle. We believe he doesn't give money to judicial candidates because he's cheap.

We are also offended by Blazick's latest radio advertisement. In particular, Blazick plays a sound bite from former United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra O'Connor. O'Connor basically states that if there is one thing she can change in the legal system it is large contributions to judicial campaigns by "litigants." Mike, "litigants" are not "lawyers." Your ad is misleading at the very least.

First of all, the Pennsylvania Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judges or candidates for judge "publicly endors(ing) a candidate for political office." The O'Connor quote may not be a direct endorsement of Blazick, but it sure sounds like she's endorsing his platform.

We looked up the word litigant in Webster's Dictionary. A litigant is "one engaged in a lawsuit." We also checked for synonyms. We found plaintiff, complainant, group, participant, party, competitor, opponent, accused, and defendant. WE DID NOT FIND LAWYER. A litigant is not a lawyer.

So is Blazick trying to mislead the people into thinking litigant and lawyer are synonymous or doesn't he know the difference himself. If he's trying to deceive the people into thinking that lawyer and litigant are synonyms, then he should not be judge. If he doesn't know the difference, then he should not be judge.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pendolphi for Judge

Buzz and I attended the Mike Pendolphi for Judge rally tonight at the Chicken Coop. We originally stopped in for a couple of dozen of General Alarm Chicken Wings and a cold frosted brew when we ran into Pendolphi.

Pendolphi is one of only two Republicans who is running for judge in Luzerne County. In March, he received the endorsement of the Luzerne County Republican Party along with fellow Republican Richard Hughes.

The 43 year old Pendolphi was accompanied at his event by his wife Sharon and six year old daughter Madyson.

Pendolphi said, “In my career, I have tried civil jury trials, criminal jury trials, custody, divorce and support trials, equity trials, children and youth dependency and termination of parental rights trials and even juvenile criminal trials. There is no time for on-the-job training when people’s lives, liberty, family and property are at stake.”

We spoke with one long time Luzerne County attorney who said he strongly supports Pendolphi. He said, "Mike has fought in the trenches of the legal system for many years. He has handled almost every case imaginable in front of almost every judge and magistrate in this county. That is the type of experience lacking in the resume of many of the other judicial candidates. He knows what it's like to represent the little guy or gal against the powerful. That's the type of person we need to be judge."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bone Marrow Drive

We primarily cover political topics, but every so often we do just a little bit more. On May 16th, there will be a bone marrow drive at the Quality Inn (formerly Victoria Inn) Rte. 315, Pittston Township from 10 am to 4 pm for Liam Schulze.

Here's Liam's story.


Our little Liam was born on January 2, 2008...the happiest day of our lives. When he was 4 months old, Liam started getting cyclical fevers, usually lasting a week, but occurring at the same time each month. For about the next 10 months, Liam had been to pediatricians, oncologists, infectious disease specialists, hematologists, and rheumatologists, but none were able to figure out what caused his fevers.

On March 26, 2009, Liam was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder, Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis, or HLH. HLH is a fatal disease if not treated in time and even then there is no guarantee. Our son now faces chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant if he is to have any chance at beating this disease. It is not cancer but is treated like it. Words cannot describe the fear and sorrow that enter a parent's heart when given such news. On one hand, we were relieved that we finally arrived at a diagnosis, on the other we were so scared.

We have decided the best place for him is at Cincinnati Children's Hospital under the care of Dr. Lisa Filipovich, expert in the field of HLH, and her staff for treatment including a bone marrow transplant. Our trip began on April 15, 2009.

Now the only thing we can do is stick together with our family and friends to beat this. Out little Liam is a fighter (Liam means "Powerful Warrior") and we welcome you to browse "Liam's Lighthouse", because there is always a light shining in our son's heart.

It will only take about 15 minutes to do the test, it's just a swab of your inner cheek. You have to be between the ages of 18 to 55 to donate. Further information is available by calling Holly at 570.313.9940.

Controller Question Number 4

Our fourth question to the Luzerne County Controller candidate was a follow up to question Number 3.

Question Number 4: If you favor home rule, do you believe the position of controller should be an elected one, or should he or she be chosen by another method? Explain your reasoning.

Bob Morgan

As indicated in the previous answer I would not support a Home Rule charter that changed the role of Controller from an elected position to a position of selection because I believe it could impact the independence of the office. I believe abandoning the direct election of the Controller could make him or her worry more about job security and pleasing the County Council or County Executive to ensure job security and would lessen the impact and independence of the Controller's office.
Alice Coffman


Nanda Palissery

The controller position should be an elected one. Appointments naturally lead to possible corruption. The controller is the watchdog of the people's money, therefore the people should elect the controller to maintain his or her independence. If the controller is appointed, he or she would have to answer to those who made the appointment. An elected controller would have to answer to the electorate.

Bob Sypniewski


Edd Brominski

Under home rule it would probably best in the best interests of the public to have the position filled by the elected body.

Walter Griffith

I feel the Controller should always be an elected position and I also feel the position should have term limits on it as well. I feel a term of two terms is plenty for any elected official and there should be no Retirement of pension allowed to any elected official. I would work with the Home Rule Study Commission to be sure that this is inserted in the Charter as well. The reason for this is because the Controller should not be allowed to be in control of the financial "Bible" for longer than 2 terms because it is a very powerful position. I also feel that new people would be beneficial to the taxpayers to formulate new ideas and procedures that would make the Office more productive.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Controller Question 3

Our third question to the Luzerne County Controller candidates was a simple one.

Question 3: What is your position on home rule in Luzerne County?

Alice Coffman


Bob Morgan

I support the ballot question for the Government Study Commission because I believe it is a healthy exercise in democracy and will allow citizens to determine whether our current form of government meets the needs of the citizens of Luzerne County in the current times. I believe the study commission process allows participation by voters and current officeholders to make the case to retain the current Commissioner form of government, to modify it, or to introduce a new form of government. I believe the 18 to 24 month timeframe provides a safeguard against making rash and possibly ill considered changes in reaction to a particular set of headlines or circumstances. In addition the results of the study and the recommendations of the committee require significant communication and voter approval prior to enactment. I believe this entire process is healty for government and ultimately may lead to a better, although different, form of government in the next several years.
I would oppose any change to the direct election of the office of Controller because I believe the current format provides for a level of independence. I believe the position of Controller, by its very nature, should be one that reports directly to the voters to ensure that the officeholder is always aware that he or she always reports to the voters. The appointment of a Controller, whether by a County Council or by a County Executive could interfere with the independence of the office and could lead to a softening of the oversight role of the office. I could not support a Home Rule charter that contained provisions for an appointed Controller, I believe the best way for the office to retain independence would be to allow the Controller to remain an office directly elected by the voters.

Bob Sypniewski


Walter Griffith

I feel Home Rule or any other type of government is only as good as the Citizens that are involved in its operation. I also feel a study is a good place to start to see if the Home Rule would work for our County. I will support the final decision of the taxpayers of Luzerne County.

Edd Brominski

I am in favor of Home rule .
Nanda Palissery

Home rule is a complicated question. The form has not yet been determined, and so it is difficult to answer. It is like asking about the new 2012 Cadillac and whether I would buy one? I couldn't possibly tell you yet, until I have driven it and seen it.


When Buzz and I were driving around in the OVC microbus, we stumbled upon the most indecisive voter in Luzerne County. This house in Kingston displayed each and every one of the signs for the seventeen Luzerne County Judge candidates.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Crossing the Line

The latest mailer from Luzerne County judicial candidate Daniel Zola is anything but judicial.
The flyer, which touts his "unanimous" endorsement "by all of the Luzerne County Chief's of Police," plays to the fears of crime ridden streets.

It takes the 2009 murder statistic, which most believe is an aberration, to make people think that Luzerne County is one of the crime capitals of the state. (The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area ranks 56 out of 332 in the nation in crime. 1 being the safest, 332 being the most dangerous.)

We decided to learn more about Zola by checking out his website.

His website was easy to find ---

Zola is the son of Magisterial District Judge Joseph Zola of Hazleton, and we learned from his website that he is "more than a native of Luzerne County. Daniel Zola's family has lived in our county for four generations. Zola descends from coal miners, laborers and law enforcement officers that have built our community and defined our family values."

We also found out that he is an avid hunter.

"Hunting is his favorite pastime. Daniel is an N.R.A. member and avidly hunts during rifle and archery seasons. Archery is his true passion because it is more challenging. As most hunters can tell you, the true enjoyment of hunting comes from the excitement of sitting on stand and wondering what is going to come through the woods next...hearing the crunch of footsteps in the fall woods is enough to spike your blood pressure and get your heart racing."

Finally we found out that he likes putting "junkies" in state prison. He devotes two lengthy paragraphs in his bio section explaining how he convicted "junkies" during his tenure in the Luzerne County District Attorney's Office.

What we did not find out from his bio page was his age, 33; his educational background, Hazleton Area High School; Luzerne County Community College; King’s College, 1999; Widener University School of Law, 2002; and his admission to the Pennsylvania bar in 2003. We guess you go with you strengths.

Apparently Zola is running for Police Chief in Chief of Luzerne County. We do not see how his love for hunting has any bearing on making complex judicial decisions, nor do we see how his continual referral of persons with serious drug problems as "junkies" show the compassion necessary to pass judgment on others.

Zola is certainly not our choice for judge. We believe perhaps his young age and lack of legal experience has colored his views to believe that a judge is only someone who puts bad people behind bars. A judge is so much more.
The qualities of a good judge include patience, wisdom, courage, firmness, alertness, incorruptibility and the gifts of sympathy and insight. We see none of this in Zola.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Question of Character

Walter Griffith, one of five Republican candidates for Luzerne County Controller has shown us through his reaction to the posting of his 1993 citation for patronizing a prostitute that he is unfit to serve in public office.

When we decided to post the sixteen year old newspaper article which listed Griffith's being cited with patronizing a prostitute, we did not believe the matter had much relevance on his fitness to serve in public office, but we posted it because we believed the public had a right to know and make their own decision.

We asked Griffith to respond prior to our posting, to which he did. His explanation of the events surrounding the incident left more questions and became a factor in our decision to post. We found his explanation a bit dubious.

Griifth insisted that he had decided to celebrate his milestone "40th birthday." He stated this to us a number of times:

"when I was 40 and decided to go have a beer to celebrate a milestone in my life and because I never drink"

"going to celebrate my 40th birthday"

"The incident happened on July 16th 1993 on my 40th birthday"

The problem is Griifth was born on July 16, 1954. July 16, 1993 would have been his 39th birthday. We have confirmed Griffith's age through his own web site and through voter registration records.

Secondly, if he were innocent and just "in the wrong place at the wrong time," what reason would he have to say:

"I apologized to my wife at the time and have asked God for forgiveness for this incident"

"This incident happened 16 years ago and I have changed my life and am a new person "

Once we posted the article, Griffith posted a number of comments on OVC which generally amounted to insults and character attacks. What was far worse and reminded us of WWE trash talk were the e-mails he sent to us. We have decide to post those e-mails, because we believe they demonstrate Griffith's unfitness to hold public office.

His first e-mail was received on Friday, May 8th at 10:34 am. It is posted below in its entirety.

"Dear Anonymous ASS HOLE,

This is the last time I will address this issue that you as a real coward, that is the writer of this Blog page, has brought up about my personal life, and has attempted to destroy a human beings personal life, without regard for the persons feelings or the affect that a story, that is 16 years old would have on his family and children that were to young at the time, but now are able to understand.

I would like to be crystal clear in my statement that this post is nothing more than slander, and a personal assault on my character and my family without any proof at all regarding the circumstances of the incident or the outcome of the charges that were rendered at the time of the hearing.

I really don't need to go and address people that are cowards and refuse to sign their names to their posts, and I surely won't even get down in the gutter with you as a stupid blogger, that had no regard for my family, by posting something that was printed in the newspaper, but never was proven to be true.

The incident that happened was unfortunate and when the case was heard before the magistrate the recording of my statement to the undercover policewoman was played and the ruling was that I was loitering due to the anti cruising law that was in place in the City and therefore I was cited for Loitering.

There was no plea bargain as was suggested and the case was filed as a summary offense much like a traffic citation.

The newspaper has destroyed many people by simply writing that they were arrested but the newspaper never seems to follow up with the ruling of the courts after the initial arrest and therefore the public never saw a story that the charges were DISMISSED for me and several others that are in that article.

The fact of the matter was that I was found “NOT GUILTY” and the article on the blog is SLANDEROUS AND LIBELOUS” because it was stated that there was a criminal citation issued and that is simply not true. The citation was for patronizing a prostitute and that is not a criminal offense, but a summary offense, and therefore you have issued a slanderous and defamatory statement which is not true and was posted in print media for all to see without evidence or proof.

My life was devastated by this article in 1993, because the people that read the newspaper, like you, that are allowed to have a blog page, as well as the people that HIDE behind the First Amendment, that feel they can write or say anything anonymously, simply don't follow up or do their own investigation to be sure they have the facts before they insert their foot in their mouths.

I will say this to you, and that is simply that if you do not remove this post on your blog and issue a retraction, I will find you and I will sue you for Slander and defamation of my character and I will send letters to the PA Attorney General’s Office and the FCC and I will make your life a living nightmare. I have spoken to Bob Sypniewski as well and have issued the same warning to him.

Walter L Griffith Jr."

The second e-mail was received at 11:47 am.

"Dear Anonymous or whatever.
Below is the definition of Libel for the unlearned as yourself and the charge that I will be filing against you when tells me your name and address..

An untruthful statement about a person, published in writing or through broadcast media, that injures the person's reputation or standing in the community. Because libel is a tort (a civil wrong), the injured person can bring a lawsuit against the person who made the false statement. Libel is a form of defamation , as is slander (an untruthful statement that is spoken, but not published in writing or broadcast through the media).
Walter L Griffith JR
Candidate for Luzerne County Controller"

The third came at 11:53 am, which included a lengthy "cut and paste" definition of libel, was prefaced by the following:

"Hey Anonymous,

Please read this and know I am coming to get you with this and other information.


Walter Griffith Jr"

The fourth, which was received at 11:55 am contained a further definition of libel.

The fifth came at 5:09 pm. It read:

"Hey James or John or David,
What's wrong does the cat have your tongue as to removing the post ? Take down that post or deal with me and my obsession to make your life a living hell.
You are nothing more than a back stabbing person that hides behind Jesus and his church. Come out in the open and identify yourself if you feel you were in the right to post this article. I am going to sit outside your house and watch you until I find out who you are and what you are doing.
I know where you live on Lehigh St as well as the others in Dallas and trust me I will find out who you are and may even show up in your church on Sunday.
Walter L Griffith JR Candidate for Luzerne County Controller"

I had not checked my e-mail during that day, so I became aware of them when I returned home at about 5:30 pm. As a result of these e-mails, I informed Griffith that I would not remove the post, because there was nothing libelous contained within the post. I also advised Griffith to seek legal counsel before he proceeded further in his actions. I finally asked him why I should not post his e-mails. I received his response at 8:55 pm.

"Hey Coward,
I really don't care if you post them or not how's that for a reason, Trust me I will find you and I don't need an attorney and I did consult with one before I sent the e mails to the FCC and I am on firm legal ground and you are on shaky ground as well.
I asked you like a gentleman to not post the information and I asked you to consider my family and my personal feelings and not post it and you refused to listen to me and have hurt my family. I will wait and I will find you and I will have the last laugh at your expense, this is not a threat but a promise. and I always sign my name and am not a Coward or scum bag like you..
Walter L Griffith Jr
Candidate for Luzerne County Controller"

We are very troubled by Griffth's reaction and lack of restraint. We also believe this is a testament to why Griffith is unfit for public office.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Controller Question Number 2

The is the second question we asked the Luzerne County Controller candidates.

Question: Will you keep acting controller Anthony "A. J." Martinelli on your staff?

Bob Sypniewski


Walter Griffith

1. I feel that I do not have enough information to make this type of judgment call at this moment, However I will promise the taxpayers that if Mr Martinelli has abused his power of his office and has used his position in the County as a tool to receive special treatment, I will issue him a suspension and place the information in his personnel file. I do however feel that everyone makes mistakes and is entitled to a reprimand and suspension for a first time offense and that should be afforded to anyone in any type of employment. I will not tolerate any type of employee mismanagement or disregard for the position that they hold and will deal with these types of issues on a case by case basis.

Nanda Palissery

I won't make any decisions until after I am elected and have had a chance to discuss the matter with Mr. Martinelli. He has not been convicted of a crime and the courts saw fit to grant the district attorney's motion for ARD placement. In my business experience, I learned that in a new office, it pays to learn all you can from the existing staff before replacing it.

Alice Coffman


Edd Brominski


Bob Morgan

If I am fortunate enough to be chosen by the voters to be the next Controller one of my first priorities will to be review the entire staff to ensure everyone is working in a role that best suits their talents, experience and level of expertise. I believe all personnel related decisions should be made in a professional manner and should be handled in a way that ensures the highest level of confidence of the taxpayers and all parties involved. SInce I have not been elected Controller at this time, and have not had the opportunity to conduct the promised review of the staff, it would be premature for me to comment on the status of any member of the staff.
I would caution my fellow candidates from making rash comments regarding any personnel appointment(s) as these matters are both sensitive and potentially legally actionable if viewed as "politically" motivated. I believe we need to bring the level of professionalism to a higher level, rather than lowering it with what may be construed as cheap crowd pleasing attacks on individuals.

Controller Question Number 1

Here is the first question posed to the six candidates who are running for Luzerne County Controller. This is the first of a series of questions.

Question 1: What will be your top priority as controller?

Nanda Palissery

Top priority is getting the audits completed on time and reorganizing the office to work more efficiently. I also intend to devise a protocol to meet with and communicate with the commissioners and all department heads on a regular basis to discuss county spending and a procedure whereby future contracts may be reviewed in advance of execution.

Bob Sypniewski


Edd Brominski

Establishing a system whereby each bill submitted has a code verifying payment..i.e. Authorized by BID, Office Holder , less than required amount necessary for bid or emergency as some examples.

Alice Coffman

Have financial reports brought up to date. This is very crucial to have up to date information available to the public and for budget purposes. The most recent Financial Statements are for December 31, 2006 issued January 7, 2009. This absolutely amazes me. I believe it is due to the lack of experience.

Bob Morgan

My top priority will be to use my real world business experience to provide leadership in the Controller's office for the citizens of Luzerne County. I believe our next Controller needs to review and reorganize the functions of the office to ensure that we meet the required responsibilities in a timely fashion. I believe our internal audit staff needs to grow in irder to complete the tasks required of the office which include internal audits of the row offices, tax collectors and magisterial offices. I would also look toward expanding the audit oversight to include all county department and agencies and the Luzerne County Community College which receives approximately 5% of the county budget but is not currently audited by the Controller's Office. While many of the agencies, LCCC for example, are audited by state and federal government agencies I believe the Controller's office should also be responsible for oversight in these areas as well.
I believe my over 20 years experience in the financial services field will allow me to bring a unique perspective to the the Controller's office. I will use this experience especially in my role as a member of the Retirement Board which is responsible for the management of the county retirement plan. I pledge to be an active advocate for the taxpayers and the employees of Luzerne County to ensure this plan is managed in a sound and responsible way. I believe my prior life experience, especially my years of working with large corporate retirement plans, provides a level of professionalism not previously evident on the Retirement Board. This asset pool must be managed in a sound and prudent fashion because the effect on the greater budget can be devastating, as an example we are faced with a $17 million deficit which will require the taxpayers to take on additional levels of debt, 2/3 of this deficit represents the $11 million Annual Required Contribution for the pension plan. I believe the Board will benefit from taking a proactive approach to managing our retirement liability that will have a positive effect on the taxpayers in the long run.

Walter Griffith
1. My Top Priority will be to bring to the Controller's Office a person that will be there every day from 8:30 AM until 4:30 PM so that if there are any questions or concerns from any of the staff or Commissioners, I will be there to answer them and to direct the staff in the office. I will not be a "Phone Call" Controller.

2. The second priority is to get the audits completed so that the County will comply with the DCED Guidelines and therefore allow the County to become eligible to recieve loans from the State.

3. The third Priority is to make sure that all County Contracts and Bids for contracts are followed according to the County Code that states that all contracts must be bid.