We are all aware of the age-old expression “Don’t shoot the messenger,” but it’s pretty hard to shoot the messenger when he comes pre-shot, and continues shooting himself. Then again, it wasn’t all his fault. It was the perfect storm of poor messaging, a successful smear campaign, misdirection, and sour grapes. Before you get off track, let me explain. A man by the name of Chuck Volpe had a grand idea: let’s remove and replace the county government. After all, Luzerne County did it. Lackawanna County had just recently gone through a massive corruption scandal, so you’d think it would be received as a good idea. Volpe’s proposal garnered enough support and so a “Government Study Commission” was voted in to analyze the current form of government and compare it to other options to determine the most proper form.
There were many interested in participating in the commission, 38 to be exact, but only seven were chosen. The problem that was encountered was that those seven were all Volpe-designated candidates. So, if Mr. Volpe is your villain, then these are his henchman. Once the irresponsible, county commissioners’-mouthpiece press latched onto this, the smear and misinformation campaign began. In 1976, the county formed a study commission and our current home rule charter was the result. Unlike the positive outcome that year, despite the resistance of a “Vote No” group, the most recent attempt of 2013/2014 crashed and burned. The changes in 1976 were minimal, so perhaps that’s why the opposition wasn’t strong. The first study commission report of 1974 had similar intentions, but most of its recommendations were rejected and never rejuvenated by the 1976 commission. Secretary Paul Hart lamented in his minority report:
“The main defect in this Charter is its failure to separate the executive and legislative powers that now belong to the County Commissioners. The Commissioners now have the power to draw up the budget, adopt the same budget, levy the taxes to support that budget, and then spend the money they have provided themselves. Most other levels of government in the United States separate the tax power and the spending power to prevent any abuses.The three commissioner form does not provide this separation. I have advocated the creation of an elected executive who would have veto power to prevent such abuses. To override a veto, the three commissioners would have to vote in favor of the vetoed ordinance; here the power of the Minority Commissioner would really become ineffective. Instead, the Charter retains the present format which gives the Minority Commissioner very little real power to prevent action by the Majority. With the added power the Commissioners will receive under a Home Rule Charter, I fear we are creating a possibility of great abuse of power by the Majority Commissioners without the protection of the County Code which we currently enjoy.”
This go-round, late into the county government restructuring campaign and shortly before the May 2014 vote on the latest commission’s report, I recall heading down the street in my hometown and there they were: “Coalition of Good Government” signs. “Vote No” to Chuck Volpe’s bigger government. My first instinct was to exclaim, “Who the heck are the ‘Coalition of Good Government’?” Some research revealed that it was the opposition to Mr. Volpe’s group Citizens For Smaller Government. Obviously, one can see the marketing and salesmanship here. So, I dug deeper and found out the coalition was led by Mayor Andrew Chilik of Mayfield. That seemed mighty random, but he had been a nominee on the ballot for the study commission. It’s interesting that he wanted to be on it and now was fighting against it. It’s not surprising that someone in favor of gun control would stand in opposition to limiting government in anyway. So, maybe, he wanted to be on the panel to help oppose the change.
Now, the courts gave the commissioners the authority to use taxpayer money to explain to the public the “dangers” of the executive form of government. Let me phrase that another way, the courts gave the commissioners permission to use the taxpayers’ money to explain to them why the commissioners should get to keep their jobs. It sounds different when you look at it from the proper perspective. It gets better, though, since the Coalition Of Good Government received $8,000 from Friends Of Wansacz & O’Brien. I wonder whose group that is? So the guys who stand to be tossed out financially led an opposition group to the Government Study Commission, presumably hiding behind it to attack the commission. Corrupt much?
The question that reverberates: was that our money, or theirs? It’s the question worth asking that no one did. So between the commissioners, their front, and complacent papers, the smear outweighed the Volpe-funded ads promoting a new form of county government. Those ads were numerous, but still led to little information being conveyed to the electorate. Those opposition brochures, which we definitely paid for, had next to nil as far as information was concerned. Also, it was curious that those brochures’ target audience was Democrats. The majority of the commissioners are Democrats. Chuck Volpe is registered as a Democrat. However, a big selling point in the attack of the Government Study Commission was protecting Republican elections. I mean, after all, Republicans get elected in Lackawanna County so often now. It’s amusing that the three sitting commissioners critiqued Volpe spending so much money to “buy” the government. At least, in his case, we know for certain he used his own money.