We citizens seem to be overcome with frustration as we continue to witness scandal, dysfunction and factionalism in the politics of Wilkes-Barre. It’s not that such frustration is unique to the City, as the same negative assessment can be applied to most politics in the US these days. However, Wilkes-Barre is replete with examples of how things go wrong, as well as instances in which things can go quite right. For years we have witnessed a two-tier status in the City of one privileged class in the elected realm and their friends, and another seemingly sub-class comprised of the rest of us. It’s not a dynamic particular to the Leighton administration, as we have seen many instances of such polarization over the years. Recently, we have seen the stonewalling of citizens attempting to get information concerning the City’s towing contractor, but the same disrespect of public concerns was exhibited in the 70s and 80s when questions were being raised about the City-run Steam Heat Authority’s finances. In both instances, citizen queries were dismissed as the irrational rants of disgruntled adversaries. In both cases, however, we find that the vocal residents were quite accurate in the line of questioning.
regardless of what the municipal leaders may propose, it will be met with suspicion and skepticism
It seems that for any issue, one can count only on the same frustration playing out. That is, regardless of what the municipal leaders may propose, it will be met with suspicion and skepticism. Conversely, no matter how well-intentioned a policy proposal brought by a citizen or group might be, that plan of action will likely be dismissed, lest our leaders be accused of giving in to “loony cranks.” Yet, from time to time we see pleasant contradictions and programs that work, in spite of all the friction mentioned above. Much of the credit when things go right is directly attributable to the hard work and dedication of rank and file municipal employees who serve their fellow residents daily, often with little or no public recognition. City services provide a prime example of how aims can be achieved for the benefit of all. We are fortunate in Wilkes-Barre to have a police department that is willing to do its job in both a professional and competent manner. In an age in which we see many police departments running amok, Wilkes-Barre possesses one that does not brutalize when arresting, is not a nest of profiling, and does not over-react in tense situations. Fire protection has been among the best in Luzerne County for years here in the Diamond City, and our snow removal and curbside garbage and recycling collection is so regular that we often take it for granted.
The growth of Wilkes-Barre’s recycling program is a wonderful example of how just how successful working together for common goals can prove for everybody. Did you know that Wilkes-Barre was the first city in Pennsylvania to initiate recycling programs? The North End section began planning for collections of newsprint and clear glass in the late 70s, and by the early 80s pilot programs were underway thanks to the determination of citizen groups like the North End Taxpayers Association and Hands of Hope Ministries, as well as the support these citizens received from City officials. Although there were some bumps along the way, Wilkes-Barre would soon become one of the first municipalities to have city-wide curbside collections of recycling. The humble early collections consisted of newsprint and separated clear and colored glass. Over the years, and spanning a number of mayoral administrations, we watched as numbers one and two plastic and metal cans were added to the developing program. Last year saw the program expanded to include plastics numbered one through seven, phone books, milk cartons, office paper, non-corrugated cardboard, aluminum foil, books, junk mail and more. We also have our new tradition every February of waiting for delivery of the Wilkes-Barre City Recycling Calendar, which has become standard reference material for City residents.
Through the recycling programs in Wilkes-Barre, tons of waste are diverted from landfills weekly and are reused in diverse ways. The success of this program is reflective on how we can truly accomplish much when we pull together as a community. We have watched as the recycling effort has grown from an ideal in the minds of a few residents to evolve into a way of life and a source of positive accomplishment for our community. Credit must be equally applied to citizens, officials and City workers, but it must be accompanied by a challenge to do more. Imagine what we could accomplish if we applied the same cooperation to other issues. Let’s use the success of our homegrown recycling program as an example of what can be a new approach for a better community.
Do we dare to dream so boldly?