Thursday Mashup (4/22/10)

April 23, 2010
  • 1) Occasionally the Bucks County Courier Times experiences a journalistically lucid moment, and they did so yesterday here in an editorial about departing County Operations Office David Sanko…

    Sanko, an ex-big wig with the GOP, was hired in 2004 at $125,000 a year, not exorbitant for the chief executive of a large organization. But let’s remember that his was – and remains – a government job, which means the benefits are good and holidays plentiful.

    When Sanko resigned five years later, he was earning $140,688. Again, not outrageous. But during that time Sanko also drove a county car, compliments of taxpayers. And, it turns out, he received a sweet retirement deal – also compliments of taxpayers.

    How sweet became clear this week when the county revealed that Sanko received $76,500 – the amount the county deposited into a “457” retirement fund for Sanko over his tenure. Unlike the shrunken 401(k) retirement accounts most people in the private sector have, Sanko did not have to deposit any of his own income into the account, according to the county finance director.

    That’s not how it works for other non-union county workers. Their 457 retirement plans are built on the employees’ own contributions; the county doesn’t throw in a dime. That Sanko’s retirement deal turned the formula upside down made it unique in Bucks County, the finance director said.

    Uniquely generous!

    In fact, when taxpayers file their federal income tax returns next year, they might consider claiming part of Sanko’s retirement as a charitable contribution. Or maybe they should consider it a political contribution.

    Either way, taxpayers’ charity doesn’t end there. The “deferred compensation” Sanko received is just part of his retirement deal. When Sanko reaches 60 he’ll be entitled to pension payments of $18,000 a year – for his five years of service here.

    The editorial points out that Dem Bucks County Supervisor Diane Marseglia has quite rightly said that a deal should not be signed for a new supervisor unless the compensation for this individual is held up for public scrutiny.

    Well, given that Director of Finance and Administration Brian Hessenthaler was promoted yesterday to fill Sanko’s job (supported by all three commissioners, as noted here), I think any hint of controversy has been avoided for the moment at least (Hessenthaler deserves the benefit of the doubt, though I’d be curious to learn more about the other job applicants).

    Oh, and in the story about Hessenthaler’s promotion, we also learn the following…

    Commissioner Jim Cawley said there has been an unfair implication that Sanko’s benefits were concealed, when, in fact, his contract was a public document from the moment he was hired.

    Well, I don’t know where this public document supposedly is. I just spent a few minutes here looking for it, and I’ve come up empty.

    And I’m sure Hessenthaler will represent an improvement over his predecessor, who is recalled not so fondly here.

  • 2) Also, I stumbled across this item in which Fix Noise pokes fun at another Democrat, in this case Harry Reid for not returning a campaign donation from Goldman Sachs (I’m not thrilled about him receiving a donation like that either, though there a lot of corporate malefactors out there besides them; Lloyd Blankfein and his pals are particularly bad, I’ll admit)…

    It’s no secret that politicians constantly travel to Wall Street to raise money from the deep-pocketed financial industry executives. It happens all the time, and the financial crisis didn’t change much. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, D-CT, recently reiterated that this is a good reason to enact public financing of campaigns!

    I assume that the nameless individual behind this commentary doesn’t fancy the idea of public campaign financing, hence the exclamation point. However, the following should be noted in response (here, from January)…

    WASHINGTON (AP) — About 40 current and former corporate executives have a message for Congress: Quit hitting us up for campaign cash.

    In a letter to Congressional leaders on Friday, the executives urged Congress to approve public financing for House and Senate campaigns. They sent the letter a day after the Supreme Court struck down limits on corporate spending in elections.

    “Members of Congress already spend too much time raising money from large contributors,” the letter said. “And often, many of us individually are on the receiving end of solicitation phone calls from members of Congress. With additional money flowing into the system due to the court’s decision, the fund-raising pressure on members of Congress will only increase.”

    The companies represented by the executives who signed the letter include Playboy Enterprises, the ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, the Seagram’s liquor company, the toymaker Hasbro, Delta Airlines, Men’s Wearhouse, the Quaker Chemical Corporation, the Brita Products Company, San Diego National Bank, MetLife and Crate and Barrel.

    They sent the letter through Fair Elections Now, a coalition of good-government groups that has long lobbied Congress to pass legislation establishing public campaign financing.

    This also takes you to a site where you can learn more about public campaign financing, including an interactive map to find out what your state has done on this important issue.

    You want to get rid of the Michele Bachmanns, Jim Inhofes, Steve Kings and Louie Gohmerts out there, people? Limit the election cycle to 30 days, keep the corporate money out of it (tough, because a lot of people make a lot of dough out of this stuff, including the broadcast networks), and force these people to run on their accomplishments, or lack thereof (my grand and glorious plan also depends on an informed electorate, though, I realize).

    And if you think they look silly now…

  • 3) Finally, we recently observed the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing, but we’re also a week beyond the third anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings. And with that in mind, I give you the following USA Today story from last December…

    Administrative buildings began shutting down nearly 90 minutes before the first campuswide alert about the April 2007 shootings that eventually left 32 students and teachers dead.

    According to the report, two unidentified university officials notified their own family members of the first shootings more than an hour before the first alert was issued at 9:26 a.m., April 16.

    Campus trash collection was even canceled 21 minutes before students and teachers were warned.

    One of the two officials also alerted a colleague in Richmond more than 30 minutes before the campuswide alert but cautioned the colleague “to make sure (the information) doesn’t get out” because the university had not made an official announcement.

    The first warning came more than two hours after the first shootings and 14 minutes before Seung Hui Cho continued the rampage in a classroom building where some students were shot at their desks in the most deadly campus shooting in U.S. history.

    “What happened at Virginia Tech is by its very nature inexplicable, and we may never fully understand the tragic events that transpired that terrible day,” (former Governor Tim) Kaine said in a written statement Friday. “However, the Commonwealth has remained committed to providing as accurate a factual narrative as possible.”

    After reading this account, I have a question; why isn’t a grand jury looking into this (I’ve looked around and found no news story on that)?

    Why was campus trash collection, for example, halted before the entire campus was notified that a shooter was on the premises (allegedly)?

    Oh, I forgot – Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is too busy suing over health care reform as part of burnishing his conservative bona fides (as noted here) to do the job he was tasked to do by Governor Bob McDonnell (who isn’t far behind him in the winguttery brigade).

    I have no doubt that Virginia Tech is, among other things, a wonderful community of individuals of all kinds of ethnicities, life experiences and skills. And it is a tribute to the talent and resiliency of the school’s students, faculty and other personnel that it has come back from one of the darkest experiences surely that any institution of learning could imagine.

    And that makes it even more of an almost unspeakable travesty that the shootings that very nearly tore it apart have not been investigated as fully as possible as part of every effort to ensure they never occur again.

  • Update 5/25/10: More bang-‘em-up pro-gun antics from McDonnell – somehow, I’m sure he knew what he was doing by allowing the name of the non-existent group here.

    Bucks County, PA – Watching Our Dollars With No Sense

    January 9, 2009

    It’s been a little while since I took a look at my home stomping grounds, but I’m prompted to do so based on this “Thumbs Down” item that appeared in the Courier Times this morning…

    To county Commissioners Charley Martin and Jim Cawley for refusing to provide more time for decisions about who gets hired and fired by those doing the hiring and firing. That would be the three county commissioners and the county controller; together, the four comprise the county salary board.

    The request came from Commissioner Diane Marseglia. The lone Democrat argued that board members should receive pending changes at least five days before a salary board meeting, as opposed to the current two days, so proposed hirings, firings and salary increases wouldn’t have to be rushed through the approval process.

    The controller agreed.

    Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, the Republicans disagreed.

    Marseglia made a good point when she called the pair’s opposition “another example of keeping decisions under wraps so that transparency is impossible.”

    Gosh, Diane, you are such a great, big silly, aren’t you?

    Why, didn’t you get it after Chief Operations Office Dave Sanko locked you out of the commissioners’ offices last year because you gave the combination to reporters (here)? Or when the plans for the new criminal justice center in Doylestown were not made available to you (I should emphasize that that’s my suspicion from this post, but I don’t know that for a fact)?

    This is Mayberry Bucks County, remember? Ruled by your fellow commissioners in the Repug majority, Jim Cawley and Charley (“I Have A Semi-Open Mind”) Martin. When have they EVER been interested in full disclosure in these matters?

    To be fair, though, the following should be noted from last December (here – registration required)…

    For the third straight year, Bucks County residents will not have a property-tax increase.

    County commissioners yesterday adopted a $467.6 million budget for 2009 that dips into rainy-day money to hold the line on taxes.

    Commendable, to be sure. However, later in the story we learn the following…

    Minority Commissioner Diane Marseglia, a Democrat, cast the only vote against adopting the budget. Like Cawley, Marseglia praised the county Finance Department and said it had functioned in spite of “almost no direct conversation with the commissioners, weak cooperation with several departments, and a shortage of public feedback.”

    Sorry, but with all due respect to County Finance Director Brian Hessenthaler (he crunched out the final numbers), I’d be a little suspicious about what he came up with given the lack of feedback and input from the other departments.

    And finally, we have this story telling us that Election Day voting in Bucks County went smoothly for the most part…

    Bucks County on Wednesday trumpeted the results of its inaugural survey analyzing Election Day, but the Democratic commissioner and voting advocates said the process could run more smoothly.

    Of the 304 judges of election, 213 returned surveys mailed to them after the Nov. 4 presidential election.

    “We had anecdotal evidence that the election went well, but we thought this would be a good way of finding out for sure,” said Planning Director Lynn Bush, who also oversees the elections process.

    Another basically positive development, I’ll grant you. However…

    Madeline Rawley of the Coalition for Voting Integrity said the county should be careful not to gloss over individual voters’ experiences at the polls.

    “There were places where people didn’t vote. They couldn’t vote, they had to leave,” she said, adding later: “I think we very strongly need a good look into this because I’m sure you want to improve the process.”

    Commissioner Charley Martin, who was chairman of the board of elections last year, said accommodating every possible glitch during the high turnout presidential elections would not be cost-effective considering low turnout in off years.

    “Many, many of these problems will not be the case in 2009,” he said.

    I have a feeling Martin is right, unfortunately, though it would be nice to find out more details concerning these “glitches,” wouldn’t it?

    And also in the “lack of disclosure” category under Cawley and Martin (not enough time to review documents on hired or fired workers or those who received raises, not enough coordination or review when compiling the budget numbers), we also have this concerning the voting results (going out of my way not to discuss Creekside here, since it’s the subject of at least one post by itself)…

    Commissioner Diane Marseglia said she did not see the documents until Wednesday before the 10 a.m. commissioners meeting, which was around the same time Elections Director Deena Dean said she also got a first look at the documents.

    Marseglia, the only Democrat on the three-member board, made an unsuccessful pitch to her Republican colleagues to re-write the release.

    She objected to the focus solely on questions that yielded positive answers 94 percent of the time or more.

    Although she could not point to any specific inaccuracies, she said it was “missing things to make it accurate” and later issued her own written statement.

    “We really shouldn’t be press releasing things that public information has had a chance to look at that the commissioners have not,” she said at the meeting.

    “That happens all the time,” Martin said.

    Yes, it does, doesn’t it, Charley? And it will continue as long as you, Cawley and David Sanko run Bucks like your little playpen, won’t it?

    Update 2/8/09: An “Office of Public Information,” huh (here)? Sounds like another Repug “triumph” in the “village” of Bucks County politics (a la “The Prisoner”: “Questions are a burden to others, and answers are a burden to oneself,” as they say – kudos to Diane for calling this what it is).

    Update 2/9/09: Kudos again to Diane for continuing to fight the good fight (here).

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