Category Archives: Pennsylvania

Final Thoughts on an Historic but Flawed PA Special Election


Pennsylvania’s March 18th special election to fill the 28th district senate seat vacated by the resignation of Senator Mike Waugh only lacked normalcy.  Everything about it was wrapped in controversy, suspicion, confusion, arrogance, and incompetence, ultimately producing a profoundly surprising historic outcome, as Tea Party outsider and Republican unnominated, Scott Wagner, won an unprecedented write-in victory helped, in no small way, by public disgust over vicious attack ads directed at him by the GOP establishment.  Added to this was the possibility, due to improper selection of eligible precincts, the election could be contested as invalid, leaving uncertainty and chaos in its wake.

Avoiding possible chaos, hearing no challenges, Scott Wagner will be sworn in Wednesday April 2, as the first ever Pennsylvania legislator elected by write-in.  Not only that, his margin of victory was so huge that the York County GOP Committee-picked nominee, sitting House member Rep Ron Miller, subsequently dropped out of the May 20 primary, which will select candidates for a new full state Senate term beginning 2015, effectively ending his 16 year career in the legislature.

The issue of the election’s validity was raised due to its being held in a time of redistricting transition, and the revelation that another special election for a vacant state House seat had been held only seven weeks prior, on January 28th, set up using existing boundaries, whereas the March 18th Senate election was set up using the adopted, but yet to take effect, new district boundaries, each to fill vacant terms expiring November 30, 2014.

This suggested nearly 50,000 citizens were being disenfranchised, as another nearly 36.000 had been improperly enfranchised, becoming a daily topic of discussion by local talk show host Gary Sutton on WSBA radio.  Only the size of Wagner’s margin of victory, itself driven by public reaction against the vile attack ads from his own party, rendered validity moot, as his nearly doubling the vote totals of each of his two opponents left no room for argument that, even had the election been set up properly, the outcome could possibly have been different.

Questions remain as to suspicions of collusion raised by Senator Waugh’s resignation, his constitutionally questionable appointment as executive director of the Farm Show Expo, run by a Bureau of the Department of Agriculture, by Governor Corbett, and Lt Governor Cawley’s issuance of the writ for the special election, all within hours.

The smell and speculation of conspiracy was aided by Waugh’s August 9, 2013 announcement he would not seek reelection, Scott Wagner’s announcement of intent to run shortly after, and known differences between Wagner and GOP party insiders.  Was this a plot to keep Wagner out?

Setting the special election March 18th with a primary election only 9 weeks ahead added more fuel to the fire, as this would result in additional cost to the taxpayer estimated to exceed $200,000 as opposed to holding the special election in conjunction with the May 20 primary.  This brought speculation also that, because there is no primary for a special election, and the county party committees would select the nominees, outsider Scott Wagner would have to face an incumbent in the May primary, to lessen his chance of success there.

With some in the public from both parties upset over an unnecessary $200,000+ expense, the York County GOP committee unwittingly, by selecting any sitting house member at the time, did something that could have doubled the expense, had their chosen nominee won.  Had Rep Ron Miller won the election, yet another special election to fill his vacant seat would not have been an option, in spite of early indications from local GOP officials that it would.

The election code is clear in stating that, on the occurrence of a vacancy, the presiding officer shall within 10 days issue a writ for a special election at least 60 days forward, unless the vacancy occurs within 7 months before the expiration of a term, in which situation there is no special unless the presiding officer makes the case for one.  Waiting for the May 20 primary, therefore also, would have ended the ugly possibility of $400,000+ in two special elections.

It is worth noting here that some also complained about the special election candidate nomination process, being hand picked by the county committees.  Often they were the same people also upset by the $200,000 extra expense, by scheduling the election apart from a primary only 7 weeks hence.  Here, though, is where it cannot be both ways.  Either accept the committee selection process as prescribed in the code, or accept imposition of an added expense of holding a primary for the special.  Those are the choices.

As a final thought on the boundaries used for the 28th district senate special election being incorrect, as radio show host Sutton pressed the validity issue, he reported his repeated attempts to obtain answers of clarity from the Lt Governor’s office, the Department of State, and the local Board of Elections all resulted in unreturned calls, not what would be expected of those capable of and anxious to defend their actions.

Then also, there is one curious post election observation.  Sometime between the election and Saturday March 22, all the “Find My Legislator” information at the General Assembly website was changed to the new district boundaries for Senators but not members of the House. In my case, where Newberry Twp, York County will be moving from Senator Teplitz-15th to Senator Folmer-48th the website now tells me Senator Folmer is my Senator presently.  Questioning Senator Teplitz, who periodically has staff available in the Newberry Twp building, he confirmed that nothing has changed.  Until the end of November his staff will still be there the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of every month as always.  So it seems a mistake, luckily complimented by a decisive outcome aided by arrogance in political advertising, that saved a potential challenge of an election, is now being smoothed over with a lie.  Oh, my!

While the historic but flawed Senate 28th special election of 2014 suggests clarification of the code to guide in times of redistricting transition in the future, the next time it can happen is beyond current sight.  With no expectation of political gain by addressing it now, it is likely the same issues of confusion will arise again, when memory of this experience will long have been forgotten.

Note: This article shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania 4/3/14


Further Evidence Brings Clarity – Shows PA Senate 28th Special Election Invalid


Significant new discoveries and research should finally bring clarity to the confusion surrounding the scheduled March 18 special election in York County to fill the unexpired term of Senator Mike Waugh in the 28th district.  Allegations of significant disenfranchisement of some and improper enfranchisement of others become more certain by examination of new evidence, making any reasonable defense of this election’s validity impossible.

The story of probable disenfranchisement first broke with an article published both at the blog and WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania on March 3.  While the first article got some notice and sparked some interest, it was a subsequent follow-up article published March 9, that provoked daily discussion and debate on the Gary Sutton Show, a local call-in talk radio format airing 9am-Noon Monday through Friday on York based WSBA 910.

At my suggestion, following a call to their newsroom, the York Dispatch published their own article on March 13.  Unfortunately the York Dispatch article only heightened the confusion, which further fueled talk show interest and prompted my search and discovery of additional evidence that will shortly make the issue more clear.

Further confusion injected by the York Dispatch article was not the fault of its writer, Christina Kauffman, in that she had no reason to distrust her sources.  They were the experts, assumed to know what they were talking about.  Yet digging deeper suggests her sources were presenting incorrect assumptions rather than facts.

Likewise, Nikki Suchanic, director of York County Department of Elections and Voter Registration, also cited in the York Dispatch article gets her information from the Pennsylvania Department of State, which would be the source of any confusion on her part.  This leaves  Ron Ruman, press secretary for the Department of State, also cited in the article, as the ultimate source of heightened disinformation and confusion.

It is Mr Ruman who was quoted as saying, “…technically the new maps take effect when they are approved.”  Also attributed to Mr Ruman was that “the old representatives and senators will continue to help their former constituents until November 30, when the session ends (required by the Constitution in even numbered years, as new terms begin Dec 1, even though the newly elected are not sworn in until the first Tuesday in January)”.  Ruman asserts that citizens who will move into new districts immediately became “former constituents” of their current elected representatives as of the May 8, 2013 Supreme Court approval of new redistricting boundaries, on which this election is being based.  Why should we doubt the “expert”?

Enter the evidence: First, in the just referenced article on the court approval, upholding the new redistricting plan, it was ordered “…to be used for the next round of legislative elections in 2014”.  There was no suggestion of immediate implementation as to representation.

Then this important clue: A search found there had been another special election subsequent to the May 2013 delayed redistricting approval.

On September 6, 2013, well after the court’s action, 78th House District Representative Dick Hess died in his 14th term.  Following the election code, presiding officer, Speaker of the House, Sam Smith, issued a writ for a special election within the required 10 days, on September 16, 2013.  A special election to fill the vacant house seat was scheduled and held on January 28, 2014.  Jesse Topper, the Republican candidate selected by committee members from the counties involved won the election, was sworn in Feb 10, and now represents the 78th district in the house until the end of Rep Hess’s unexpired term ending this year.

Significantly, Topper’s January 28 special election presented no enfranchisement issues, currently contributing so much confusion and consternation in the Senate 28th District, because it was conducted on the existing (old) district boundaries!  Articles at the time reported this fact, also confirmed by pulling up election results from Huntingdon County.  The six precincts reported in the vote will all be leaving the 78th to the 81st in the new session to be decided in the May primary and November general elections.

So we have two special elections.  One was set up one way, the other, a different way.  Both cannot be right.  Even in the absence of any specific direction in the election code, which may be the case, the basic concept of tying voting to voters actually represented and commonsense should prevail.

Another piece of guiding evidence exists.  Whether it’s the newly elected Jesse Topper in the 78th House District, or any other current member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, a visit to members’ pages on the General Assembly website still shows only the old district maps as the areas they represent.

Press Secretary Ron Ruman’s confusion appears to be in when the newly approved district boundaries apply.  It makes sense, and evidence supports, that upon official acceptance redistricting maps immediately define future district boundaries to be filled in the next round of primary and general elections, not special elections to fill existing terms, where the area of representation has not yet changed.

At this point, clarity should be restored with one exception, what voting precincts to include if the March 18 senate special election were for a senate term expiring 2016 rather than 2014 (half of them do), as discussed in an update to my March 10 article.  That is a situation unique solely to state senate elections and redistricting, since federal senators always represent the entire state and both the state and federal house are on the same two year cycle.  As such, it also should be addressed in needed clarification to our state election code.

A call Thursday to Nikki Suchanic, confirmed the writ issued by Lt Governor Jim Cawley, detailed the precincts to be included in Tuesday’s special election and that her job is to follow the writ.

A call to the Department of State directed me to media contact Matthew Keillor’s voice mail, who never returned my call.

A Friday afternoon call to Lt Governor Cawley’s office, relating my findings was acknowledged by contact Todd Kowalski as raising very good points worthy of legal review.  Mr Kowalski took my email address, but I’ve heard nothing back as of this time.

As a final note, with evidence so strongly suggesting an improperly configured special election March 18th, those feeling disenfranchised may want to cast a provisional ballot at the nearest open polling location.  For complete instructions follow this link and open the tab “Provisional Voting”.

Note: This article shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania

Confusion Reigns in PA on Redistricting, Representation, and a Special Election


Last Monday I published an article about the controversial March 18 special election called by Lt Governor Jim Cawley to fill the remaining term of 28th District Senator Mike Waugh, who resigned abruptly on January 13 to take an itself controversial job running the Pennsylvania Farm Show and Expo.  I recapped events surrounding the many twists and turns of a growing drama that now features intense infighting on the Republican side, pitting the party favorite and county committee selected candidate, Representative Ron Miller, against upstart businessman Scott Wagner, who decided to persue a write-in campaign.

While many aspects of this story deserve detailed analysis, I raised an issue no one else seemed focused upon, the unintentional disenfranchisement and improper enfranchisement of tens of thousands of citizens, by an oversight in the Pennsylvania election code that ignores special elections in a year of redistricting transition.  In my article and then in a subsequent letter to the editor of the York Daily Record, I raised the possibility the special election could not be defended as valid and, if successfully challenged, could result in loss to taxpayers of both the estimated $200,000 to conduct it, plus costs of litigation to defend it.

Over the past week, using Twitter, Facebook, email, and phone calls, I promoted awareness of my article in hopes that the special problems I had identified could become part of the wider discussion.  I sent links to elected officials responsible for calling the election, candidates involved in the election, various news organizations, and those who had publicly weighed in with their comments and opinions.

Friday morning I received a twitter response from one I had informed that gave me momentary pause.  Representative Seth Grove, in no way behind calling the election or selecting the Republican candidate, but someone with whom I exchange views, sent me a tweet in response to a tweet I had sent him, linking my letter to the editor and suggesting that “We have a problem”.

Rep Grove responded that there is no problem because “[the] Senate is operating that [as if] redistricting was [in] effect on 12/1/2013”.  I mentioned “momentary pause” due to every writer’s fear that something was overlooked, causing erroneous conclusions based on faulty information or assumptions, leading to embarrassment and retractions.  Fortunately I had the remembrance of other encounters to bolster my assertions, and related them to Rep Grove.

Since I’m myself in an area of change by redistricting, moving from representation by Senator Teplitz to that of Senator Folmer, I had questioned Senator Teplitz about my confusion as to when the change would become effective.  He confirmed to me that that would not happen until the end of 2014 and he would continue to represent me until that time.

Also the York County Republican Committee, as referenced in my original article, stated their awareness of a problem, stemming from an oversight in the election code, that would cause a disconnect in who was allowed (or denied) the vote verses the areas they represent, for the balance of the unexpired term to be decided by the special election.

Yet there were and remain signs of confusion.  Sometime prior to Senator Waugh’s resignation, while walking through the halls of the state capitol, seeing staff employees through the glass, and quite ironically, I poked my head into Senator Waugh’s office, and asked what they knew of the change in representation by redistricting.  Their opinion was, like that of Senator Teplitz, that representation would not change until the end of 2014, but they related a story of confusion.  They told me how, in an area within Senator Corman’s district that will be moving to that of Senator Teplitz, Corman’s staff was already sending constituents to Senator Teplitz, who was then referring them back to Senator Corman, leaving constituents feeling unrepresented in redistricting limbo. [SEE UPDATE]

As a further test of my understanding or lack thereof, on Friday, March 7, I called the district office of Senator Lloyd Smucker, since he has represented areas of York County that will be moving into the newly defined 28th district, those areas I contend will be improperly enfranchised in the special election, allowing citizens to vote for someone who will not represent them for the duration of Waugh’s unexpired term that ends at the end of 2014.

I asked Senator Smucker’s staff simply if, in their opinion, they still represent those areas of York County that will be leaving his district.  They said they think they do but are unsure and trying to get answers.  They indicated they’ve contacted the Department of State and still aren’t certain so their policy has been to serve anyone who calls their office.  So it seems one thing is quite clear.  Confusion reigns!

Update March 10:

Two items: First, Senator Teplitz contacted me to deny that his office ever left any citizens in redistricting limbo by sending them back to Senator Corman’s office.  On that, I thank Senator Teplitz for his feedback, for reading my article, and take him at his word.

Second, in the spirit of Thomas Sowell who, in Applied Economics, cautions against not going beyond stage one thinking, that there’s danger in assuming one ever knows enough, I’ve realized my conclusions are only on firm ground to a point, beyond which things become murky.

I remain confident in my assessment of the current Senate 28th district special election as to disenfranchisement or improper enfranchisement by allowing voting along new district lines to fill a vacancy based on the old district lines.  This holds true because the unfilled term expires at the end of 2014 and would apply to any house vacancy, since they all expire at the end of 2014.

For any Senate seat expiring 2016, however, and half of them do, the situation is completely different.  In this case, it could be argued, that areas leaving the district at the end of 2014 deserve the vote for whomever will represent them until that time.  It also could be argued that those newly entering the district at the end of 2014 deserve the vote for whomever will represent them in 2015 and 2016.  In this situation should both the old and new areas (relative to the existing district) be allowed to vote in a special election?

The level of complication almost argues for simply accepting the status quo as a system that’s not perfect.  Yet, the current situation with the Senate 28th, or any like it, is akin to taking 15% of PA citizens, telling them they won’t have a vote for our next governor, so we can allow an equal number of NY citizens to vote for a governor who will never represent them one day!  I don’t see a difference and can’t imagine anyone who would argue for such an absurdity as that!

Note: This article shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania 3/10/14

PA Senate 28th District Special Election / Special Problem – $200k Thrown Away?

Pa Redistricting Website Interactive District Map Green=Old Red=New

Pa Redistricting Website Interactive District Map Green=Old Red=New

The saga of a suspiciously pre-scripted March 18 special election to fill the term of a vacated senate seat in Pennsylvania’s 28th district in York County continues.  Heretofore unreported special circumstances that could only happen in a redistricting year add even more confusion, as unintended consequences disenfranchise tens of thousands of citizens, raising serious questions of the election’s validity, that may provoke challenges resulting in its becoming a $200,000 total waste to taxpayers.

To recap the story, on August 12, 2013 it was reported that Senator Mike Waugh announced he would not seek reelection to another term in 2014.  The next month businessman founder of Penn Waste Inc., Scott Wagner, announced his intention to run.  By January 2, 2014, when the York Daily Record reported the Wagner campaign had already raised $267,730 in contributions, and still over a month and a half away from February 18, when candidates could begin circulating petitions to appear on the May 20 primary ballot, Wagner remained the lone candidate to announce his intentions to enter the race.

Then came January 13, the day of surprises and intrigue.  In what could only have been an orchestrated series of events, Senator Waugh announced his immediate resignation to take a job as executive director of the Farm Show and Expo Center, having been appointed by Governor Tom Corbett.  Later the same day Lt. Governor Jim Cawley issued a writ for a special election to be held on March 18 to fill the remainder of Waugh’s term.  Scott Wagner said he would seek the Republican Committee nomination to run in the special election and indicated he thought it would be based on the old district boundaries due to be replaced by court delayed redistricting as the 2014 primary and general elections would use the new district boundaries for the first time.  That would make sense, but as will be explained soon, he was wrong.

From there everything changed quickly as Representative Ron Miller and two others entered the quest for the GOP slot in the special election.  Controversy swirled on everything from the constitutionality of Waugh’s Farm Show appointment by Corbett, to the necessity of holding a special election apart from the primary election only 9 weeks later at an estimated $200,000 cost, to whether the whole series of events was a plot to stymie the chances of Scott Wagner because of his known differences with the party leadership.

On January 18 Scott Wagner withdrew his consideration for the special election and on January 23 Rep Ron Miller was selected to represent the GOP in the special election.  Wagner never surrendered his quest for a state senate term of his own, still intending to enter and win the primary and move on to the general election.  Subsequently, on claimed urging of supporters, Scott Wagner announced on February 17, he was renewing his effort to win the March 18 special election as a write-in candidate.

In a campaign email sent out February 25, the Wagner campaign provided information on the write-in process and the location of polling places.  Apart from his earlier beliefs, Wagner’s email indicated the special election would be based on the new district lines, not the old ones.  This raised obvious questions and concerns.

Either the winner of the special election would represent the area defined by the new district map, leaving some citizens with no representation and others with double representation, or the winner would still represent the old district, meaning that the disconnect would be in who was allowed (or denied) the vote.

A call to the York County Republican Committee office on February 26 confirmed it was the latter.  The problem was recognized at the local level.  It was explained as an oversight in the election code that failed to account for special elections in a year of redistricting transition.  The code required all elections after the beginning of the year to use the new district lines.

Perhaps it was assumed that the voter disconnect would be of little consequence since the vast majority of the district would be left unchanged.  A closer look paints the truth of the situation.  The results are rather stunning.

Based on the 2010 census Pennsylvania’s population was 12.7 million.  Each of the state’s 50 senate districts, on average, must represent about 254,000 citizens.  Identifying those areas that either entered the 28th district or were removed from it by redistricting and looking up census data for each reveals an affected population of 85,541 or 33.7%, fully one third of the total for an average senate district in Pennsylvania.

More specific, anyone living in York County Townships East Manchester, Jackson, Penn, or Boroughs Hanover, Manchester, Mount Wolf or Yoe, with a combined population of 49,815 (19.6% of an average senate district), since they were part of the old district but not the new, will be denied voting for whomever replaces Waugh in representing them.  They will be disenfranchised.  No voting machines or polling places will be available.

On the other hand, anyone living in York County Townships Chanceford, Heidelberg, Hellam, Lower Chanceford, Lower Windsor, Paradise, or Boroughs East Prospect, Hellam, Wrightsville, or Yorkana, with a combined population 35,726 (14.1% of an average senate district), since they were not part of the old district but are in the new one, will be allowed to vote for someone not representing them for the balance of the unexpired term.  Voting machines and polling places will be open where they live.

There simply can be no way to defend the validity of such an election.  The obvious remedy would have been to legislatively change the election code prior to announcing a special election in order to fix the flaw.  Scheduling the special election on the primary election day would not have corrected this problem, and perhaps would have only added confusion, even as it would have eliminated the approximate $200k extra expense.

A call to the Department of State on February 28th was met with a “not our problem” answer, that the senate, specifically the Lt Governor, called the special election, and they were just following instructions. They suggested those denied their vote could cast a provisional ballot outside their precinct but that the vote would be later rejected if not deemed cast by a qualified elector.  In this case who knows what that means?  Meanwhile what about those being allowed to vote improperly?  Would those votes be stricken?

Calls were also placed to the offices of President Pro Tempore, Senator Scarnati and Senate Majority Leader, Senator Pileggi.  In the event they may claim to be unaware of the problem, they can’t say so now.  A call to Lt Governor Cawley’s office resulted in a message for Mr Todd Kowlaski, who never returned the call.

Note: This article shared to WatchdogWire-PA

Observations on Common Core and More – Market Solutions Please


On June 13 of this year the Pennsylvania Business Council along with Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children and Team Pennsylvania Foundation hosted the Pennsylvania Education Summit, using the tag line “Building a Pathway to College and Career Success”.  For anyone interested, I created a scrolling video record of all tweets using the suggested hashtag #PaEdSummit, as a collection of observations of the many in attendance.  I thought maybe a summit would be just that, an event defining problems and seeking answers, from many ideas and points of view.  Indeed it did define problems, but then focused nearly entirely on one answer, the Common Core Academic Standards.  I was attending a Common Core love fest.

While I’ve learned more about Common Core and its origination and distribution since the summit, I knew enough at the time to know what I saw as dangerous and offensive to freedom, and had doubts that Common Core is even working on the right problems that are causing agreed failures in our schools.

First, dangerous and offensive: Putting together Common Core involved large sums of private money, reportedly $150 million alone from Education Summit sponsor Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and was written by a handful of elite authors.  The Federal Department of Education presented states “offers they could not refuse” in Race to the Top money and No Child Left Behind waivers to get almost all (45) states to agree to the new standards in short order, as few people noticed.  If only we trust in the wisdom of these changes and align as one, this new effort at central planning will solve our problems as previous efforts, going back to Outcomes Based Education have not.  Just have faith.

But isn’t this the adoption of a monopoly of ideas so heavily invested failure will not be tolerated, continuing and intensifying pressures that have resulted in test answer changing scandals that even had Michelle Rhee refusing to answer questions?  Is it not also a dangerous path where large moneyed private interests can, in effect, set public policy without the consent of the elected representatives of the people?  Isn’t education better left without the involvement of the federal government, where states can be the laboratories of innovation?  Hasn’t education , if anything declined in quality since a stand alone federal Departmant of Education?  And since when do Americans align?  Americans innovate and break molds and build new ones in searching out opportunity and success.  The summit wasn’t about consideration of any of these issues or ideas.

From time to time I injected my counter views and concerns into my tweets, but they were never acknowledged in the presentation.  Finally in the last panel, state Senator Mike Folmer raised the issue of support in the home, that no new plans at the top are as important or necessary as supportive homes.  It was the stimulus I needed and I went to the microphone for Q&A with an infusion and intrusion of counterpoints and opposition.

I acknowledged the description of problems and good intentions then challenged the panel to tell me why Common Core is the magic elixir that will bring success as previous attempts have failed.  I made the suggestion that other factors may be at work,  as time has changed many things in our society, such as the advent of poor public policy in the area of social welfare that has provided perverse incentives toward single parent households, as well as the necessity for many two worker households, where neither parent has enough rested time with their children.  Seeming to support this possibility was an admission from the President of Elizabethtown College that our failures are concentrated in our 30% worst performing schools, without which we would compare favorably with the best in the world.  For that we seek to impose expensive cumbersome changes on everyone instead of focusing on the 30%?

I acknowledged the comment of Senator Folmer and as a specific example, spoke of a young Dr Benjamin Carson and how only a caring uneducated and probably illiterate mother who demanded reading books over watching TV was the determining factor in removing him from a path to failure; how then when he felt empowered by and accepting of reading, it was in that moment that a future successful pediatric neurosurgeon was born.  These were questions and considerations not included in the agenda of this summit.

As the panel was, what I felt, mostly dancing around my concerns in their response, I readied for my finale, three words in closing: choice, vouchers, and competition as the proven market approach that would likely do the most to improve all our schools, building a floor for quality and value in its process.  As the moderator went into wrap up mode I knew I wasn’t going to get the chance.  I decided to leave before the 15 min ending “Where do we go from here?” message.

On my way out I was stopped by Mr David Patti, President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Business Council.  He most graciously thanked me for attending and suggested this is one issue on which we don’t agree even as he appreciated my remarks.  I told him about the three words I had wanted to say.  When Mr Patti looked at me and said that the Business Council favors that also I was befuddled and remain so to this day.  Central planning and market solutions are at opposite ends of the Conflict of Visions described by Dr Thomas Sowell in his 1987 classic work.  Attempting to entertain both, in my opinion, is an internal conflict for those who try, and I am left puzzled when business people do not look first and foremost to the marketplace as the source of innovation and solutions that has consistently made America the envy of the world.

The experience reminded me of a similar situation, in which the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry took a position favoring Pennsylvania’s setting up a state run Obamacare exchange.  Despite phone conversations, emails and references to articles by Cato and others, I was never able to convince Chamber Chairman and CEO Gene Barr to end that support and back concepts to incentivize state employers to embrace high deductible health plans and health savings accounts, with their connection to market forces.  In talking to Mr Barr at the Education Summit he still defended state exchange support.

More than Common Core and more than healthcare I sense a disturbing trend inside the business community to not embrace and show unwavering faith in free markets over government schemes, especially central government impositions.  Yet then there are others like NFIB or the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association who are  more consistently standing up for freedom.  In these times everyone must be standing on the side of freedom.

In one final note was also a sponsor of the Education Summit.  This is Michelle Rhee’s creation and sits firmly in the unconstrained (Sowell) vision, accepting of elitists among us capable of divining solutions for the rest.  In keeping Common Core under the radar as long as it was, it seems curious, significant and deliberate that Rhee’s February 2013 book “Radical…” does not mention Common Core even once.

Note: This post was shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania

Scandal in Harrisburg PA at 2nd and State?


I don’t live in Harrisburg but visit our state Capitol often in my role as a citizen lobbyist.  I do this at my own expense, a significant part being parking.  On-street is much cheaper than the garage but still $1.50/hr in the immediate area can add up and there’s always the risk of a ticket.  It is from this perspective that the appearance of one parking spot just a block west of the Capitol caught my attention.

I noticed the first parking spot on 2nd St off the southeast intersection with State St had an electric vehicle (EV) charger but no parking meter.  Neither were there any signs indicating terms of use.  Also missing was the typical “No Parking Here to Corner” sign.  Information on the charger’s screen indicated a charge of $.15/kwh for electricity consumed.  For a few months prior to the end of June as I visited the Capitol more often due to the increase in legislative activity, the same black Chevy Volt was in the charging spot from about 7am until around 2:30-3:00 pm, what seemed like every day.  Knowing the owner of that Volt was eligible for a $7500 federal tax credit plus a much lesser known $3000 rebate from the Pa DEP, neither of which I support, I bristled at the thought of further perks like a whole day’s free parking!  I had to know more.

Curiosity began with a Google search that quickly found answers that posed more questions.  A story in the Central Pa Business Journal November 21, 2012 indicated the charger was sponsored by Sutliff Chevrolet with the involvement of WCI Partners and its managing partner Alex Hartzler, a Harrisburg real estate developer.  Hartzler’s firm developed the five story building outside which the EV charger was installed.  Also Hartzler has a connection to electric vehicles as the owner of an ultra high end Tesla.  The report said the charger cost $15000 to buy and install, was available to the public with no charge for parking but a two hour limit applied.  The black Volt was plugged in over 7 hrs most days.  What was meant by “sponsored”?  Was the city or Parking Authority being reimbursed for revenue forgone by having no meter? Was the city paid a fee for the right to claim sponsorship?  Why was there never a parking ticket on the black Volt for exceeding the 2hr limit?  What if I parked my non electric car there?  Who receives the payments for electricity used?  Were any public funds part of the $15000 installation cost?  Who owns and maintains the car charger?  I wanted to know a lot more.

I called WCI Partners, explained my concerns, left contact information, was told Mr Hartzler would get back to me but he did not return the call.  I visited Mr Richard Kotz, head of the Harrisburg Parking Authority.  He said he would look into the situation, being aware of no agreements with the Parking Authority concerning the spot in question.  I talked with Parking Enforcement.  They said they wondered about that spot since the charger was installed but were never told anything about it and could not enforce any rules without signs being posted.  No one seemed to know anything so I decided to ramp things up.

Before Mr Kotz at Parking Authority could get back to me I presented a Right to Know request asking for three simple things: 1) Copy of any agreements related to the situation 2) Terms of use 3) Records of charger usage and the payee.  Mr Kotz dutifully responded to my request that “none of the information requested exists at HPA”, after which he suggested trying the City of Harrisburg.

Prior to presenting a Right to Know request to the city I sent Mr Hartzler an email since his address was right there on the WCI Partners website.  I presented my questions and asked that he either respond by email or call me.  Later the same day he called.  In that conversation he confirmed that he put the charger there as something nice to do for the community.  He claimed that all payments pass through, that he makes nothing, which at $.15 per kwh is easy to accept.  He also said that the city is not losing any parking revenue since there never was a 100_0496parking meter or parking spot at that location prior to the charger’s installation.   He also informed me that signs were now placed saying “Electric Vehicle Only” and “2 Hour Limit” along with one that says “Sponsored by Sutliff Chevrolet”.  Keep in mind this is all happening in the public right of way, normally used for on-street parking under the direction of a city or its Parking Authority.  Surely arrangements must have been made with the city, if not its Parking Authority.

The next day, Tuesday July 9, I personally delivered a Right to Know request to the City of Harrisburg.  I asked what I had asked of the Parking Authority with a few additions.  This was my request:

1)      Any and all records of correspondence, meeting minutes, or any public records produced in connection with the approval of installation of Electric Vehicle (EV) charger and designation of parking space as free of charge on State St at 2nd Street, within the public right of way, normally considered on-street parking, especially agreements between the City of Harrisburg and developer J Alex Hartzler, WCI Partners, Greg Sutliff, or Sutliff Chevrolet, arrived at either in public forum by elected officials or privately by city agencies or employees.

2)      Agreement as to reimbursement to the city for forgone parking revenue in absence of parking meter.

3)      Terms of public use of above mentioned parking space and electric charger.

4)      Usage records of EV charger since Fall 2012 installation and identification of payee for electricity consumed.

5)     Owner of Electric Charger and who is responsible for upkeep and servicing.

As with the Parking Authority, the City of Harrisburg dutifully responded.  Also, as with the Authority no records could be produced related to the charger or the now suddenly signed parking space.  How is it possible that one citizen or a small group acting alone could be making public policy, installing EV chargers or hanging signs in a public right of way without permission?  Also in my phone conversation with Mr Hartzler he suggested that because I don’t live in Harrisburg, I have no standing in this issue.  But what if Hartzler, WCI Partners or Sutliff shared in grants from the state DEP that are available for electric vehicle charger installations  as did Amerigreen Energy of Lancaster, as outlined in another CPBJ article?  Then every citizen of the state would have standing, beyond the absolute right of anyone to merely be curious or ask questions.  Taking public money should, after all, also involve taking what comes with it.

A couple more mysteries remain.  Who put up the new signs in the absence of any agreements: the City, its Parking Authority, or a private citizen, and are they enforceable without official terms of use ever having been adopted?  Also what about the normal “no parking here to corner” signs that dominate the last parking spot before an intersection to protect public safety?  Did one ever exist at this location as they seem to throughout the city, including on the other side of 2nd St at State?  Could it have been removed and never replaced in the process of construction of the new building?  I’ve informed City of Harrisburg officials of the absence of such a sign.  As a non resident, having expressed my irritations, I’ll now leave these unresolved issues with the citizens of Harrisburg and their chosen officials or perhaps other curious visitors.

Note: This post shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania