There’s so much to look forward to in 2016. The presidential election and the exit of the Obamas top the list. Just think, taxpayers won’t have to continue paying millions and millions of dollars toward this flamboyant couple’s numerous luxury vacations to Hawaii, Aspen, Martha’s Vineyard, Key Largo and Michelle’s jaunts overseas, with her parade of royal assistants in tow. This year, we will, hopefully, elect a president who actually respects the United States Constitution and recognizes that Middle Eastern terrorists pose more danger to us than climate change or the second amendment.
Locally, here’s what I’ll be wondering in the new year:
1. Whether Luzerne County’s new manager will, unlike Robert Lawton, get the respect he or she deserves for, at the very least, trying to right the wrongs of the county’s former commissioners, including the vast debt they left. Lawton traveled here from California and expected to stay longer but the handwriting was on the wall and he resigned. He wasn’t perfect, but he deserved better treatment than he received from some cranky council members. Good luck interim manager C. David Pedri. You’ll need it.
2. Will new Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tony George make good on his promise to reduce crime? It’s what got him elected and we’re all rooting for him. Well, maybe not drug dealers and gang members prowling city streets. But BOO to George for using email to inform long-time assistant city solicitor William Vinsko his services were no longer needed. A personal phone call would have shown some class.
3. Will SOS and minority Wilkes-Barre Area School Board members prevail in their attempts to topple the present plan to demolish Coughlin High School and squeeze a new high school at that location? And will local reporters start digging into how much the district spent last year on legal fees and other professional expenses related to this unpopular consolidation plan? Come on, reporters, demand to see the renderings of the proposed new school on North Washington Street and reject the district’s lame excuse for not releasing them because of terrorist concerns. Yes, that reason was reportedly given for keeping these public-funded drawings under wraps.
4. Will Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis ever get to the bottom of who killed local mail carrier Laurie Merritt? Did Apple ever provide the phone records her office requested of this woman’s boyfriend, who spoke to her the night she mysteriously died after someone set fire to her attic? This homicide occurred almost two years ago, for crying out loud.
5. Will our state representatives in Harrisburg do the right thing and tackle the thorny issue of pension reform before school districts and the state go bankrupt, allowing public sector employees to continue receiving defined pension plans, which means, if the market tanks, that’s not their problem? It is, however, a huge rip-off for taxpayers.
6. Will the joint operating committee of the Wilkes-Barre Area Career, Technical & Family Employment Center pass an anti-nepotism policy? Or are there still sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, wives, husbands or in-laws waiting for the next job opening?
7. A long, long time ago, authorities subpoenaed records from 2009 to 2014 regarding the aborted attempt to lease the city’s parking assets for a $20 million windfall. That deal was the brainchild of former city mayor Tom Leighton and his then sidekick J.J. Murphy. Murphy and his brother’s high-priced Philadelphia law firm milked that cash cow for all its worth. Will we ever learn the results of that probe?
8. Speaking of probes, wasn’t there an ongoing investigation into the $6 million loan a nonprofit called CityVest received but didn’t pay back? The politically connected group promised to create jobs by developing the former Hotel Sterling but it ran out of money and flew the coop. Hey, it happens. What doesn’t happen is getting away with defaulting on a $6 million loan unscathed – except, that is, in Luzerne County .
9. Will state Attorney General Kathleen Kane still have a job in 2016? Not if her enemies whom she exposed as reveling in porn on the job have their way. They include state prosecutors and justice is blind judges. Geez!
10. Will suspended with pay (over $200,000) Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin, an allegedly frequent guest at the online porno party, keep his position? This guy should have done the decent thing and resigned long ago.
11. State Rep. Aaron Kaufer, R-Kingston, sponsored a law that Gov. Tom Wolf signed to forbid individuals from receiving public assistance from multiple states, including ours. That’s crazy! That can’t possibly be the case. Unfortunately, it was. Kaufer cited reports that Pennsylvania pays more than $5 million a month in out-of-state payments. Another blatant example of why the state is in debt, and those minding the store are squandering our tax dollars. Good for you, Aaron, for pushing for this long overdue reform.
12. Last but not least, who in Luzerne County, state government or the judiciary will be charged next with corruption? Let’s hope no one. Ha Ha Ha.
Happy New Year!
Betty Roccograndi is a Wyoming Valley resident and an award-winning journalist. Her “Zeroing In” column runs every Sunday in the Times Leader.