Consider this a cautionary tale more than a scolding, though that’s primarily because of the scale, not because of nature of the offense.
Luzerne County has long had a reputation for government deals made on the side with a handshake rather than a signature, getting things done with a verbal agreement rather than a written one.
It is not an intrinsically bad thing. It can be expeditious, cutting out the red tape for simple matters. If a worker needs a couple common batteries to get a job done and provides them himself rather than going through a requisition protocol, is that really a serious problem?
But this habit opens the door to abuse and corruption while slamming the door on transparency. Take, for example this week’s tennis court brouhaha between Wilkes-Barre Area School Board and Wilkes-Barre City.
At Thursday’s meeting, School Board Member Denise Thomas expressed justified indignation after hearing that a district tennis team had arrived at the courts in Kirby Park to find them padlocked, and that the district had apparently been told it had to pay $50 for team access to the courts.
The reason for her outrage? The district already pays the city $17,200 annually for the use of various city athletic facilities.
Other board members chimed in with similar surprise, and there was even brief talk of litigation if it all turned out to be true. Both the anger and the threat seemed, at first blush, understandable.
District Solicitor Ray Wendolowski said after the meeting that he knows of no written agreement between the city and the district spelling out what the $17,200 pays for. On Friday, Wilkes-Barre City Administrator Ted Wampole likewise said he knew of nothing in writing. It’s just something the two sides have been doing for years: The district uses the facilities, the city gets money to help offset maintenance costs.
Thomas said the demand for $50 to access the courts came from Bill Eydler, and she was unsure if this was a new arrangement. On Friday, Wampole said Eydler has maintained and managed use of the courts for years, predating the current city administration. Eydler himself said he has done so on and off for half a century.
Both said there is no written agreement between the city and Eydler.
Eydler said he suggested a $50 donation to help offset maintenance costs, and that if the team was locked out it was either an oversight when the gates should have been opened or a failure by the team to check other gates. He was unaware of the district payment to the city and asked what facilities the money pays for — which, of course, he couldn’t know because no one knows, because there is nothing in writing.
Both sides expected it all to be resolved quickly, which is a good thing.
But the fact that tax dollars are paid from the district to the city and from the city to Eydler with none of the parties having a written outline of what, exactly, said dollars are buying?
Well, it’s easier than acing a serve to see that’s a bad thing.