Thursday, December 29, 2011

Debunking the feel-good analysis

It should surprise no one that the Herald-Standard newspaper did its level best to put a good face on the failed candidacy of Republican commission candidate Dave Lohr. After all, the newspaper did all it could to hoist Lohr into office over incumbent Republican Angela Zimmerlink.

The newspaper's rooting interest for Lohr shamefully transcended its editorial endorsement of him. On the eve of the November election, it let one reporter publish a story in which a known Zimmerink foe accused her of using a county computer to post things on the Internet, without any attempt at verifying that fact. It then let another reporter -- who wound up working a poll for Lohr -- publish an eight-day-old story about the Fayette County Conservation District board (which the paper never covers) that cast Zimmerlink in a negative light.

The newspaper also ran full-page color ads, "Paid for by Dave Lohr," that showed him shaking hands with former Republican Commissioner Joe Hardy. The text in those ads included the words, "In the past, the sitting Republican commissioner has sought to form committees and slow down the process of welcoming this dynamic (gas) industry to our community."

That sitting Republican commissioner, of course, was and is Zimmerlink. We will leave it to you if that sounds like negative advertising -- but it sure does to us.

Our little analysis of the post-election editorial, "So close: Lohr ends historic race with concession" (Herald-Standard, Dec. 23, 2011) begins with this line: In addition to his gracious concession, he (Lohr) also deserves credit for running a hard but clean campaign, which came so tantalizingly close to victory.

Is the author of that editorial capable of reading? If so, does he think that the full-page Lohr ad that accused Zimmerlink of seeking to "slow down the process of welcoming this dynamic (gas) industry to our community" is evidence of "a hard but clean campaign"?

And the use of the phrase "tantalizingly close" to describe Lohr's 18-vote loss leads us to ask, "For whom?" For Lohr and his supporters, that part is definitely true. And it is probably true for the newspaper that did all it could to help Lohr, even if that meant permiting cheap and unethical shots at Zimmerlink.

Only an intellectual Tom Thumb would make some of the other comments in the Dec. 23 editorial:

We would be remiss if we did not first commend Lohr on graciously conceding defeat and not dragging the process out any futher.

Graciously conceding defeat? Was the Herald-Standard referring to the part of Lohr's concession where he told the Tribune-Review that he will watch for any evidence of retaliation against those who supported him, and said that, "There are elected people in office of a vindictive nature"? In conceding defeat, Lohr was far from gracious; he was still throwing barbs at unnamed opponents.

Not dragging the process out any further? Lohr's attempts to erase Zimmerlink's lead resulted in Fayette County being the last of Pennsylvania's 67 counties to certify the results of the Nov. 8 election. It prevented all school boards in the county from reorganizing in early December. (And the last time we checked, the county's school boards are facing some pretty stiff challenges of their own.)

This oh-so-close election should give Fayette County voters peace of mind ... After challenges and recounts, no real problems were discovered.

Huh? We learned that some absentee ballots were ostensibly left to languish at the Uniontown Post Office, that other absentees were delivered to the election bureau but unopened on Election Day, that at least one voter voted at the polls and by an absentee ballot (which was yanked during the challenge/recount process). And after ALL of this scrutiny, we learned during Lohr's last stand -- a challenge of the paper ballots cast at five of the county's 98 voting precincts -- that Democrat Al Ambrosini picked up two additional votes, while Democrat Vince Zapotosky picked up one.

Pardon us for thinking out loud -- or logically -- but shouldn't the recount numbers for Ambrosini and Zapotosky have remained the same, in order for anyone to promote the concept that Fayette County voters should have "peace of mind"?

The process was conducted out in the open and without any chicanery or cloak-and-dagger mischief.

Does that include any chicanery and cloak-and-dagger mischief in the realm of newspaper coverage of the election and the challenge/recount process?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The guy in the high chair doesn't want to appear childish

Only in Fayette County can the guy sitting in the figurative high chair, wearing a bib and sporting a face smeared with Gerber's, make the claim that, "I don't want to drag this out to where it looks childish in nature."

That quote came from Dave Lohr in Wednesday's Tribune-Review story, "Lohr concedes Fayette County commissioners race to Zimmerlink."

Lohr has spent the past two months making things look childish in nature. Refusing to accept the official count of the Fayette County Election Board, he first challenged in court a bundle of absentee ballots that didn't arrive in that office by the deadline, hoping that they might give him a chance to overcome the 18-vote margin Angela M. Zimmerlink held over him for the third and final commissioner spot.

Rebuffed in that effort by Judge Ralph Warman, an even more desperate Lohr climbed back up in his high chair and threw some food against the wall, in the form of a second challenge to the work of the Fayette County Election Bureau and its Election Board, in the form of a challenge to recount paper ballots cast at five -- and only five -- of the county's 98 voting precincts.

After that effort -- which continued to delay the officical certification of Fayette County's vote count -- did nothing to dent Zimmerlink's 18-vote lead, Lohr climbed out of his high chair, removed his bib, wiped off his face, and proclaimed that did not want to appear childish.

There was more in the Tribune-Review story that left us here in the patch scratching our heads. Like these two paragraphs:

Lohr thanked his supporters and the (election) bureau. The bureau, he said, was unfairly criticized over its handling of the late absentee ballots and the recount process.

"A lot of rumors were around, that it was rigged, or they would do unscrupulous things," Lohr said. "But those people are top-notch. They would never do anything illegal."

Lohr needs only to look in the mirror to see which candidate was most responsible for launching any criticism of the election bureau over its handling of the late absentee ballots and the recount process. It wasn't Zimmerlink or Democrat candidates Al Ambrosini or Vince Zapotosky who twice went to court trying to find a way to change the outcome of this election.

And if Lohr truly believes that the election bureau employees are "top-notch," why was he the one challenging their handling of absentee ballots and veracity of their official vote count that had him losing by 18 ballots?

It gets even better in the Tribune-Review story, which also contains these two paragraphs:

Although he is out of the race, Lohr said he will monitor the commissioners' actions over the next four years. In particular, he said, he will watch for any evidence of retaliation against those who supported him.

"There are things that happened after the election, threats that were made, to businesses and individuals who supported me," said Lohr. "There are elected people in office of a vindictive nature, and these elected officials need to get to the heart of the people, and not their personal goals."

That assessment is, of course, a prime example of the pot calling the kettle black. If Lohr wants to find people "of a vindictive nature" who put "their personal goals" first, he might want to start by looking at some of his own backers.

To its credit, the Trib story at least attempted to pin Lohr down a bit. It noted: Lohr declined to go into specifics regarding the allegations.

When making such a serious accusations, Lohr should be willing to state, on the record, exactly which people he was talking about, so that they could be contacted for their comments. Because he refused to name names, we all have to take Lohr's accusation with a huge grain of salt.

Here in the patch, we all have a pretty good idea of whom he was speaking. And yes, his way of casting this accusatory stone seems pretty childish to us.

Since it's Christmas, we have a little reminder to everyone from one of our favorite Top Ten lists (and it's not one from Letterman):

Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Why five, not all 98?

Here in the patch, we find it extremely interesting to watch Dave Lohr's attempt to cherry-pick his way to the third and final spot as Fayette County commissioner. The effort raises some interesting questions that are flying below the radar.

You'll recall that on election night, Lohr's fellow Republican (and incumbent commissioner) Angela M. Zimmerlink was 10, 11 or 12 votes ahead of Lohr, depending on what number the election bureau was using and/or what number the particular media outlet was reporting.

After a painstaking and supposedly thorough process regarding the counting of absentee ballots -- a saga that involved scrutizining postmarks and the post office and a judge's ruling -- Zimmerlink was still the winner, only by then her margin had swelled to 18 votes (that's one-third greater than it was on election night).

Case closed? Not for Lohr, who apparently does not want to go down in the county's political history books as the only person to ever be a four-time loser in the quest to become a comissioner that dates back to his initial run in 1995.

No, Lohr and his attorney sought -- and have won -- a recount in five of the county's voting precincts. Fayette County Judge Ralph Warman has agreed with their argument that votes should be recounted in Bullskin Township 1 and 2, South Union Township 1, Masontown 2 and Connellsville 5.

According to court papers filed by Lohr attorney David Montgomery, as reported by Herald-Standard,com, "It is submitted that the closeness of the race among Ms. Zimmerlink and Mr. Lohr requires a recount and a recanvass of the ballots cast in the Nov. 8, 2011 election, as there exists a possibility of human or machine error in the counting of said ballots."

(It is also possible that additional absentee ballots delivered in time by carrier pigeon were deposited in the courthouse clock tower. Although that possibility is miniscule, perhaps someone should check, just in case.)

Here's the problem, as we see it: If Lohr and his attorney believe, and if Warman agrees, that "there exists a possibility of human or machine error in the counting of said ballots," wouldn't that possibility exist for all 98 of the county's voting precincts?

Of course it would. But the Lohr camp is only seeking to recount the vote (or more accurately, a partial vote, using only paper ballots and not those registered by machine) in five precincts. The question everyone should be asking is, "Why just those five?"

In his court papers, attorney Montgomery is reported to have said that, "... based on information believed to be reliable, that fraud or error, although not manifest in the general return of votes made from the subject election district, was committed in the counting and canvassing of ballots cast in the race for county commissioner."

Really? It seems to us that if attorney Montgomery and/or his client Lohr have "information believed to be reliable" that proves "fraud or error ... was committed in the counting and canvassing of ballots," they should be asking for an investigation by Fayette County District Attorney Jack Heneks or state Attorney General Linda Kelly.

But we digress. Back to those five precincts: What happens, hypothetically, if the recount of Bullskin 1 and 2, South Union 1, Masontown 2 and Connellsville 5, magically erases Zimmerlink's 18-vote lead and puts Lohr up by five votes?

Is that result set in stone, because Lohr and his attorney picked those five before the deadline for filing such a request passed? No one from the media has asked or answered that question, to our knowledge. But it should be asked and answered.

Our little hypothetical scenario poses quite a dilemma for Lohr: If the recount does put him up by five votes -- or 50 or 500 or 1, it really doesn't matter -- will he then ask that five more precints be recounted? Or all 98? (Assuming that the law allows for additional requests to be made.)

Or does Lohr say, "No, it took a while, but I'm finally satisfied with the election results. The people have spoken. Thank you, and good night."

You can bet the farm, including all Marcellus gas rights, that if the recount of only five precincts changes the outcome of this race, and if the opportunity to recount the other 93 precincts has already passed, some judicious cherry-picking did the trick.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Why should Zimmerlink talk?

Here in the patch, we really can't blame Fayette County Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink if she never talks to the Herald-Standard newspaper again. Why should she, considering the newspaper's continued pattern of anti-Zimmerlink bias demonstrated by:

1. The front-page story published Oct. 28 (11 days before the Nov. 8 election), entitled, "Official grilled on web postings." The first two paragraphs of that story, printed here verbatim, were:

Tanya Cellurale of Connellsville on Thursday accused Fayette County Commissioner Angela M. Zimmerlink of using county time to make derogatory comments on a local website.

Speaking during public comment, Cellurale said Zimmerlink has posted numerous comments on a local website, some of which slander people who attend public meetings.

Zimmerlink vigorously denied those claims in the story, authored by reporter Amy Revak, who also relayed to the reading public Cellurale's further claim to have laid hands on the IP (Internet Protocol) address of Zimmerlink's county work computer.

Only a fool would believe that Cellurale's comments were not politically motivated. And only a reporter who was either: A. Willing to play along, or B. Totally clueless, would have published Cellurale's unsubstaniated accusation, especially so close to Election Day.

To date, neither Revak nor any other Herald-Standard reporter has done a follow-up story, to find out if Cellurale was even close to telling the truth when she made her pre-election accusations. As we have noted previously, it's a fairly easy thing to do -- and it starts with having the guts to ask Cellurale to provide the IP address she claims to have in her possession. (If it is a county IP address, we would further ask how she obtained such proprietary information, which we can easily envision triggering a lot of stuttering and stammering.)

2. The story published Nov. 1, seven days before the Nov. 8 election, entitled, "County Conservation District raises fees." The first three paragraphs of that story, printed verbatim, were:

The Fayette County Conservation District will raise its fees by as much (as) $700 in 2012 for any land disturbed during development.

The seven-member board - which Fayette County Commissioner Angela M. Zimmerlink sits on with board Chairman Don Bowser and members Bill Geary, Frank Mutnansky, Larry Chaikcic, Warren Dick and Lloyd Moser -- is responsible for the conservation, protection, restoration and wise use of the county's natural resources.

During a meeting Oct. 24, the board voted to increase the Erosion and Sediment (E&S) Fee Schedule, with varying fees based on the amount of disturbed acres associated with a project.

That story, authored by reporter Rebekah Sungala, later noted that "Zimmerlink was absent from the meeting" and that "Zimmerlink, who represents the county on the board, did not respond to requests for comment."

(On Election Day, Sungala showed up and was photographed at the Bullskin Township 1 precinct, wearing a campaign sticker for Dave Lohr, Zimmerlink's main opponent for the third and final commissioner spot.)

Given the Herald-Standard's sudden interest in the operations of relatively obscure Fayette County Conservation District, we here in the patch were -- and are -- eagerly awaiting the news story on last month's Conservation District board meeting. It was held Nov. 28 and we are assured that Zimmerlink was in attendance.

We were initially disappointed that no story appeared on Nov. 29, the day after the latest meeting. But then we realized that perhaps we needed to wait eight days for something to appear in print, just like the October meeting.

What's important for everyone to know is that neither of these stories appeared without the oversight and approval of the Herald-Standard newsroom editors. It is they who decided the ideas were newsworthy and passed journalistic muster. It is they who read them before anyone else. It is they who decided where the stories would be placed in the newspaper.

These are not completely incidents of rogue reporters who are able to have their way and say, acting alone and without approval from above. Someone higher up the chain of command sanctioned each of these stories -- and someone who had the ability to put a stop to them, or to hold them until further and fairer research could be conducted, decided those steps were not necessary.

Now that Zimmerlink has won re-election by 18 votes, despite the best efforts of many (including the Herald-Standard) to defeat her, it will be real interesting to see how the newspaper treats her in the next four years.

We don't look for much change. Which is why we're glad that Zimmerlink is using her own blog to explain the decisions she makes as a county commissioner.

From that blog, here is her enlightening explanation for why she voted no to a $2.7 million deficit county budget:

One of the most important duties of the commissioners is to develop an annual spending plan, i.e. the county budget

As provided by County Code, the preparation of the Proposed Budget must begin at least 90 days prior to adoption. In our preparation of the 2010 Proposed Budget the Commissioners advertised and held public work sessions beginning in September (90 days). In our preparation of the 2011 Proposed Budget the Commissioners began the process in September (90 days) and held public work sessions beginning in October . Now compare just those two prior years to this 2012 Proposed Budget wherein the Commissioners have not held one work session ………yet the 2 majority Commissioners on Monday, at a special commissioners meeting, voted to approve the Proposed Budget. I voted no.

Just how can Commissioners approve a proposed spending plan and present it to the public for a 20 day review period without having any meetings with their department heads, row officers, courts, etc? What's been going on for the past 90 days?

Could it be there were other things on their minds? Too busy campaigning for the Nov 8th election?

So what happens next? Well, we as Commissioners have 17 working days… but wait not really 17 because Commissioner Vicites' email to us asked that no public meetings be held Dec 6,7,8,or 9th while he is on vacation so that leaves 13 working days….but wait not really 13 because county manager Warren Hughes has a scheduled vacation so that leaves 9 working days.

Both majority Commissioners, Zapotosky and Vicites were quoted by the media saying they will work diligently to pare down the $2.7 deficit in order to balance the budget before December 30th. Really? Diligently in 9 days?

Yes, when Commissioner Vicites returns from vacation the process will begin as both majority Commissioners have instructed staff that the public work sessions will be held Monday, December 12th through Friday December 16th between 11-2pm................................ and if you are wondering courthouse hours are 8:30-4:30.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A very important list should be seen by all

Today at 10 a.m., the Fayette County Election Bureau posted in its office the names of 31 absentee voters whose ballots will likey determine the outcome of the closest race for county commissioner in history.

The Herald-Standard newspaper made note of that fact in Sunday's editorial, "Democracy alive: Vote count being watched closely," -- which also noted that the list will be visible "for everyone to see," and that "anyone wishing to file a challenge (to an absentee ballot) must do so by Thursday at 2 p.m."

If the newspaper is truly interested in performing public service, and stands for transparency and open government, it should publish a list of those names. They certainly should have been available at last Wednesday's election board hearing, which was held specifically to determine the fate of those absentee ballots. It is so easy to print a list in the newspaper -- and it makes so much sense, given the importance of these ballots -- that we wonder why it hasn't been done already.

There is a reason that a list of absentee voters is supposed to be posted at each polling place on Election Day. That's because individual voters, or concerned citizens, can provide a check and balance to the system.

For example, Stutta Bubba here in the patch may go to the polls and see that her sister, Stella Bubba, is on the list of those who have submitted an absentee ballot. Stutta Bubba may find this interesting or appalling for any number of reasons: her sister Stella may have moved to Cleveland last year to live with her daughter, Stella may bebedridden in a nursing home and unable to recognize family and friends, Stella may be living next door to Stutta but has never voted in her life, or Stella may have died in 1982.

Thus, Stutta Bubba can challenge the ballot submitted in her sister's name. That absentee ballot would not be opened when the polls closed; it would remain sealed until after an election board hearing where Stutta Bubba, Stella Bubba and other pertinent parties would be afforded the chance to testify. The board would then take a vote on whether to accept or reject that ballot.

The problem with these 31 absentee ballots is that they apparently did not go through that normal process. According to the Herald-Standard, "there was a mixup at the Uniontown Post Office and a number of additional absentee ballots" were discovered. (At least that's what the county Election Burea has been saying; interestingly, we have yet to see anyone from the Fourth Estate call the post office to verify that fact. But hey, it's easier to just print what someone says without contacting the other side to let them defend themselves.)

(As a side note, we would love to see a reporter call Laurie Lint, the former director of the election bureau who was fired by Commissioners Vincent Vicites and Vincent Zapotosky, to ask her, "Did you ever forget to pick up or open critical mail in advance of Election Day?" We never heard about 31 absentee ballots not being properly handled during Lint's tenure.)

The problem is, the list of 31 names of absentee voters that posted in the Election Bureau at 10 a.m. today IS NOT available "for everyone to see." It is available only to those who are willing and able to travel to that office to look at it. Not everyone who may want to see the names of the 31 people whose ballots will make history will be afforded that opportunity. They may have to work or be in school. They may not be able to drive.

If the Herald-Standard and editor Mark O'Keefe really want to make sure that "democracy is alive and kicking in Fayette County," and that "everyone involved should be satisfied that the process has been above board" -- as stated in Sunday's sugary editorial -- then why wouldn't they want to do their part to inform the public to as great a degree as possible?

Printing the names is no big deal. These voters are at the crux of the most important local election in a long time. It should be done, in the name of democracy.

Hopefully O'Keefe and Co. sent a reporter over today to get this information. A word to the wise: Before dispatching anybody, we hope they made sure to double-check that all "Lohr" stickers have been removed from that "professional" emissary. Then again, perhaps they decided to hand some more out.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Vicites has no EB conflicts?

Speaking of ethics, is anybody besides us willing to question the continued presence of Fayette County Commissioner Vincent A. Vicites as a member of the Fayette County Election Board?

The three-member election board, which includes Vicites, is currently playing a critical role in the closest race ever for a spot as a county commissioner. The decisions that the board makes -- which absentee and provisional ballots to count, which to throw out --- are likely to determine a winner between Republican incumbent Angela Zimmerlink and Republican challenger Dave Lohr.

Since he wasn't a candidate in the Nov. 8 election, Vicites is legally eligible to reclaim his role on the election board (he had to step down during the primary election because he was then a candidate). But just because he can sit in judgment, does that mean he should?

Anybody who has followed county politics, even at the third-grade level, has got to be aware of these three salient points:

1. Vicites was the running mate of fellow Democrat Vincent Zapotosky in the spring 2011 primary election. On that basis alone, should Vicites be one of the three folks who will ultimately certify the results of the fall 2011 general election, where his former running mate was a candidate?

2. Vicites (along with Zapotosky) is the subject of a current lawsuit filed by Zimmerlink, who alleges that the two Democrats have basically hobbled her ability to do her job. On this basis alone, doesn't Vicites have an ethical, if not legal, conflict of interest? Think about it: If you were suing Vicites, would you want him having any say -- let alone the final say -- in the outcome of your close election? Would you think he would be impartial? (And if the roles were reversed, with Vicites locked in a nip-and-tuck battle with someone else for the third and final commissioner spot, and with Vicites having sued Zimmerlink, and with Zimmerlink sitting on the election board, how content do you think Vicites would be with that arrangement?)

3. Vicites and Zapotosky are the ones who voted to can former election bureau director Laurie Lint, and to replace her with current office director Larry Blosser. Zimmerlink voted against this switcheroo. Nothing against Blosser or the job he is doing, but the split vote clearly makes him Vicites' and Zapotosky's guy. Is Vicites the best person to serve in an oversight capacity where policies and procedures of that office are in play?

These are certainly questions worth asking. But we don't expect the Herald-Standard to even mention them. Not when editor Mark O'Keefe's choice for co-anchor of the newspaper's televised election night coverage was sitting Fayette County Commissioner (and election board member) Vincent Vicites.

There are a host of reasons why we don't expect the Herald-Standard to raise any of these issues. But what we find inexcusable is that during this whole election certification process, they have not to our knowledge made one single phone call to the Pennsylvania Department of State to independently find out the rules or to verify that the ballot-counting decisions by the Fayette County Election Board do indeed pass muster.

They have also not called any other counties to find out what they did, do, or have done with absentee and provisional ballots that fall into any of the categories that many of us are hearing about for the first time (i.e., those that were reportedly delivered to or by the post office but somehow didn't make it to the polls on election day).

How come we never have read of problems like this occuring with any other county election bureau in the area? Is that because those problems have never been reported -- or because they have never had such problems? That's something the Fayette County public, regardless of which candidates win or lose, deserves to know.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A picture really is worth a thousand words, sometimes

Any journalist worth his or her salt knows there are certain things you cannot do, certain lines you cannot cross, because doing so would taint your reputation for objectivity as well as that of the news organization you represent.

A reporter who works the polls for his or her favored political candidate, in plain view of the voting public, is crossing that line in a big way. He or she is committing a cardinal sin that would probably get you fired without hesitation by most news organizations that value their reputation.

So we can't wait for the Herald-Standard to offer up its explanation of the photographs of one of its reporters, Beka Sungala, that are making the rounds among the county's political chattering class. The snapshots of Sungala, reportedly taken at the Bullskin Township precinct 1 on Election Day, show her wearing a "Lohr" sticker on her jacket and apparently handing out water bottles at that polling place. (That would be for Dave Lohr, Republican candidate for Fayette County commissioner.)

In one of them, Fayette County District Attorney Jack Heneks is standing just a few feet away from Sungala. After Herald-Standard editor Mark O'Keefe re-reads his December 2010 column, "Ethics issues taken seriously," perhaps he can ask Heneks what Sungala was doing at Bullskin 1 on Election Day. We would think that the county's district attorney would be pretty credible witness, if O'Keefe has any remaining doubts.

O'Keefe surely knows about that damaging photo by now. Some enterprising person posted it on's website on Friday, with the caption "Bullskin Family Fun Day." For reasons unknown to us, that photo disappeared by Sunday. Could that be because it represented a huge embarrassment to O'Keefe and the newspaper he leads? Why else would this particular photo mysteriously disappear while others did not?

While we're betting that O'Keefe is plenty aware of the incriminating photo by now, we doubt that he's also aware of this: On Nov. 1 -- one week before the Nov. 8 election -- a story appeared in his newspaper with the headline, "County Conservation District raises fees."

The second paragraph of that story reads: The seven-member board -- which Fayette County Commissioner Angela M. Zimmerlink sits on with board Chairman Don Bowser and members Bill Geary, Frank Mutnansky, Larry Chaikcic, Warren Dick and Lloyd Moser -- is responsible for the conservation, protection, restoration and wise use of the county's natural resources.

The story goes on to say that the conservation district board voted 5-1 to increase the Erosion & Sediment Fee Schedule. The story quoted conservation district manager Doug Petro and board chairman Bowser on why the hike was needed.

One other person was contacted for the story. Curiously, it was not the dissenting voter, board member Moser, who might have added some balance to the story by offering up his reasons for voting no.

No, the other board member contacted was Zimmerlink, whom the story noted was "absent from the meeting" and "did not respond to requests for comment." None of the other board members -- Geary, Mutnansky, Chaikcic or Dick -- was contacted for comment.

This very important story, the one that informed the public of Zimmerlink's apparent deriliction of duty, was written by ... drum roll, please -- Beka Sungala! And the story was based on a meeting that was held -- ahem, ahem -- on Oct. 24!

That's an eight-day lapse between when the vote to hike the Erosion & Sediment Fee Schedule took place and when the Herald-Standard published a story. Couple that with the fact that the Herald-Standard does not regularly cover the Fayette County Conservation District, and we think you'll see what we see: An attempted hatchet job on Zimmerlink that should have O'Keefe asking, "Who came up with that idea?" (As soon as he gets the answer to, "Why is my newspaper publishing stories eight days after the fact?")

As a reporter, Sungala also covered at least one candidate forum for the newspaper that we are aware of. All three other candidates in the field, and their supporters, have grounds to question the objectivity of her reporting, given her rooting interest for Lohr. Had she shown up wearing her Lohr sticker, any or all of the other three candidates would have had ample reason to ask, "What's going on here?"

That is the same question that editor O'Keefe ane publisher Val Laub should be asking themselves right about now. After all they are the paper where ethics issues are taken seriously; at least that is what O'Keefe proclaimed to the reading world just 11 months ago.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here is our version of the Mona Lisa, sent to us by a friend of a friend of a friend:


Friday, November 18, 2011

A little more information, please

It certainly appears to be a noble gesture that Dr. Charles D. Machesky, superintendent of the Uniontown Area School District, has volunteered to work for free for one year after his impending March 30 retirement.

"I've been lucky enough to have had this position for the past 10 years, and I wanted to give something back to the school district for everything that has been given me over the years," Machesky told the Connellsville Courier ("Retiring Uniontown Area superintendent offers to work for free, Nov. 16.)

In that same story, Machesky is quoted as saying he won't take any salary or benefits, and that his may consider working for three years for free if his health holds up. He pledged to take "nothing, zero" -- provided that the Pennsylvania State Retirement Board agrees to let him work free of charge.

We've got no beef with Machesky, who has been superintendent during a pretty rough time, including a costly and contentious building renovation phase that is still dragging on.

But in all honesty, Machesky can probably offer to work for free simply because he'll be able to afford to. As superintendent, he's likely been making in the $100,000-a-year salary range -- and we're betting that his pension (funded by the taxpayers) would be pretty close to that.

We wish a reporter would call the Pennsylvania State Retirement Board, or make an information request of the Uniontown Area School District, to inform the reading public what Machesky's pension amount is going to be.

Machesky is also willing to work without benefits. Could that be because his retirement package includes free health insurance until he reaches age 65 (again, funded by the taxpayers)? If so, what is that going to cost the district? (There is also the matter of whether Machesky will be getting paid for unused sick days, and how much that amount will total.)

We're not questioning Machesky's motives here, which appear on face value to be quite magnanimous. Most people in his position head out the door as quickly as possible, never to be seen or heard from again.

But what we are pointing out is that Machesky, like most school district administrators in Fayette County, probably qualifies for a retirement deal that is way sweeter than the average person. We're guessing that he's probably in his late 50s, age wise. If he qualifies for, and receives, health insurance coverage for seven or eight years, that's a considerable cost -- and a benefit that most folks who are footing the bill for his early retirement will never, ever get.

If you're in Machesky's position, we're betting that it's relatively easy to say that you'll work for "nothing, zero," because there's no steep income and benefits dropoff between working and retiring,

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why no GOP 'united front'?

Here in the patch, where not a single person has voted for a Republican since FDR became president, folks figure that the Fayette County Republican Party has got to be scratching its head as much as we are.

That’s because for years and years and years, Republicans here have said one of the reasons Fayette lags so far behind other counties is because of the dominance of the Democratic Party. In their collective view, Fayette gets nothing from the Democrats because they take the county vote for granted, and Fayette gets nothing from the Republicans because they write the county off as a place where they’ll never win.

The real story in the general election held Nov. 8 is not that the two Democrat candidates for county commissioner, Al Ambrosini and incumbent Vince Zapotosky, finished first and second, respectively. The real story is not even the closeness of the vote for the third and final commissioner spot, where incumbent Republican Angela Zimmerlink unofficially bested Republican Dave Lohr by 11 votes. (But this is Fayette County, so you shouldn’t be surprised if something new and previously unheard of to arise during the official vote count that begins this week.)

No, the real story is how close the two Republicans came to beating Zapotosky. Zapotosky finished with 25 percent of the vote, while Zimmerlink and Lohr each finished with 22 percent. That put each of them roughly 1,300 votes behind Zapotosky, which clearly put both Republican candidates within striking distance of the Number 2 Democrat. (For the record, Ambrosini captured 30 percent of the vote.)

The question that we would love to see a news reporter ask the Republican Party honchos is, “Given the closeness of this race, how do you feel about Lohr running a campaign, not aimed at the two Democrats, but at fellow Republican Zimmerlink?”

Make no mistake: Lohr was taking on Zimmerlink more than Ambrosini and Zapotosky combined. Any doubt can be erased by looking at Lohr’s full-page, color political advertisement in the Herald-Standard of Nov. 2 (yeah, the one where he’s once again shaking hands with Joe Hardy.)

The ad, which was “Paid for by Dave Lohr,” creatively poses as a letter from Hardy, who notes, “In the past, the sitting Republican commissioner has sought to form committees and slow down the process of welcoming this dynamic (gas) industry to our community.” (That’s not true, obviously, and we predict that as time unfolds, more and more Fayette County residents will come to appreciate Zimmerlink’s effort to form an informational Marcellus Shale Task Force.)

Back to the ad: The way it was structured gives Lohr cover to say, “Hey, it wasn’t me who said that -- it was Joe Hardy.” It’s a classic example of using someone else to say something bad about your opponent, so you won’t have to. We’ll leave it to you to decide whether that little trick is the mark of an honest person. Or an independent one.

There’s another basic and longstanding theory of Fayette County politics, which holds that the Republican Party is merely an extension of the Democratic Party. This theory holds that the county’s political structure is monolithic, and that a true two-party system is a myth because they are in collusion.

In the just-concluded primary election for county commissioner, where two Democrats and two Republicans were running for three spots, can you name us one other county where a candidate took aim at the other candidate from his or her own party, instead of taking aim at the two candidates from the other party?

In this election, Republicans may have had a golden opportunity to recapture control of the county, by winning two of the three seats. We don’t expect to pursue a story along those lines, or one that would delve into Lohr’s unorthodox use of a primary election strategy in a general election.

No, the newspaper appears quite content to do a follow-up story on the closeness of the race between Zimmerlink and Lohr, two Republicans, by contacting the chairman of the Democratic Party, Fred L. Lebder.

Lebder is a political legend whose insights are worth seeking on any topic. But the real story here involves Republicans and the county Republican Party. Someone should give them a call.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The case for Angela Zimmerlink

In Tuesday’s election for Fayette County commissioner, only one candidate can lay undisputed claim to owing no one anything -- and that candidate is Republican Angela Zimmerlink.

That’s because Zimmerlink’s only campaign contributions have come from herself and her husband Tom. In an age where money matters immensely in politics, Zimmerlink has never accepted any campaign cash from outside her immediate family.

She’s won twice doing it that way -- and here in the patch, we think that her refusal to accept campaign cash is a powerful reason to keep Zimmerlink in office. This policy allows her to make decisions in the best interest of the county, without regard to politics. You can bet she won’t get any phone calls from someone seeking to cash in some chips, in terms of a board appointment, a contract, a hire, or any other sort of favorable treatment.

Let’s be brutally frank here: Does anyone think that campaign contributions -- especially hefty ones -- do not come with invisible strings attached? Do campaign contributors throw thousands of dollars your way because they think you’re a good guy?

However noble, Zimmerlink’s policy places her at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to such things as advertising and paying poll workers, two staples of the Fayette County political dynamic. Still, voters have twice elected her to the commissioners office -- and we hope they have the wisdom to do it again.

According to the story, “$70,000 spent on Fayette’s race for commissioner,” of Nov. 3, 2011, Democrat Vince Zapotosky was the big kahuna when it comes to raking in other peoples’ money. Zapotosky pulled in $24,717 in the reporting period that ended Oct. 28.

Democrat Al Ambrosini got $17,600 in new contributions, and Republican Dave Lohr received $11,750.

Zimmerlink and her husband contributed $1,310 to her campaign. In the reporting period, Zapotosky raised nearly 19 times as much money as Zimmerlink, Ambrosini 13.4 times as much, and Lohr nearly 9 times as much. (That gross imbalance is likely to get worse when the candidates file their post-election reports, which cover campaign contributions raised and spent AFTER Oct. 28.)

In analyzing Lohr’s numbers, what popped out at us was this: Of the $11,750 he raised according to, $5,500 came from two people named Terrance Shallenberger, another $4,800 came Lohr’s way from Sean Miller of Washington Security Group, and yet another $3,400 was put into Lohr’s campaign by Neil Brown of Acme.

(In the “Can you trust what you read?” department, we think someone ought to buy a calculator, or give its reporters a refresher course in basic math, because the Shallenbergers, Miller and Brown contributions alone add up to $13,700, which is $2,000 more than the $11,750 the newspaper reported that Lohr raised. In any case, those three contributors provided the backbone of Lohr‘s campaign financing.)

Inaccurate numbers aside, would this happen to be the same Terrance Shallenberger who is a member of the Fayette County Airport Authority, or whose company is heavily involved in the Marcellus gas industry operating here (think “frackwater treatment plant, Masontown Borough“)? Would this happen to be the same Sean Miller whose company is embroiled in a zoning dispute over a shooting range near Laurel Mall? Would this be the same Neil Brown who is a member of the Fayette County Zoning Hearing Board?

According to, Zapotosky received $1,000 each from John and Justin Garlow of Uniontown (would this be the same John Garlow who owns Ford Business Machines, which has the county copy machine contract?), $1,100 from Fred and Rhonda Zeigler of Uniontown (the same couple who are trying to purchase Great Meadows Amphitheater property from the county?), and $3,500 from Terrance Shallenberger.

Ambrosini also got $2,000 from Terrance Shallenberger and $1,000 from John Garlow, in addition to $1,000 each from Robert W. Sleighter of Uniontown and Terry E. McMillan of Uniontown (who are each affiliated with engineering firms, if memory serves us correctly.)

There is nothing wrong or improper with any of these contributions, which are allowable by law. But if and when the county commissioners ever have to make a decision involving these or any other contributors, or any of the interests they represent, the fact that they contributed money could be interpreted, well, as a contributing factor in those outcomes.

That will never be an issue, real or imagined, with Zimmerlink. And we like that very much.

Friday, November 4, 2011

What do you mean by a 'united front'?

There's a paragraph in the election preview story, "Candidates running own campaigns," (Amy Revak, Oct. 16, 2011) that we really wish the newspaper had followed up on.

It reads:

Lohr said the three commissioners on the board need to present a united front, even if they despise each other personally.

Given the propensity for government entities to have meetings before the real meetings, to cut deals away from the public spotlight and, especially in Fayette County, to tamp down or eliminate dissension (which can also mean tamp down or eliminate opposition), we wonder what Lohr means -- and what this approach would mean for the concept of open government.

For example, if there is an issue on which he disagrees with the other commissioners, would Lohr be prone to say, "You know, I disagree with you 100 percent on this matter -- so much so that I despise you personally. Now let's get out there in the public meeting and present a united front!"

We certainly hope that would not be the case, because if it were, the public would end up being the big loser. There's a reason the system is structured so that one minority party commissioner is elected, and that reason is to prevent complete one-party dominance. The minority voice can be very effective in policy debate -- but only if that voice is raised. In public.

We wonder how Lohr's stated philosophy would have played back in the late 1990s, when he felt that voter fraud at personal care homes had contributed to his 1995 election loss and was a blight that needed eradicated. Lohr took a great personal interest in the voter fraud investigation matter, which at the time was being single-handidily pushed by Democrat commissioner Sean Cavanagh, who most certainly was not presenting a "united front" with fellow commissioners Harry Albert (Republican) and Vince Vicites (Democrat).

In short, without a county commissioner who was more interested in seeing justice done than in presenting a united front, there would not have been any uncovering of absentee ballot voter fraud at a large personal care home. Lohr was very much in Cavanagh's corner on that one, and Cavanagh's two terms as county commissioner are very much the antithesis of any "united front."

It would have been great if, which champions the need for open government, had asked for, and provided to, its readers a fuller explanation of Lohr's "united front" comment. On face value, it's a pretty strong statement about how one intends to approach the job. And in our view, not a very good one.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why Zapotosky would prefer Lohr

In the race for Fayette County commissioner, two candidates (Democrat Vince Zapotosky and Republican Angela Zimmerlink) are known quantities, while the other two (Democrat Al Ambrosini and Republican Dave Lohr) are unknown quantities.

Zapotosky and Zimmerlink are incumbents, so those who vote for them on Nov. 8 are pretty sure what they are getting. Zapotosky has been commission chairman the past four years, during which he and his primary election running mate, Democrat Vince Vicites, ran county government as they saw fit.

Zimmerlink has completed two terms in office, and formerly served on the board of the Fayette County Housing Authority, although in the past four years she's been relegated to a minority voice in the commissioners' suite as Zapotosky and Vicites ran the show.

Generally speaking, with Zapotosky and Zimmerlink, you have a pretty good idea what they're going to be like if returned to office. More importantly, each of them has a pretty good idea of what they're getting if returned to office with the other. (Remember that point, because we'll be revisiting it shortly.)

Ambrosini is a newcomer to elected office, but the fact that he was top vote-getter in the Democratic primary speaks volumes about what Democrats felt about the direction Zapotosky and Vicites had taken the county. Given that Zapotosky and Vicites ran as a team, it's a pretty fair assumption that since Vicites got the boot and Ambrosini got the most votes, Democrats wanted a change in direction, and pinned their hopes on Ambrosini to deliver it.

Lohr, who also has never held elected office, got the fewest number of votes of the four primary election survivors, but it was enough to keep him in the game. Lohr's unsuccessfully tried for this office three times before; the closest he came was in 1999, when he formed an independent team with former commissioner Sean Cavanagh. That year, it was the long coattails of Cavanagh that Lohr nearly rode into office.

Here in the patch, we've heard the scuttlebutt about Zapotosky and Lohr running a shadow campaign as silent partners, a theory that bears watching given the preponderance of their campaign signs placed side-by-side throughout the county.

So we placed a few calls to our political friends in other patches, trying to find out the answer to one simple question: Why would Zapotosky want to see Lohr elected?

The answer came back in two parts. The more obvious one is that Zapotosky would like to be rid of Zimmerlink, who is among the most informed and savvy commissioners in recent history. She has been, and will continue to be, a formidable voice on policies that she agrees or disagrees with -- which might not always be the same policies that Zapotosky agrees or disagrees with.

But the second answer is one we felt compelled to share with our readers, because even we hadn't thought of it: If Zapotosky can lay claim to having helped Lohr get elected, or even if Lohr believes Zapotosky had something to do with it, guess who becomes the main power broker and likely chairman of the commission? Zapotosky.

If Zimmerlink is elected instead of Lohr, it keeps Zapotosky, at best, the junior partner in a Democratic alliance with Ambrosini; at worst, Zapotosky becomes the minority commissioner on some issues, such as appointments to boards and authorities. In short, in an Ambrosini-Zapotosky-Zimmerlink administration, Zapotosky could end up as the odd man out.

But if Lohr is elected instead of Zimmerlink, especially if he is elected with the help of Zapotosky and/or his Democratic supporters, or he thinks he was, Lohr becomes Bob Jones to Zapotosky's Fred Lebder, and Ambrosini becomes the possible odd man out even if he is the top vote getter Nov. 8.

Don't ya just love all this inside baseball?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The new Harry Albert

The question everyone here in the patch is asking themselves -- and one we hope you are asking, too -- is this: Why is Republican challenger Dave Lohr running against fellow Republican incumbent Angela Zimmerlink for Fayette County commissioner, instead of against Democrats Vincent Zapotosky or Al Ambrosini?

The only plausible answer, of course, is that Lohr recognizes that given the Democrats' huge voter registration edge, there's only room for one Republican to sit at the Fayette County commissioner table. And the independent insurance salesman Lohr, who's failed in three previous attempts to secure the job, has no problem casting party unity aside if it finally benefits his ascension to the office.

Here in the patch, where we pride ourselves on having a little bit of political insight, it's plain to see that Lohr is quite willing to suit up as the new Harry Albert, the former Republican commissioner who was often the subject of Lohr's ire, back in the days when Lohr was railing against the county establishment rather than snuggling up to it.

Back in 2003, when Lohr was wearing his own clothes, he said this about then-competitor Joe Hardy: "I'm going to beat him," says Lohr, 46, who ran for commissioner in 1995 and 1999. "He can bring his money to the table all he wants, but this election's going to be won by sweat and hard work by the candidates."

The same primary election story that appeared in the Herald-Standard on March 26, 2003, entitled, "GOP hopes for political rebound in May primary," contains these continguous paragraphs:

Lohr also believes that Hardy was put in the race to "to knock me out," because back in 1995 he told the county political powers that he wasn't "buyable" as a candidate. Lohr predicts that if Hardy were elected, he would resign shortly thereafter, paving the way for appointment of a "hand-picked puppet" who would do the bidding of the old-guard political establishment.

Lohr also believes that Hardy was inserted into the race as a complement to one of the Democrat challengers, with hopes that electing both of them would return political power to the old guard.

It was Dave Lohr who once proclaimed that he wasn't "buyable" as a candidate, Dave Lohr who scoffed at Hardy for bringing all his money to the table, and Dave Lohr who warned against a "hand-picked puppet" and of a Republican running as a complement to a Democrat in order for the old guard to retain power.

With that curriculum vitae, it makes perfect sense that Dave Lohr, version 2011, would choose to unveil billboards and newspaper advertisements that show him shaking hands with ... Joe Hardy?

My, how the worm has turned. If Hardy is such a strong supporter of Lohr, why didn't they roll out this ad campaign back in 2003, instead of running against each other? Back then Lohr, based on his comments, wasn't too interested in shaking Hardy's hand, unless he intended to squeeze it hard enough for old Joe to reveal the name of his "hand-picked puppet."

Hardy certainly wasn't interested in shaking Lohr's hand in 2003, or in either of the other two times Lohr ran for commissioner and lost. If Hardy were interested in pressing the flesh with Lohr, he would have decorated the county's FACT buses with the handshake photo, instead of those garish historical scenes and painted-over windows.

As for Lohr's 2003 warning that Hardy was in the commissioners' race as a complement to a Democrat, we think that same trend is relevant today. And it's not Zimmerlink that we're concerned about.

Before anyone goes all ga-ga over Hardy's visual endorsement of Lohr, it is important to ask one question: What is a Hardy-endorsed Lohr going to do for Fayette County that Hardy himself could not do in four years as county commissioner? Hardy was swept into office with high hopes that he would use his business acumen and connections to turn the county around, at least economically.

That never happened. Not even close.

The biggest thing remaining from Hardy's tenure as a county commissioner is the controversial renaming of the county airport to the Joseph A. Hardy/Connellsville Airport.

Perhaps Lohr can build on that legacy, and they can change the name again, this time to the Dave Lohr/Joseph A. Hardy/Connellsville Airport.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The newspaper that asks no questions

For the record, not one person here in the patch believes the Herald-Standard newspaper (which goes by the fancier-sounding nowadays) is going to endorse incumbent Fayette County commissioner Angela Zimmerlink for re-election on Nov. 8.

Zimmerlink's fate was sealed the day last year when she had the audacity to question the appropriateness of using $60,000 worth of county tourism tax money -- which is supposed to go toward promoting tourism in the county -- to launch Fayette TV. That move threw a financial lifeline to the old HSTV operation, which had turned into the newspaper's own white elephant.

Let us be perfectly honest here, if a bit R-rated: On that day, Zimmerlink earned a spot on the newspaper's shit list, from which we believe she will never recover. How she was treated in print on Friday, Oct. 28 bears out this theory.

On that day, the Herald-Standard ran two stories based on what transpired at the prior day's commission meeting. The story that the newspaper -- and this would include its editors -- judged worthy of the bottom of page B-1 (an inside section) was titled, "Commissioners move toward finalizing amphitheater lease agreement." It dealt with the latest maneuvering surrounding the Great Meadows Amphitheater, which is the county's white elephant equivalent of HSTV.

The other story, which the newspaper and its editors decided to run on A-1 (that would be the front page, where the most important stories go), was headlined, "Official grilled on web postings." It dealt with accusations made during public comment, accusations made against Zimmerllink by one Tanya Cellurale, accusations that Zimmerlink correctly characterized as "pre-election banter." Coming a well-timed 11 days before the election, how could this be anything but that?

In this "story," readers learned the following: Tanya Cellurale claimed that Zimmerlink, during work hours, went on to a local chat room-style web site and posted comments that she found derogatory. Cellurale said she knew this because she had figured out Zimmerlink's "I.P. address," which is computer lingo for Internet Protocol address, which is a means to uniquely identify a person's computer. (Zimmerlink rebutted this claim, noting she "did not do anything on county time on county computers.")

But if you think the name "Cellurale" has a familiar ring to it, you're on to our next point, which is what the "story" conveniently failed to mention: Tanya Cellurale is part of the ongoing Cellurale-Kriss land dispute in Dunbar Township, involving the Meason House owned by the Krisses and any number of businesses owned by the Cellurale family. Tanya Cellurale was/is also related to Marilyn Cellurale, who ran against Zimmerink in this year's Republican primary. (Yes, the same Republican Marilyn Cellurale who received a campaign contribution from Joseph Bezjak, the uncle of incumbent Democrat Commissioner Vincent Zapotosky, whose campaign signs are now doting the landscape in tandem with those of Republican candidate Dave Lohr, whose explanation is a quaint "different people like different candidates.")

It would take a whole blog post to further explain the clashes and entanglements of the Cellurales and Krisses, and of the political and legal machinizations that have become part of that saga. Suffice it to say that no one named Cellurale is about to put a Zimmerlink sign in their yard any time soon.

Back to the Oct. 28 "story": If reporter Amy Revak and her editors at the Herald-Standard found Tanya Cellurale's accusations to be newsworthy, and if they did not feel they were being used on the eve of an election, and even if they decided it was OK to be used and opted to play along just for some Zimmerlink-slapping fun, why didn't they do some basic shoeleather reporting to at least make the effort appear credible?

Why didn't Revak ask, or why didn't her editors make her ask, Tanya Cellurale to provide the I.P. address that she claimed was Zimmerlink's? Why didn't the newspaper then ask Zimmerlink or the county Information Technology folks to provide the I.P. address used by her work computer? After all that would be public information, right?

If the numbers did not match, it would prove that Tanya Cellurale had leveled a false accusation.

Even if the numbers matched, that wouldn't necessarily prove that Zimmerlink had used a county computer to make website postings, or that she had done so on county time. That would take a little more newspaper investigation to corroborate, and we're not sure that anyone on the payroll is up to that task.

But if the numbers indeed matched -- and we're betting they would not -- a pressing immediate question would be: How did Tanya Cellurale get her hands on what should be proprietary county information? Did someone at the county level give her the I.P. address of Zimmerlink's work computer, or was Tanya Cellurale able to find out sensitive county computer information as a regular citizen?

We seriously doubt that anyone outside the courthouse could get their hands on something like an I.P. address, or that someone who wasn't politically motivated would even care to. We'll leave it to you to theorize on who could obtain such information from within (or authorize its release), and who could benefit from its use as a political tool.

Monday, October 24, 2011

When did Lohr turn this corner?

Here in the patch, we decided to take a trip in the time machine (they store it in the fire hall, in front of the new pumper truck) after reading "Candidates running own campaigns," a pre-election story by on Oct. 16.

This supposed "news" of this story was that none of the four candidates for Fayette County commissioner in the Nov. 8 election -- Democrats Al Ambrosini and Vince Zapotosky, and Republicans Angela Zimmerlink and Dave Lohr -- had created a cross-party alliance with any other.

The implication of an Ambrosini-Zimmerlink alliance, which represents dirty politics at its best, dates back to the primary election, when it became readily apparent that Ambrosini's nascent first-time candidacy was going to knock off one of the two Democratic incumbents, Zapotosky or his running mate Vincent Vicites. (In the patch, we always ask ourselves, "Who had the most to gain?" when trying to figure out where political rumors get started.)

After we cruised down Route 119 and the median looked like someone had planted "Lohr" and "Zapotosky" signs instead of trees and flowers, it seemed pretty logical to ask them about the alliance question, too.

All four candidates denied forming any team, but Lohr's explanation in particular caused us to tilt out head sideways and let out a long, "Hmmmmm."

Here's the passage:

While Lohr, a self-employed insurance and investment agent, said there was a recent sign blitz placing his signs with Zapotosky's, that was the decision of the people placing the signs.

"Different people like different candidates," Lohr said.

In the same story, also reported this little tidbit:

Lohr said the three commissioners on the board need to present a united front, even if they despise each other personally.

Let's get this straight: The same Dave Lohr who relentlessly pounded former Republican Commissioner Harry Albert over the voter fraud issue after Albert beat him in 1995 is now preaching that a "united front" is needed in that offfice?

The same Dave Lohr who ran an an independent team for commissioner in 1999, forming a bonafide alliance with rock'em, sock'em incumbent commissioner Sean Cavanagh, now extolls the virtues of a "united front" among the three folks guiding the county?

Our trip in the wayback machine led us to March 26, 2003, when Lohr, then mounting his third unsuccessful candidacy for county commissioner, was saying some quite different things in a Herald-Standard story called, "GOP hopes for political rebound in May primary."

That was the year resident gazilllionaire Joe Hardy came down from the mountain, literally, to run for county commissioner as the odds-on-favorite Republican. Interestingly, Lohr did not have such a doe-eyed view of county politics back then. Here's what he was saying:

... "I'm going to beat him," says Lohr, 46, who ran for commissioner in 1995 and 1999. "He can bring his money to the table all he wants, but this election's going to be won by sweat and hard work by the candidates."

Lohr also believes that Hardy was put in the race to "to knock me out," because back in 1995 he told the county political powers that he wasn't "buyable" as a candidate. Lohr predicts that if Hardy were elected, he would resign shortly thereafter, paving the way for appointment of a "hand-picked puppet" who would do the bidding of the old-guard political establishment.

Lohr also believes that Hardy was inserted into the race as a complement to one of the Democrat challengers, with hopes that electing both of them would return political power to the old guard.

Prognostications aside -- Lohr not only didn't beat Hardy, he didn't beat Zimmerlink, either -- he was at least displaying a keener insight into how things really are done in the county.

At least back then he wasn't mouthing inanities like, "Different people like different candidates."

If you expect us to believe that one, we've got some working beehive coke ovens to sell you.

Friday, September 23, 2011

'I will find out what went wrong'

Back in January, when a 15-month-old girl died in Point Marion, in a case where criticism was levied at Fayette County Children and Youth Services, someone had this to say:

"I will assure the people of Fayette County there will be accountability. I will work on it and I will find out what went wrong, and we will do everything we can to hopefully prevent future incidents of this kind."

The person who made that statement to Channel 4 Action News in Pittsburgh, described in its broadcast as "Fayette County's highest elected official," was Commission Chairman Vincent Zapotosky.

Here in the patch, you will recall that back in June, six months after he made that statement, we asked when Zapotosky was going to reveal the results of his investigation. As a commissioner -- and to be fair, he is one of three -- Zapotosky is in charge of all county departments, and the operations of CYS are clearly within his managerial purview.

Last week, Zapotosky and Fayette County CYS were in the news again -- this time, regarding the death of a 4-year-old boy from Springhill Township. As in the first case, CYS is under fire for alleged inaction even though reports of abuse were made to the agency.

Zapotosky was in the news again, this time telling the Tribune-Review his solution will be to seek help from state and federal officials. Note to Zapotosky: It is called the Fayette County CYS, not the U.S. CYS or the Pennsylvania CYS. It is not up to state or federal officials to run this agency, it is up to you, as a county commissioner, to perform that duty.

The same elected official who in January said, "I will work on it and I will find out what went wrong, and we will do everything we can to hopefully prevent future incidents of this kind," apparently did not work on it and did not find out what went wrong. He certainly was unable to prevent future incidents of this kind.

Now, Zapotosky tells the Tribune-Review, "When you bury two children in less than 12 months, it's not a number. It's a crisis."

It was a crisis back in January, too. And it's too bad that no one in the local media was able or willing to ask Zapotosky about the progress of the investigation that he promised to mount nearly nine months ago.

Now, in order to deal with the current crisis, Zapotosky is falling back on an all-too-familiar refrain in Fayette County government. He is blaming budget cuts at higher levels for contributing to the problem. "CYS is under mandated requirements of the state, but we've had cuts in funding. It's created additional hardships on our staffing," he tells the Tribune-Review.

Before you go swallowing that explanation hook, line and sinker, remember that the county commissioners can hire as many CYS staffers as they deem necessary. They don't have to predicate the staffing level based on how much state subsidy they receive for CYS operations.

In the Tribune-Review story, ("Deaths of two Fayette County children declared 'crisis', " Sept. 16), Zapotosky says part of the problem is that fact that CYS has only 20 caseworkers and 900 active cases. That averages out to 45 cases per caseworker. That may be high, low or average. But we don't know because no one in the media has done any comparative analysis of what the average caseload per caseworker is in other counties.

To be fair, CYS has a difficult job. It is possible that nothing could have been done to avert these two tragedies. But when something this tragic happens twice in a span of several months, those seeking a suitable explanation deserve more than a passing of the buck -- and thus any blame -- to the state and federal levels.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wrong direction, again

It looks like some folks in Fayette County have some explaining to do. Like Fayette County commissioners Vince Vicites and Vince Zapotosky, who told us they were "getting things done" when running for re-election earlier this year. Like Fay-Penn Economic Development head honcho Mike Krajovic, who has claimed there are jobs galore but no workers to fill them.

Thanks to today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, we have some interesting new numbers that paint a far less rosey and self-serving picture of where the county really stands.

Here in the patch, where our eyes are always open, they opened even wider as we read in the Post-Gazette that Fayette County has two of the top 10 population LOSERS among Pennsylvania's 203 state House districts. From 2000 to 2010, the 51st district represented by Tim Mahoney lost a little over 8 percent of its people, and the 52nd district represented by Deb Kula lost a little more than 8.5 percent of its people. Those are the ninth- and eighth-highest losses in the state.

Those numbers mean that of 203 House Districts, 194 did better than the two districts covering the vast majority of Fayette County's geographic territory.

On the state senate side, Rich Kasunic's district, which covers all of Fayette County, was the fifth-biggest population loser in Pennsylvania in the last census count, losing nearly 6 percent of its people. So 45 of the state's 50 senate districts are doing better than ours, in the population department.

If you want to see the numbers for youself, the Post-Gazette has a nifty chart that you can view free of charge.

What is striking to us, here in the patch, is that the chart also shows the top 10 population GAINERS. They all happen to be districts held by Republicans in eastern Pennsylvania, with population gains of roughly 20 to 25 percent. They must be doing something different.

We don't know why the Herald-Standard did not have this story first, which is what you would expect from a local paper. But for our money it appears to us the Post-Gazette is becoming the newspaper of record for Fayette County.

That's likely to further upset WMBS radio talk show host Mark Rafail, who prefers to emphasize positives, and who chastized the out-of-town paper for doing a story on the dismissal of his predecessor, Bob Foltz. (Maybe he can divert attention from this story by re-mentioning the spat between the two ice cream truck drivers, or talking about the weather.)

We can't wait to see tomorrow's Herald-Standard story on these numbers, if they even do one at all. And in addition to the perspectives that may be forthcoming from the usual old standbys -- who are sure to blame everybody but themselves -- we would be extremely interested in knowing what some outsiders or electoral challengers have to say.

We have resisted attempts to portray things in a more positive light than is deserving, and this Post-Gazette recitation of facts only enhances our belief that only in la-la-land is Fayette County doing as good as some proponents would have you believe.

A far more accurate appraisal can be found in the Thursday story, "Loan program making $105 million available to homeowners facing foreclosures," (Herald-Standard, Aug. 18)

"As we know in Fayette County, we're already struggling with high poverty and unemployment and a lot of challenges as far as job creation. It's important that we get the word out about this program."

That comes from James Stark, executive director of Fayette County Community Action Agency Inc.

We like his honesty so much, we are making Stark our first Honorary Patch Hunky.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why the sudden change?

Here in the patch, we wish would at least attempt to rescue its shriveling relevency by asking a few questions regarding the sudden shift by Commissioners Vince Zapotosky and Vince Vicites concerning the county's copy machine contract.

Instead of putting the contract out to competitive bids/proposals, as has traditionally been done, we learned on July 27 that the Vinces now want to use a state cooperative purchasing program known as COSTARS. ("Copier contract debated at commissioner meeting," Amy Revak,

What is known, as this point, is that this is all about changing the procurement method used to obtain a service. Instead of using competitive bids/proposals, which generally means the low bidder wins, the Vinces want to switch to picking a company from a preapproved list kept by the state.

What is not known, at this point, is why these two seasoned commissioners, who each have been around long enough to know the various methods for obtaining contracted services, decided to rescind a prior motion to seek competitive bids/proposals and go instead with picking a company from the COSTARS list.

The plot thickens when you read that that, according to a Ford Business Machines representative, his is the ONLY approved copier machine vendor on the COSTARS list. (We find that hard to believe, by the way, and it is something we would like to see checked out.)

What the public should expect a reporter to do is walk across the street to the Fayette County Election Bureau, take 15 minutes to look at the campaign expense reports filed last year by Vicites and Zapotosky, and see if Ford Business Machines founder John Garlow made any contributions to their campaign(s).

If he, or any other known employees of the firm, did that, it certainly would put a different shine on this comment made by Zapotosky: "This is an opportunity to hire local. There's much more to a bottom line than a dollar."

Yes, there is. There are campaign conributions (possibly) -- and there are the votes of the dozen or so Ford Business Machines employees (and their families) who packed the commissioners' meeting on July 26.

The public deserves to know if campaign contributions could be a factor in this equation, don't you think?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Gimme shelter

If you are a single person earning $53,760 a year, or a family of four with annual income of $76,800, would you expect to qualify for subsidized housing in the city of Uniontown? Probably not.

But those are exactly the thresholds to qualify for new houses in the Maple Street Estates complex, being overseen by the Uniontown Redevelopment Authority.

Here in the patch, we were stunned to read in that the first three of these houses are built. They are appraised at $144,000, $136,500 and $135,000, but each of them also apparently qualifies for a $30,000 grant and a $10,000 deferred loan. ("Uniontown Redevelopment Authority approves parking lot sales agreement,", August 10)

That type of subsidy would ostensibly take the price of the $144,000 house to $104,000, the $136,500 house to $96,500, and the price of the $135,000 house to $95,000.

That's a pretty sweet deal -- if you can get it. Who wouldn't like a 27 percent reduction on the fair market value of a new home, even if you are a single person making nearly $54,000 a year, or a family of four making nearly $77,000 a year?

Most single people we know in Fayette County are perfectly able to buy their own home on a salary of $54,000 without a federal subsidy. Same thing for a family of four with $77,000 of household income.

Down the road, we would be just a tad curious to know who these lucky homeowners turn out to be. According to the story, the names of nine people are already on a list being kept by the redevelopment authority.

Here in the patch, we'll lay you 3-1 odds that many, if not most, of these homes end up in the hands of people who have some type of connections. We would love to see inquire about seeing that list, and asking a few question about how the winners of this sweepstakes will be chosen.

After all, this is a project subsidized by the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program and overseen by the Uniontown Redevelopment Authority, so it should all be public information.

Those of you who wonder why the federal government is broke now have part of the answer. It is providing $40,000 subsidies to families with incomes of $77,000, so they can buy $144,000 brand-new homes for $104,000, in a county where many people earning far less are able to buy their own homes in that price range and above.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Show us the (state) money!

At the next Laurel Highlands School District board meeting, we here in the patch hope that someone pulls board member Bill Elias aside and reminds him to stop biting the hand that has fed him.

In his commentary, "Students hurt by budget cuts," (, July 24), Elias railed against the $2 million cut in state subsidy to Laurel Highlands that "Harrisburg imposed."

While Elias correctly recited that Gov. Tom Corbett's budget "drastically short-changed public schools," he failed to make an important distinction when applying the rest of his tar and feathers.

Elias teed off on the legislature in general, ending his commentary with: "I will continue to work tirelessly to garner state support for their fair share of local school budgets. Furthermore, I ask local voters to demand our state political leaders to work tirelessly to ensure a fairer return to local school districts."

As a retired Laurel Highlands school teacher (he taught driver's ed, we hear), Elias surely knows that the Democratic legislators who have represented his school district for time immemoriam have worked tirelessly to bring big state subsidies to the district. The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the union representing teachers, is after all a key Democratic constituency.

And Elias is surely aware that not one local Democrat, in the senate or house, voted in favor of this year's state budget, largely out of protest over the cuts to education. But those Democrats are seriously outnumbered by Republicans in both chambers -- Republicans from other areas who, apparently, are working tirelessly to curtail the practice of paying for their own schools AND those like Laurel Highlands.

A May 19 news story noted that Corbett's proposed budget cut Laurel Highland's state subsidy by $2.2 million, or 9 percent. But when we checked the state Department of Education website, we found that Laurel Highlands' basic education subsidy for 2011-12 actually increased 2 percent, or $250,000, to $13 million. (The board still raised property taxes for this year.)

At least some of that state money goes toward allowing Laurel Highlands to enact a policy of paying retirees $100 for each unused sick day. We don't recall Elias speaking out on altering that policy during the recent budget discussion. Could that be because he cashed a pretty hefty check for his own unused sick days when he retired as a teacher?

The state subsidy also has allowed Laurel Highlands, in part, to continue paying family insurance coverage to early retirees until they reach age 65, at a huge cost to the district. We don't recall Elias uttering a public peep about ending this costly practice. Was he a recipient of this perk, as well?

In slightly more than 40 of Pennsylvania's 500 school districts, employees this year agreed to take a one-year pay freeze to save programs and/or avoid tax hikes. Laurel Highlands, which is still getting a pretty hefty state subsidy, was not one of them. Does Elias think it should have been?

After years and years and years of increased state subsidy, all because it qualifies as a "poor" school district, how has all that extra state cash affected the performance of the students that Elias claims are hurt by this year's budget cuts? It is a fair question, but one that few dare to ask.

In student performance on state standardized test scores, Laurel Highlands ranked 425th out of 500 school districts in Pennsylvania, accordng to the Pittburgh Business Times.

That is 75 spots from the bottom, out of 500. We would like to know what Elias' plan is for changing that poor ranking, other than blaming Harrisburg and asking for even more money. There doesn't appear to be any correlation between state subsidy increases and better student test scores.

In an editorial that appeared next to Elias' column, once again called for school districts to adopt anti-nepotism policies. The only public school district in the county that has done so (Frazier) also happens to reside far from the basement when it comes to student test scores.

It is a commendable position to stake out. But it will also never happen. Too many school board members look at you like you're from another planet for even mentioning the topic.

It is easier for them to pass the buck by asking for more state bucks, just like Elias.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Shared sacrifice?

Here in the patch, we couldn't help but feel saddened by the pain conveyed by Uniontown Hospital CEO Paul Bacharach, as conveyed in the un-bylined story, "Uniontown Hospital lays off 25." (July 26, 2011)

Most of these job cuts came in the business, service, maintenance and clerical departments, said Bacharach, who informed the reading public that the cuts were due to reductions in state and federal reimbursements in Medicare and Medicaid.

Those two programs, which provide health insurance for the elderly and the poor, cover a whopping 80 percent of the hospital's patients, said Bacharach. (And while that is a statistic that doesn't seem to jive with all the pronouncements that the county is on the move economically, that's a matter for another day.)

"While we regret being forced to trim our expenses, we simply can't ignore the fact that decisions in Washington, D.C., and Harrisburg have dramatically affected our budget," said Bacharach. " ... we have no choice but to adjust our expenses to be more in line with what hte government decides to pay us for those services."

The fact that this front-page story carried no byline by a reporter is a powerful clue that it was a hospital press release, printed verbatim as submitted by the hospital heirarchy. That is a sad substitute for real news produced by a real reporter.

If a good reporter had been assigned to the story, perhaps they could have added just a little bit of balance and perspective, don't you think? We visited our favorite free website,, which allows you to look at the federal tax reports filed by all nonprofit organizations.

There, we found Uniontown Hospital's tax form for 2009, the last year available online. And under Schedule J, Part II, the listing of highest compensated employees, we found Paul Bacharach.

His total compensation package for 2009, for running a hospital where 80 percent of patients are covered by Medicare and Medicaid, was $507,464. (That's not a misprint; the total is over a half-million dollars.) Here is the breakdown, which you can view yourself if you take the time: base compensation $287,582, other reportable compensation $19,275, retirement and deferred compensation $167,636 and nontaxable benefits $33,153.

Those numbers make it easier for us to understand when Bacharach says that expense reductions are necessary "because we simply can't spend more than we are paid for the services we provide."

At least when it comes to employees at the lower rungs of the pay scale, that appears to be the case.

Bacharach isn't alone in being a highly paid hospital employee. According to the tax form, Steven Handy had a 2009 base compensation of $184,954 and total compensation of $328,442, and William Johnson had a 2009 base of $121,212 and total of $151,931.

Add them up and you have $988,019 going to three top hospital employees in a single year. (And that was two years ago, the last for which the information is available.)

We don't doubt that Uniontown Hospital, and lots of other hospitals, are going through tough times. Nor do we doubt that skilled leaders are needed to steer them through those choppy waters.

But we have serious doubts that in Uniontown Hospital's case, the pain is being shared at all rungs of the employee ladder.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The good old days

In praising the completion of the southern end of the Mon Fayette Expressway, the Herald-Standard brought up a name we here in the patch haven't heard for years: Mike Ellis.

In its July 17 editorial, the paper said: Mike Ellis, former executive editor of the Herald-Standard, in particular, was tireless during his tenure in promoting the benefits of completing the expressway.

In doling out credit and praise, though, the paper also took some time to generically pat itself on the back, noting: We've also been a big backer of the project since its inception and like to think that our support has played a role in its success.

Other people singled out for credit, in addition to Ellis, were state Sens. Richard A. Kasunic and Barry Stout, late U.S. Rep. Frank Mascara and soon-to-be-ex-Commissioner Vince Vicites. (Never mind that it is virtually impossible to find a local elected official in the past 30 years who DID NOT support the expressway with all that he or she had.)

Back to Ellis. We here in the patch had some friends in the grassroots Fayette Expressway Completion Organization (FAECO), including its late chairman Jim Marzullo, both of which played key roles in keeping the highway project alive. (But neither of which got a mention in the editorial.)

We vividly recall those FAECO connections telling us that among the battles Ellis faced as editor was tremendous resistence from within the local political and community establishments. Some of these "leaders" did not think it wise to rock the boat after the project was mothballed during the administration of former Gov. Bob Casey.

Making a stink, and especially a big stink, might mean the road would never be completed, they said. They wanted Ellis to lay low and keep quiet, and stay away from generating what could be perceived as -- gasp! -- negative news.

The most instructive part of this story is that Ellis did not succumb to these pressures. He and our friends Marzullo and FAECO refused to accept the status quo -- and they refused to accept no for an answer.

Because of that stance, today the link to Route 68 in West Virginia is completed, and the Uniontown-Brownsville link will be open shortly. For the first time in history, a limited access, modern highway will run through Fayette County.

But that was in the good old days, when the newspaper was less interested in forming partnerships with the people it is supposed to cover, and more interested in calling it as it was and letting the chips fall where they may.

We will let you decide whether the paper was better under Ellis than it is under his successor. But we know who we would take in any stare-down with the establishment.

Just mail it in

Those seeking facts to support the oft-mouthed contention that Fayette County is "on the move" might want to chew on the list of possible post office closures that came out this week.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette broke down the closure list by county, which enables a quick comparison and analysis. You can check out their chart here:

Forty-eight post offices in the six-county region are being studied for closure, based on an assessment of floor traffic. Floor traffic, as everyone in the patch knows, means people. Fewer people usually means less floor traffic, because if you have to move away get a job, you're buying stamps in North Carolina, not in West Leisenring.

Guess which county is number one on the local post office closure list?
As hapless Marine Gomer Pyle would say: "Surprise, surprise!" It is Fayette County, with 16.

That's twice the number (8) for Washington County, which has a larger population than Fayette.

That's five more than the number (11) for Allegheny County, which has a much larger population than Fayette.

That's a whopping 11 more than the number (5) for Westmoreland County, which has a larger population than Fayette.

In Greene County, which has about one-third of Fayette's population, 7 post offices are slated for closure. In Butler County, where there has been significant population growtth, only one post office is on the hit list.

The Fayette County post offices that could be headed for extinction are: Cardale, Chestnut Ridge, Dickerson Run, East Millsboro, Hibbs, Isabella, Martin, New Geneva, Ronco, West Leisenring, Wickhaven, Downtown Uniontown, Brownfield, Fairhope, Gibbon Glade and Lake Lynn.

Here in our patch (which may or may not be one of those on the list), we do not doubt the need to close inefficent post offices. One look around, or one look at the most recnt census figures, provides all the evidence we need to conclude that when it comes to population, Fayette County is not on an upswing.

Once again, Fayette County leads an unenviable list, on this one ranking number one for slated post office closures. It will be interesting to see how local leaders spin this, if they are asked about it at all. Our guess is that they will come out en masse, calling on U.S. Rep. Mark Critz and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey to ride to the rescue and halt any closures. Or they will attempt to mitigate the bad news by saying that other areas of the county are growing, so stamp-buying has merely shifted elsewhere.

One thing is certain: No one can solve this problem by encouraging people to "buy local." When it comes to stamps and packages, they have already been doing that, and it apparently isn't enough.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Constituent feedback?

Now that state Rep. Tim Mahoney has put forth the big and bold idea of administratively consolidating Fayette County's public school districts, in an attempt to save money, boost academic performance and have greater all-around accountability, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the man he replaced in office is flapping his figurative gums.

Contrary to the wishes of just about everyone here in the patch -- and probably outside it, too -- Larry Roberts just won't go away. Maybe he dislikes Mahoney for defeating him in his comeback attempt, maybe he fears that his own 14-year legacy of do-littleness pales in comparison, or maybe he's jealous that Mahoney is showing leadership the likes of which he could never muster. (You're not going to make any big enemies promoting cable TV for Ohiopyle Borough, one of Roberts' signature accomplishments.)

But we suspect that the duplicitious Roberts thinks Mahoney could be on to something here, and wants to position himself as: A., The guy who can say, "I told you it wouldn't work" if the idea fails; and B. The guy who can say, "I would have done that, too" if the idea pans out.

We base that assessment on Robert's June 19 letter to the editor, "Caution recommended over consolidation study," published in the Herald-Standard. In it, Roberts reminded us of the following:

When I was a Representative in the General Assembly, I surveyed my district several times a year with mail-in questionnaires. I also held regular town meetings across the district each year. All this was designed to learn what my constituents wanted and needed. It also provided a way for my constituents to let me know how me and my staff were doing.

Several of his surveys included questions about school consolidation, said Roberts, and it was the topic of some of his town meetings. Personally, Roberts said, he felt consolidation was a "good idea," but when it was "overwhelmingly rejected" by survey respondents and town meeting participants, he didn't pursue the topic.

Had I received feedback suggesting my constituents favored school consolidation, I would have provided the information to the county commissioners, wrote Roberts in his letter. (We don't know why he would have given this to the county commissioners, who are politically impotent in such things since the state Department of Education and local school boards would be the big players on this.)

Not surprisingly, Roberts has already prejudged the study being spearheaded by Mahoney, saying he is "opposed to a study designed to convince us that we should consolidate school districts." (Never mind that Mahoney only wants the study to focus on the feasibility of consolidating the ADMINISTRATIVE functions of the county school districts.)

But we're very glad that Roberts is reminding us of how keen he was on getting constituent feedback, through mailed surveys (at taxpayer expense) and town hall mettings, and how he used it as a guiding principle during his tenure as a state representative.

Thus, we look foward to his next letter to the editor, where he can explain how that modus operandi helped guide him through some other tough decisions.

We are certain, for example, that before voting in favor of the 2005 midnight pay raise, Roberts surveyed his constituents, who overwhelmingly told him, "Take the money, Larry -- you deserve it. Just don't spend it all in one place."

When his then-wife got a job with the Laurel Highlands School Board, igniting a controversy that included allegations of Roberts throwing around his weight as a state legislator in order to get her hired, we're sure another constituent survey was conducted. The question probably was, "What criteria do you think school districts should use in hiring teachers?" and the choices likely were: A. Best qualified;, B. Relative of a school board member; or C. Relative of mine.

When Mahoney was first running against Roberts, we can imagine the town hall meeting where a constituent jumped up and said, "We don't want a two-man race, Larry. We insist that a 20-year-old carpet installer with a well-known last name be in the race, too, even if he is a high school dropout. Offer to pay him $100 bucks if you have to. The people have spoken!"

And it was probably at another town hall meeting where Roberts got the idea to appeal the tax assessment on his expensive new home, a move that started a chain reaction that led to Fayette County's first property reassessmentn in 40 years. We can picture the constituent feedback at that scene: "Forget about tax relief for us, Larry; take care of yourself first!" ... "I have been wondering about that 1958 rate book myself, but never got around to asking about it. Thanks for reminding me, Larry!" ... "I don't mind paying more, Larry, as long as I know that you're paying less!"

We don't know whether Mahoney's idea is a good one or not, but we are willing to wait for the study results and add them to the mix before we ultimately decide.

But we don't need to wait even a second to know that when Roberts starts talking, the BS machine is kicking into high gear.