Friday, November 1, 2013

Getting smoked ...

Note to the Herald-Standard:
Liz Zemba and the Greensburg Tribune-Review are kicking your ass on this story.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Kudos, sort of ...

We'll be kind and give the Herald-Standard and reporter Patty Yauger some credit for the Sept. 4 front-page story, "Fayette advances prison plans." At least they notified the public of what was likely already published in the classified advertising section regarding the full-court press being put on by supporters of building a new Fayette County Prison.

The first paragraph of Yauger's story is the highlight: Fayette County commissioners have yet to take offical action as to whether a new prison will be built or a temporary women's detention annex be leased, but a recent advertisement for architectural and engineering services indicates a timeline for both projects.

The story's all downhill from there.

Twenty paragraphs later, the reader is told this: The bid opening for engineering and architectural services for both projects is to take place at 3 p.m. Oct. 3 in the commissioners' meeting room. A contract is to be awarded following the opening of bids.

"A contract is to be awarded following the opening of bids" is listed at the end of the story? Somebody -- perhaps new executive editor Mike Palm -- needs to give Yauger a primer on writing in the inverted pyramid style, where the most important information is position at the top of the story.

Seems to us that if someone plans to award a contract immediately after opening the bids, on a project that could cost $30 million, they're not -- to use a favorite phrase of former Commissioner Vince Vicites -- performing their "due diligence."

The engineering and architectural work is being soliciated by a method known as "request for qualifications," so they aren't really bids at all. Yauger should know that. By using what's known as an "RFQ," the commissioners (or more than likely, a majority of the board) can award the contract to any firm they want. Price won't matter one bit.

The problem is, RFQs require study. Or at least they should. They are basically a glorified resume, telling a prospective employer what kinds of similar work the firm has done, the size and experience of its staff, etc. It is then up to the prospective employer -- in this case, Fayette County -- to sift through those qualifications and come up with a winner.

Opening the envelopes and picking a winner right away smells very much like that winner has already been determined, does it not? It's sort of like crowning Miss America before you have the swimsuit and talent competitions.

Here's the biggest criticism we have of this story: Yauger didn't pick up the phone, as far as we are aware, to call a single person for comment.

Wouldn't you think that advertising for architectural and engineering services, with the planned award of a contract on Oct. 3, is a pretty strong indication that at least two of the three county commissioners are pretty commited to building a new prison, even though they've taken no official action?

Fact is, all three commissioners should have been called for comment on this one. It's a big project, one that carries a significant amount of public debt, and if you read the story you'll see an awful lot of scope-of-work details from the RFQ.

It sure sounds like someone has decided they are taking official action on building a new prison. And when it comes down to brass tacks, it isn't the prison working group or the National Institute of Corrections who are making that decision on Oct 3, although they are being heavily used to soften the beach.

It's the county commissioners. Or at least it's two of three of them.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Today's story is brought to you by ...

Here in the patch, we're waiting with baited breath for Herald-Standard executive editor Mark O'Keefe to explain in an upcoming column why a prominent local law firm was credited in a full-page advertisement with being the sponsor of his newspaper's five-part series on the Fayette County Prison.

(You can see it for yourself, on page B-8 of the Friday, August 9 edition.)

It will be staring back at you, in black and white: "Herald-Standard Investigates: Behind the Prison Walls ... Sponsored by Davis and Davis, attorneys at law."

This is the first time that we know of -- and perhaps the first time in recorded history -- that the Herald-Standard has had, or felt the need to have, a sponsor for a news story it should be doing anyway.

O'Keefe, as long-time readers will recall, has publicly staked out his position on ethics as pertains to journalism. We refer, once again of course, to his forceful Dec. 5, 2010 column entitled, "Ethics issues taken seriously."

His words of that time included: "It's paramount that our newsroom maintains its independence and covers stories objectively."

O'Keefe might be able to defend that his charges still cover stories objectively, but we can imagine a lot of stammering and stuttering as he attempts to explain -- verbally or in writing -- how acceptance of a "sponsor" for a series of news stories falls in line with maintaining newsroom independence.

According to the Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics, journalists are to "Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two."

Surely, O'Keefe must recognize the problems inherent in accepting -- and then openly promoting -- a sponsor for a news story. It opens up the newspaper to a whole host of questions, including whether its coverage is for sale.

What's next? Will we see famed local auctioneer Wylie Rittenhouse standing in front of 8-18 East Church Street, yelling, "I got 50 bucks for the city council story, do I hear 55?"

We bet even O'Keefe cannot be happy about this. But it falls to him to do the explaining.

Friday, July 19, 2013

And the sites are ...

Here in the patch, we got word a few weeks ago that the prime site for any new Fayette County Prison was going to be the Joe Hardy Connellsville Airport.

Based on two recent stories in the Tribune-Review, we are now prepared to say that our source has pretty good insight.

First came a story noting that the airport authority has a $100,000 operating deficit, which could swell by another $50,000 in the next six months.

"We have to figure out ways to increase our income and reduce our expenses," was the assessment from airport board chairman Fred Davis. "We have been working diligently to turn our financial situation around."

Then came today's story, in which Fayette County Commission Chairman (and Davis pal) Al Ambrosini revealed the three sites named finalists by the "prison working group" put on the task by Ambrosini and fellow Democratic commissioner Vincent Zapotosky.

Those sites are: A 100-acre parcel in Georges Township near Route 43, owned by Scott and Allen Whyel of Farmington and available for $850,000; a 30-acre parcel at the Joseph A. Hardy Connellsville Airport in Dunbar Township, available for lease at $35,000 a year; and a 77-acre site on the county's fairgrounds in Dunbar Township.

We're pretty sure we can save Abrosini and Zapotosky at least part of the $24,000 they agreed to spend to study the prison issue.

First off, who in their right mind would include the Fayette County Fairgounds on any such list? Ever been to that location in, say, the last week of July or the first week of August, when the county's biggest event is being held? Traffic is a nightmare, and the state police are required to help a steady stream of drivers get onto and off of Route 119. In the event of any type of emergency at the prison, the potential travel delay would be unacceptable.

And we won't even go into how fairgoing parents might feel about sending their children to the fair when dangerous prisoners are potentially being transported along the road leading past the fair's immense parking lot (which, by the way, would make an excellent place to hide or get lost in the crowd in an escape attempt).

Here's how we predict this playing out: It comes down to buying the $850,000 Whyel property versus the $35,000 airport rental. And the logic will be that it makes better sense to pay the $35,000 rental to the cash-strapped (and mismanaged) airport authority, because at that rate it will take 24 years to get to $850,000.

And someone will throw in, for good measure, the argument that this financially helps the airport, while representing further growth along the Route 119 corridor.

We still have this question, though: If a 30-acre parcel at the airport is in the running, why would the "prison working group" need to include a 100-acre parcel (the Whyel property) on its list of finalists?

Why would you buy 70 more acres than you need, for any project? The asking price for the Whyel property is $8,500 an acre, so buying 30 acres would cost only $255,000.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Will it ever end?

We had a few insights after reading "Investigation still ongoing," the May 31, 2013 commentary in the Herald-Standard authored by Harry Fike, the Fayette County Housing Authority chairman.

Fike commemorated the one-year anniversary of the purported May 30, 2012 discovery of a packet of information at a Uniontown area restaurant by informing the public that, "Each day we get a little closer to solving this mystery."

Really? At this rate, Haley's Comet will fly past Earth two or three times by the time the "mystery" is solved.

One thing the investigation has apparently uncovered thus far is a problem with mathematics. Originally, the reported word was that three waitresses at the restaurant where housing authority board member Beverly Beal, former housing authority finance director Sonya Over and Fayette County Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink had lunch saw the trio with the aforementioned packet.

Now, a year later, we have Fike noting, "Plus, two or three waitresses said our county commissioner, Mrs. Zimmerlink, was there viewing them along with a member of the housing authority board, Mrs. Beal, and a former housing authority employee."

Maybe if we wait another year, we'll be told that the case is close to being solved because "one or two" unnamed waitresses definitely saw what transpired.

Fike says the case involves "confidential records" that were "found lying on a restaurant table" and it "is not closed by any means."

We've written about this before, back in August, when the case was only three months old.

Another nine months have elapsed, and all Fike has to put on the table is "every day we get a little closer" ?

That's not saying much for the skills of the private investigator hired to get to the bottom of this, who's been paid several thousand dollars. After 12 months, perhaps Fike and the housing authority should turn to someone who can get better results.

That logic assumes, however, that the utlimate goal is closing the books on this one. And, politics being what it is, you've got to leave room to at least acknowledge that maybe a final resolution, one way or the other, isn't the ultimate goal.

Maybe the goal is to keep the innuendo-based issue alive, heading into the next county commissioner election, so that attempts can be made to disparage Zimmerlink without any proof of wrongdoing or misbehavior on her part.

Much like the Whitewater investigation was used to disparage and tie up President Bill Clinton, perhaps Packetgate has far more value as a political than a criminal tool.

There's one way to make certain that doesn't happen. All it takes is for the Pennsylvania state police and or Fayette County District Attorney Jack Heneks to charge someone with a crime -- or to say the case is closed because of lack of evidence.

If neither of those things happen -- and soon -- the theory of playing politics gains stature and the circle susceptible to that criticism grows.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Help wanted

If we're supposed to "buy local," shouldn't this job opening be in the Herald-Standard classifieds?

Newspaper Executive Editor Uniontown PA 
Posted: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 8:37 am

Fast-paced, family-owned multi-platform publishing company (SUN circ 22,500) in Southwestern PA seeks forward-thinking Executive Editor, committed to providing smart, indispensable, accessible and timely content across a variety of platforms.

This hands-on position is responsible for the day-to-day direction of reporters, web producers and independent content providers, within management’s established vision and financial parameters.

Effective communication with all levels of decision-makers and industry peers is an ongoing and vital function of the position.

The successful candidate must be committed to sustaining and improving existing print products while leading the way in digital innovations and overseeing the creation of innovative online tools and features.

A journalism degree or equivalent work experience is required. A high level of comfort with social media is an asset.

A proven record of successful leadership in deadline-driven journalism and solid news judgment skills are essential. Concern for our organization’s circulation, audience and advertising as they merge with delivery of news and information are a must.

Candidates meeting these criteria are encouraged to submit resumes to Karen Tweardy at8 East Church Street, Uniontown PA 15401 or

Monday, May 13, 2013

Missing the boat

Today’s front-page story, “Election expert says overzealous supporters can harm campaign” (Herald-Standard, May 13), not only misses the boat, it’s in a totally wrong harbor.
Where is the news in telling the public that in the heat of a political campaign, volunteers may violate a law or a policy on behalf of their favored candidate?
If the Herald-Standard considers that to be a big news flash, there’s a serious lack of real-world insight in that building.
This one-source story, quoting a Harrisburg attorney, goes to great pains to explain the obvious. It also implies strongly that two volunteers for the campaign of judicial candidate Douglas Sepic – one of whom used a Laurel Highland School district fax machine to send out campaign-related material, and the other an Albert Gallatin Area School district teacher who sent home some type of vote-for-Sepic letter with her students – fit in the “overzealous” category.
This Harrisburg attorney, further identified as an “election expert,” is quoted as saying that local campaigns, whether for a borough council seat or a judicial seat, are “complex.”
While running a campaign may be complex, it is pretty simple to figure out what the real stories should be here.
The real story is not, and should not be, about judicial candidate Douglas Sepic. Although there may be some degree of guilt by association or insinuation, we’ll give you that he cannot be held responsible for everything that his supporters (and maybe his non-supporters) may do on his behalf.
Taken to extreme ridiculousness, if a guy robbed a liquor store while wearing a “Vote for Sepic” button on his lapel and drove away in a car with a “Vote for Sepic” bumper sticker, would or should that have any real bearing on Sepic, personally or professionally?  
No, the real thrust of Herald-Standard follow up should be probing the two incidents that have come to light, neither of which directly involves Douglas Sepic.
First up: The reported use of a LH fax machine by Melvyn Sepic, Douglas Sepic’s father who just so happens to be a member of the LH school board. We still don’t know how many faxes were sent, if this was an isolated incident, or if it is common practice for LH board members (not just M. Sepic) to use public resources for personal or political business.
We don’t know what, if any, measures are being taken to punish M. Sepic. And we sure don’t know if this rises to the level of something serious, such as an ethics, school board or crimes code violation. Wouldn’t it make sense to call some experts in those fields, to gain their perspectives? (Or call the other eight LH school board members?)
Next up: The use of AG students as political pack mules. All we know is that a teacher was reportedly suspended for this activity. But we still don’t know this teacher’s name, or whether she’s back to work, or whether she has appealed the suspension, or whether such activity violates the school code. Again, how hard would it be to find some experts in this area to get some perspectives? (Or call the nine AG school board members?)
We can’t really fault AG for not releasing the name, because we’re not even certain they’ve been asked to do that. You’d think that a news reporter would make asking for the name the first order of business; this is, after all, a public employee being paid for by tax dollars. If the district has a legitimate and legal reason for not releasing the name, we would love to hear it.
A prior Herald-Standard story made mention that D. Sepic does have relatives working in the AG district. It makes a world of difference if the teacher who distributed a letter on his behalf is or is not a relative of his. If it is, it might lead the public to believe that the teacher was trying to help him win. If it isn’t, the public might conclude that someone was trying to tarnish his name and undermine his campaign.
Instead of stories that involve hard questions in the quest to further examine and illuminate unsavory practices, readers were treated to a piece of fluff as soft as a roll of Charmin. Weeks after they were first reported on, readers still have no idea whether either of these school-related activities even qualifies as a potential crime or ethics violation.
One thing is for sure: You can’t characterize the Herald-Standard as being overzealous in pursuing these two stories.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Why we like Larry

We must admit that we don’t know much about seven of the eight candidates running for the Democratic nomination for Fayette County treasurer in the upcoming primary election.
But we do know a lot about one of them. And that’s why we are wholeheartedly endorsing former State Representative (and self-employed labor arbitrator) Larry Roberts for this position.
(We want to make sure we cover all of our bases, so depending on when you met or knew Larry, our endorsement also covers anyone named Larry Rabbit, Larry Zajac or Larry LaMonica).
In the election preview story “Treasurer candidates discuss post responsibilities,” (Herald-Standard, May 7), Roberts said his qualifications put him at the front of the line.
“My level of responsibility over the years has meaning, and I have served in several levels of responsibility,” Roberts said.
Amen to that. We think you’d be hard-pressed to find a candidate with more experience than Larry Roberts. He’s done it all – and one of the things we like about him is that should he be elected, the people who put him in office won’t be in for any big surprises.
You don’t have to worry about being shocked by a Larry Roberts ethics case. He’s already been hit with a $600 ethics penalty for allowing legislative staff to arrange campaign events in 2001 and again in 2004.
Worried about Larry’s name popping up in connection with allegations of hanky-panky? That’s already happened, in a 2004 Election Board hearing where 20-year-old carpet installer Michael Ciampanelli testified that Roberts agreed to pay him $200 to enter the race for state representative.
Holding off on voting for Larry because you think he might let you down by voting to increase his pay as treasurer? Roberts can’t let you down, because he already voted to increase his legislative pay, in the infamous midnight pay raise of 2005, from $69,647 to $81,050 each year. (Calculations showed that vote additionally hiked his state pension by $721 per year.)
We know that some of you probably have concerns about how Larry as treasurer would interpret the fourth-class county code. Put your mind at ease -- after voting for that 2005 legislative pay raise, Roberts accepted the unvouchered expenses used to skirt a constitutional prohibition on midterm raises.
Think there might be dissension in the treasurer’s office if Roberts wins? Do not fear; Roberts already has had a staffer testify against him during an election board hearing.
Nepotism is a big issue these days in Fayette Co. The great thing about Larry is you don’t have to sit around wondering if he’ll help out a family member. Roberts' son Mark has already been county controller, and Mark Roberts even tried to keep challenger (and current controller) Sean Lalley from running against him in 2007.
If philosophy of governance is important to you, Roberts already has made his position clear, making the press go to court to try to obtain information on his expenses paid for by the public.
Of course, there are many other reasons to vote for Larry Roberts, some of which we detailed in our own critique of Roberts' performance, back in 2011.
When you go to the polls on May 21, please vote for Larry Roberts for Fayette County treasurer. Remember, in 14 years as a state representative, he brought cable TV to Ohiopyle Borough.
With all his experience, just think what he can do for you now.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Help for Jesse

Here in the patch, we are laughing out loud at judicial candidate Douglas Sepic's rationalization of his father's reported use of a Laurel Highlands School District fax machine to send out political campaign material.

"Laurel Highlands school board member faxed campaign notices," (Herald-Standard, May 1) contains this paragraph regarding the actions reportedly taken by LH school board member Melvyn Sepic:

Douglas Sepic said that despite the allegation of wrongdoing, his father did not use his position to access the school fax to send campaign material.

Huh? Are we to believe, then, that any member of the public can trot on over to Hutchinson Elementary School, gain access to the building, enter the office and be granted permission to use the fax machine for personal reasons?

Has Melvyn Sepic ever heard of Kinkos or Staples? You can send faxes from there, but it means you'll also have to reach into your pocket to pay for the service.

Kudos, by the way, to LH superintendent Jesse Wallace for launching an investigation (but really, once the story broke, how could he avoid doing that?). But we're not buying for one minute Wallace's own statements that it is impossible to track down how many faxes Melvyn Sepic sent out on his son's behalf.

"The first thing I sought was the activity report, but because it was more than 24 hours (after April 23), I was unable to retrieve the report," said Wallace, adding that the manufacturer was also contacted to determine if access could be made. "It is due to the age and ability of the machine that we were unable to get it."

Even if the fax machine is too old to provide a count, wasn't there someone in the office who could testify to Melvyn Sepic's use of the equipment? After all, Douglas Sepic himself has stated of his father's activity, "It was done during the hustle and bustle of a busy day."

Surely, Wallace can find someone who was in the office who can say, "He was in here for (however long it was), using the machine." And if Wallace wanted to, we are pretty certain he could find out how many calls were placed from the Hutchinson office on the day and time frame in question.

Here's our easy, four-step approach for Wallace to follow:

1. Pick up the phone.

2. Call Verizon (or whatever phone company provides LH with service).

3. Say, "I am the superintendent of the Laurel Highlands School District, and I want a list of all outgoing calls made from the Hutchinson Elementary School fax number on April 23, 1013."

4. Thank the phone company representative for his or her time.

Still left unanswered as part of Wallace's "investigation" is the question of whether this was the first and only time Melvyn Sepic or any other board member used the fax machine for personal or campaign reasons. The public deserves an answer to that one.

According to Herald-Standard's Patty Yauger, who deserves some credit for following up on this story, Wallace said that the staff has been instructed that political material can not be distributed via the school district equipment by employees, students or anyone associated with the district.

We would like to see the answer to this question: WHEN was staff given this instruction? If it was before M. Sepic's reported use of the fax machine, then someone ignored the policy and should be held accountable. If it was given after M. Sepic's reported use of the fax machine, then it is quite possible, perhaps even probable, that this isn't the first time something like this has happened in the school district.

We also got a big chuckle out of D. Sepic's stated belief that this story didn't rise to the level of front-page news. That's a sure-fire sign that the Herald-Standard made the right call in putting it there.

D. Sepic said, and we quote from the story, "I’ve spent my career prosecuting serious, violent criminals, drug dealers, murderers and trying to do what is right for Fayette County. (This minimal matter) detracts from the real issues in this campaign that are plaguing Fayette County."

We wonder if D. Sepic, the experienced career prosecutor, has ever put anybody away for theft of services or conflict of interest.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Who will act?

Today's Herald-Standard story, "Political fax sent from school questioned,"  (April 30) details Fayette County Republican Committee Chairman Russ Rhodes' ire over a political fundraiser invitation allegedly sent from a fax machine at Hutchinson Elementary School in the Laurel Highlands School District.

The April 23 fax, according to Rhodes, was distributed on behalf of Douglas Sepic, one of five candidates for county judge in the upcoming primary election.
"What we have is a political person using taxpayer-funded resources for their own purposes," said Rhodes.
Sepic, who is an assistant district attorney in Fayette County, disavowed any personal involvement in the matter. "It is improper to send a (political campaign) fax from a government or school district fax and I did not authorize it," said Sepic.
We'll take both men at their word.
But that doesn't change the fact that Rhodes is 100 percent correct in pointing out that a fax machine being paid for with taxpayer dollars should not be used for political campaign purposes.
The practice could end up landing someone in jail. It has in neighboring Allegheny County, where district attorney Stephen Zappala prosecuted former state Senator Jane Orie for such office practices and won a conviction.
Rhodes says his next step is considering filing a complaint with the State Ethics Commission.
We wonder what would happen if Rhodes also dropped a dime to call Fayette County district attorney Jack Heneks and the Pennsylvania state police. They, after all, sprang into action (and are presumably still investigating) the nearly year-long "Saga of the Packet" presumably left at a restaurant by Fayette County Housing Authority board member Bev Beal during a lunch with Sonya Over and county commissioner Angela Zimmerlink.
Heneks and the PSP also rushed headfirst into the effort to track down the identities of anonymous posters on an Internet community bulletin board, once they started repeating potentially libelous rumors about a sitting county judge.
This case seems far more solid than either of those two. It's not like anyone can walk in off the street at any time and use the fax machine at Hutchinson Elementary School to send out an invitation to a political "meet and greet" for a judicial candidate. (Or can they?)
And what of the Laurel Highlands School District? Someone should call superintendent Jesse Wallace and the nine school board members, asking them what policy the school district has regarding the sending of such faxes, and how they plan to get to the bottom of who sent this one. (Are there security cameras that might have captured the culprit?)
Heck, the school district should be conducting its own investigation. Someone on staff just might have seen or heard something. How many of these faxes were sent? Who sent this one? Has anything like this ever happened before?
For all we know, it is standard operating procedure for someone -- maybe even anyone -- with ties to the Laurel Highlands School District to use public property (and thus taxpayer funds) to conduct political campaigning.
We hope someone does the right thing and at least calls for an investigation, maybe even by attorney general Kathleen Kane. Who knows what an investigator with no ties to local politics might uncover?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Selective presentation

According to Fayette County Commissioner Angela M. Zimmerlink's most recent blog posting, the following paragraph was deleted from her commentary by the Herald-Standard prior to its publication Sunday.

To say the article is inaccurate and misleading is an understatement. My experience shows information is not always accurately relayed and then reported resulting in misinformation to the public about a county issue. Knowing this, I initiated contact with the Herald Standard to provide accurate information before the article was printed, but it did no good; hence the reason for this letter.

The question for the newspaper's high command is: Why? What is so offensive about this paragraph, other than the fact that it is critical of the job done by the paper?

The newspaper ended up running a correction on the very same issue to which Zimmerlink was refering, so there obviously was a problem with the story. And Zimmerlink certainly has a strong basis for forming the opinion put forth in the deleted paragraph.

You can -- and should -- read the full text of Zimmerlink's blog post here:

It's not like Zimmerlink wants favorable treatment, or is asking for a favor, or wants the paper to stop letting people criticize her. All she wants is for what is printed to be accurate -- especially as concerns what she says and provides to a reporter. That's a pretty reasonable request -- and one to which all sources are entitled.

When inaccurate information is printed, particularly in a front-page story, the damage isn't erased by an apology and a page 2 correction. That's why errors are anathema to good journalists.

Whatever happened to getting the story right?

We're glad that Zimmerlink has pointed out what she calls the "censorship" of her letter. It lets the public know that free speech seems to end when it reaches criticism of the job being done by the paper.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Oops! They did it again!

It wasn't on the front page, but the Friday, April 19 edition of the Herald-Standard contained the following important and noteworthy correction:

Commissioner Angela M. Zimmerlink did receive a packet of information related to the Fayette County Airport Authority and turned over copies of the documents to members of the authority as asked for in a right-to-know request. Incorrect information was reported in a story published Wednesday. The Herald-Standard apologizes for the error.

Given the newspaper's patttern of shabby treatment of Zimmerlink, you would think these type of errors wouldn't be happening. Remember the reporter who was permitted to do a hatchet job on her in print on the eve of the 2011 commissioner election, then was caught working the polls for the other Republican in the race? Remember the pre-election meeting story on the politically motivated (and unsubstantiated) allegation that Zimmerlink was posting items to a website on county time (authored by a reporter later hired as the county's chief clerk)?

We do:

In a less obvious and more easily defensible display, the paper spared no shortage of ink on the red herring we call "Packetgate," which tried to tie Zimmerlink to a packet of information regarding the Fayette County Housing Authority left at a local restaurant on May 30, 2012. Much ado was made about the matter being investigated by the district attorney, the state pollice and a private investigator hired by the housing authority with tax dollars. Eleven months later, as we predicted, nothing of substance has been presented.

So how in the world does the paper STILL end up having to print a major correction admitting that "incorrect information was reported" in a major story dealing with Zimmerlink? Aren't reporters and newspapers supposed to get it right the first time?

Even if the reporter goofs up, what of the editors whose job it is to catch such things before they are published and cause embarrassment?

A final word on right-to-know requests: Instead of being fixated on airport authority chairman Fred Davis' RTK request seeking information that Zimmerlink obtained from the airport authority -- and in the case of the Herald-Standard, getting a key fact wrong -- the media should be launching its own RTK requests to find out more about the Federal Aviation Administration findings that form the basis of Zimmerlink's concerns over airport operations.

In her column of April 21, "Concerns about airport are valid," Zimmerlink notes that according to the FAA, federal funds may be in jeopardy "because of the airport's continued unauthorized uses of airport property, the failure to collect fair market rent and other deficiencies" first brought to the authority's attention in 2011.

We need to hear more -- from airport board members and employees, past and present, and the FAA -- about these unauthorized uses of airport property and the failure to collect fair market rent.

We need to hear less about Zimmerlink trying to get the accurate answers that the independent media should be providing.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

No easy landing

After reading today's story, "Zimmerlink vows to monitor airport authority," (Herald-Standard, April 18), our eyes perked up at this line:

Zimmerlink said that the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) deficiencies included unsigned lease agreements, safety issues, fair market value rental fees and other matters.

These problems, as reported, were flagged by the FAA during an inspection back in May 2011 and reiterated in a letter sent to the Fayette County Airport Authority in February of this year.

Apparently, the unresolved issues are serious enough to jeopardize state and federal funding for the airport. That alone should be reason enough for Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink -- or any other elected official, but especially the county commissioners who appoint airport authority board members -- to put this matter front and center on the radar screen.

The obvious question here is: If the airport is being run by a "competent" board, as described by chairman Fred Davis, why haven't these problems been resolved in the past 23 months? Instead of being miffed at Zimmerlink for requesting information from the FAA -- a nifty move, actually, because the federal Freedom of Information Act pretty much guarantees a speedy and thorough response -- the airport board should be supplying some answers.

They should be using their public meeting to tell us how many unsigned leases there were, who they were made out to and why they weren't signed in the first place.

They should be using their public meeting to tell us what the problems were with fair market rental fees, and if they were too low, why was that the case and who were the beneficiaries of these low rents.

And they should be using their public meeting to tell us about these safety issues, what they are, what progress has been made to correct them, and what still needs to be done.

Unsigned leases and problems with fair market value rental fees, as flagged by the FAA, sounds to us like a combination worthy of further investigation. On the surface, it certainly appears at least as interesting as the unsolved copper thefts and alleged voter fraud targeted by the investigating grand jury convened by Fayette County District Attorney Jack Heneks Jr.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Who's behind the ownership curtain?

Here in the patch, we've seen a thousand business stories over the years, promoting the opening or expansion of everything from grocery stores to flower shops to manufacturing faciliites to auto dealers.

Each and every one of them included one key fact: The actual owner(s) of the business, whose smiling face could usually be found in a prominent photograph accompanying the feel-good story.

Thus we were perplexed -- and somewhat curious -- that the Sunday, March 17 story, "SWC Properties opens real estate office in Uniontown" made no mention of who actually owns this fledgling new real estate company.

Our curiosity was further piqued when a photo of a "broker" with the company showed him standing in front of the newspaper-owned building that formerly housed the now-failed HSTV operation. Before that, the site was home to Eddie's Fruit Basket.

Something about this presentation just wasn't adding up. So we visited the Pennsylvania Department of State website, where you can research such things, typed in SWC Properties, and easily found this listing:

SWC Properties LLC Current Name
Limited Liability Company - Domestic - Information
Entity Number: 4157830 Status: Active Entity Creation Date: 1/10/2013 State of Business.: PA Registered Office Address: 8 East Church Street
Uniontown PA 15401
Fayette Mailing Address: No Address

Then we used the same search engine and typed in Uniontown Newspapers Inc., and found this listing:
UNIONTOWN NEWSPAPERS INC Current NameBusiness Corporation - Domestic - Information
Entity Number: 368249 Status: Active Entity Creation Date: Registered Office Address: [Address Not Available]
PA 0 -0
Mailing Address: No Address

Name: VALERIE J LAUB Title: President Address: 8 E CHURCH ST
UNIONTOWN PA 15401-3563
Name: SANDRA C HARDY Title: Secretary Address: 8 E CHURCH ST
UNIONTOWN PA 15401-3563
Name: MICHAEL WHITE Title: Treasurer Address: 8 E CHURCH ST
UNIONTOWN PA 15401-3563
Name: STANLEY ELLIS Title: Vice President Address: 8 E CHURCH ST
UNIONTOWN PA 15401-3563

So, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State, the registered office address of SWC Properties turns out to be same address -- 8 E. Church St., Uniontown -- used by the owners/corporate officers of the company that runs

If you don't believe us, visit the website and look it up yourself.

Call us crazy, but this common address seems to be a pretty strong indication that the newspaper has branched out into the real estate business. We have no problem with that -- but, ethically and for the sake of journalistic accuracy and credibility, shouldn't that have been mentioned as part of the story?

Surely, knows who the owner(s) of SWC Properties is/are, or there wouldn't have been a confirmable basis for a grand-opening story in the first place.

Was a conscious decision made somewhere along the line -- perhaps from the top-down -- to leave that information out of the story? If so, why? What's the big secret?