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.