Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Our way of life

Since Fayette County’s incumbent Democratic commissioners are “getting things done,” which has led to the region’s highest unemployment rate and the second-biggest population loss of the state’s 67 counties, one of our neighbors in the patch asked a very interesting question:

“Where would Vince Vicites or Vince Zapotosky work if they didn’t hold elected office?”

We doubt that it would be the private sector -- you know, the place where Fay-Penn Economic Development Council keeps saying there are 400 good-paying jobs that can’t be filled. Where those jobs are, however, continues to be the Fayette County equivalent of a CIA secret.

Our guess is that either or both of the Vinces would cash in some political chips and resurface in some public sector (i,e., “government”) position. A quick review of their work history shows that they appear to be born and bred for feeding at the public trough.

Here is Vicites’ work history, taken straight from his campaign website:

1983-87, Administrative Officer, Department of Auditor General
1987-88, Assistant Director of Personnel, Carlisle Hospital.
1989-95, Director, Fayette County Solid Waste Management Department.
1996-present, Fayette County Commissioner.

That gives Vicites a grand total of one year (1987-88, working for a hospital) of non-government employment, in the last 28 years. It is well worth noting that when he came back to Fayette County in 1989, it was by decree of former county Commissioners Fred Lebder and Bob Jones, who hired him in a county job as Solid Waste Management director.

Two years later, in 1991, Vicites was running for county commissioner on a ticket with -- drum roll, please -- Fred Lebder. What an amazing coincidence!

But an even more amazing coincidence is that once Vicites won election as commissioner in 1995 on his second try, one of the first things he did was eliminate the high-profile job he’d held as Solid Waste Management director. Those duties suddenly weren’t important enough to warrant their own county department (which had consisted of Vicites and a secretary), so they were folded into the job of county manager.

Some cynics here in the patch think the political system gave Vicites the Solid Waste Management job to help grease the skids for his ascension to county commissioner. Since the job no longer required a full-time department head once Vicites was elected, that theory gives us pause.

Zapotosky’s work history isn’t as easily quantified as Vicites because less of it is available on the Internet. But we do know this much: He held staff positions with former U.S. Reps. Austin Murphy and Frank Mascara. That wouldn’t be newsworthy if the mantle had passed peacefully from Murphy to Mascara in a friendly manner. But the men were bitter political rivals toward the end, with Mascara challenging Murphy for the seat the latter had long held.

Of Zapotosky, we can document this much: He was paid $60,098.68 back in 2002, as “field representative coordinator” for Mascara. That’s a nice chunk of change for nine years ago -- and a $10,000 jump from the $46,999.96 Zapotosky was paid in 2001 for holding the same position.
If you want to verify, check it out yourself at this link:

We also know that after Mascara lost his seat in redistricting in 2002 -- and Zapotosky lost his $60,000-a-year government job -- Zapotosky surfaced as a candidate for Fayette County commissioner the next year, in 2003.

After losing in that race, Zapotosky landed a job as director of administrative services at the Douglas Education Center in Monessen, which he held until winning a commissioner’s spot on his second try in 2007. So the 47-year-old can at least lay claim to having worked a few years in the private sector in his adult working life.

Monday, April 25, 2011

WM -- "BS"?

When the patch tuned in to 590 on the AM dial at 1:15 p.m. one day last week, everyone thought the electrical storm that temporarily knocked out power (and fried our computer) must have messed up the radio, too.

That’s because iconic talk show host Bob Foltz had summarily been dismissed by station management. What was billed by his replacement as a “leave of absence” is, for all practical purposes, a firing.

Foltz has been a mainstay on WMBS for decades. His political views, which skew conservative, are well known to station management and he has never been shy about sharing them. They must have viewed Foltz as an asset, since they kept him on the air for so many years, through so many controversies. Foltz could stir the pot with the best of them, which is what radio talk show hosts do.

So why fire Foltz? Or more specifically, why fire Foltz NOW? You can bet the last remaining coke oven that something -- or someone -- precipitated Foltz’ firing.

Here in the patch, we suspect that the upcoming primary election had something to do with Foltz’ abrupt departure. He has been an unabashed and outspoken supporter of Republican commissioner Angela Zimmerlink, and has been an equally outspoken critic of the two Vinces, Democrat commissioners Vince Vicites and Vince Zapotosky.

Not long ago, we recall Zapotosky high-tailing it to the radio station, hurriedly plopping down cash to buy 10 minutes of air time on Foltz’ show, because he didn’t like something that was being said.

Foltz has also been kept on a short leash concerning ANY commentary, from himself or callers, concerning two station advertisers, Fay-Penn Economic Development Council and the Herald-Standard newspaper. We in the patch wondered who actually was in charge several months ago, when station manager Brian Mroziak sat in the studio with Foltz, hitting the “kill” switch to cut off callers who dared refer to a list of forbidden topics.

Foltz has also been an outspoken critic of Marcellus shale drilling activity, particularly as it impacts water quality and supply. In this regard he has been the only media outlet in the county giving strong voice to that issue. That industry is also an advertiser on the station.

Was it any or all of the above that precipitated Foltz’ downfall? Knowing the way the game is played in Fayette County, we suspect that the real catalyst for his dismissal was Foltz’ strong views on the upcoming commissioners’ race. Some politicians have notoriously thin skins and cannot take any criticism of their performance.

WMBS, as a private business, is free to hire and fire any employee it wants. If station ownership or management felt Foltz had crossed the line one too many times, or had become hyper-partisan, it has every right to make a change.

The key here is whether the station bowed to pressure, and if so, where that pressure came from. If it came from someone who was merely unhappy with the platform Foltz gave to certain issues, it is censorship, plain and simple.

The first day of replacement host Mark Rafail’s show was replete with an endless parade of folks praising him as a “breath of fresh air.” We recognized some of those folks as supporters of Vicites or Zapotosky, or both.

Rafail represents a change. But given that he sits on the Fayette County Zoning Hearing board, whose members are appointed by the Fayette County commissioners, he clearly has a conflict of interest.

If WBMS truly wants to replace Foltz with someone less partisan, they should require Rafail to resign from the zoning hearing board. If they don’t or won’t, the forces of censorship appear to have prevailed.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


When Fayette County Commissioners Vince Vicites and Vince Zapotosky voted last year to raise the salaries of all county row officers, including the commissioners, by 3 percent a year for the next six years, the Herald-Standard newspaper lauded and supported the move.

Here are some excerpts from their editorial, titled “Fair Wage -- Pay Raise for County Officials Backed” and published on Aug. 6, 2010:

“Things are not great here in Fayette, but we're not in such a bad shape that a fairly standard 3 percent increase should be seen as inappropriate.”

“The economy is in bad shape and some people are struggling across the county, but we don't think a 3 percent raise is exorbitant. We're not talking about a 20 percent jump in pay here.”

“It's important that our public officials are paid fairly. They deserve to be compensated with a respectable wage. There's no way of getting around the fact that you get what you pay for, and if we want to make sure that decent, intelligent people run for public office, then we have to pay them accordingly.”

The newspaper thus firmly put its stamp of approval on what actually does amount to a 19.4 percent pay raise for county elected officials over the next six years. No matter how bad the economy gets, the Fayette County commissioners and row officers are going to get regular 3 percent raises for more than half of a decade.

Given the newspaper’s official stance as concerns Fayette County officials, everyone in the patch -- even 99-year-old Stutta Bubba in House 222 -- is confused over the newspaper’s Thursday editorial.

“Vat’s vis dis stuff?” proclaimed Stutta Bubba. “I am old lady from old countary, and I learn English as second language, dis is true. But does Herald-Standard tink I am stupid?”

From underneath her babushka, Stutta Bubba pulled out a neatly folded copy of Thursday’s editorial, entitled, “Legislative staffers to get raises.” It was critical of the Pennsylvania House Republicans and Senate Democrats for deciding to lift a pay freeze for their legislative employees.

The fact that House Republican staffers haven’t had a pay raise in three years doesn’t matter to the Herald-Standard, which now says, “To this, many Pennsylvanians would say, ‘Welcome to the club.’ They haven’t been getting any pay raises either, and that’s not likely to change in the foreseeable future.”

Maybe if the House Republican leaders had decided to guarantee 3 percent raises for their employees for the next six years, like Vicites and Zapotosky did, the Herald-Standard would see things differently. (It might help, too, if House Republican leaders decided to throw a little money into the Redstone Foundation pot to operate Fayette TV, but that’s another blog post.)

Although the House Democrats and Senate Republicans have made no decision on granting their employees a pay raise for the first time in three years, that didn’t stop the Herald-Standard from doing what it does best these days: speculating. Absent any facts, the newspaper speculated that they probably will, following the pattern of “theft from Pennsylvania taxpayers” set in motion by the House Republicans and Senate Democrats.

Accusing somebody of theft is a pretty serious thing, isn’t it? The newspaper might want to take a refresher course in the laws of libel, but then again, that class has been failed in that building before.

On Thursday, the Herald-Standard held this chest-thumping position: “The fact is, pay raises are problematic these days in a Pennsylvania economy that is more used to seeing pay freezes, pay cuts or -- worse -- pink slips.”

But just eight months ago, their position, at least as concerns something done by Vicites and Zapotosky, was comparatively demure: “Things are not great here in Fayette, but we're not in such a bad shape that a fairly standard 3 percent increase should be seen as inappropriate.”

Which side of their mouth will be speaking tomorrow?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Trust, but verify

Here in the patch, everyone knows the answer to the question of, “Which came first, the immigrants or the coal mines?

The answer is, of course, the coal mines.

We have scoured the history books, and can’t find ANY reference to H.C. Frick even remotely saying something like, “We want to open a new coal mine and call it Continental No. 2, and build a whole town around it to boot, but we can’t do that because we just can’t find enough qualified workers.”

No siree, Bob. Good old H.C. Frick built the mine and built the patch, and the workers came, proving the old adage, “If you build it, they will come.”

Can you imagine anyone recruiting hundreds or thousands of immigrants from Europe and the deep South, without a job for them to go to?

Like a magnet to steel, people go to where the jobs go. That’s what happened in the 1950s when a mass exodus from Fayette County landed many former residents in places like Cleveland and Detroit. It’s what happens everywhere else today … except for Fayette County, Pennsylvania.

Here, Fay-Penn Economic Development Council wants to blame the county’s public education system for the failure to provide enough qualified workers to meet employers’ needs, and is lobbying hard to build a new vo-tech school on Fay-Penn property.

“Every employer we meet with tells us he is having a hard time finding people to fill his jobs,” Fay-Penn head honcho Mike Krajovic said in the Herald-Standard on March 27. Krajovic went on to say, “The problem is not a lack of jobs but education.”

Fay-Penn officials then went on to say there are 400 good--paying jobs “available right now” in the county.

While the newspaper dutifully reported this statement as fact, no one bothered to ask Fay-Penn a very valid question: Where, exactly, are these jobs? Interested and qualified workers should know where to send their resumes. It’s not a tough question to ask -- if you have the courage to call the bluff.

This lack of verification didn’t stop the Herald-Standard from jumping on the Fay-Penn bandwagon, authoring an April 10 editorial which praised Fay-Penn’s idea to hold forums across the county in an attempt to address this issue.

Here are three statements from that editorial, following by the general reaction here in the patch:

1. The good news is that the jobs apparently are here. Now we just have to find a way to train our young people so they can fill them.

* Apparently? Isn’t it the job of a newspaper to ask the tough questions and provide a complete picture? Would they print that someone apparently robbed a liquor store, or voted for a tax increase, or won the lottery? Whatever happened to “trust, but verify”?

2. School officials have contended that they don’t have the funding for a new vo-tech school, especially given the fiscal crunch they are currently facing. They certainly can’t be blamed for wanting to keep a lid on any tax increases for local residents in these tough economic times, but they have to realize that all ideas have to be weighed and given careful consideration. Nothing should be taken off the table, even a possible tax increase.

* You must be kidding us -- a tax hike so that Fay-Penn can muscle its way into the education system? Fay-Penn’s mission statement, taken directly from its federal tax return, is “to promote economic welfare in Fayette County.” They should stick to and master that task.

Maybe Mike Krajovic, the $180,000-a-year man, can pay higher taxes (Part II of Fay-Penn's Form 990 for 2009, avaiable for free viewing at Guidestar.com) … but most residents in the county, where median household income in 2008 was $34,050, cannot. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/42/42051.html

3. Simply put, we all need to find a way to work together to keep our young people here, and the best way to do that is provide them with good-paying jobs. They certainly shouldn’t be forced to move elsewhere in the search for better jobs.

* If other Fayette County employers are like the Herald-Standard, which did away with its pension plan for new workers, froze it for existing ones, and cut wages 10 percent, is it any surprise that they can‘t attract or retain employees?

Here in the patch, our sentiment sides with Dr. Phil Savini, superintendent of Brownsville School District, who in his own commentary asked, “Who else will Fay-Penn blame?”

Every year, hundreds of Fayette County youths go on to college and technical school and acquire the skills and education needed to succeed, in all fields. The vast majority never come back, not because they lack qualifications, but because the job opportunities simply don’t exist.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Strange bedfellows, indeed

Democratic Fayette County commissioners Vince Vicites and Vince Zapotosky are running as a team, using the slogan that they are “getting things done.” Here in the patch, everyone at the fire hall figures this is because it would hard for Vicites to again trot out his “moving Fayette forward” theme since, well, someone might actually ask what he’s been moving forward.
It wouldn’t be the unemployment rate, which remains among the region’s worst. It wouldn’t be stemming the loss of population, since census numbers show that in the last decade Fayette County lost more residents than all but one county (Allegheny) in the state of Pennsylvania. And it sure wouldn’t be improving the overall health of the county residents who remain, as a recent national study out of the University of Wisconsin
pegged Fayette at 63rd of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties in that area.

Here’s what Vicites said in the Herald-Standard on March 6: “Commissioner Zapotosky and I are getting things done, and we are focused on helping the county. The county has been experiencing significant progress …” Vicites then went on to state that in the last four years, the current administration helped secure $75 million in state and federal funding, including funds for a new Masontown Bridge.
Does anyone really think that the funds for a new Masontown Bridge, which will be built with state dollars due to the hard work of state representatives and senators, only materialized because the Vinces played a key role? Someone in the media, please call state Sens. Rich Kasunic and Barry Stout, or state Reps. Tim Mahoney or Bill DeWeese, and ask them if that is the case. We at the fire hall can just imagine former Gov. Ed Rendell saying for the record, “You know, Rich and Barry and Tim and Bill really, really wanted that new bridge. But I was waffling until the Vinces called. By God, when they weighed in, that pushed me over the top.”
Actually, if you stripped out any project dealing with state or federal dollars that some other elected official really obtained, the biggest things Vicites and Zapotosky have “gotten done” on their own volition are give tax collectors a pay hike and also raise their own pay nearly 20 percent over six years, in the midst of the worst economy since the Great Depression. Oh, and they also removed Beverly Beal from the Fayette County Housing Authority board of directors, making sure the last vocal watchdog was banished from that public agency.
That’s a nice little list of things to have gotten done.

In the same news story, Zapotosky is quoted as saying of his running mate Vicites, “It has been great to work with somebody who shares a positive vision.”
Luckily for us, the bartender at the fire hall kept an old copy of the Connellsville Daily Courier from May 14, 2007. That’s back when Zapotosky was teamed up with former Democratic commissioner Sean M. Cavanagh, and they were united in an effort to oust Vicites from office after three terms.
The Courier story was about whether negative campaign really works, and it mentioned that the Zapotosky-Cavanagh ad campaign zeroed in on Vicites’ record, including calling Vicites a “self-serving politician” and asking, “Can we afford to have Vicites serving as our commissioner another four years?”
Here’s what Zapotosky said about Vicites in that news story from four years ago: “We’re trying to show the voters of Fayette County that 12 years of Vicites is enough.”
Some of us here at the fire hall have heard about that new math and all, but none of us can figure out why Zapotosky thought that 12 years of Vicites was enough, but now he wants to help Vicites get 20 consecutive years in office, and that’s fine and dandy.

Most everyone in the patch knows what really happened in the Democratic primary in 2007. Most of Cavanagh’s supporters also voted for Zapotosky, but Zapotosky’s supporters did not do so in return. Because of this, Zapotosky wound up with the most votes, followed by Vicites and then Cavanagh. But without Cavanagh’s base, Zapotosky would have finished second or more likely third, well behind Vicites and probably Cavanagh.
And just how did Zapotosky reward Cavanagh for agreeing to become his running mate in 2007, and for spending his $100,000 war chest in a joint campaign effort that greatly aided Zapotosky?
Here is how: When Cavanagh submitted his name to the county commissioners as a candidate for the Fayette County Housing Authority board of directors, a nonpaying position for which Cavanagh, who grew up in public housing, was eminently qualified, Zapotosky said he had already committed his vote to someone else.
Wonderful fella, that Zapotosky.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Four more years?

The patch was set abuzz with laughter the other day when, upon reading the Herald-Standard’s coverage of a “United for Workers” rally, the following comment from Fayette County Commissioner Vincent A. Vicites actually appeared in print:

With Fayette County ready to "explode with growth in the next decade," Vicites said that it's imperative to ensure that companies hire union workers.

That’s the perfect feel-good prediction for Vicites to foist on the memory-challenged electorate, particularly since nothing even close to that has happened during his first decade-and-a-half as a county commissioner.
Vicites first won election in 1995 and took office in 1996. He has mouthed those same “prosperity is around-the-corner” words in five election cycles now. If Fayette County hasn’t “exploded with growth” in his first 16 years in office, what makes anyone think something would change by giving him four more?
Here is the truth of what has happened during the Vicites era: In the 2000 census, Fayette County’s population dipped below 145,000, a severe enough slip that by law it should have changed from a fourth-class to a fifth-class county. His solution to this dilemma? Get state Sen. Richard A. Kasunic to change the law, so Fayette could remain a fourth-class county even with a fifth-class county population.
In the 2010 census, the population slipped even more. With Vicites, his policies and his cronies in office for the entire decade, Fayette lost another 8.2 percent of its population. It was the third-highest percentage loss among Pennsylvania’s 67 counties -- and the worst in western Pennsylvania.
Everyone in the patch knows that Thursday’s rally had nothing to do with preserving the jobs of union workers or the sanctity of the union movement. They also know it had everything to do with helping grease the re-election skids of Vicites and his nominal running mate, first-termer Vincent “Let’s All Work Together So I Won’t Have To” Zapotosky.
It isn’t surprising that the Herald-Standard gave full throttle coverage to this thinly masked campaign event. Remember, Vicites and Zapotosky are their financial benefactors by virtue of agreeing to help steer $50,000 in county tourism funds to Fayette TV, the station formerly known as HSTV. (Just what is going on with that “tourism” channel, anyway?)
If Vicites truly believes that it's imperative to ensure that companies hire union workers,” perhaps he should be reminded that the Herald-Standard is one of the biggest non-union employers in his ever-dwindling county.