Editorials from around Pennsylvania

August 8, 2018

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



Retired Erie Catholic Bishop Donald W. Trautman was right to step away from the secret legal battle to alter the contents of a sweeping clergy sexual abuse grand jury report before its public release.

From court records and what Trautman told reporter Ed Palattella, we now know that Trautman objected at least to a handful of damning statements in the report made generally about Pennsylvania bishops. We understand.

He wanted those claims to be asserted with more precision, making clear, for example, that he specifically did not cover up for or enable offenders and endanger children. State Attorney General Josh Shapiro agreed to a series of stipulations indicating that some general characterizations of bishops’ appalling conduct were not specifically directed at Trautman.

We are glad to hear it. But that is not to say we have any illusions that reading the report, covering the handling of clergy child sex abuse in six Roman Catholic dioceses, including the Erie diocese, will be an affirming experience when it is finally released as early as Wednesday.

Erie Catholic Bishop Lawrence Persico, in keeping with the humble, rightly focused leadership he has consistently shown amid this overdue reckoning, has told us it won’t. Persico said the report contains explicit, shocking details and described the anger and hostility he witnessed in the grand jurors who were forced to weigh for two years testimony about the church’s handling of child sexual abuse at the hands of its ministers.

He has let us know also that his own conduct in the Erie diocese and in the Greensburg diocese, where he previously served, is scrutinized. And he has further helped ease the blow by taking the unprecedented step of releasing in advance of the report’s release the names of clergy and laity credibly accused of abuse or other misconduct with minors.

Persico’s principled, unstinting commitment to transparency rises to the level of the extreme pastoral challenge this crisis poses, and that is the need to focus above all else on restoring trust. Trust is the foundation of any authentic relationship and is the human capacity most assaulted and damaged when those with power and a duty to care for others violate it through sexual abuse. For clergy, it is an especially deadly sin because of the power the abuse has to pervert a child’s understanding of self, church and God.

No one should be falsely accused — tangentially, technically, by implication or otherwise. Trautman’s willingness to expediently resolve his legal concerns with stipulations now clears the way to restore focus where it belongs — the truth of the victims told in a complete, un-redacted report, at least as it applies to the Erie diocese.

__ Erie Times News

__ Online: https://bit.ly/2AOrlkt



Perhaps you noticed the latest effort by the Wildlands Conservancy to preserve land along the Blue Mountain on the northern edge of Lehigh County and thought: “Well, tree huggers gotta hug. Let them use somebody else’s money to invest in steep mountain sides that nobody wants anyway.”

That’s one way of looking at it. From the dark side.

Last week the Emmaus-based nonprofit announced that it expects to close soon on the purchase of 500 acres along Kittatinny Ridge — as the extension of the formation is better known in New Jersey — or the Blue Mountain, as it’s widely known on the Pennsylvania side.

The effort to preserve valuable mountain land, as with farmland, is a piecemeal approach, but 500 acres is nothing to sneeze at. This acquisition fits nicely into the conservancy’s strategy to preserve the hilly border that separates the Lehigh Valley from the Poconos — adjoining areas that are facing intense development pressures.

“This is one of the most significant gaps in continuous protection on Blue Mountain,” Wildlands President Christopher Kocher said Wednesday. “It also kind of continues this legacy commitment ... Wildlands has protected more than half of the total acreage that has been protected on that ridge in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

The land being preserved is on the north side of the mountain, between the Bake Oven Knob lookout to the west and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Northeast Extension to the east. Wildlands says it has purchased and protected 54,000 acres of open space since 1973, and more than 13,000 of the 23,000 acres protected along the ridge.

Other contributing parties are the Pennsylvania Game Commission, National Wild Turkey Federation and Appalachian Trail Conservancy. The Game Commission will use the land to expand State Game Lands 217.

If you think the conservancy and others groups are operating in something of a green vacuum by sewing up the Blue Mountain for posterity — well, it’s just the opposite.

Perhaps you’ve ventured onto the Appalachian Trail and reveled in its ruggedness and panoramic views, but also noticed the encroachment of development in some spots. A big part of the Wildlands Conservancy’s mission is protecting the ridgeline trail by securing buffers on both sides.

Perhaps you’ve noticed parts of other states, including New Jersey, where once-pristine hillsides have given way to housing. And how the spread of communities into mountains and high valleys, notably in California, has exposed people to devastating wildfires and mudslides. Blue Mountain isn’t about to be converted to the Hollywood Hills, but its role as a natural buffer is critical to a large swath of Pennsylvania.

Perhaps you’ve noticed — or been impacted by — rising flood waters on creeks and rivers, sometimes from a one-day weather event. Or conversely, by droughts and lowered water tables. The absorption and release of rainwater and snowmelt from the Blue Mountain plays a big role in replenishment of streams, wells and aquifers that provide drinking water, recreational opportunity and aquatic habitat. And to some extent, flood control.

Perhaps you’re a hunter, angler, hiker or mountain biker, and have lamented the loss of habitat that draws you to nature — and helps you keep your sanity in the more pressurized aspects of life.

Perhaps you don’t do or think much about any of these things, but have stopped to marvel at the geological upheaval that is a mountain, and wondered about the science that explains it. Or you’ve been inspired by the colors of autumn that every year turn Blue Mountain into a palette of God’s work, 1,000 feet high.

We’d like to thank the Wildlands Conservancy, its staff and financial supporters, for thinking about and raising money for ... mountains. And all the things that connect to them.

__ Easton Express-Times

__ Online: https://bit.ly/2vPXJgK



We should be accustomed by now, we guess, to elected officials eating on our dime without carefully accounting for their spending.

After all, members of the state General Assembly are permitted to take per diems — daily allowances for food and lodging — of up to $183 without needing to submit receipts.

But we continue to be appalled by the lack of transparency that permeates the culture of elected officials in Pennsylvania.

The Caucus investigation reminds us that this culture extends to appellate judges, who apparently not only are comfortable with it but expect to live comfortably within it.

Here is what Senior Judge Jim Colins told that publication about his expenditures of taxpayer money on meals and a leased car.

“My services are damn cheap for the taxpayer for the amount of work that I produce and the degree of responsibility,” Colins said. “I don’t eat at McDonald’s anymore, nor do I think I should.”

“I’m big,” he said. “I weigh 225 pounds. I’m over 6 foot. I don’t fit into compact cars, and, quite frankly, it takes a lot of food to fill me up.”

Well, quite frankly, his comments showed an alarming disrespect for taxpayers and an even more alarming lack of judgment for someone with “judge” in his job title.

His quotes conveyed a dismaying sense of entitlement — to drive a large car, to eat large meals — and seemed to dismiss our need as taxpayers to know the details of his spending. He said he does not charge the state more than $35 per meal, but he seldom submits itemized receipts (so clearly we need to take his word on that).

Colins insisted to The Caucus that redacting from state records the details of where and with whom judges eat is “essential.”

He said his life has been threatened several times, and that is clearly terrible. He’s also received letters overtly threatening his physical safety, and that’s terrible, too.

“From those (expense) reports, you can find out where I’m staying or where I will probably eat if I’m in Harrisburg or Pittsburgh,” Colins told The Caucus. “I don’t want anyone to be able to follow me and surprise me. ... I don’t have a security guard; I don’t travel with a security person. Judges are prime targets.”

But many of the receipts obtained by The Caucus showed one-time visits to restaurants, so there was no pattern for a would-be attacker to discern, even if that person went to the trouble of seeking out the same records The Caucus obtained.

And really, where is the danger in disclosing judges’ dining partners?

We’re allowed to know that they ate scallops, pear pizzas, Piedmontese tenderloin and, in one case, a $13 alligator appetizer, but state records hide who they dined with, and where.

If we’re paying for judges’ meals, shouldn’t we at least be allowed to know who else is at the table, talking to them?

We have great respect for the judiciary, and believe that the safety of judges is vital. But cloaking the details of their spending for “security” reasons seems ridiculous to us.

Compare this state of affairs to Florida, which is described by The Caucus as “the gold standard for open records, with almost all government documents made available to the public.”

Craig Waters, a spokesman for that state’s Supreme Court, actually laughed — he laughed — when told about Pennsylvania’s redaction of restaurant names.

Florida redacts only sensitive personal information such as a judge’s Social Security number, Waters said.

Using security as a reason to redact information is “so obviously baloney,” Steve Davis, the former chair of Syracuse University’s journalism department and a former newspaper editor in Pennsylvania, told The Caucus. “It hardly even needs to be argued. In Florida, damn near everything is open, and the state hasn’t fallen into the ocean. It makes no sense.”

We completely agree.

Robert Strauss, a professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, told The Caucus that judges are underpaid compared to attorneys at large, private law firms. He believes judges “probably deserve special treatment.”

We concede his first point (though with annual salaries of $195,978, Commonwealth Court judges aren’t exactly making chump change). But we adamantly disagree with his second point.

Judges deserve our respect for their essential governmental role. They deserve our thanks for their dedication to upholding justice.

But no elected official who’s spending taxpayer money should be able to keep secret the details of that spending.

And because these particular elected officials are dedicated public servants of sound judgment, they should be able to grasp why taxpayers deserve greater transparency.

__ LNP

__ Online: https://bit.ly/2OTsIRK



Immigration always is the future.

It was true when successive waves of Europeans fled poverty, oppression or both to find their place in and help build the United States. It was true when waves of Asians joined that flood of diverse talent and culture. And it’s true now, as immigration counteracts a negative birth rate, and drives population and economic growth.

As always, immigration is controversial. Established groups often see the nation’s ruin in new Americans who aren’t like them.

Northeast Pennsylvania has begun to experience its largest influx of immigrants since the European waves helped it fuel the Industrial Revolution. It has been greeted across a very broad spectrum — from the demagoguery and disastrous policy employed by former Hazleton mayor and current senatorial candidate Lou Barletta, to an effective program by United Neighborhood Centers of Northeast Pennsylvania to steep immigrants in citizenship, community development and civic leadership.

The UNC program helps immigrants from as many as 55 different countries, who are in the process of learning English, to bring their skills back to their communities and promote civic and cultural participation.

Because of the Trump administration’s anti-immigration policies, the issue is especially controversial now. But as the debate rages, programs like UNC’s are vital to help immigrants and the community to realize immigration’s full economic and cultural potential.

__ The Times-Tribune

__ Online: https://bit.ly/2nnTbdW



John Arway is leaving his post as executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, so the Legislature is ready to move forward on a bill to increase the agency’s funding.

If it sounds odd that the two events are linked, that’s because it is. There shouldn’t be a connection. In a grave disservice to Pennsylvanians, however, lawmakers have been holding up a funding bill to try to force Mr. Arway out of the job he’s had for eight years.

The tiff shows what really matters in Harrisburg. Doing your job — in Mr. Arway’s case, acting as a zealous advocate for outdoor enthusiasts — means nothing if you don’t kowtow to the powers that be in the process. For lawmakers, funding an important agency like the Fish and Boat Commission is less important than showing a career public servant who’s boss.

The commission’s budget is funded largely with revenue from the sale of fees and permits. The cost of a general fishing license hasn’t increased in 13 years, and only the Legislature can authorize a hike.

Mr. Arway, whose employment at the commission stretches back nearly four decades, long has advocated for more money. Two years ago, he made the rounds of the state supporting a sensible plan that would allow the Fish and Boat Commission and its sister agency, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, to set their own rates for three years with legislative oversight.

Legislation to that effect had been introduced, but when it failed to move forward, Mr. Arway last year was told to cut his budget by $2 million. When he tried to rally outdoor enthusiasts to put pressure on the Legislature — he made a point of saying which waterways in which legislative districts could be affected — lawmakers retaliated.

They toyed with legislation that would limit Mr. Arway’s tenure to eight years but never passed it. They also shot down a license fee increase, even though more money was in the best interest of the Pennsylvanians whom lawmakers ostensibly are elected to represent. As the Post-Gazette’s John Hayes reported in March, the word out of Harrisburg was that there would be no license hike while Mr. Arway remained on the job.

Last week, Mr. Arway announced he’ll retire Nov. 2, and legislators said they’re prepared to move forward with a license fee increase. Incredibly, Sen. Patrick Stefano, R-Fayette, chairman of the Game and Fisheries Committee, made this statement:

“The Legislature doesn’t want fisheries resources used as a bargaining chip. Anglers can know that Fish and Boat will be put back on course, and we’re taking the politics out of wildlife conservation.”

What hubris. Mr. Stefano and his colleagues made fisheries resources a bargaining chip in their power struggle with Mr. Arway. They were happy to treat anglers and boaters as pawns and the commission’s struggles as collateral damage.

Mr. Arway is a hard-hitting, straight-talking professional who stood up for his agency and Pennsylvanians who depend on it. State government needs more public servants like him and fewer legislators who put their egos before their constituents.

__ The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

__ Online: https://bit.ly/2OUI9sT

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