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Editorials from around Pennsylvania

November 15, 2017

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:


We applaud the Johnstown Police Department for taking action that led to a Hornerstown bar yielding its liquor license in the wake of a fatal shooting there.

The Clubhouse at 900 Ash St. has been a regular trouble spot for city police. Chief Robert Johnson said officers have been called to incidents in or near The Clubhouse 42 times in five years.

A Johnstown man faces criminal homicide charges after the latest violent incident, on Oct. 26 - when, police say, Nijan Terrell Joiner shot and killed Eddie Wanamaker during an altercation inside The Clubhouse.

That was the last straw for city police concerning that bar, said Johnson, who contacted the Liquor Control Enforcement division of the Pennsylvania State Police.

Michael Steffish, the bar’s owner, gave up his liquor license - which we’re told will be sold and moved elsewhere.

“It was clear to me that LCE had to be contacted,” Johnson said. “I think it’s the appropriate step to take. We can’t do it all on our own, and there are many available factions in law enforcement that just aren’t JPD. So we’re utilizing them. And, in doing that, we’re making our community safer.”

The chief added: “We’re going to reduce the level of aggravation for the people that live by that place. I’m sure they’ll be ecstatic to hear this.”

We strongly support this aggressive approach to handling a volatile establishment with a history of violent incidents.

We encourage the city police and other area departments to consider similar action for bars whose owners choose not to keep the bad elements out themselves.

—The Johnstown Tribune-Democrat

—Online: http://bit.ly/2hCBnfz



There is precious little good news to report in the unrelenting opioid addiction crisis. So victories, when they occur, must be celebrated.

As Erie Times-News reporter Madeleine O’Neill detailed, a thoughtful, targeted program launched just over a year ago in Erie County is saving lives.

The warm handoff program aims to meet patients at the ground zero of addiction — the emergency department moments after a drug overdose — to offer them a path to recovery.

Treatment professionals are dispatched via a hotline whenever an overdose patient arrives at a local hospital emergency department. They offer to assess a patient’s needs and transition them into treatment. Safe Harbor Behavioral Health operates the program at UPMC Hamot, while Gaudenzia Erie offers services at Saint Vincent, Millcreek Community and Corry Memorial hospitals.

David Sanner, director of the Erie County Office of Drug & Alcohol Abuse, which oversees the program, reports that 33 percent of overdose patients have accepted some form of addiction treatment since the program began. Of the 466 reported emergency room visits for drug overdoses in the last year, 189 patients have agreed to meet with warm handoff staff for an assessment. Of that number, 155 people have accepted treatment.

The list includes patients like Tearia O’Neal, a Corry mother who was pregnant with her fourth child when she overdosed on heroin and wound up in the Corry Memorial Hospital emergency department in March. Thanks to the warm handoff program, she has completed five months of inpatient treatment and is receiving medication-assisted outpatient care to stay clean.

Unfortunately, other patients refuse to take advantage of the program. Sanner and his team are wisely tracking repeat overdose patients in hopes of targeting interventions toward them and making the program more effective. The lack of participation in the warm handoffs also might point to the need for officials to create other points of contact with local opioid addicts outside of the emergency department, especially since the 2017 death toll — 111 fatal overdoses as of Oct. 26 — continues to mount.

A state Senate bill proposes to mandate treatment for those revived with the opioid reversal drug naloxone. But O’Neal’s story demonstrates how difficult it is to sustain motivation for recovery. She said she knew she needed to stop using drugs to retain custody of her children. She also acknowledged that to follow through, she needed the daily support and hope offered by Paula Kelso, a clinician with Safe Harbor’s warm handoff program.

The program, by diverting 155 people from the crossroads of life and death into treatment, is giving the region one of the first wins it has experienced in this fight. With continued refinement, it holds promise.

—Erie Times News

—Online: http://bit.ly/2zI2bSy



North Korea’s nuclear threat to the United States, its allies and the world loomed over President Trump’s Asia trip. Yet Kim Jong Un’s regime is not just a threat but an active menace to its own people, as a new report from the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea documents.

Incorporating satellite imagery, “The Parallel Gulag” details about two dozen “re-education” camps. Though North Korea falsely denies that its secret police confine political prisoners in separate facilities, its Ministry of People’s Security admits running these “re-education” camps, falsely claiming it treats inmates well. The report’s “realities cited by former prisoners” include “grossly inadequate food rations,” hard labor, “the absence of medical treatment,” high death rates, “widespread and wrongful imprisonment,” beatings and torture. Many inmates tried to leave North Korea; others committed what ex-inmates call “crimes that are not really crimes.”

The North Korean Criminal Code criminalizes “elementary civil and political rights involving opinion, expression, assembly and movement.” It also imposes “a large number of prohibitions on economic activity” that are “enforced sporadically at best” against participants in illegal local-level markets “from which most North Koreans get most of their food, clothing and consumer goods.”

This report is a valuable reminder that it’s not just North Korea’s apocalyptic external threat that must be reined in, but its brutal internal repression, too.

—The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

—Online: http://bit.ly/2APZ35a



Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams has denied sexual harassment allegations filed last week with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but the charges have flipped another light switch on this historically troubled office and prompts questions about whether it has made enough reforms to justify its continued existence.

The Sheriff’s Office provides court security, including transporting prisoners, and sells foreclosed and delinquent properties. For years, some have argued that those responsibilities could be farmed out to more appropriate and professional agencies.

In fact, more than 30 years ago, civic reformers wanted to do just that and disband the office. At the time, Sheriff Ralph Passio III, elected in 1983, had built a reputation for favoritism and incompetence. Prisoners escaped custody, staff lost stun guns and couldn’t account for petty cash. The office gave two speculators special access to pending land sales records, which they used to rip off vulnerable property owners.

The movement to disband the office was quickly forgotten when John Green was elected sheriff in 1987 on promises to reform the office. But within a couple of years, the office was back to its old ways.

A robust investigation by City Controller Alan Butkovitz led to a federal investigation. Green is now awaiting trial on federal charges that between 2002 and 2010 he gave a political consultant and campaign donor control over the office’s contracts in exchange for bribes. In 2013, the city filed a civil lawsuit against Green and others, claiming they diverted millions of dollars from city sheriff’s sales.

Williams, who was first elected in 2011, also on the promise of reform, got off to a bad start when his campaign sent letters to subordinates asking them to contribute to his political campaign fund. The Inquirer reported that employees who contributed to Williams’ campaign fund also were the top recipients of lucrative overtime assignments.

The sheriff handed out more than $1 million in contracts without competitive bidding. He agreed to abide by the city’s procurement process, which requires him to bid out contracts above $32,000. But in 2014, the controller criticized both the city and the sheriff for failing to enforce the deal or deliver on promised reforms of the office.

Last year, the city Ethics Board censured Williams for accepting $1,000 from the late Councilman James Tayoun’s newspaper, the Public Record, which publishes Sheriff’s Office advertising.

Routine annual controller’s audits uncovered minor problems, including failures to account for petty cash and failing to keep track of sick time, which Williams has tried to fix. But the controller hasn’t done a more detailed audit of the Sheriff’s Office.

Controller-elect Rebecca Rhynhart, who promised reform in her campaign, can start by rigorously and regularly auditing the Sheriff’s Office and others.

Given the office’s long history of management problems, and its apparent inability to reform, it’s time for Mayor Kenney and City Council to also consider a charter change question allowing voters to abolish this troubled office.

—The Philadelphia Inquirer

—Online: http://bit.ly/2hBvteT



While employed at Penn State, former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, despite his lofty athletic position, was but a speck within the massive university community.

But what he has cost the school over the past six years monetarily, as well as to the university’s image and reputation, will forever accurately characterize him as an ignominious behemoth.

His abominable sexual abuse of dozens of young people, for which he was convicted, and his unwillingness to accept the punishment that a court of law imposed — punishment that his unsuccessful appeals so far have upheld — long will remain a source of pain, anger and distress for the university, even when or if all of his possible legal options are exhausted.

Sandusky never will be just a footnote in the university’s historical record; anytime his name surfaces, so will recollections of the damage he caused.

Beyond that, bewilderment will remain about how a university with such a solid reputation, and with leadership so strong and capable — leadership with such a dynamic and futuristic vision — could be duped into becoming victimized by a serial pedophile for more than a decade.

The Associated Press report published by the Mirror on Saturday about Penn State now having paid out more than $100 million in regard to abuse claims tied to Sandusky provides another page as to how badly the university has been hurt by this sexual predator.

But that amount is only a part of the overall Sandusky-related costs that the university has incurred. Saturday’s article reported that the overall total currently exceeds a quarter-billion dollars.

Meanwhile, how much in additional Sandusky-related outlays might be forthcoming can only be a matter of conjecture.

The university no doubt will continue to be plagued by legal costs tied to further Sandusky appeals, if he doesn’t abandon them — the likely scenario.

What has catapulted the abuse-claims payout figure above $100 million is an additional $16 million paid to people with claims about having been sexually abused by Sandusky. According to the AP report, it was unclear how many people shared in the latest settlements that the article said were made during the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Previously, the university said it had settled with 33 people for $93 million. Thus, the additional $16 million brings the new total to about $109 million.

Penn State also disclosed in its annual financial statement released Friday that it spent at least $4.9 million last year on Sandusky scandal-related internal investigations and costs, presumably tied to new or expanded allegations.

For the university, then, the name “Sandusky” just doesn’t go away, even though Sandusky, now 73, is serving a 30- to 60-year sentence at a state penitentiary.

Penn State will survive the Sandusky scourge and the bad decisions by some former university officials, but few people could have imagined that the healing would take so long and be so costly.

No positive results Sandusky achieved during his coaching career can ever help eradicate the costly harm for which he was so despicably responsible.

—The Altoona Mirror

—Online: http://bit.ly/2ANVufy

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