What's Going On?


    Once upon a time, being dropped off back at my car parked at Giant Eagle after an early morning breakfast with a friend, we were almost out of there, each in our
    respective cars, headed in opposite directions to work.

    But some older gentleman with a very familiar face around town pulled behind the cars to talk to my friend. She knew him from church. I knew him through her and
    through his job with the county. None of us was especially eager to get to work that day, but he wanted to call off work and take a rare sick day.

    "Oh, come on! It can't be that bad," my friend said to him. Considering that an older county commissioner was taken out of the courthouse by ambulance, after fighting
    with another commissioner a few days earlier, that probably wasn't the best thing that she could have said.

    That's when this very manly man covered his face with his hands and had his unexpected meltdown right in front of us. We fully expected him to say that one of his
    grandchildren or children was very ill, or that something incredibly sad had happened, when he was able to talk.

    Instead, he said that he did not like the young commissioner at the time, but that the fisticuffs incident played out all over the media had happened exactly as the young
    one said it had. He, who had our full attention, said that he witnessed it and was ashamed that he could not do the right thing and corroborate the young one's account.

    We knew that we heard him correctly. There was no doubt. We also knew that he regretted saying so, aloud to us, just as soon as the words came from his mouth.

    No, he wasn't known to be a drinker or to lie or exaggerate. He had no dirty little secrets that anyone could have used against him if he spoke out to ease his conscience
    and help the younger commissioner blamed for picking the fight. The man in the meltdown in the car blocking us from leaving the parking lot was squeaky clean that way.

    Try as she may, my friend could not get him to repeat any part of that story again. After all, he likely would have been fired  if he spoke up for the underdog, who at the
    time seemed so unlikely to win re-election. We let it go when he agreed later to talk to someone about it, if it appeared that the younger, falsely accused commissioner
    would face stiff legal action.

    These dozen or so years later, it seems that in Fayette County one tries to get ahead of the other in politics too often only by having the sharper shovel that digs a lot
    deeper for dirt. There's no spirited debates over issues and too few candidates for most races who actually have well thought-out plans and ideas and -- dare we say --
    dreams for the county that might entice more of us to remain here for the long haul.

    Most elected officials get by just repeatedly muttering the same, empty rhetoric. We're being progressive. We're being pro-active. We're building for a better tomorrow.
    Oh, is that what we're doing? Really?

    How would we really know what's going on, though? Fayette County itself is an underdog, whose only fate of survival seems to have been placed entirely on both
    shoulders of the natural gas industry. That weight might be shifted to just one shoulder and shared -- i.e., if the mountain casino gambling license, on hold and tied up in a
    state supreme court appeal, over secretly heard testimony of one of the owner's "suitability, including good character, honesty and integrity," ends up getting issued.   

    And while Fayette County's horribly ranking stats for poverty, child abuse, alcohol and chemical dependency and unemployment have not improved in the four or so
    years that natural gas drilling started, leaders still seem to be unwisely banking exclusively on externally controlled solutions to Fayette's problems -- i.e., for someone else
    to ride in on a white horse to save the county. With $4 Million extra dollars to play with from the tax increase, did anyone think to create another job or two at Children
    and Youth Services? Who is in more dire need of more staff? Jail administration? The controllers' office? Or CYS to give them more eyes and ears out there to keep
    children safe?     

    While State Rep Tim Mahoney, 51st District, may have been on to something with his school district consolidation plan to save money, his proposal never made it to
    ballot referendum because, of course, state law did not allow it. The consolidation idea might have been better received, had it been presented differently.

    That a two-year-old Department of Education report collecting dust on the shelf was magically and anonymously leaked to the media, suggesting possible PSSA cheating
    (that investigations costing time and money since disproved) hurt Mahoney's idea as strongly as the mysterious, vague report secretly released had hurt the reputations of a
    few school administrators and principals until the investigations were complete. There is no known link between Mahoney and the release of the document and we're not
    implying that there is.

    Mahoney's subsequent admission that he knew the referendum was illegal put the icing on the cake for those opposed. This column would urge him to accept ownership
    for the shady way it all went down and propose asking if we want the state constitution to change to allow districts to combine any part of their business.

    Most of any other plans that leaders have for Fayette County seem to be talked about only outside of public meetings. When this column asked Fayette County
    Commissioner Vince Zapotosky 3 months ago why he voted for contract renewals and hirings that were not included on a public meeting agenda, he said the chairman
    missed the agenda meeting and items were not added. We already knew that much, of course. The chair's absence from an agenda meeting was not a good enough reason
    to vote on a non-emergency issue off an agenda.  

    Things need to be addressed openly, with as much helpful input as possible. Way too many people feel -- rightly or wrongly -- that Mahoney runs the courthouse and
    county operations and that the county commission chair and second Democratic commissioner are his puppets. We would like to think that this is untrue, but we cannot
    ignore public opinion when it's so strong and wide-spread across party lines. We don't have to believe it, but the perception people have shouldn't be taken for granted or

    Although no commissioner has been taken out of the courthouse by ambulance since that fisticuffs incident mentioned above a dozen or so years ago, we do have one
    commissioner taking quite a ruthless beating in other ways now.

    Any political leader who truly wants this county to move forward and advance the quality of life here should be wise enough to stand up for the underdog and make all the
    nonsense stop -- even if it's done quietly outside a public meeting. They have that power to call off the dogs, or at least keep them on a tight leash.

    That none of the gentlemen are respectful of the underdog speaks volumes about character and why this county will never amount to much again until they're out of office.

    8 Jun 12
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