KU Polling Place Change Stirs Controversy

Kutztown University isn’t actually in Kutztown but Maxatawny Township and students there have been voting on campus for a number of years.  The poll has been in the lobby and hallway of an athletic building with ample parking just outside.  It seems numerous complaints over the years from voters and poll workers prompted the Berks County Elections Commissioner Deb Olivieri to finally move the precinct four miles away to the Township building.  This happened when a suitable polling place became available for Maxatawny 1 which had been in the township building (out of the precinct) and now is in a church within its precinct.

Olivieri notified Tom Herman, Chair of the Berks County Democratic Committee, of the proposed switch on July 19th and on August 8th the County Commissioners (two Republicans and a Democrat often referred to as “the third Republican”) sitting as the Board of Elections approved the change.  Since then allegations of voter suppression arose as local Democrats saw the switch as an attempt to limit voter participation by KU students.

On the surface that might appear so as registered voters in Maxatawny 3 are comprised of 72% students at the University.  However when one looks at actual voter turnout it is abysmal except in presidential years.  In 2010 227 voters turned out but only 3 in that year’s primary.   2011 had 2 primary voters and 5 in the general.  2012 had 10 primary voters and 943 for the presidential general election.  This spring just one voter turned out for the primary.

As Commissioners Chair Christian Leinbach correctly pointed out college students generally have no interest in local municipal elections so those turnouts are very bad.  They do have interest in presidential races however and that is when KU students do turn out in large numbers.  Moving the precinct off campus and four miles away will have an effect in those races.  KU President Javier Cevallos has promised the Board the University will provide shuttle service to the polling place.  As long as the students are adequately informed about that availability I don’t this being a huge issue.

I’ve known Olivieri for years and she is a thorough and capable elections director and doesn’t do things on a partisan basis.   The thought that a Democrat would decide to disenfranchise fellow Democratic voters doesn’t make sense.  Berks County Democratic Chair Tom Herman had ample notice of the proposed change and had no reaction until after the fact and then shamelessly accused Olivieri of voter suppression.

The facts show that over eight years only 33% of the voter turnout in Max 3 were KU students.  If they really want a campus polling place perhaps they should vote more often and be more involved in the process.  I visit this polling place on election days because a local GOP committee person is known to practice active voter suppression there (like telling students if they vote they’ll lose their student aid) and I want to report on it if and when it occurs.  I never have trouble finding parking but have no personal knowledge of the physical facility because I don’t enter it.  I do know a lot of foot traffic into and out of the building are football players reporting for practice and other normal student activity not related to voting.  If this presents problems for poll workers moving the poll might make sense.  Olivieri obviously sincerely thought this change would be good.  Time will tell.

Update:  The numbers provided by Berks County Commissioner Christian Leinbach, which I quoted here, are NOT accurate according to the County’s own website.  For example, in the 2011 primary election Leinbach himself garnered 94 votes at Maxatawny 3.  I am trying to contact him for an explanation.

Update II:  Leinbach is claiming his numbers were for registered students on campus only.  He presented them as voter turnout figures.  I will check the video for exact quotes.  If he intentionally misrepresented these numbers at a public, televised meeting to justify previous actions this is a serious matter.

Berks County Investigating Johnny “Doc”

The Berks County Elections Board is investigating John Dougherty, Business Manager of IBEW Local 98 in Philadelphia.  The subject of the independent investigation, for which they hired outside counsel, is a $30,000 contribution the union made to the campaign of Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer.  Commissioner Mark Scott spearheaded the action and fellow Republican Christian Leinbach voted with him.  Democrat Kevin Barnhardt abstained due to a conflict of interest.  Berks County DA John Adams seems to have opted not to investigate.

The gist of the investigation surrounds two $10,000 contributions the Spencer campaign gave to Bill Rubin and Bill Green.  Scott is claiming the $30,000 was provided to Spencer with the understanding that $10K each would go tot he two Philadelphia candidates.  A source tells me that the Spencer campaign requested $10,000 from Dougherty to pay for election day expenses but got $30K instead.  They opted to spread the rest around to other candidates on their own.  

Political committees spread funds around all the time.  It’s almost impossible to go through campaign finance reports and not see candidates and elected officials contributing to one another.  Leinbach got a contribution from Friends of Joe Pitts ($250 on 10/13/11) and Rafferty For Senate ($1,000 on 11/2/07) for example.

Most interestingly, if Scott thinks funneling money through other political entities is illegal he’s in trouble.  In 2007 he gave $32,800 to the Berks County Republican Committee (10/19/07).  Four days later the Republican State Committee of PA gave him an in-kind contribution of $32,430.80 (a direct mail piece).  Was that money laundering also?  Was there any collusion in the transference of those funds?  If Mark Scott thinks John Dougherty and the IBEW was laundering campaign contributions he’s guilty of the same thing by running money through two GOP Committees to pay for his campaign mailer.

I asked Scott about this today and he refused comment.  His face was another matter and said volumes.  Berks County taxpayers are wasting $8,000 on this bogus investigation.

Sheeler Goes After Berks Commissioners for Political Action in Office

Berks County Recorder of Deeds Fred Sheeler went after two County Commissioners yesterday for political advocacy in their official capacities.  Mark Scott and Christian Leinbach recorded a radio ad for Larry Medaglia Jr. and identified themselves as County Commissioners.  The ad begins by saying it wa spaid for by “Friends of Larry Medaglia” then each of the Republicans identifies himself as “Commissioner Mark Scott” and “Commissioner Christian Leinbach.”  

Taking political action in one’s official role is bad ethics.  Of course Mark Scott has never seen ethics for which he agreed or abided by and has absolutely no sense of what ethics are.   Being chided for violating ethics by one of his row officers he had nothing to say in his defense other than what he does on his time is his own business.  The problem is he didn’t do this on his wn time, he did it in his official capacity as County Commissioner.  That makes it unethical.  

Sheeler went on to ask whether or not he regrets his vote to raise taxes, regrets not returning the county surplus to taxpayers as promised or whether he will raise taxes in the next four years to balance a projected revenue deficit.  He said he would raise taxes.  So, after slamming Judy Schwank for raising taxes with him, he admitted he will have to raise them yet again but what was done prior because of his bad financial management skills is bad.

I’m confused…where do Mark Scott and Christian Leinbach stand on this?  Are you for it or against it?  Were you for it before you were against it and then for it yet again?  My head is spinning.

News & Notes March 3, 2011

Jury deliberations in the Orie trial were halted by the Judge today amidst accusations the defense doctored two documents presented as evidence.  How far will the Orie sisters go to thwart justice?  Testimony concerning the corrupt nature of Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin’s campaign in 2009 would prompt anyone with any sense of ethics, decency and morals to resign.  What does this say about Justice Melvin?

Update:  A mistrial has been declared.

Two water companies will begin testing drinking water for radiation after a New York Times article about fracking fluid being disposed of through municipal treatment plants.  There was nothing new (to me) in the lengthy article (behind a pay wall) but it is shocking and the fact the article was in The Times has focused much attention on the matter.  We’ve known fracking fluid is radioactive when it comes back above ground for some time.  We’ve also known a million gallons/well must be disposed of somehow and we’ve known this is being dumped directly into rivers and streams or trucked to sewage treatment plants.  These facilities have no capacity to treat the radioactivity and heavy metals in the fluid.  This is why I’ve been warning of the imminent dangers from this drilling.

Berks County Commissioners Mark Scott and Christian Leinbach unveiled a radio ad for Larry Medaglia this week.  In it they run Judy Schwank under the bus for cleaning up the financial messes created by Republican Boards.  Mark Scott was one of those GOP Commissioners who used smoke and mirrors to hide a massive deficit.  These two, both up for re-election, are making themselves huge targets for retaliation.  Leinbach campaigned against the rainy day fund created by Schwank and fellow Democrat Tom Gajewski.  He promised to return the funds to the taxpayers but has failed miserably in that regard.  In fact he and Scott have increased the amount of money in the fund.

Mark Scott, an avowed racist who frequently goes on rants accusing Hispanics of being freeloaders and “illegal aliens” once infamously objected to an art project by famed Berks County native Keith Haring from hanging from the courthouse.  He engaged in a massive voter suppression effort against Hispanics in 2004.  One of his pet myths is perpetuating a lie that signs in New York’s subways tell poor people to come to Reading.  No such signs have ever existed.  The man is delusional in his hatred for non white people.  Coming from eastern Berks County, home to white supremacist hate groups like the KKK, he plays to his base.  He has also been carrying out an affair with his Executive Assistant for years including while he was married.  This could lead to a sexual harassment suit if it ever sours.  These are the folks criticizing Judy Schwank.

Many people are outraged over yesterday’s Supreme Court decision for Westboro Baptist Church.  I see it as a clear upholding of the First Amendment.  As much as I hate the Phelps gang this is their right.  It is up to us to mitigate their messages of hate in other ways.  

Apple announced the iPad 2 will go on sale March 11th.  I’ll gladly accept contributions.

Mike Huckabee dug himself a giant hole when he went on a rant about Barack Obama growing up in Kenya and how that made him anti-British.  Of course Obama never grew up in Kenya.  This all revolves around a bust of Winston Churchill which has the fringe all abuzz.  The bust was lent to the Bush Administration to display in the White House.  The loan was only for that period of time so it was returned.  This is similar to artwork being lent to a museum.  At the end of an exhibit the art is returned to its owners.  Same with this bust.  Huckabee lied about it all and went into detail explaining his position.  Why can’t he simply admit he lied?

News & Notes February 7, 2011

Arianna Huffington announced this morning she has sold The Huffington Post to AOL.  I imagine the old internet service provider is starving for content but why would she sell her signature accomplishment?  I mean other than for the $315 million?  I wrote for HuffPo last fall and got this letter:

We are writing with some very exciting news.  As you will see if you click on the HuffPost home page, The Huffington Post has been acquired by AOL, instantly creating one of the biggest media companies in the world, with global, national, and local reach — combining original reporting, opinion, video, social engagement and community, and leveraged across every platform, including the web, mobile, and tablets.

Central to all of this will be the kind of fresh, insightful, and influential takes on the issues of the day that you and the rest of our bloggers regularly deliver.  Our bloggers have always been a very big part of HuffPost’s identity – and will continue to be a very big part of who we are.

When the Huffington Post launched in May 2005, we had high hopes.  But we would have been hard pressed to predict that less than six years later we would be able to announce a deal that now makes it possible for us to execute our vision at light speed.

The HuffPost blog team will continue to operate as it always has. Arianna will become editor-in-chief not only of HuffPost but of the newly formed Huffington Post Media Group, which will include all of AOL’s content sites, including Patch, Engadget, TechCrunch, Moviefone, PopEater, MapQuest, Black Voices, and Moviefone.

Together, our companies will have a combined base of 117 million unique U.S. visitors a month — and 250 million around the world — so your posts will have an even bigger impact on the national and global conversation.  That’s the only real change you’ll notice — more people reading what you wrote.

Far from changing the Huffington Post’s editorial approach, our culture, or our mission, it will be like stepping off a fast-moving train and onto a supersonic jet.  We’re still traveling toward the same destination, with the same people at the wheel, and with the same goals, but we’re now going to get there much, much faster.

Thank you for being such a vital part of the HuffPost family – which has suddenly gotten a whole lot bigger.

All the best,

Arianna, Roy, David, and the HuffPost Blog Team

Berks County Commissioners Mark Scott and Christian Leinbach, both Republicans, got into it last week over promoting practices for County employees.  This is interesting because Scott is delaying several temporary promotions for department heads due to the fact the County didn’t advertise or conduct searches outside the courthouse.  While promoting from within is good for the career paths of dedicated civil servants he does have a point about finding the best available people.  He went about it all wrong however.  Why mention these people by name along with their salaries on public access TV?  This is a good way to deter good people not attract them.  The kicker was when it was pointed out his Executive Assistant Michelle Kircher, also his partner, was hired for a similar capacity.  Then she illustrated her low level of intelligence by showing her pay stub for the work to a reporter.  Kircher tried claiming she was paid only $5000 when the stub showed $9000.  Mark Scott an dhis Executive Assistant have carried on a relationship for many years, back before he was divorced.  If anyone should be questioning hiring practices it should be the County Solicitor concerned about potential sexual harrassment issues.

Green Bay kicked some Pittsburgh butt yesterday in the Stupor Bowl.  Christina Aguilira botched the national anthem and Cooper mooned the world with its tasteless “cram it in the boot” commercial which was roundly ridiculed on Twitter all night. What were best and worst commercials?  The halftime show was so bad I asked if Michelle Bachmann would do a response after the game blaming it on Obama.  Of course the NFL is a socialistic entity and Green Bay is owned by its fans.  I expect a Tea Party protest.

VP Joe Biden will be in Philadelphia Tuesday morning as part of the President’s initiative to expand mass transit.  I doubt I’ll be there since I don’t have a train I can take and I refuse to battle the morning rush hour into the city.

Keith McCall went directly from the State House to the Gaming Commission.  Let’s never allow revolving doors for political hacks get int he way of the public interest.  No sooner was the appointment criticized by Republicans than they appointed a hack of their own.  Harrisburg is a cesspool of corruption and nothing ever changes.

Mark Scott’s New Ethical Lapse

Berks County Commissioner Mark Scott has, again, committed a serious ethical lapse.  While sitting in his capacity as a Board of Elections Commissioner last Thursday he voted on a matter involving Exeter Township.  Scott’s partner, paramour and Executive Assistant Michelle Kircher sits as an Exeter Township Supervisor.

As such Scott should have recused himself from that vote.  This is a significant ethics violation.  He and his secretary have been a romantic couple for several years now and she wields undue influence over his decisions, especially regarding Exeter.  They attend many public meetings there together, as a couple.  The fact their relationship isn’t formalized with a marriage certificate does not negate its fact.  For him to sit and vote on a matter directly involving her job is a clear conflict.

Mark Scott has had previous challenges when it comes to ethics.  He slams the state ethics commission at every opportunity due to its finding him at fault when he attempted to use public funds for a private lawsuit against a landfill.  He gained financially from that settlement and the state made him share the proceeds with the county after using its money for his litigation.

Then earlier this year I caught him lying to my face.  Challenged about a smear campaign he orchestrated against a Democratic opponent using local Democratic smear artists he denied knowing the couple.  The problem is he was overheard giving the man the false information at a very public event:  2007 Earth Day at Centre Park.  Mark Scott is not to be trusted, especially when it comes to conflicts of interest.