NOTE TO READER: If anybody finds any statements or assertions to be materially untrue, I ask that they use contact E mail address at the bottom of the page as a tool for notification. If necessary corrections and/or retractions will be made. Thank you for your consideration to this matter.
Why does a city of 40,000 (7 square miles), with an average household income of $37,000, need to be taking excursions to Orlando and Las Vegas?
Why are their so many credit card receipts missing?
It is sinful.
Where do we even start with this one? From Tony Thomas claiming he needed to take trips to Las Vegas where he charged the taxpayers for videos rentals from the Excalibur Hotel, and Casino, and Orlando FL. All to get information about a splash pad. (Note: A splash pad is an area for water play that has no standing water. Water is shot through the air using nozzles. There is no risk of drowning).
A Splash Pad like the ones at Wild Water Kingdom in Allentown, or like the ones at the Fun Park in Clarks Summit. You know folks Clarks Summit where we stay at the Nichols Village Hotel because the drive of 28 miles is just too much round trip.
Then you have the outrages Working Lunches, of JJ Murphy (old city administrator)! This is wasteful spending at its finest.
If outrages spending weren’t bad enough we still have City Hall claiming we cannot find 87 missing Credit Card Statements.
From Bank of America, The largest commercial bank in the nation. This bank is completely online folks. So with just a few mouse clicks these statements could be downloaded, and printed.
USE OF TAXPAYER DOLLARS FOR PRIVATE HOMES
Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton believes it's a matter of preparing for the worst-case scenario. Linda Urban, a Republican candidate for city council, believes it's a criminal act.
They're both talking about security systems the city paid to have installed at the homes of Leighton and then-city Administrator J.J. Murphy following threats in 2004. The systems cost about $4,000 each, and the city also paid $6,500 to have Murphy's system relocated when he moved in 2006.
The city's purchase of the security systems has raised questions of whether taxpayers should pay for the protection of public officials and employees. Urban believes they shouldn't, and she has filed a private criminal complaint against Leighton and Murphy that has made its way to the Luzerne County District Attorney's Office for review.
"This is another slap in the face to city taxpayers," Urban said.
While Urban has alleged Murphy committed theft by unlawful taking and Leighton misappropriated taxpayer funds, among other charges, the mayor said he must seriously consider all threats made against city officials. Just this month, Leighton received notice that someone planning to attend a council meeting posted photos of firearms and violent ramblings on a Facebook account.
"You need to be prepared for the worst," he said. "And we are prepared here, and hopefully, hopefully nothing will ever happen here."
The security systems were installed after a man posing as a city employee tried to break into Murphy's home. The next day, a letter threatening Murphy and Leighton was stuffed in Murphy's mailbox.
Leighton believes Urban's complaint will be thrown out, he said.
"I'll be very short and sweet," he said. "I totally believe there's no merit, no legal standing on this."
While Urban and Leighton have staked their positions, other discussion about the security system isn't so black and white.
The city bought the systems, which include surveillance cameras and motion detectors, without public knowledge. Because the individual expenditures fell below $10,000, they were approved by the city controller, but not council.
Judy Nadler, the former mayor of Santa Clara, Calif., said the decision to pay for the security systems raises questions about the process used to approve expenditures and of whether the systems were necessary.
Public officials who are threatened will usually be protected by additional surveillance for a period of time, "but not forever," said Nadler, now a senior fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.
There are also various ways to secure a home, from better lighting to neighborhood watches, that could have been considered instead of a security system, Nadler said.
"It's one of those things that people start out doing for a legitimate reason, if you will, and it's never just a pilot program," Nadler said. "It stays on whether or not it's necessary."
City officials have said the systems remain because the suspect behind the threats was never arrested. Murphy has kept his system even after leaving his job with the city in early 2010.
Nadler said Murphy should not continue to benefit from the value the system adds to his home. The city could weigh the costs of removing the system versus having Murphy reimburse installation costs, she said.
Leaving the systems because a case has gone cold would be difficult for taxpayers to swallow, Nadler said.
"I'm not a lawyer, but that doesn't seem very practical or very logical to me to have that as an excuse or justification, let's put it that way," she said.
While labeling Urban's complaint as a "baseless" accusations and a familiar symptom of another political campaign for the city woman, Murphy also said "if the city wants to remove the cameras tomorrow, they can remove the cameras."
Reimbursing the city has crossed Murphy's mind, he said, but his family's safety remains his priority.
"I'll tell you what," he said, "once that gentleman's caught and if you want to run his picture in the paper and he's convicted, I will gladly reimburse, but my family still lives in fear."
Linda Webb, a former white collar crime investigator who once ran AIG's global fraud operations, said she believes the largest issue that has arisen is the lack of transparency. Rules that allow the purchase of a $4,000 security system without public input leaves the city with "vulnerability points," she said.
"They should actually hold a higher standard because it is public money," Webb said.
A way to judge the systems' merit could come by comparing Wilkes-Barre to similar cities, Nadler said.
Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty said he paid for his own security system. He also pays for his own travel expense and cellphones, he said, because he'd rather concerns not be raised.
Still, he said he's aware of the exposure public officials face. A man once came into his first-floor office and threw a bicycle at his secretary, he said. Wilkes-Barre could justify the purchase of the security systems, Doherty said.
"You only have to be wrong once," he said. "Then the question is, 'Why didn't you do anything?"
FULL TIME BENEFITS FOR PART TIME EMPLOYEES
Lavish trips and home security systems aren't the only ways people are treated. The threshold for achieving "benefits" is working 32 1/2 hours per week. The City Council members works only a fraction of that yet give themselves full time benefits!