Archive for June, 2011
By Jacqueline G. Goodwin, Ed.D.
Finally, an elected official has gone on the record concerning the order by State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille that the seat now held by retiring Magisterial District Judge Joseph Solomon be abolished at year’s end as a cost-cutting move.
It’s about time. In a Patriot News article, State Rep. Ron Buxton, D-Harrisburg, states, “The timing of the whole situation stinks.”
And he’s right. It stinks. The order to shut Solomon’s office, which covers the midtown and downtown areas of Harrisburg that includes the state Capitol Complex, came towards the end of the primary election. Not only did the Supreme Court’s order cause substantial disruption to a legal, ongoing, officially-called electoral process, it infringed upon my constitutional and statutory rights.
That’s why I decided to file a federal lawsuit, alleging violations of my rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Joining me in Goodwin v. Castille et al, filed in U.S. Middle District Court, are my former opponents, Roy E. Christ, Jr., Ronald G. Chapel, Leonard J. Lemelle, Jr., and Lynette Paszek. Chapel and Lemelle are also alleging violation of their rights under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
We’ve joined together in the fight because all of us were denied the right to seek the office by order of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania on April 15 that dissolved Magisterial District 12-1-03 and cancelled the primary election for which we had qualified as candidates.
Named as defendants are Ronald D. Castille in his official capacity as Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, and the Dauphin County Board of Elections.
We seek relief in the form of a special primary election with the winners to be placed on the general election ballot in November. We also seek the court to enjoin Chief Justice Castille from eliminating the position for a period of six years.
Our suit alleges the Supreme Court’s eleventh-hour cancellation of the election without re-assignment of the voters of the district to surrounding judicial districts denied to all residents of the district the right to seek the position of magisterial district judge in any surrounding district to which they might have been assigned.
In addition, our suit contends the Supreme Court has eliminated the voting right of a large bloc of the African-American voting population by its order. We allege that by failing to re-assign such disenfranchised voters to another magisterial district, the Court has unfairly discriminated against this population.
Additionally, our suit addresses the fact that while African-Americans within Magisterial District 12-1-03 have been denied a right to choose the district judge of their choice, their white counterparts in other parts of Dauphin County outside the City of Harrisburg have not been so affected.
For example, the office of District Judge Robert V. Manlove, who retired in 2009, has been allowed to remain open without a permanent replacement, leaving some to wonder if the court truly wanted to save money then why wasn’t this office permanently eliminated. Manlove was the Magisterial District Judge for the Camp Hill, Lemoyne and Wormleysburg judicial district, a predominately white neighborhood.
Even so, Dauphin County President Judge Todd A. Hoover believes the decision to abolish Judge Solomon’s office a good one, although Solomon has called the closure ruling a “travesty” because no plan to redistribute his district is in place.
“We will save about $850,000 a year by closing that office,” Hoover told the Patriot News. “His was the right office to close.”
There are two huge errors here. First, the operating budget (which includes all salaries, wages and benefits) for Solomon’s office in 2010 was approximately $500,000 while revenue was approximately $900,000. That is a $400,000 “profit.” In prior years the “profit” was as high as $650,000. Thus, the notion of saving $850,000 is ludicrous. How can you save $850,000 when it only cost $500,000 to operate?
Secondly, despite knowing of the pending retirement since Oct. 8, 2010, the president judge did nothing to prepare for the closing. The first step wasn’t taken until April 15, 2011 and there is still no known plan as to how to distribute the existing cases.
While Castille has ordered the county court to devise one for the state court consideration, Hoover said work on a plan is under way, but didn’t know if redistricting could be instituted before the November election. As this column goes to press, there is no plan in place.
The First Amendment, as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, guarantees the right of the people to vote. An election, once called and for which candidates have qualified for ballot placement, cannot be cancelled without impairment of the electorate’s First Amendment right to vote.
If the state court wants to close district judge offices statewide, it needs to do it legally. It should not violate my constitutional rights or interfere with the election process.
The filing of the federal lawsuit is not about the “job” the “money” or the “budget.” It’s about closing the office and redistricting before the electorate nominated candidates. It’s about allowing the electorate to choose their judge in its new magisterial district. It’s about disenfranchising a large segment of African-American voters.
In the end, it’s about the right to vote. . .a right many Americans have died to protect.
It’s official. The state Supreme Court has issued an order to close District Judge Joseph S. Solomon’s office, which serves sections of Harrisburg’s downtown and midtown, at the end of the year. And in doing so, Pennsylvania’s highest court has denied six hopefuls the chance to become a magisterial district judge.
As one of those vying to become Solomon’s replacement, I saw my political career disappear in a New York second. As fast as I could say, “Jack Rabbit,” my political career ended. One minute I was delivering campaign literature, erecting yard signs, and knocking on doors, and the next, I was sitting on my living room sofa, watching TV and pigging out on junk food. Talk about a flash in the pan.
Before I filed my papers, garnered signatures and paid my filing fees, there had been rumors that the office might be closed. The Dauphin County Election Bureau even posted a notice on its web site warning hopefuls about the uncertainty regarding the office’s fate. But with no official ruling from the Supreme Court, the election bureau still accepted nominating petitions for the seat for the May 17 primary.
Even though I had been warned that the position might be eliminated, I had hoped the office would be spared. Why would Solomon’s office, which generated roughly $400,000 a year from fines and other costs, be the one destined for closure? It just didn’t make sense. And the fact that no other midstate district judge posts were on the chopping block just made the whole idea even more remote.
Last year, Dauphin County President Judge Todd A. Hoover confirmed that the option of closing magisterial district offices was on the table. Caseloads, relocation difficulty and other issues would be under consideration by Judge Hoover in making a recommendation to the state Supreme Court.
His review was prompted by a request from Chief Justice Ronald Castille, who asked president judges to take a look at their district courts to determine which could be eliminated through retirements or vacancies.
At the time, Art Heinz, a spokesman with the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, said the state was looking to close about 10 percent of its 550 magisterial district offices–or about 50 statewide. Reviews of the offices were being conducted by president judges, and the remainder through a mandated process triggered by the 2010 Census.
“When you don’t have enough money and you keep adding judges, you run out of money and that’s where we are now,” Heinz said.
For each magisterial district eliminated, Heinz said the state would save the judges’ salaries, averaging $78,000 a year, along with benefits and office expenses. Cases and staff members would be reassigned to other offices. With Judge Solomon’s annual caseload over 12,000 civil and criminal cases, I still held out hope. I continued to campaign. I invested in campaign materials, a website, and spent a large amount of time getting to know the voters in my district.
On April 19, I received a letter in the mail telling me that the entire office was off the ballot. I would not have the chance to be elected judge. Judge Jackie was not to be. So much for “A GoodWin for Justice.”
The decision to close Judge Solomon’s seat bars those of us who live in the city’s 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 12th Wards from voting for a district judge in this year’s elections. With the district judge seat removed from the May 17 primary, we will now have our judge picked for us by those who live and vote in other districts.
While the fact that I am now part of a large group of disenfranchised voters is distressing in its own right, I am troubled that there was no forethought as to how the district would be divided among Harrisburg’s four other district offices before the court order was issued. In addition, the timing of the announcement should have been made before the filing period began.
I am also disturbed at the lack of voter outrage in Harrisburg over the decision to close the office. In other areas of the state, opponents of the decision to close magisterial district offices have been quite vocal.
One of those urging that a magisterial district court office be kept open is Mayor of Braddock, John Fetterman.
Unlike Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson who has been mute on the subject, Fetterman has repeatedly spoken out against eliminating the local office of District Judge Ross C. Cioppa, describing the decision as an unfair burden to Braddock, a former steel town straining to get back on its feet.
“I think it’s important to maintain the office in this area,” said Fetterman. “It’s important to know the neighborhood, it’s important to know the context, and it’s important to know the people.”
In retrospect, with state government services on the guillotine all over Pennsylvania, it really was no surprise that the state judiciary — faced with a possible $17 million deficit – decided to eliminate Solomon’s office. And the fact that Judge Solomon had announced that he was planning to retire at the end of the year probably made the selection process that much easier.
The state Supreme Court looked at eliminating only magisterial district judges because the number of common pleas courts judges is set by the state Legislature, and therefore, cannot be reduced. But the number of magisterial district courts is set by the state Supreme Court and can be changed.
Even though there’s no recourse to overturn the decision, a public comment of support to keep the office open by our local officials would have been nice. To date, no one has stepped up and uttered a complaint. And that to me, is a big disappointment.
By Deena C. Malley
This year’s budget began with an exciting, technological bang. Governor Corbett unveiled his proposal with an online dashboard where any taxpayer, anywhere in Pennsylvania could go to a website and take a look at the details by general fund, program or agency.
The rainbow colored pie charts are dazzling.
Then there are the reports. The options are bountiful. They even come complete with historical data. They are enough to make any analyst or policy wonk drool over the blinding blizzard of numbers.
The dashboard does have a few imperfections but overall it is an admirable start at presenting data with a meaningful use. It also goes a long way toward creating a window of transparency into a process that has traditionally only been privy to an anointed few.
While it is a good first step, this dashboard is at risk for falling into what is referred to by the technology community as flash and dash. Flash and dash is a generally derogatory phrase used to describe a dashboard that was created for the sole purpose of a dog and pony show presentation designed only to impress executives and make a sale.
The flash and dash is always disappointing because a big effort goes into creating them but their usefulness quickly dissipates pretty much as soon as the sales execs get their commissions.
Not all dashboards fall prey to this sentence of being locked away in a digital archive and neither should Governor Corbett’s.
In this age of analytics and comparative analysis, dashboards play a big role. Consumers use comparative data analysis every day. Whether it is booking an airline ticket or shopping, who does not relish at using sites such as shopzilla.com or farecompare.com to find the best deal. Heck, even Captain Kirk is a priceline.com negotiator.
We are all bargain hunters at heart. These sites give us data dashboards to compare leading companies so we can pick our best price.
Now that our governor has started Pennsylvania down the dashboard path, the application needs to go further and think bigger.
Be prepared. This next idea will be a boat rocker in the halls of the state capitol.
Why not have the governor and all four caucuses submit their budget proposals, including any amendments to a real-time, online dashboard.
Think about it for a second.
At any given time, taxpayers could see line-by-line the differences in what is being proposed. They could do their own comparisons, draw their own conclusions, and make their own decisions.
No more waiting for newspaper articles or press releases giving us the writer’s view and opinion of what is important. There are many budget items that are over looked and under reported year after year.
All the proposed numbers just a click away.
From a technology standpoint, it would be easy to do. All of these budgets are created in Excel spreadsheets or similar programs so it is just a simple data extract and comparisons of matching fields. In the world of IT, it would be a cake walk for a good programmer.
So why not do it? Why not step out of the budget box and let taxpayers have more than flash and dash.
See fraud and waste in Philadelphia? There’s an app for that. City Controller and former House member, Alan Butkovitz, unleashed Philly WatchDog. iPhone and iPad users can go to iTunes, download it for free, and begin cleaning up government.
Provide a description of the abuse of tax dollars, upload a photo or video, or use the GPS feature to pinpoint the exact address of the maleficence and it sends the report directly to the fraud unit for investigation. At a touch of a button, and you’re on the Controller’s hotline.
Critics are already calling this application a waste of taxpayer dollars on frivolous technology. Philly Clout reported it cost $5,400. Unions are also reported not to be fans.
At the heart of the appeal for this type of digital government is the power it gives citizens to directly communicate with public entities. There is also a feeling of empowerment of being part of saving taxpayer dollars and cleaning up government. Most of all, behind every download is a person who thrives on instantaneous connection and will expect quick responses without bureaucracy or middle men.
While Philly WatchDog is one of the first of its kind in the nation and certainly a new innovation for Philadelphia government, more of these applications will be expected from citizens.
State government needs to start changing meet citizens where they live – virtually. They want information fast. They want to interact. They want answers in real-time.
They do not want to pick up the phone and go through a hellacious maze of options. They do not want to go to a website, print a .pdf form, fill it out by hand and mail it in. They do not want to be confined to processing only on weekdays from 9 to 5.
Government must be ready to move. This is one of those rare moments in time where public entities have the opportunity to prove they are really about serving the needs of their citizens instead of reacting to their complaints.
The rapid adoption of smartphones and tablet technologies should be sounding an alarm for every person involved with technology implementation the time for change is now.
Of course, the state is in a budget crunch but there is still a lot of money being spent on information technology projects. To help defray costs and bring fresh ideas to the table, the state could also sponsor a program like Code for America to get technology professionals to contribute their talents to the greater public good.
Code for America helps cities who need to reduce administrative costs and engage citizens more effectively through web-based solutions to become more transparent and collaborative. Cities are then paired with a tech-savvy, civic-minded development team of individuals who are serving through an 11-month fellowship program.
It is time to let the dogs out and let the best of tech serve the rest.
A recent Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article quoted House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney, and a spokesman for House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, both saying that they are looking into consolidating duplicate printing services done between the two chambers.
If it comes to pass, it could potentially be a big savings for taxpayers. It will also address one of the items listed in the May 2010 grand jury report that talked about partisan operations in the state House.
Both Smith and Dermody should be commended for taking this first step of business process improvement. Share services are always a good thing and save money in virtually every business around the globe.
We taxpayers need the state to save every penny they can get their hands on.
While this is an exciting step in the right direction, there is that really nagging issue of root cause analysis. Sure the shared services model of consolidating printing operations solves the obvious problems of duplication of services and cost of two separate staffs but it does not get to the heart of the real issue.
To get to the real issue, the question has to be asked. Why is all this printing going on in the first place?
All across the Commonwealth too much printing is still going on for this modern digital age. This may seem trivial but each piece of printed material that is handed out or mailed is one more nail in the state’s coffin of being forever buried in a paper world that is rapidly disappearing.
The state needs to take that leap once and for all and go entirely digital. I have heard all the reasons why this will never work. My favorite one is not everyone has access to a computer. That raises a big old red flag to me and only furthers every reason in the world why we need to do this.
For every citizen that does not have access to technology is a person that we, as a state, have just locked away and forever disenfranchised. Being able to get on the internet is a crucial necessity to be connected to the global economy. It enables education, provides access to more books than the Library of Congress could ever hold, and it is a must for finding a job.
Do not say it cannot be done or you need these mailings to reach constituents. For years, Senator Jeff Piccola used to send me a printed newsletter every three or four months. He has gone digital in recent years and today his beautiful newsletter pops up in my InBox every two weeks or so. Not only can I read about his initiatives but the online newsletter gives me access to his upcoming events, links to more information and a way to instantly interact with his office. If I have a question, it is answered within hours. Much better response time and better constituent service all the way around.
If all this printing is going on because people do not have access to technology, fix that problem. In the end the savings across the board will be astronomical. More importantly, it will set a higher bar for our citizens.
This legislative session, the often-criticized (and, for the most part, deservedly so) Electoral College system will be coming under scrutiny in Pennsylvania under legislation that would change the way the state’s electoral votes are allocated. This could be Pennsylvania State legislature’s chance to withdraw from the outdated process in which we pick our chief executive.
Under the current system, Pennsylvania’s electors, as in most states, are committed to voting for the candidate who wins the state’s popular vote. The measure would have Pennsylvania commit its Electoral College votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote.
The current Electoral College method for choosing the president is flawed because it can result in a candidate winning the presidency without winning the national popular vote. That’s because most states’ electors are committed to casting their ballots for the candidate who the wins the most votes in their state. This allows candidates who win key large states to collect enough Electoral College votes to win the presidency, even if they don’t win the national popular vote.
The Electoral College itself was born of cynicism. One of the reasons it was put in place by the framers of the Constitution was to serve as a mechanism to safeguard against upstart, rabble-rousing candidates from the distant rural reaches of the young, vulnerable republic creating political bedlam. Electors were meant to ensure that only “proper” candidates could ascend to power. You might say it was an effort to rig the game.
Each state now gets as many electoral votes as it has representatives in Congress. Pennsylvania, for example, has 21 electoral votes, and whoever wins the most votes in Pennsylvania gets all 21.
But the outdated system has morphed into something else. Now, a presidential candidate needs to win only 10 states to reach the 270 electoral votes needed for victory. That’s why presidential hopefuls practically live in places like Florida, Ohio, Illinois and California. Doing away with the Electoral College would, in theory, change all that.
The National Popular Vote bill has already made significant progress. It has been enacted by six states and the District of Columbia with over a quarter of the electoral votes needed to bring the new system into effect. To date, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Washington, and the District of Columbia have embraced the idea.
The concept is a fascinating idea, for it would eliminate the archaic process that, in effect, prevents the American people from voting directly for their president.
It would also eliminate the specter of electing a president who did not win the popular vote. It’s been over a decade since George W. Bush came in second to U.S. Sen. Al Gore in the popular vote but took the White House after a disputed Florida outcome gave him an Electoral College victory. Bush also won the popular vote over U.S. Sen. John Kerry by more than 3 million votes in 2004. But if 60,000 Ohioans had switched their votes from Bush to Kerry, Kerry would have won the Electoral College and the presidency.
Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. It would no longer matter who won a state. Elections wouldn’t be about winning states. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. Every vote would be counted for and assist the candidate for whom it was cast – just as votes from every county are equal and important when a vote is cast in a Governor’s race. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.
Candidates would still have to appeal to a broad range of demographics, and perhaps even more so, because the election wouldn’t be capable of coming down to just one demographic, such as voters in Ohio did in 2004.
The national popular vote initiative is long overdue. Now legislatures have the chance to make presidential elections even more democratic by agreeing to give their electors to the winner of the national popular vote, effectively negating the unfairness of the Electoral College. Let’s hope Pennsylvania joins the bandwagon.
How many bloody Gs are there? Ozzy Osbourne wanted to know in his Super Bowl commercial with Justin Bieber. Apparently, he isn’t alone.
At a recent House Consumer Affairs information meeting, Rep. John Payne asked a panel of wireless industry experts the burning questions: What is a G? How do I know if I have a good G? Is 3G better than 4G or should I wait for 5? How many Gs will there be?
With all the knowing nods from other committee members and the big smile on Minority Chairman Joe Preston’s face, Payne was not alone on this crazy train.
Panelist Gary Horewitz for Sprint’s government affairs cleared the air and explained a G stands for generation. In the wireless world, a G is a marketing term that has come to mean an individual company’s product has achieved the next iteration of innovation.
There are no industry standards for Gs. Therefore, a G from Sprint is different than T-Mobile’s G, which is different from the Gs offered by Verizon or AT&T. Each company has its own standards for upping their G and defining what constitutes the next level. One thing the wireless panel representing Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon all agreed upon is that they agree to disagree on what constitutes say a 3G versus a 4G.
The G could also go to infinity and beyond. There could be an endless number of Gs. With the speed in which the industry is growing and innovating, consumers could theoretically see 100 G in a few years. Maybe every new year will usher in a new G or two.
Ahhh – lots of lightbulbs went on for committee members that never knew what a G really was.
A recent purchase of a Droid is what prompted Rep. Payne’s question and he does not want to see consumers disappointed who are expecting faster speeds with the higher number Gs. He is right to be concerned for consumers. In a recent blog by AT&T’s Chief Technology Officer, John Donovan, he talks about meeting consumer expectations for speed. He points to a recent survey of their Smartphone consumers showing 75 percent rank consistent speeds as a top concern.
This is not Rep. Payne’s chief concern. He has a background and experience in emergency management services. He sees the burgeoning consumer demand for Smartphones and iPads which increases the demand for data transmission. He wants to make sure that the data needs of first responders and 911 centers are met first and not impacted because people are downloading the latest episode of their favorite television show.
So kids, just because you have a higher number G, it does not mean it is better or faster than the next guy. It just means it is better than what that company had before. The bottom line it is part of how the industry peddles their product to outsell the competition.
While the mystery of the G is solved, it is important for the wireless industry and the General Assembly to stay committed to meeting the needs of consumers while not losing sight to first meet the needs of emergency management services.
So the next time you might think you’re going off the rails on this wireless crazy train, count on Rep. Payne to ask the questions we all want to know – or call Ozzy.