Friday, May 04, 2007

Norco Council Too Busy With Election Year Smears to Worry About Overcrowded Prison

Last night, an unholy triumvirate of Northampton County Council were convinced they had finally caught their nemesis, the evil Ron Angle, in a conflict of interest. Lamont McClure, Charles Dertinger and Diane Neiper ganged up on Ron.

Uh oh.

Prosecutor Charles Dertinger had the goods. He took off his glasses, which he always does when he means business, and launched his attack. "I have information that Angle owns six properties in Portland ... " that will be served by a county-financed sewer project.

"Actually, I own seven," Angle corrected.

Dertinger's conclusion, shared by Neiper and McClure, is that these sewer hook-ups will increase Angle's property values. McClure immediately moved that Angle be barred from any votes concerning that project. He even quoted the Home Rule Charter. Dertinger solemnly seconded the motion. Schoolmarm Neiper sanctimoniously told Angle he should have recused himself from voting about shit in Portland when he had the chance.

None of these three stooges produced anyone to declare Angle's property values actually would increase. Dertinger did claim he spoke with people in the revenue office, but never named them. Angle, a real estate maven, pointed out that each of the seven homes he owns in Portland already has a functioning sewer system. A sewer project is irrelevant to his property values, and could actually end up costing him money with sewer hook up fees.

That wasn't good enough for DA Dertinger, who really just wanted to embarrass Angle in an election year. McClure reluctantly withdrew his motion only when Solicitor Lenny Zito promised to investigate Dertinger's claim.

When Lenny Zito reports back, council will be told that Dertinger, like the Portland sewer project, is full of shit. Under our ethics laws, a public official does not have a "pecuniary interest" when he votes on something that affects the general public or some segment of the general public in which he is merely a part. In this case, the sewer project has an impact, beneficial or detrimental, on all Portland residents. Angle is just part of that group. If it were a conflict of interest for him to vote on this sewer project, he should be barred from voting on tax increases, too. Last night's maneuver was no attempt at good government, but was instead a thinly veiled election smear. Had it succeeded, it would have disenfranchised the voters in Angle's council district. That's who would have been hurt.

As McClure insisted there was a terrible conflict, Angle asked Lamont to justify his votes concerning the DA's office. After all, McClure's wife works there. McClure piously replied, "I abstain from votes involving the DA's office." That's baloney. Last year, McClure actually voted to increase the DA's budget.

Council Prez Wayne Grube considered the whole ordeal "embarrassing," and accused the Unholy Three of having an "agenda." "This is nothing more than vindictive stuff." What's really sad is that, while three inexperienced council members waste time playing political games, everyone is distracted from the real problems facing our county. These include a prison expansion that is over capacity less than a year after it was completed.
Update: The Express Times has a well-written account of last night's meeting. Reprter Sarah Cassi has a few of the good quotations, including Neiper's sanctimonious tripe.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

regardless, it would have been better for Angle to simply disclose the interest. when in doubt, disclose.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon,

Angle DID disclose the interest. First, it is a matter of public record. Second, he was asked about it 2 weeks before, admitted he owned property, and said he didn't see a problem. It was nothing more than a political hack attack.

LVDem said...

it's one of those things that would have been nice if he recused himself on the matter. The mere appearance of conflict of interest is harmful not only for individuals politically, but it raises questions about gov't.

Ron preaches a good game when it comes to how gov't should function. I'm gonna disagree with you bernie. Ron would have done well to recuse himself on this matter. Did the three council members go about it the wrong way, yeah (talking with Ron first, or asking Wayne to look into it perhaps), but Ron should have recused himself if only for appearance when you say he did disclose the matter 2 weeks ago.

Legal conflict of interest is one thing- passing the smell test is another. This may not pass the smell test for some people. It doesn't for me.

Bernie O'Hare said...

LVDem,

It's funny. A few years ago, Angle owned property right along a proposed sewer line for a goofy and county-financed industrial park called Bangor Junction Industrial Park. The whole thing was a charade. The actual "industrial park" property was zoned residential, and the owner didn't even want to sell. In that case, someone complained that Angle should recuse himself, and he eventually did so. That person was me.

In that case, Angle had a tract that had no sewer system, at all. The sewer connection would have enhanced his property value. He eventually did recuse himself.

This case is not like that at all because Angle does have functioning sewer systems at his Portland properties. There is no conflict. If there was, I'd be complaining myself, as I've done before.

Just about every vote by a councilman has a bearing on his property values. Using your reasoning, none of them should vote on tax breaks on real estate taxes because they'd be giving themselves a tax break, too! Think about it.

The law makes specific exceptions for matters that affect the entire public or a portion of the public in which the councilperson is merely a part. It is not a conflict. It's not even close. It is politics, pure and simple.

And last night, McClure was outright untruthful when he spoke about his votes in the DA's office, where his wife is employed.

LVDem said...

I don't fault your interpretation bernie. I'm just saying I disagree. Doesn't pass my smell test. May not constitute legal conflict of interest, but perception is often reality. We've often talked about mere perception being a drag on politics.

To the point: If this was Ron's home I'd agree with your logic Bernie. But this is a specific project that impacts ron's investment properties. They are commercial ventures that are no different from an industrial park in that they are investments meant to derive income. He gets by with legal conflict of interests b/c other people in Portland benefit too, but the fact of the matter is that his commercial venture benefits. If he lives there I don't really have a problem, but he's likely to receive benefit from it directly.

If ron wants to remove the doubt, he should kick in his share of the cost as a business expense or recuse himself.

As far as the comment pertaining to real estate taxes, this isn't a tax matter. It's an infrastructure matter. When expanding/repairing infrastructure that could serve a benefit to you directly (even if it includes others) recuse yourself.

Ultimately, this will be for Ron to decide and the political consequences will be his to accept.

Bernie O'Hare said...

LVDem!

This does not pass your smell test? And I thought I had a big nose.

My analogy was to taxes. Of course it's not the same thing but it is analogous. Under your reasoning, Angle must recuse himself from voting to cut property taxes because he would be thereby giving himself a tax break on his investment properties.

Under some citcumstances, I might agree with you. If there were no sewers at all and it was a vacant tract, the property values would definitely increase. But that's not the case here.

Now let me point out what's going to happen. Ron has already decided there's no conflict. Zito is going to come back and say there's no conflict. The people with egg on their faces will be the Unholy Three.

Anonymous said...

Bernie:

God Bless You! For those of us that don't make it to council meetings - thank you for keeping us informed! Keep up the great reporting!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Thanks. That's very kind of you.

Anonymous said...

Bernie --

I love this smell test stuff! Like Angle said, McClure's voting on funding his wife's office doesn't pass the smell test.

Kind of like those Rendell Department Secretaries giving millions of dollars in grants to agencies directed by their spouses doesn't pass the smell test.

I wonder if Derty smells what Rendell is cooking?

Bernie O'Hare said...

What kills me is Angle's ethics are questioned over a nonbinding resolution. It's just political. LVDEm is a good guy and will call things as he sees them. He'll take shots at Dems or Rs. But the only thing I smell is politics.

LVDem said...

actually that smell was something burning in the kitchen.

Hey, I see our ability to have a discussion on things like this as great. We disagree case by case (each of us varying instance by instance) but if we don't have the discussion, we end up with stale back rooms.

Bottom line, I see Ron gaining person benefit from improved infrastructure. To me, that's reason to step back and recuse (I would at least). You see the benefit being off-set by a broader community benefit. Fair enough. We'll agree to disagree and let Mr. Zito issue his opinion. But understand that Angle will still have to deal with the political dimension that comes with his decision to recuse or not recuse. Legal is one thing. Political is another. If I'm his opponent in an election, I make a big deal out of it, especially now that it's been raised.

Bernie O'Hare said...

LVDem,

I love the discussion more than anything else. And if truth be told, this is bad politically. I think it will backfire, but maybe not.

Anonymous said...

Zito will say it was ok. The disturbing thing is lvdem makes very good points. When it comes to guys like Angle and Stoffa, you seem to be a kinder, gentler Bernie.
I agree with you on the politics of the unholy three but it is all politics. Ron has been the master of creating something from nothing and playing to the mob for years.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I'll agree that Ron is a master at playing to the crowd. But creating something out of nothing? There have been some heavy duty problems in NC. Like him or not, Angle is the dude who shed light on these problems.

Your other point, concerning Stoffa, can be answered far more easily. Stoffa is the anti-politician.

I will and have criticized both these dudes when I think they're wrong.

I suppose I'm kinder and gentler to them because I don't think it's all politics for them.

Anonymous said...

Ber! I can't do it now but will be happy to get some info together on why I disagree on Angle and Stoffa. Its not just me but many people who feel they will get trashed or sued (Rons tactic) if they speak up. Actually Ron is at least honest about his politics. Stoffa is a crafty infighter who has been given a pass up to now.We will get back to you. Let freedom ring.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon!

When you have the time, lay it on me. I don't think you can tell me anything about Ron that I don't already know. He is a human being like the rest of us and has many flaws. But I'll put it like this. I'd trust him in a foxhole with me.

I don't know Stoffa nearly so well, but I really like what I have seen. I make my judgments about people based on my own dealings with them, and that's why it's hard for me to accept an anonymous comments that blasts him without stating any real specifics. Please don't be offened. That's just the way I am.

Crafty infighter? Stoffa is no slouch. People who understimate him or Angle do so at their peril. But I would not call him an "infighter" or "crafty." You'll have to substantiate that.

What I like about Stoffa is probably his greatest weakness. I've called him the anti-politician. But it was Ron himself who told me that sometimes political skills are very useful when working with a very bizarre council.

In this council, it would be quite easy to divide and conquer. Hickey was an expert at that for Reibman. But this seems to grind against Stoffa's nature. If he were a crafty infighter, he'd be doing that. But he doesn't. He instead calls council and asks themn what they think. And they criticized him for that on Thursday night. Apparently, they liked being told what they think.