Monday, March 30, 2009

Morning Call Exposes Queen City Hiding Head in Sand

The best evidence that Spring is here is the fresh air coming from The Morning Call, which has exposed the financial shenanigans being pulled by Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski and his docile collection of rubber stamps, sometimes called a city council. It reveals a government that has both withheld information and misled the public.

According to this detailed account, we now know the following:

1) Council members knew of revenue shortfalls in June, but said nothing.

2) The city has denied Morning Call Right to Know requests to review proposed department budgets as well correspondence between King Edwin and his Finance Director, Larry Hilliard.

3) King Edwin cooked the books in order to avoid a tax increase during an election year. Council member Michael Donovan now concedes that in a Morning Call interview, although he never mentioned it on his blog.

4) King Edwin will convene a committee that meets behind closed doors to solve Allentown's fiscal woes, something the editorial board flatly labels a violation of "both the spirit and letter" of Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act.

5) The news account refers several times to a "written statement" released by King Edwin on Friday. Written statements can't be questioned. It appears (although it's not stated) that King Edwin is avoiding reporters these days.

A government that thrives on secrecy, like the Queen City, eventually enables corruption to prosper. Worse, it appears we are also being misled. The budget is based on revenue forecasts the city itself knew were no good.

Council member Michael Donovan is the only council member who maintains a blog. But he voiced no warnings signals back in June, when revenue shortfalls first appeared. He instead published a post about saving $650,000 by borrowing money.

A Donovan Twitter on Saturday tells us he "is about to see the musical, 'A New Brain,' at Ithaca College." That's nice. Still upset over recent criticism I directed at him concerning his own penchant for secrecy, the "Councilor" petulantly asks, "Should I bring it back for anyone special?"

I'll be "civil," just like him, and decline to answer his question. But you know what I'm thinking.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Morning Call needs a new brain.

Michael Donovan said...

Dear Mr. O'Hare:

For the record, I began asking about revenue projections in the early fall because of the economy and what I was seeing.

The Administration committee was meeting almost monthly, and all three of us members were asking for information.

If you read the minutes of the budget cycle meetings, you will see a couple of us requesting over and over again the revenue projections. You will read my admonishment of the Mayor for not being part of the budget hearings. Also, I wrote on my blog concerns about the budget, also, in the fall.

If you wish to attack me, that is fine. If you do, please get your facts right. Don't selectively weave a false story.

And I'm sorry that you are so sensitive to think that my twittering about an excellent, excellent play in which my son was insolved rubbed you the wrong way. It was a general and fun statement for my facebook friends (who also get twitter messages) and not directed at you.

Thank you, and best regards,

Michael Donovan

Anonymous said...

"Don't selectively weave a false story."

But this is O'Hare's niche ... he'd get writer's block if he couldn't lie.

Anonymous said...

The serpent servant (O'Hare) has become the master (of Glen Kranzley and Jarrett Renshaw)

Anonymous said...

It continues to surprise me how Allentown's residents permit the mayor to conduct secret meetings. Some posters here have indicated the city plans to file for BK to ensure the flow of giant amounts of federal funding dollars towards city hall.

Anonymous said...

According to your blog, Councilman Donovan wrote (and we really don't know if this person IS the councilman to be fair):

"If you read the minutes of the budget cycle meetings, you will see a couple of us requesting over and over again the revenue projections"

If this is true, why didn't the councilman stand on a street corner and conduct impromptu press conferences outside city hall to inform city residents of this fiasco?

Anonymous said...

A budget shortfall ...
human beings admitting to having made some errors ...
and a plan in place in fix things.

I don't see what the "big story" is here.

Anonymous said...

Michael, while you rightly point out that questions were being asked I think it's a fair criticism that Council as a whole did not do enough to alert everyone on what was going on and begin preparations for the financial situation the city was facing.

Just a few days prior to the Sunday announcement of financial disaster and the establishment of the secret finance committee, Ed Pawlowski held a "Breakfast with the Mayor" at the Brew Works. You were there, as was Jeanette Eichenwald (not sure if other council members were there as well). The financial portion of that presentation was 100% pure fiction. Pawlowski knew it, and you and Jeanette had to know it by then.

After watching the MC fall apart, they are showing some signs of resurgence as they are nailing the Allentown story. I hope it continues.

The Banker

Anonymous said...

The amazing thing about "Councilor" Donovan is that despite KNOWING that the numbers were wrong, despite KNOWING that he was not being given all the information, despite KNOWING that a committee will be meeting in PRIVATE to discuss financial matters, and despite KNOWING that the Mayor continues to withhold information, the "Councilor" still supports the Mayor's re-election.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Mr. Donovan (and I assume this is you):

The Morning Call news account speaks for itself. According to an independent and unbiased news source, you were receiving financial statements in June, showing that revenues had dropped sharply. Instead of sending warning signals, you were posting blogs bragging that the city had saved money by borrowing.

These progressively worse financial statements were being sent to you monthly. In August, you condescended to tell us all, in a blog, how to read a financial sytement. Perhaps you should have taken your own advice.

You concede, in a MC interview, that Pawlowski was cooking the books bc it is an election year. You mention that nowhere on your blog.

You publicly endorse back room meetings involving that 15 person dog and pony show that will decide whose jobs are eliminated.

You pubicly endorse a muzzle against a citizen who just might have some answers to some of A-town's problems.

You fail to note that Tony Phillips, who actually voted against the budget, had circulated a memo prepared by a CPA showing that there would be a deficit.

With all due respect, if anyone is selectively weaving a false story, it is you and all the other bobbleheads on city council.

Your twitter message speaks for itself. Anyone following the exchanges over the last week, especially on your blog, could see that you were losing your civility.

The City Council, and you, came off pretty bad in this - possibly even worse than Pawlowski - because you just didn't do your jobs.

This is another failure on the part of Allentown's City Councils.

First, by allowing the Afflerbach Pension Plan for Police to go through, they participated in the beginning of the City's road to financial ruin and the destruction of the public safety infrastructure so vital to the City's future.

Now, by allowing the Pawlowski 2008 and 2009 budget to go unquestioned, you again are playing the "we are just learning" card. That is a poor answer when you have one job and one job only in the Mayor-Council form of government - Budget!!!!

That 15 person committee that you support so much, incidentally, is supplanting you in the job you were elected to do.

Anonymous said...

Having heard Councilwoman Jeanette Eichenwald on more than one occasion capture an audience of 400 with her inspiring conversations, it is with such sadness to see her now. Never would have believed.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Folks, the Villas have been posting OT comments here anonymously and under assumed names, designed to draw attention away from where it belonmgs. i ask that you ignore their rants. I'll take out the garbage later.

24 Hour News Cycle said...

I have to agree with Anon 10:11.
Having attended several Council meetings,I felt that Ms. Eichenwald apeared to be the most thoughtful and reasonable of all the members. However, I am not totally surprised that she and others on Council knew about the revenue/budget shortfall long before it became public knowledge.

They all seem to prescribe to the 24 hour news cycle theory. Read it Sunday, some blogs will be buzzing Monday, maybe a Letter to the Editor, then interest wanes and another story begins.

There is never any followup. For example, the isue regarding the awarding of the concession at the Golf Course. I was at the meeting where the Council agreed to investigate the actions of the Golf Course manager and his role in the bid process. I have been in attendance at several subsequent meetings and no mention has been made of any investigation. By the way, the Mayor's compadre has stuck it in his face by not making any improvements yet, in direct violation of the contract that calls for a $500 per day fine commencing March 1st.

Ed's Motto: This too shall pass.

Anonymous said...

"There is never any followup. For example, the isue regarding the awarding of the concession at the Golf Course. I was at the meeting where the Council agreed to investigate the actions of the Golf Course manager and his role in the bid process. I have been in attendance at several subsequent meetings and no mention has been made of any investigation. By the way, the Mayor's compadre has stuck it in his face by not making any improvements yet, in direct violation of the contract that calls for a $500 per day fine commencing March 1st."

Bernie,
Can you look into this golf course issue? Lots of city residents know about this
incident but are afraid to do much. I know me/others should too, but the truth is you have more courage.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Bernie,
Can you look into this golf course issue? Lots of city residents know about this
incident but are afraid to do much. I know me/others should too, but the truth is you have more courage."


I'll try and will post what I find.

APersonWhoCanAdd said...

Mr. Donovan, you brag about Questioning the budget in the fall of '08 after having the numbers for 3 months.. i'll give you credit and call that normal bureaucratic delay... but why weren't you questioning it in the fall of '07 when the housing crisis was just begining to take effect to begin with??? Does the city council only have one member that actually watches CNBC to actually know what is going on in the financial world?? or is it just the job of long time politicians like yourself to pretend that it won't happen to us?? when the city had a surplus in the good years... where was your fiscal oversight in making sure we weren't overspending for the cyclical down turns in the economy that are not only regular but inevitable??? do u even have a background in finance??? what are your qualifications to even over see a budget?? because allowing $8,000,000 of borrowed money to be touted as a surplus for years seems quite a stretch for anyone i know... i sure didn't learn that math at parkland.

in addition... this years budget was 1.6 million in the hole to begin with and you allowed the mayors office to call it balanced. i would think the greatest service you and the mayor could do for its citizens of allentown is to resign and allow the people to elect someone who is more about the city than furthering thier own personal aspirations at the expense of a once great city.

Anonymous said...

Golf Course Issue:
Reason so important is that long time former restaurant lease tenant, according to many, was forced out at last moment and forced to auction equipment at tremendous loss. now, according to some city residents, new owners, BrewWorks, to date has not renovated restaurant nor is it open to public. As for fine,
that is another issue and should be investigated since $500 per day times 30...

Bernie O'Hare said...

Folks, I delted 30-40 anonymous comments posted by the Villas this morning. After spending a few hours to do some title work, I discover a number of new Villa comments. I have deleted all Villa comments as well as your posts responding to him.

What is going on in A-town right now is an important story. Villa is attempting to divert attention away from that issue.

Please ignore him. I will delete ALL Villa comments as time permits.

Anonymous said...

to Anon: 10:11...i agree. jeanette eichenwald seems to have gone over to the "dark side" and appears to be an acolyte of dave howells. what a shame! however, the way things are going in this town, on some issues she may in fact represent the "side of light".

Anonymous said...

Apparently Mr. Donovan reads this blog. If you read this, how about checking into whether or not the Brew Works has paid their rent or the $500/day fine for not opening on March 1st? Why don't you and the rest of the "committee" take a trip out to the golf course and see what an embarrassment it has turned into? The ABW has a Coca
Cola trailer that looks like it should be at a knee high soccer tournament. Prices? $4.00 for a
rubber hamburger, add $1.00 for cheese. Beautiful.
Apparently they can do as they please, for example, opening their
concession stand when they feel like it. (roughly 10AM to 3PM)

Check out the contract and see if they don't owe $500/day.

Easy Answer said...

Anon 4:13 I think I figured it out.
Mayor Ed has made it into a KOZ.
They don't have to pay rent or taxes, I am unsure about fines for non-compliance.

I hope our Councilman Donovan checks into this and responds.
I assure you that there are many,
many golfers that are very interested. I see a lot of guys eating McMuffins in the parking lot at our "Jewel of the Parks System."
EVERYONE knows what transpired between Eddie and his goobah
Fegley. The ABW is in for a rude awakening. Hint: Don't hire too many people, one will handle the crowd.

Anonymous said...

To continue on the ABW Golf Course misfire.

New Vision or Wrong Vision

Councilman Peter Schweyer should do more research prior to speaking at the City Council meeting Wednesday February 4. Peter and other council members supported the decision made by the selection committee for the new lease of the Allentown Muni Golf Course food and beverage service. The economy is running at 5 mph on a treadmill going 10 mph. Not only the wealthy but everyone has seen their 401K’s decrease in the past year. Does he or the selection committee read the papers or watch any television news about people losing their jobs by the thousands in the Lehigh Valley.

Do they even know that membership in the local Country Clubs have declined by the hundreds over the past year? Other public courses have combined efforts in order to maintain financial stability. Morgan Hill, Center Valley, Hideaway Hills and Olde Homestead have combined to offer membership in the four courses for one price and allow players to utilize any of the courses. Woodstone Country club has been advertising combination membership to include carts and green fees in order to maintain and gain membership. Why is this being done? Not to offer a new vision, it is done to survive in these trying times.

He advocates the Brew Works taking over the food and beverage operation at the Allentown Muni Golf course even after they submitted a proposal increasing the price of a burger from 2008 price of $4.00 to the new price of $8.00. Good job Pete of protecting the common people that support the City operated golf course.

So I ask you, is this a New Vision, or a Wrong Vision, or repayment of a debt? In my mind and in the minds of anyone with one bit of common sense, this is the Wrong Vision or a repayment of a debt.

Resident of Allentown said...

I'm just curious. What happens if the city goes bankrupt? Can a city go bankrupt? Does the state take over? Just wondering if I should flee earlier than planned before I find out my home is being taken by the state because I can't afford an insane tax increase.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Cities can and do go bankrupt, triggering some sort of receivership. I'm weak on details and will look into it for you.

Bryan said...

From my limited knowledge I know that a city cannot declare bankruptcy. They declare or enter Act 47 which is when the government takes over. According to the mayor, when I saw him speak last week, he said that the city was not going to declare Act 47. This was because we were close but the government has preventative measures for city's like ours. We took the preventative measures so we won't declare Act 47. All the info I wrote above was miserably vague but it is the best of what I can recall from what the mayor said. I'm not sure if this is accurate because the mayor said it and, from reading various blogs, I can't tell if the mayor is a liar or not. Politics is fun

Bryan said...

to add to what I wrote check out this Wikipedia page. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financially_Distressed_Municipalities_Act

Bernie O'Hare said...

Bryan,

Thanks for the insight and link. instead of bankruptcy, it's called Act 47. Much appreciated.

Joe Hilliard said...

Here are the facts:

The city has had a continual operating deficit every year. This has been hidden by borrowing money and playing Enron accounting games.

The Police pension situation was hidden by underestimating the reality of its costs. We had an independent actuary review the city's numbers. They are sadly distorted. We will get SLAMMED with the next actuarial report.

Council approved two summers ago Bill 34 which raided the sewer and water funds of $3 million dollars.

The Mayor has had "math errors", "wrong slides" and phony excuses each time he was caught by citizen watchdogs. Of course, we were ridiculed.

BUT EVERY SINGLE THING WE WARNED ABOUT HAS HAPPENED. AND THE REALITY IS MUCH WORSE, AS WE HAVE WARNED ABOUT.

Yet, we are "petty", "partisan", "complainers", and "naysayers". (All comments in City Council minutes or the Morning Call.)

Sorry, WE WERE RIGHT. Now Allentown will suffer because the media and the ELITE defended Pawlowski and insulted us. Great job for the "leaders" of the community.

One is tempted to say go F*** yourselves.

Joe Hilliard said...

The point being that all these supposedly smart community leaders were too stupid to use a calculator with a "+" and a "-" button.

Instead, they engaged in P.R. and didn't want to hear the reality from those of us who are part of the Great Unwashed.

Sorry, they are simply IDIOTS.

Ignorance can be excused. Ignorance bases on arrogance and laziness cannot be excused.

Politically Neutral said...

Twitter - Symptom of extreme narcissism.

Allentown needs to be about the people of Allentown.

It has to stop being about these increasingly pathetic personalities that seem more concerned with their images than in ethically and morally discharging the duties they were elected to do.