Saturday, September 16, 2006

Norco's Elections Chair - Dem Committeeman, Area Chair & Partisan Radio Show Host - Isn't This a Conflict?

Last time I told you about Wally G, aka Walter R Garvin - political radio show host, Democratic committeeman and Chairman of Northampton County Elections Commission. On the radio, he's known only as Wally G. I guess he didn't want people to know he was moonlighting by reading a propaganda script every week. So he altered his name to fool us, but not for long.

Garvin claims his radio show's purpose is to inform the public about Congressional voting records. Wrong! It's an hour long sermon from the Democratic party. In fact, it's featured on the Northampton County Democratic Party's web page with the following description: "Sick of Right-Wing Talk Radio Blather? Tired of them insulting our intelligence? Then tune in to WGPA SUNNY 1100 AM and host WALLY G ..." That web page dishonestly fails to identify Wally G as Walter Garvin, the area chair for Freemansburg, Bethlehem Township, Hellertown and Lower Saucon Township. Garvin is clearly an "officer in a political party."

Garvin's involvement with a local political party is a clear violation of the Home Rule Charter, which plainly bars officers in a political party. Moreover, Wally G's disingenuous decision to host a very partisan radio show under a nom de plum, creates serious concern whether he could be impartial in his role as Elections Chair.

When I expressed these concerns yesterday on another radio show where Wally G was a guest, Garvin and host Don Russo snorted that if I had a problem, I should let my pals Angle and Stoffa know about it. So I did. As it turned out, Angle was listening to the show and fired off a memo to Stoffa by the time I called him. The Morning Call's Paul Muschick has an excellent report about this conflict of interest, and learned a second elections commission member, Lilly Gioia, is also an elected Democratic committeewoman.

Local Dem chair Joe Long claims all is well in the land of Oz. Long himself was probably elected illegally, as I noted in a previous post. He's also been rated as one of the state's worst county chairs. He should read the papers. Voters are disgusted by the shady tactics of politicians in Washington and Harrisburg. Yet he shames his party with a dishonest tactic by encouraging an area chair to do a partisan radio show under an assumed name. He creates a conflict of interest by stacking the elections commission with committeemen, who are party officers. The Democratic party should be associated with reform instead of business as usual. Long would best serve local Democrats by resigning.

By the way, Northampton County Dems are having their little shindig tomorrow. I think I better wait 'til next year. I'm not that hungry anyway.


Anonymous said...

Looks like Lehigh County Redneck isn't the only one considering putting a "hit" on you!

Bernie O'Hare said...

The list is long but distinguished.

LSTresidentPIA said...

Is there no one that understands the concept of the appearence of improprity or conflict of interest?

When I recently publicly questioned LST Councilwoman Priscilla deLeon as to why she did not abstain from voting on a proposed ordinance that would limit constructoin times to certain hours depspite the fact that her husband is a contractor. I contacted the PA Ethics Committee(thanks to info on Bernie's blog) and they told me becasue of a loop hole in the rules, she did nothing wrong that they could pursue. But they did tell me yes, she should have abstined because of the appearence of improprity and the conflict of interest that it appeared to show.

I recently wrote an editorial in the free local paper, the Saucon News, where I called on many of the leaders of the Sauocn Valley Community and Lower Sauocn Township to do better. I also included some of their recent actions. Talk about throwing gasoline on the fire. Nonetheless, Mrs. deLeon after reading my editorial, called the State Ethics Committee. She says she was told she did nothing wrong and read a prepared statement to that fact at the last council meeting. There is nothing that she was told by that I wasn't. But I still says it looks bad, this goes back to my point about that yes, we do vote for canidates based on more than the issues. Intergrity, honesty, and so on all matter.

I am not so sure anymore that the 30 years or so Mr. Stoffa was in Human Realations has prepared him for his toughest challenge as county executive, that is babysitting. I think we need to get him a special consultant to deal with the childish behavior of those invovled in county politics and government. How many retired elementary teachers do you think would apply?

Bernie O'Hare said...

LSTresidentPIA, By far your best and most cogent post. This is more than appearance of impropriety. It is a violation of the NC Home Rule Charter.

FtHillDem said...

Yes, I think you are right about the conflict of interest and the violation of the charter. But I am having a hard time convincing myself that I should care much about it. When I see violation of laws on a much grander scale, if I want to worry, I'll worry about them instead. And much as I hate to admit it, I am not immune to worry about such things.

When I see Bush trying to circumvent laws passed by the Congress by issuing "signing statements", I worry about that. When I see Bush trying to endanger our Constititional rights by invoking "national security", more worry. And when it comes to elections, when I see electronic voting systems which are not secure, I worry a lot about that. Now there's an issue, Bernie. How is it that we don't have a system with a paper trail safeguard, like "less advanced" countries (ex. Venezuela) do.

By the way, Dent does not seem to be very concerned about that lack of a paper trail. He told us so in response to a letter about our concerns.

And while the person you are talking about may be "boring" (I haven't heard him), I think he has every right to be on that radio program. Whether he is an election official or not, he is also a citizen, with a right to express his opinion.

And I will take "boring" over what often passes for talk radio. When the alternatives are the lies and insults hurled about by the likes of Limbaugh, (and maybe Angle, I haven't heard him except what you say), then "boring" and "no lies" would be a very welcome alternative.

FtHillDem said...

And also, I don't see why you should avoid the Democratic picnic which is evidently this weekend. If you believe that you are dealing with the issues in a fair way, you have no reason to avoid association with any group of people.

Anonymous said...

Who else applied to be on the Commission? If no one, should we do without two members of the Elections Commission? Who holds the others? Are any of them Republicans? Is there any recent history of Republican electoral fraud that might have politicized committees like this?

I'm sure you thought about those questions, Bernie. What's your take?

Bernie O'Hare said...

FTnHillDEm, You are. of course, right. There are indeed violations on a much larger scale. They concern me, too. But does that justify these smaller local violations? And these local violations are much easier to stop. By remaining silent, we encourage the replacement of one culture of corruption with another. We all complain about Katherine Harris, the highly partisan Bushiw who counted the votes in Florida. We were dishusted that someone who is so biased could be entrusted with desicison about our votes. And she did nothing illegal, but certainly created an appearance of impropriety. So if it's bad for her, it should also, on a much smaller and more local scale, be bad to place a highly biased person in charge of the votes.
And there is nothing illegal about the NorCo elections chair hosting a radio show that endorsed Democrats only and does quite a bit of R bashing. But just because it's legal doesn't make it right.

And it IS illegal for a party officer to be part of the elections commission. When one group breaks the law, that is no justification for a subsequent violation by another group.

But I understand your point and your sense of frustration.

Bernie O'Hare said...

To Anon 6:18, The Charter provides for a 5 person elections commission, no more than three of which may bve from one party. Right now, there are three Dems and two Reps. The Reps. do not have any committeemen serving on the commission. Dems have two. The very first elections commission meeting started off on the wrong foot, with all kinds of partisan banter by three very frustrated Dems. So I believe it is a politicized commission.

Of corrse, when you speak of electoral fraud, you're referring to Bush and Florida and Ohio. I'm well aware of that. That is precisely why we need to remove partisanship from those who count the votes. Otherwise, the Josef Stalin quote about the real power being vested in those who count the votes instead of those who vote, will sadly come true. I'm very concerned that the local dems are trying to insert a little too much partisanship where it does not belong, the same thing that we lament on a ntional level with the Rs. That's my take.

Thanks for your post, and thanks to FtnHillDem as well.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me????

It's OK for right-wing whacko Ron Angle to have a blatantly biased radio talk show, but it's wrong for a lowly Dem committeeman to be on air?

And you didn't "out" anybody. Wally G. didn't lie or assume a false name or pretend to be anybody but a Democratic radio talk show host. Do you know how many radio personalities have gone by a "radio name"?

MUCH ado about nothing. Must be a very slow weekend for blogging, hey Bernie?

Bernie O'Hare said...

No It IS wrong for a Democratic committee, who incidentally chairs a region of Northampton County, from being the elections commission chair. That's what the Charter says. He's an "officer of a political party." He actually has to be elected to that office in a primary election by other Dems like me.

It is not illegal for him to host a slanted radio show, but that also casts doubt on his ability to be impartial when it's time to count the votes. And he WAS disingenuous. He always referred to himself as Wally G, and even maintained that nom de plum on Russo's show until I point blank asked him to ID himself. That also casts doubt an his ability to be impartial.

We can go round in circles about the radio show and the disguise, but it IS a clear Charter violation for a committeeman to serve on the elections commission. And another member of the commission is also a committeman. We justifiably complain about Rs stealing two elections, and then decide to break the rules ourselves?

Slow blogging wekend? I usually don't post on weekends at all. I amde an exception for this because I think it's important.

I don't think there was any intentional violation by Garvin or the other committeeperson. But this has to change quickly.

Thanks for your point of view. In truth, I suppose it isn't that big of a deal, but it could be. And I could be completely full of it about many of my complaints here, but I don't know how you get around the charter prohibition on political officers. It doesn't exempt committeemen. Garvin and his colleague are going to have to give up the elections commission or their spots on the Dem committee.

Bernie O'Hare said...

And as far as Angle is concerned, I would have a similar complaint about him if he was sitting on the elections commission. But he doesn't. He's a blatant partisan and doesn't hide it. And he doesn't call himself Ronny A, either.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Let's say the race between Dent and Dertinger gets real tight, or the race between Boscola and Dodge. The Elections Commission chair, who also happens to be a Democratic committeeman and who hosts a slanted radio show that accuses Dent of being part of a "culture of curruption," makes some critical calls and Dent or Boscola ends up losing. Don't you think Rs would be screaming foul all over the place? So while this matter may not seem to be that big of a deal now, it could be in November. Ask Al Gore. That's why I thought it important to blog, even on a Saturday.

FtHillDem said...

You didn't address my question about our electronic voting machines. I suspect that you know more about this local issue than I do. Are you concerned that we have no paper trail that could be used for an independent recount, if necessary? Do you know why we do not have voting machines with this capability? It must be possible. They exist.

Bernie O'Hare said...

FtnHillDem, I'm sorry I neglected your question. LC uses a Diebold system. NC uses a different touch screen system. Its name escapes me, but I heard the presentation of the system and it strikes me as superior to Diebold. Both systems are required by the federal Help America Vote Act, which I believe should be renamed the Help America Not Vote Act.

Now the way I understand the NC system, all votes cast wilkl stay in place once they are entered, and that is the electronic equivalent of a paper trail. If something malfunctions, votes already cast are not lost.

The touch screen actually makes it eeasier to do a write\-in than previously was the case, and I think that is the real reason why Dertinger was able to attract so many write-ins. The way the systemj is set up, it will also be much easier to vote for an independent or third party candidate. It will be harder to miss a referendum question.

There is no paper trail on the new system in NC, which would be a redundancy. One could be installed, I'm told, but the cost is onerous.

I believe concerns about paper trails are more important for the Diebold system, which I don't think is as good at retaining info in the event a machine malfunctions.

I'm also concerned about the very real possibility these systems can be hacked. The more loudly this is denied, the more I think it is going to happen.

I would prefer having all possible problems ironed out before the new systems were installed and foresse real problems in future elections until the bugs are worked out. But no one could wait because the feds jammed this down our throats, along w/ all kinds of new requirements for voter ID and "provisional ballots."

In the last election, there were numerous problems w/ the new systems. I deeply resented a poll worker at my side as I voted. I eventually asked him to leave.

All of this is in a state of flux and NOW is not the time for us to have the additional concern that local elections officials have become partisan. That's why this minor matter concewrning Wally G could actually become a major matter.

I'm sorry I missed your question. It's a good one, and one that I'll look into in more detail in the next few weeks.

Anonymous said...

Bernie -

Thanks for the response (Anon 6:18).

Just wanted to have the context so I could figure out if this was commonplace or unusual.

FtHillDem said...

Thanks for telling us what you know about the new voting machines. It sounds to me like the NC might be better, but only marginally. I would not conclude from what you said that a paper trail in the NC system would be redundant.

I think that various forms of "hacking" are in fact be the main concern. Once the bits and bytes get changed in any way, by any process, recounting the votes will just be recounting the doctored results. I personally am not very good at changing bits and bytes in any computer system, but I understand that there are people who are just fantastic at doing this.

From what you said, the problem on this probably originates from outside the local counties. If it is true that the "cost was onerous", then for some reason, the supply of these systems with a paper trail was not adequate.

My guess about why this was the case is that the federal government, under its Republican control, did not want this to happen, and did not insist that computer vendors actually produce the systems that had the additional printing devices necessary for a paper trail.

Adding a printer to a computer is not rocket science. Nor is it very expensive.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the voting machine issue ... in the primary elections NC had an issue which was referred to as a "glitch" by Executive Stoffa. This "glitch" was that the ballot was turned upsidedown.

What this means is that before election officials corrected the problem anyone who voted in the R primary was really voting in the D primary and vice versa. As a voter you saw the proper names for your election, but the votes were recorded to coincide with the other ticket. With no paper trail there could be real issues in a general election. This is information that was published in The Morning Call shortly after the primary elections.

While I understand that Stoffa had to say publicly that this is a minor problem, it is not. If this was done in the 2004 election anyone voting for Kerry would have really been voting for Bush if the problem was not found and corrected.

I am still unsure why, other than the obvious money to be made by Diebold and other companies, we needed a new system of voting. Not only did the old system work fine, but NY is still using the lever machines. (Did you take notice of the clips of Hillary Clinton coming out of the voting booth last week?)

Jon Soden
Lehigh/Northampton Progressive Alliance

FtHillDem said...

If you are concerned about this problem, I found a website that might help.

I'm sure there are others.

Bernie O'Hare said...

FtnHillDem & Jon, Thanks to both of your for very enlightening comments. Jon, I don't know but would be surprised if NY were still using the lever machines the feds said we could not use. FtnHIllDem, I know the cost of creating a paper trail fopr the touch screens has been estimated and is extremely high. I'll check into this. It's very interesting.

Doctor Rick said...

How can u be sick of the right wing? I'm sick of the wrong wing.