Friday, May 22, 2009

Schmitt Unfit for LANTA

They threw him under the bus!

By a 6 to 3 vote, Northampton County Council last night derailed alternative transportation advocate Steve Schmitt's appointment to LANTA's board. They did so despite pleas from LANTA board member Paul Marin, community activist Dennis Lieb and Schmitt himself.

Board member Fred Williams, in a very rare appearance, had several objections. He noted that Schmitt's Coalition for Alternative Transportation actually competes against LANTA for limited grant funds. "We are in direct competition with the Coalition for Alternative Transportation.(CAT)" He also claimed that Schmitt tried to enlist new members for CAT during transit meetings. Schmitt denies both accusations.

Schmitt was nominated to replace Tim Brady, a former Bethlehem Township Commissioner who "was in charge of the facilities and construction at Northampton County Community College for many years." Williams believes Brady would be more useful to LANTA during an upcoming maintenance expansion.

Ironically, passenger rail foe Ron Angle was passenger rail advocate Schmitt's biggest supporter. "The board should have a wide range of people who don't always think the same. Nobody has said he is anti-LANTA."

Reluctantly given a second opportunity to speak, Schmitt said "[t]he idea that I'm doing anything but trying to promote LANTA and trying to make LANTA better for the people that ride the bus, that's all I'm trying to do."

Lamont McClure noted Williams' extensive background as a 25 year LANTA board member and retired chief financial officer for the Diocese of Allentown, where he managed finances for the Diocese, 153 parishes, 58 elementary schools and 9 high schools.

McClure: "I didn't hear you say his service on the board compromised LANTA."

Williams: "I believe he did and I believe he compromised LANTA. I served as Director of the Personnel Committee and during sensitive negotiations, and he was privy to that executive session, and I was informed by a driver of what Mr. Schmitt had told him, and told the driver exactly what had happened during our executive session in a very sensitive negotiation and I went to Ann McHale immediately ... ."

McClure: "What was the negotiation about?"

Williams: "Our labor contracts."

Peg Ferraro: "Have you ever spoken out in your 25 years, have you ever spoken out against an appointment?"

Williams: "Never. I have never spoken out and I weighed this very heavily. I take it to heart. Believe me, I worked for the Church, the Catholic Church, and I take this very seriously."

Ferraro: "We have two people, the one who is serving and the one who is the nominee. I think there's two entirely different skill sets being brought here to the table. I think it's important that we look closely at the skill sets in light of what's coming down the road for LANTA."

Angle: "Under that scenario, there's no room for someone who thinks a little differently. there's no room for someone who doesn't have a certain level of skills. I don't think that's what America is about. Nobody has yet showed me where this man has done anything to undermine or destroy LANTA. He is a cheerleader for LANTA, the best I can see here. The Mayor of Bethlehem sent a letter over. That's a pretty high ranking official."

J. Michael Dowd: "I have never seen so many phone calls and so many comments about anyone appointed to an authority, a commission or anything else. I've received phone calls on a virtual daily basis and it's kind of interesting because there's people on both sides for whom I have an enormous amount of respect. I would ask the County Executive what he saw in Mr. Schmitt that led him to not reappoint someone who has expertise in construction and so on and to appoint Mr. Schmitt. "

Stoffa: "This was a tough call for me. But I spent some time with Mr. Schmitt because last time I did not reappoint him under certain circumstances. But the more time I spend with him, he's a different thinker. To me, LANTA is not just a bus company, it's a transit company, and it needs to think differently about what it does. I think he brings that to the forefront. When I saw buses go by with bike racks on, I understand he was the one responsible for that. I think any organization needs new, different thinking, and that's why I nominated him."

McClure: "You did not reappoint him because of certain circumstances. What were those circumstances?"

Stoffa: "Well, they were what I had heard about some bus routes in Allentown. When I sat down with Steve a number of times for a couple of hours, the man is a wealth of knowledge about different things. And that to me pales under what he offers. Nobody's perfect in what they do and I don't even know if what they said about him was accurate."

It was accurate. In the Fall of 2007, Schmitt did sneer at mostly minority merchants, like the House of Chen, along Allentown's Hamilton Street when bus routing changes caused a big decrease in foot traffic. "They wanted something to complain about, basically. ... I find it hard to believe. ... I'd like to see the books." He also ignored several emails from me about what was happening. Several of these businesses are now gone. His smug dismissal of the plight of hard-working people is cause for concern in any public official. Even those who like to wear tights.

In response to a question from Council member Joe Capozzolo, Schmitt denied ever interfering with bus drivers. "I don't think that's fair. That's sorta' like beating up your janitor."

When they voted, only Angle, Capozzolo and Dowd supported Schmitt's appointment.

Did Council make the right call? I honestly don't know. I do not think their rejection was intended as a snub to Stoffa, and I don't think some council members made up their mind until they heard from everyone. Schmitt is nearly as obnoxious as me, but is also the region's most dedicated and passionate alternative transportation advocate. I suspect their concern goes way beyond Schmitt's people skills. I'm unable to avoid the impression that there's more to this story, but no one is willing to say so publicly.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bernie!
where do you get these fab photos!

Anonymous said...

Is Fred Williams the "tire" company owner? Bernie, do you go to every meeting in the region?
How do you do it. Aren't you exhausted? Don't you have to be up the next morning by 6.

Anonymous said...

Compete for funds. LANTA is gonna rack in millions now that Slots are here and the "Loop" has arrived. Millions, I tell ya.
Schmidt seems sincere. He's been talking the same mantra for at least 15 years so he's pretty true to his word and yes, he does ride the bus as this writer has seen him on it.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, this "LANTA during an upcoming maintenance expansion," is, we believe, the destruction of Bicentennial Park for LANTA expansion when in fact there are acres of unused old MACK 5 land just across the street that is quite suitable for LANTA and far more traffic-oriented and safe for all. Someone's pulling the wool over your eyes.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, you wrote:
"retired chief financial officer for the Diocese of Allentown, where he managed finances for the Diocese, 153 parishes, 58 elementary schools and 9 high schools."

Then, isn't this the guy that under his watch may be responsible for the Diocese's
closing, citing lack of funds, for many of the Valley's small community neighborhood Catholic churches?

Anonymous said...

""Believe me, I worked for the Church, the Catholic Church, and I take this very seriously.""


What the hell is that supposed to mean? The only time I read the word 'diocese' in the paper anymore are stories about church closings or millions being paid out to child molestors.

Anonymous said...

Anon 735, the answer to your question is no. Those decisions were made by the Bishop after receiving input from many sources, I'm sure including Williams. But at the end of the day it wasn't his call.

The Banker

Anonymous said...

Why are Northampton County officials concerning themselves with bus routes in Downtown Allentown. These folks couldn't name four streets in Downtown Allentown if they had to.

Anonymous said...

"Believe me, I worked for the Church, the Catholic Church, and I take this very seriously."
What the hell is that supposed to mean? The only time I read the word 'diocese' in the paper anymore are stories about church closings or millions being paid out to child molestors."

8:02 AM


DITTO

Anonymous said...

Someone needs to stick LANTA into a car crusher. I would think about using LANTA if I couldn't get somewhere quicker if I walked.

Anonymous said...

Between Fred "I worked for the Catholic Church" Williams and Ed "I attended Moody Bible School" I am now beginning to question my faith.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 7:18, I've foubnd those pics thru years of searching for porn.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 7:19, It probably just seems that way.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 7:30, I would never agree to an exapnasion that results in the loss of beautiful Bicentennial Park. They play baseball there.

Anonymous said...

a quibble: CAT is the coalition for appropriate transportation, not alternative transportation.

Anonymous said...

Busing blue haired ladies in stylish sweat suits into casinos is as American as apple pie. Good on you, Bethlum.

DRL said...

Bernie,

There is more to this story. When I have time later to get into detail I'll follow up.

Dennis R. Lieb

Bernie O'Hare said...

DRL,

It is very obvious there is more to this story. I've heard McHale promised to support Schmitt and then knifed him in the back. Don't know if that is true.

This is what I do know - Steve is arrogant. As a sitting board member from Northampton County, I was outraged by the way he responded to minority merchants being ruined by routing changes. I was even more upset when he ignored two of my emails. In contrast, McHale sent me several letters and LANTA even did try to help. This was no thanks to Schmitt. This is my own experience w/ the guy, and I belonged to his damn club at the time, too.

I imagine there are similar stories about the way he spoke to drivers, etc.

He is clearly the most knowledgable person in the LV abput alternative transportation. But I don't think Williams was in front of council just bc of my blog's criticism. There is more to the story.

I do not know the right answer. I probably would have erred on the side of appointing him, but do not fault council members who felt otherwise.

DRL said...

As promised, my comments on the refusal to appoint Steve Schmitt to LANTA's Board...Part One

Stoffa's pro-rail, pedestrian and bicycle advocacy choice was Steve Schmitt. The guy he would have replaced on the board (I believe) was a member ofthe Bethlehem Township Commission. In any event, he worked closely with PennDOT in the design of the Southmont Shopping Center - the one at Rt 33 and Freemansburg Avenue. It was deliberately designed to keep LANTA buses off the property. People must now load and unload out on Freemansburg Avenue in the snow of winter, mud of spring and fall and blinding heat of summer and walk the quarter mile into the place, dodging maniac drivers, because the suburban mall owners don't want bus riff-raff encouraged to use the facility. This is the same guy that county council wants appointed to LANTA because of his "vast construction background"?

Last LANTA board meeting it was discussed that Shiloh Manor; a Southside Easton senior community would have its service cut from four to two trips a day. If you know the area it is isolated from most of town, steeply sloped and borders Canal Street...a long way from services for anyone less than fully-abled. At the same time, LANTA is adding two new buses and two additional drivers to service the Sands Casino so that middle class people can be shuttled in and piss away their kids’ college funds at the slot machines. Steve Schmitt alerted me to this situation because LANTA likes to hold its meetings at the headquarters in Allentown at noon during work days. I couldn’t make it either. Who knows what happened.

Point is that transparency, public input and rail advocacy are anathema to the LANTA board. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear they were actually trying to run the company out of business on purpose. Sort of like GM, Firestone and Standard Oil did with the trolleys in the thirties and forties. There is probably an angle under which that scenario could be plausibly put forth but I don’t have time to write it.

Steve Schmitt got bushwhacked last night. It may be that the Joe Long/Dem. machine hacks like McHale want to make a statement to the county exec, but more likely it is her despising of anyone low enough to ride the bus that drives her voting against Steve...an advocate for the rider. She has been asked many times, in her role as LANTA board member to participate in Try Transit Day and has refused. She won’t even pose for a picture in front of the bus. Ask her why that is. LANTA takes bus ads from JD Byrider - the loan sharks masquerading as car dealers - ads that actually insinuate that losers ride the bus and buying a car from them at usery interest rates will get you off of it. Why would LANTA take an ad that discourages transit use? Ask her about that.

Last night’s vote was a combination of two things: First, the anti-rail Republicans on council do not want a pro-rail advocate on the board. They want to protect the old boy network of highway expansionists, mega-warehouse builders, car dealers and PennDOT bureaucrats that want to preserve a dying way of life...as James Howard Kunstler puts it, the American automobile slum. Second, people like McHale hate anyone who tries to preserve an open dialogue between the public that LANTA serves and the organizational structure that tries to exclude them at every turn...part two to follow.

DRL

DRL said...

LANTA Appointment-Part II

I lost a lot of respect (whatever was left) for Fred Williams last night. I know he is anti-rail. He has told me personally. That’s his right, but I can’t believe he would invoke his association with the Catholic Church as both an emblem of his credibility and sincerity to council and as a shield against criticism for doing a hatchet job on Mr. Schmitt. Is Steve perfect? No. He made comments insensitive to the plight of the merchants on Hamilton Street when the routes were changed. I don’t know what the motivation was...never asked. It can’t be a racial thing because the majority of people he advocates for with LANTA are minorities. I know he thought moving the new transit facility off Hamilton was a mistake so his comments are puzzling. He is a matter-of-fact guy. He just says what he thinks without a lot of rhetoric and maybe he truly believes the merchants were misrepresenting the facts of their plight. We won’t know unless he tells us. What I do know is that he has one documented public relations blemish.

If I had been shrewd enough to think ahead, I would have spoken after Mr. Williams and would have asked council these questions:

Why are you taking Mr. Williams’ word on Steve’s character over his own when he is right in front of you disputing the comments?

Where are the written statements from the people that Mr. Williams’ says told him these horrible things about Steve and why aren’t any of them here tonight to corroborate them?

If the guy Steve is to replace has done such a great job why isn’t he here advocating for himself?

One LANTA board member, Paul Marin, showed up in support of Steve’s appointment with a letter of recommendation from the Mayor of Bethlehem. I informed council that Easton’s Planning Director also supported the appointment. Why is Fred Williams’ opinion so heavily outweighing all of ours?

Mr. Williams’ contention that Steve’s organization; Coalition for Appropriate Transportation (which Williams can not even remember the name of) competes for similar grants as LANTA and that this creates a conflict of interest begs the questions – what specific grants has LANTA lost and isn’t it true that a grant will be awarded to the organization best suited to accomplish the mission? Why then, if the net amount coming to the region is the same and the job gets done by the more effective recipient, is there a conflict?

Of course, these are just my opinions and I’d be glad to hear from others.

Dennis R. Lieb

Bernie O'Hare said...

DRL,

Will post your excellent comments as aseparate blog. Yousold me, even though Schmitt needs some work.

Anonymous said...

Charles ! Dertinger is a tax cutter and to quote Ralph Stampone a "physical conservative."

Bernie O'Hare said...

Actually, Charles "Vanderbilt" Dertinger is a homophobic meeting cutter who believes he has no obligation to listen to anyone who owns no real estate. Ralph Stampone is a decent, hard-working guy, the kind of gouy not afraid to get his hands dirty, the kind of guy the Democratic party should be embracing instead of ridiculing.

Anonymous said...

Bottom line is that Schmitt does not play well with others. He is an arrogant individual who apparently cannot be trusted. CAT's agenda is his exclusive agenda, and the ends justify the means. 95% of us never use the LANTA system yet we all subsidize it. Fine. It serves a purpose, and a vital one for the poor and elderly. However, encouraging others to ride the bus will take more. How about friendly drivers for a start? Better customer service? And easier ways to pay? How about some fresh marketing approaches? Someone like Schmitt isn't the answer to reform a stodgy, calcified organization like LANTA.

Robin said...

When will you post Dennis Lieb's comments as another blog post and why are there so many people here posting "anonymous personal attacks" against Steve Schmitt?

DRL said...

Response to anonymous@9:47am

I do not know how you came by your opinion of Steve Schmitt as arrogant or untrustworthy since you sight no examples. My personal experience, having followed his career at CAT and on the LANTA board (as an attendee at meetings) is that he is, if anything, a matter-of fact kind of guy. He doesn't bother with a lot of flowery rhetoric but states his position plainly and tells you why he holds it. This may rub certain members of the public - used to being schmoosed by politicians - as well as the LANTA bureaucracy, the wrong way. If anything, arrogance would be the trait I'd most associate with his former LANTA colleagues for their cavalier attitude regarding anything the public says at any of their meetings.

I also wouldn't be able to quantify the validity of your statement that "Someone like Schmitt isn't the answer to reform a stodgy, calcified organization like LANTA." without knowing what suggestion(s) you believe he has or hasn't made for change. From what I know of conditions behind the scenes about the innovations that have been suggested to LANTA by current and former members, including Schmitt, I'm lead to believe he may be more a part of the solution than you would like to consider.

Does CAT have an agenda? certainly. It is pedestrian, bicyclist and mass transit user advocacy. Is Steve the point man for that agenda? Again, of course. He has shown me that a few things I had taken for granted actually require counter-intuitve thinking. I can now educate others about those same misconceptions.

You are correct in stating that LANTA serves a vital role and also accurate in recounting all the various ways in which the LANTA system can better serve it's ridership. Yes - as you said - we all subsidize mass transit. Very true. We also have been subsidizing car travel for decades without much complaint from the "taxpayer".

For example:

Cheap FHA mortgages for suburban and exurban homes far from jobs.
The federal gas tax that has built and maintianed the interstate highway system for use by private autos.
Undercharging of the private trucking industry for road repairs that they are primarily responsible for causing.
Artificially cheap gasoline prices that distort the true cost of driving.
Free or underpriced parking and zoning mandated parking supply requirements that induce more traffic.
Banning transit vehicles from suburban shopping centers.
Reidential subdivisions built without sidewalks, crosswalks or mixed use buildings.
Financial and logistical disincentives for anyone trying to reclaim our cities for use as walkable, livable places that don't require a car trip for every endeavor.

Funny how subsidies always become a talking point when transit is the recipient. I've never seen anyone give back the taken-for-granted subsidies of car travel that suddenly become so onerous when associated with mass transit.

There was also one important comment I failed to mention in my previous entry on this story. When the county executive appoints someone to the LANTA board, the board itself has no official role in accepting or denying the appointee. Through her role as council president, McHale has conveniently side stepped that restriction. She made herself, in effect, the only LANTA board member with a vote on the appointee. This probably doesn't rise to the level of a legally arguable conflict of interest. Somewhere in the back of my head though, I kind of wish she had had the class to not take advantage of an unfair opportunity. Guess I expect too much.

Dennis R. Lieb