On the Lackawanna Study Commission Proposal
April 16, 2014

Chuck Volpe: Crusader for the Public Good or Megalomaniac Millionaire (or Milgalomaniare)?  It’s the question on barely anybody’s mind (minus three or four hundred political insiders, out of the tens of thousands of voters in the county).

Mr. Volpe’s brainchild: The Lackawanna County Study Commission.  Its history is long and storied.  Or maybe brief and short storied.  Pummeled with pervasive ads last election cycle, voters decided to study our current form of government. I’m a teacher.  I encourage studying.  My students don’t do it enough, so I voted for it.

Not too long ago, the Commission released the results of their Study and we have before us the subsequent Solution to All Our Problems.

Currently, we have 3 full-time commissioners.  Two form a majority and one is in the minority.  The minority tends to be unable to do much and acts as a check (and gets a check for showing up despite being unable to do much).  In the case of Bob Cordaro during the Corcoran-Castellani years, we heard very loud criticisms. The volume didn’t change when he got into the majority.  During the Munchak-Cordaro years, Mike Washo offered his criticism of the administration.  Currently under the Wansacz-O’Brien-O’Malley administration, everybody holds hands.

Citing corruption, the Commission wants to elect a single County Executive and a 7-member County Council.  The Council would be regional and is outlined here.

More representation and more voices will always be a good thing for voters and constituencies.  A larger size discourages, or at least makes it harder, for interest groups (which might not have the best interest of the average voter at heart) to control policy.  Right now, if somebody wants something done (like the Yankees wanting a great deal on a team and a stadium) only two people need to be bought convinced.  It would be a little harder if we had a system that actually involves checks and balances.

The County Commissioners dislike this proposal because it would dismantle their current control of the system, so they set about using the County Copier to make sure there were some taxpayer-funded informational sheets decrying the Study Commission’s findings.  It’s for our own good, people!  Of course we should pay for it!  (They can’t be expected to use their campaign funds for political purposes, after all.)  And the state Ethics Commission told them they could!  (Wait… wouldn’t the fact that they asked the Ethics Commission in the first place about this indicate they thought this could possibly be unethical?  I better stop thinking before my head explodes.)

Here‘s what you paid for, if you’re interested.  Allow me to take the time to critique the Top Ten list they offered (which is an obvious tribute to the soon-to-be-retired Dave Letterman):

1) The Study Commission wants MORE POLITICIANS.

Aside from TYPING IN CAPS FOR EMPHASIS, this is true.  We’ll have a County Council where we had none before. But the implication is that politicians are bad.  So… the County Commissioners are part of this sordid group.  Shall we only have 1 elected official for the County?

2) The Study Commission wants MORE EXPENSE.

I’m pretty sure it’ll be cheaper.  Three Commissioners becomes one Executive and a minimally-paid Council.

3) The Study Commission wants LARGER GOVERNMENT.


4) The Study Commission wants LESS ACCOUNTABILITY.

Actually, by the very nature of a County Council/Executive form of government, there will be more accountability.  You’ll have more eyes on the government.  Right now, only Gary DiBileo, the County Controller, serves as a check or balance.  We’ll have 7 people keeping an eye on the Executive and the County’s government.

5) The Study Commission wants FEWER CHECKS & BALANCES.


6) The Study Commission wants to MARGINALIZE REPUBLICANS.

This would be a legitimate concern if Republicans weren’t already marginalized because, well, there aren’t many Republicans in the County.  The minority Commissioner, who happens to be a Republican, can’t do much of anything as it is.  But we’ve elected a Republican majority before in the form of Munchak and Cordaro, despite the overwhelming registration advantage Democrats have.  History doesn’t support this argument.  If the electorate wants to elect Republicans, the electorate can.  And has.

7) The Study Commission wants to RETURN TO STATE CONTROL.

This argument involves the requisite splitting of the Clerk of Judicial Records into two offices.  It’s an unfortunate byproduct, but can be remedied the way we remedied it back in the 70s: referendum.

8) The Study Commission wants to LIMIT VOTING RIGHTS.

I can still vote.  If you’re registered, so can you.  I don’t get it.

9) The Study Commission wants to CONSOLIDATE POWER.

On one hand: an Executive and a Legislative branch.  On the other hand: combined Executive and Legislative.  Which sounds like power is consolidated?  If you said “Combined” you’d be right.  And that’s our current system.  Actually, we would be breaking a monopoly on power.


Actually, they did.  They decided it was awful, and proposed an alternative.

Forgive the breeze-through, I know that reading can be tedious for our eyeballs.  What irks me and inspired me to post is that the anti-Study Commission crowd often makes this personal.  “Chuck Volpe runs the show.  He’s got money.  He’s buying votes.”  Last I checked, I controlled my own brain (unless there are mind-controlling aliens nearby that are blocking my cognitive abilities).  And I’m extraordinarily suspicious of money in politics.  But these things aren’t relevant.  There is a proposal that needs to be viewed according to its own merits.  Mr. Volpe said he’s not going to run for the Executive.  But let’s say he’s lying and he does run, who cares?  We can vote for somebody else.  (Like Pat O’Malley or Jim Wansacz or Corey O’Brien, for example.)  Mitt Romney and his Republican Uber-Rich allies spent a fortune attempting to defeat President Obama.  I do believe he won despite the money being thrown around to bring him down.

So, is Chuck Volpe a Crusader for the Public Good or a Milgalomaniare?

The answer is irrelevant.  Vote your conscience after reviewing your options.  Like we do with everything else.


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  1. Thanks for the concise analysis of this issue; which I agree with you on all points. What really bothered me was the use of public monies for printing a political document, and the entire ethics commission thing. It doesn’t matter if the cost is $10, $100 or $5,000, the simple fact is that this is unethical. I would not need an opinion from so-called “experts” to realize it either! Trust is a big issue in government. They violated that trust.

    Be well, Tom!

    1. It seems obvious to me that if you have THINK you should check with the ethics board first, that maybe what is going on isn’t ethical. Most of us doing go around assuming our legitimate actions need a check.

  2. Good analysis Tom.

    I don’t have, as they say, a “dog in this fight”, but I have been following the study commission for a while. My conclusion? When all is said and done, doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different outcome is foolish when it comes to just about anything in life, governance included. Right now Lackawanna County has high unemployment, high costs of governance and a reputation for political shenanigans (regardless of which party or faction of a party is in charge). Is the “Volpe Plan” the solution to all of this? I don’t know, but I do know that the status quo is not a solution…it’s the problem.

    If I were a Lackawanna County voter, I would be voting for the change…precisely because it IS change.

    – Steve

    1. Do you miss having a dog in Lackawanna County fights? How’s the new neighborhood?

      I haven’t thought of this in terms of status quo vs. change, but that in and of itself makes the plan more compelling. You’re right. Things have not been working here.

      1. Well, regarding Lacakawanna County, I can’t say that I “miss” it, as it really isn’t that far away. What’s more, my brothers and my employer are in Scranton (well my employer is about a third in Scranton), so I have plenty of incentive to keep current. Heck, I still buy the Scranton Times every day. Old habits I guess.

        The new neighborhood is very nice. Very different than Scranton, both in terms of overall vibe and surroundings. The vibe part? It’s just much more laid back here. The crime statistics for West Pittston are amazing…basically not much of anything ever happens…and by and large people are exceptionally pleasant. It’s also far less negative, which is something I don’t miss about Scranton. The surroundings? I love walking and photography, so living about 4 blocks from a major river is pretty cool. It’s also mostly flat, which my “soon to be 50 year old” body will appreciate come biking time.

        Mostly though it’s just wonderful that, at this stage in my life, I have been afforded a second chance. I have an incredible partner, a wonderful home, healthy children and I can pay my bills. Life is not just good, it’s grand.

        Oh, and have I mentioned that I don’t mind the 2.4% raise I got since moving?