Tuesday, March 31, 2009

State list missed Walmart

Saw your article on drugs. The State apparently doesn't list Walmart.

Walmart has an awesome deal - $4 a month or 10$ for three months on hundreds of prescription drugs as well as 1000's of non-prescription drugs.

I personally saved over $100 a year on two prescriptions!

Bulb-outs not a good idea

City administrators are planning curb extensions (called bulb-outs) at East King and North Queen Streets as well as other downtown locations. Bulb-outs were recently completed at the intersection of S. Queen and Vine Sts. However, there are numerous reasons why bulb-outs, especially at intersections, may not be a good idea. Some of these are:

When bulb-outs (curb extensions) are placed at intersections on narrow streets, they tend to make left or right turns from one street to the other more difficult and dangerous. If at mid-block locations, they will eliminate some parking spaces. Bulb-outs have other disadvantages, including:

Bulb-outs can cause accidents. Cities are liable for personal injuries and damage to vehicles caused by bulb-outs. "I hate bulb-outs – they do nothing except increase the likelihood of an accident (put a nozzle on a wide hose and you merely increase the pressure)" – comment from a citizen of Atlanta, GA.

Bulb-outs make snow removal and street cleaning more difficult and also more expensive in terms of time and labor. (Tax dollars pay for these services.)

Bulb-outs are expensive to build. Each pair of bulb-outs may cost $7,000 to $10,000, plus the installation of warning signs (quote from the Va. Dept. of Transportation, year 2002 report). In addition, storm drains may need to be re-located or rebuilt, at taxpayer expense.

Bulb-outs are expensive to maintain. Bulb-out curbs are frequently struck by large trucks as well as snow plows and street cleaners. (Take a look at the chipped and cracked bulb-out curbs on College Ave. and at the intersection of N. Prince and W. Chestnut Sts., near the Police Dept. building). Maintenance is paid for with tax dollars.

Bulb-outs pose a clear danger to bicycles and other non-motorized vehicles. "What’s dangerous about bulb-outs is that they make it necessary for a biker to veer towards moving cars at certain points, and the motorist and/or the cyclist may be unprepared for that" – a biker in Atlanta,Ga. "Bulb-outs may make it difficult to accommodate bicycle lanes" – The PA Traffic Calming Handbook.

Bulb-outs constructed in mid-block locations for the purpose of traffic calming result in only a small reduction in speed. "Most curb extensions result in speed reductions of 1-2 mph." – quote from The PA Traffic Calming Handbook, Pa. Dept. of Transportation.

Reason HDC is sticking with CC date?

I couldn't help but notice that the head of HousingDevelopment Corp that is sticking with the convention center is none other than Mike Carper - the FORMER executive director of LCCCA before David Hixon.

He left after only six months and I speculate they bought his silence with another cushy job.

Reason HDC is sticking with CC date?

I couldn't help but notice that the head of HousingDevelopment Corp that is sticking with the convention center is none other than Mike Carper - the FORMER executive director of LCCCA before David Hixon.

He left after only six months and I speculate they bought his silence with another cushy job.

Lenders abandoning housing collateral

I read this story this AM [in The New York Times] and thought NewsLanc viewers might find it interesting. A development in the residential mortgage market.

"City officials and housing advocates here and in cities as varied as Buffalo, Kansas City, Mo., and Jacksonville, Fla., say they are seeing an unsettling development: Banks are quietly declining to take possession of properties at the end of the foreclosure process, most often because the cost of the ordeal — from legal fees to maintenance — exceeds the diminishing value of the real estate."

Monday, March 30, 2009

Interstate Hotels Professionalism

The following email was received by Lancaster First on March 30, 2009:

"To Whom it May Concern,

"I wanted to inform you of unprofessional experience that I had while looking into a management job at the new Marriott Hotel and Convention Center. I formerly worked for a major hotel chain in the United States. I have since left the hospitality industry to pursue other endeavors.

"When I heard about this hotel opening the sheer size and magnitude of the project lit a fire inside me to be part of it. As it turns out, the company managing the hotel and convention center may have their hands full not only with delays in the opening, but their managers as well.

"During my time in the Hospitality Industry I was always taught that a potential employee is always a potential customer and as such they should be treated with the same respect. In my dealings with Michelle Reynolds of the Rooms Division I received no such thing. I have never been treated so rudely by someone.

"I only spoke with her via email, but her arrogance and unprofessional manner shined through in these encounters. I question whether J.W. Marriott, a man whom I once met, who is a man of great pride and integrity would approve of this person working a property of this magnitude and exposure..."

Bulb outs worsen downtown intersections

Below is [an excerpt from] the 2nd letter/editor I’ve seen opposing bulb-outs (the name given to extended curbs at intersections) in downtown Lancaster.

Both Mayor Gray and Charlotte Katzenmoyer have made public statements in favor of bulb-outs. Perhaps you can look into this.

Does [the City Engineer] actually research the advisability of a bulb-out at a particular location, or merely check to see If the design conform to PennDOT requirements?

"....One of the heaviest intersections in town is the corner of South Queen and Vine streets. It's bad enough as it is with traffic turning left onto South Queen or onto Vine, especially when people are backed up leaving the parking garage of the newspaper. The traffic gets backed up when someone is turning onto South Queen, and, if they do not stay to the center, no one can get by if they are traveling Vine Street to Duke Street. If they do stay to the center, traffic can go around them. Now with the extended sidewalk, no one can pass...."

Why just the 1999 Ernst & Young article?

In answer to your question: Was the New Era 1999 article re Ernst & Young disingenuous?, the answer is a no-brainer. The question is why you selected only one article when there are now almost 10 years of disingenuous, one-sided, self-serving, narcissistic, and irresponsible reporting on the entire project.

From content, the total lack of reasonable questioning, timing and a generally unbalanced, flawed, and incomplete logic behind almost all stories, the question applies to almost every story on the CC within LNP.

Editors response: We are just getting started!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Questions LCCCA marketing efforts and opening date

Personally, I do not think Interstate put really seasoned management here from the presentations that the current sales and management provided.

Also, the over one million dollars that the LCCCA gave for their services was spent mostly on attending shows to drum up business. That money could have remained in the area and brought much better bookings that may generate outside shopping dollars and recreational dollars.

My opinion of the bookings that are on the record are just business TEMPORARILY taken from other sites in the County and will return to those sites IF the food, parking, safety and management are not up to standards that they have received elsewhere.

A person invited on a tour said IF they hit JUNE they will be fortunate.

Unrealistic Convention Center schedule

Note that the previous end of March opening date - which itself had earlier been changed from January 1 - was set while Ted Darcus and Dave Hixson were still running the LCCCA with iron fists.

But who actually had demanded such an unrealistic date? Was it someone from the Penn Square Partners?

Art Morris and Kevin Molloy have done a fantastic job of working under impossible conditions. But the demands which have been placed upon them were clearly not humanly achievable.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

CC delay may not be sufficient

Talking to a contractor tonight - he said he did not think they will not make the new deadline.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Businesses must extend hours to benefit from CC

ALL business should open and close with longer hours and be consistent for at least the first 6 months. That would give a consistent shot to drawing visitors onto the street.

Otherwise, forget it, they will not leave the building unless they are staying at the Brunswick or the Arts Hotel and are going to walk back.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Slow death

It is a shame that we could have made state and national history by saying to Gib Armstrong and Dale High, "thanks but no thanks, we do not need a convention center downtown."

We have Ford, Thibualt and Shaub to thank for this white elephant that is only going to take business from other conference rooms in this area for approximately a year then we will have to watch the slow death of a major debt.

IHR / Marriott determined interior finishes for CC

It seems like the people who designed and built the hotel and convention center project have had no real-world experience with convention centers.

Cooper-Carry created all of the structural designs and layouts, includingthe appearance of the outside of the building. Interstate Hotels andResorts (IHR) selected ALL of the materials, patterns, and furnishings inside the entire facility.

The LCCCA board was told on many different occasion that all of this was done to Marriott standards, supposedly as contractually obligated.

There was absolutely positively never any opportunity for the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority to have ANY input whatsoever into thedesign or appearance of its own convention center. Even the Request For Proposal for artwork was taken away by IHR at nearly the last minute, and IHR employees still control the final selection process.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

More about Convention Center Tour

I questioned the number of events booked at a recent LCCCA meeting.

According to Mark Moosic, the number of events being quoted include ALL fromBOTH the hotel and the convention center, and "events" in the hotel include food-only bookings PLUS blocks of rooms booked at the same time which use *NO* meeting space!

Talk about bull$hit!

Editor's note:

NewsLanc publishes civil letters regardless of their stances. We welcome controversy and debate.

However it got here, it is now OUR convention center and OUR Marriott hotel. (Both largely built with tax payers' money or guarantees.) So we want to see them do well.

We especially welcome communications saying positive things about the project.

Feed back from CC walk through tour

I had a lengthy conversation with a local person who was invited on a Marriott Hotel and Convention Center walk through tour. This person called with tons of information knowing my personal opinion of the project.First of all, the layout is too choppy, too many small rooms.

That the convention center is not separate from the hotel brought this person to ponder whether, if the project is not fiscally sound, the perfect replacement would be a CASINO. Also, my friend reflected that in today’s market with the SMALL rooms for meetings, larger groups will not return or even consider.

Noted was the VINYL wall coverings, VERY CHEAP and going to need replaced sooner than normal upscale wall covering. The CARPET is definitely LOW grade, the type that is used in a lot of COMMERCIAL jobs. The design is outdated in comparison to current national projects of this nature. The exterior is totally compromised in this person’s opinion.

Another interesting tidbit was that the claim that the complex has over 200 events booked to date. I suggested attending a monthly meeting or meeting with Laura Douglas or R. B. Campbell to obtain the TRUE facts of business booked.

Also, I corrected my friend’s misunderstanding that Penn Square Partners (Dale High and Lancaster Newspapers) own the hotel. I pointed out that the Redevelopment Authority of Lancaster (City) owns the Hotel and the Convention Center Authority owns the CC. The project is a condominium with Penn Square Partners likely in the distant future to own the hotel, if and when the their investment would not longer be at risk.

Also in their presentations they are consistently made told about tax revenue to come out of this. In fact, the hotel as well as the CC is exempt from real estate taxes and sales tax revenues generated are being indirectly returned to the project through an arrangement with the state. I did my best to listen and reply.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Marriott portico detracts from Watt & Shand facade

The Marriott Hotel drop off at Penn Square has one of the ugliest porticos ever designed and, so radically detracts from the facade of Watt and Shand, that retaining the facade seems like an afterthought.

Let me re-phrase...It's not that the portico is so ugly as that it is SO inconsistent with the facade, and out of scale with the rest of the square, that it looks like it was ripped from the drawing for another building....and it might have been!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Protest about Railyard Relocation to officials

Taxpayers who oppose state and federal funding of the Relocation Project of the Dillerville Norfolk Southern Rail Yard should write to their state and federal officials, and let them know how they feel. This includes President Obama, who is opposing the use of earmark money.

Following is a copy of the letter that I have submitted to President Obama:

This is to let you know that I am opposed to any more government funds going to finance any part of the relocation project of the Dillerville Norfolk Southern Rail Yard in Lancaster County, PA. This project, already in its first stages of implementation, will primarily benefit the two largest and most well-endowed non-profit institutions in the City of Lancaster. They are Franklin and Marshall College and Lancaster General Hospital.

At the same time that the state of Pennsylvania is reducing the hours of state employees and reducing funding of many of its historical museums and social service agencies, Franklin & Marshall College and Lancaster General Hospital have applied for $20 million of government grant money to fund a project that even they admit is for their own private benefit (as reported below by Michael Yoder, Lancaster Intelligencer Journal reporter, in a by-lined article that appeared on Feb. 27, 2009):

"F&M wants to move the rail yard so it can consolidate its athletics fields with the land it is redeveloping at the former Armstrong floor plant, and Lancaster General Hospital has planned expanding at the site."

F&M College has already been given $10 million of state earmark money toward the project.
I want my tax money to be used for public projects, not for projects that will primarily benefit two well-endowed institutions in the private sector.

End of letter. Persons who want to contact the White House electronically may use the form on the following website:

Monday, March 16, 2009

Lancaster debtors prison

Are you interested in looking into how divorce lawyers and the county judgeship are milking
divorce suits to the point where there is no money left?

About 130 men are in jail right now for failure to pay court ordered support. How does that help the situation?

Fire department could use the $30,000

We have a professional Fire Department with Fire Inspectors that have been trained in the operation of alarms, who are going to be the ones responding to any emergency. Are these gentlemen and women not competent to inspect and test the system and work with the contractor that is doing the installation?

Lets give them the money to the Fire Department instead of another outside making money off of Lancaster Convention Center.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The $32,000 "ounce of prevention" not needed

The $32,000 budgeted by the Convention Center for a third party to "inspect" the fire prevention and safety systems at the facility seems like an extreme waste of money.

The Lancaster City Bureau of Fire, a "third party" with no vested interest in the CC project already staffs 4 Fire Inspection officers.These officers perform plans review, system inspections and performance analysis.

In fact, Lt. Alex Grumbrecht, a city Fire Inspector has been overseeing the safety systems at the CC from the start of construction. Firefighters from the Bureau are now conducting a pre-incident survey of the site to ensure that both the facility and the Fire Bureau are prepared to handle an emergency.

All of these services are provided at nominal cost - the cost of the initial permit for the systems. In fact, since the site has contributed zero dollars to the city's tax coffers, the CC is receiving fire protection services for FREE from the city.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Will commissioners live up to their promises?

5thEstate.com was there to record the county commissioner candidates where [commissioners] Martin and Stuckey said that there would be NO MORE dollars for operating expenses!


Let's hold their feet to the fire!

I noticed that Lehman only said no to construction dollars.

More re CC financial viability

As he ascends to the chairmanship of the County's majority party, I think it would be very enlightening to interview County Treasurer Craig Ebersole.

Treasurer Ebersole had repeatedly made public statements regarding the CC viability and questioned the financing years ago. He also questioned the PDCVB's effectiveness in how it spends its portion of hotel tax dollars and the return, or lack thereof, on those tax/public monies. In light of recent trends, events, and market conditions, I think it would be great to hear what his take on things is today.

It might also be interesting to examine how that might differ from the two members of his party serving as County Commissioner and whether or not Chairman (and Treasurer) Ebersole's views seem more in line with the guy the GOP ran out of office than the guys it currently supports in office.

That said, are they willing to raise county-wide taxes or hit the general fund to make up the shortfall, or will they raise the bed tax...a tax paid by less than 100 of their constituents?

Re: Convention Center Revenue: A Guessing Game

Excellent job - what's going to be fun is watching the currentcounty commissioners have to make the inevitable decision when the shoe drops...

I suspect they will break their promise not to raise the bed tax once they found out they are going to have to raise property taxes.

Does someone want to guess when the PSP and LCCCA eventually sue eachother? I am convinced it will happen - sooner than later!

Friday, March 6, 2009

TRRAAC posting critical of Lancaster Newspapers

The Lancaster New Era published a photo of trees being cut down at the former municipal dump on Feb 26, 2009 under the headline "Work starts on rail yard move: Excavation under way for $46M project fought by some Hills, Barrcrest residents."

Many homeowners in the nearby residential neighborhoods have serious concerns, as shown In the following newsletter posted today on TRRAAC.com, website of The Rail Road Action and Advisory Committee. The letter reads:

"With no prior notice (other than a newsletter in December and meetings with governmental officials the second week of January), the heavy equipment has arrived at the dump. Indeed tree clearing has begun on the site. As in past articles, the newspaper glossed over any potentially negative aspects related to the project even after being handed, during reporter initiated interviews, direct and clear evidence of project issues worthy of further investigation. But what is most telling and the most troubling is the complete absence of any mention of the potentially friable asbestos that could be exposed on the surface of the site as trees are uprooted. The Health and Safety Plan posted on F&M's web site does not mention protection of the workers doing tree cutting and removal. The newspaper shows a complete lack of concern for protecting the public interest by not reporting any aspects of this issue.

"At the November 13th public meeting held by Manheim on the dump remediation, at which Lancaster Newspapers was in attendance, management of asbestos containing materials was a significant issue. TRRAAC was represented by an environmental engineer who inspected samples of asbestos backed vinyl flooring from the site and was of the opinion, that left in its present state, undisturbed, that this material could remain benign. However, remediation of the dump, and even the preparation for the remediation, would require the use of heavy construction equipment. The use of such equipment could turn this benign material into a friable and potentially air-borne health issue. F&M, thru their hired engineering firm ARM, repeatedly stated that they were going to be following all required procedures and the work will be safe. They stated they would have personnel monitoring the perimeter of the site as the work was conducted. Was there monitoring during tree cutting and removal? Who is ensuring the promised monitoring is actually occurring?

"The DEP representative at the November meeting, Kathy Horvath, also said they would be inspecting the site as the work progressed. But when pressed on details she admitted this may be at best one inspection per week.

"The representative from Lancaster General said nothing.

" .. . . The article mentions nothing about asbestos, about current monitoring during the tree removal phase, about future monitoring for any of the next phases. The photo reveals no monitoring personnel or devices in sight. The weather conditions during this photo of the tree removal are cold and dry. The type of condition that is conducive to material becoming brittle and easily broken up. Upon close inspection of the operator of the piece of heavy equipment that is running back and forth over the ground, the operator appears to be wearing no significant protective gear. Was this person told of the potential hazard he is working on by the project partners, specifically the Lancaster General ?

"Our public health is to be protected by possibly one inspection per week from the agency that stated on the record it was 'overwhelmed' by six public comments on the proposed cleanup plan. Our public health is to be protected by F&M who stands to gain the most from this unnecessary activity, part of an idea that was conceived by the college’s administration as a way to beautify the college's campus by removing the rail yard out of their backyard. Our public health is to be protected by the hospital that spends perhaps millions promoting their 'Breath Right' campaign, yet sits silently at the table when a potentially serious air-borne asbestos health risk is being discussed. Our public health is to be protected by a newspaper that refuses to report anything about the issue. Hmmm….

"TRRAAC requested Manheim officials request the site officials to notify them when they observe asbestos containing materials and provide daily logs of site activities. The project partners told the township they will provide weekly monitoring reports and post them on its web site. We will hold them to that promise and continue to insist on full disclosure and transparency of all aspects of this project."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Is monitoring dump site removal a "burden?"

A puzzling statement about the excavation of the former municipal dump, in preparation for a relocated rail yard, is contained in a letter now appearing on The Rail Road Action and Advisory Committee’s web page. Addressed to the Manheim Twp. Commissioners and signed by Bill Cluck, TRRAAC’s attorney, this statement is:

"We recognize it would be a burden on the township to monitor site activities, but perhaps a reporting mechanism can be discussed with the contractor to keep the township and the public informed of activities on site."

Why on earth would it be a "burden" to township officials to "monitor site activities"? Even if it is, shouldn’t that be a responsibility of township officials, particularly considering that asbestos products have been proven to be buried in this dump in unknown quantities?

Also, why would TRRAAC rely on the accuracy of the reports written by the Project Partners of F&M and LGH, when TRRAAC has documented evidence of these same Project Partners making misleading and inaccurate statements on application forms for state and federal grant money?

Just one example of a totally inaccurate statement was contained in an application submitted to the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). This statement represented that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had already "awarded" $1 million for the clean-up of the dump, a statement that DEP said was untrue.

Other evidence of improper and unsubstantiated statements by the Project Partners is contained in newsletters published on the TRRAAC website. These newsletters include "Analysis of PennDot's Funding $700,000 for F&M's Engineers", dated Mar. 4; "Follow the Money" dated Jan 23; "Your taxes are paying for John Fry’s Vision", dated Feb. 1.

Why didn't TRRAAC’s attorney tell the Manheim Twp. Commissioners that they should notify the "Project Partners" that township officials and members of TRRAAC would be conducting frequent and unannounced spot checks to ascertain that all of the mandated safety procedures for the removal of asbestos products are being followed? These procedures are detailed in the Project Partners’ published document, "Site Health and Safety Plan."

The Project Partners would then be less likely to attempt to save money by ignoring safety procedures that they had agreed to before beginning the excavation.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Legislators right about cancelling Ayers

Your letter writer concerning GOP legislators and Millersville University is actually the one who misses the point.

This situation is not about free speech. It is about state sponsored and state endorsed speech. If Bill Ayers was speaking at F&M or Elizabethtown College, it would be an issue for their Boards of Trustees, not for the public.

And if Bill Ayers was speaking voluntarily at Buchanan Park from a soapbox, this would be a non-issue. Protesters could do their thing with the same freedom of speech that he would be exercising.

This is about the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and a State University.

You might be willing to embrace his expressed views that exploding bombs in public places is a legitimate form of protest, but many are not. And since Millersville is a State University, the taxpayers' and their Representatives' views count.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

It's all about freedom of speech

The grandstanding displayed by Lancaster County's republican House delegation protesting a speech by William Ayers at Millersville University is disturbing. In a co-signed letter to the Intelligencer Journal, Feb. 27, 2009, Reps. Bear, Boyd, Creighton, Cutler, Denlinger, Hinkernell, and True (Intell Readers' Forum, Feb. 27, 2009) demonstrate a level of political self-aggrandizement that would make a seasoned Washington pol green.

The legislators commit the embarrassing straw man fallacy of comparing Ayers -- a distinguished educator with an Ivy League doctorate, whose anti-war activism 40 years ago targeted buildings, not people -- to convicted murderer, Ted Kaczynski and abortion clinic bomber, Eric Rudolph, and manage to miss the point entirely.

This issue is about a university deciding which speakers to bring to its campus. That is its role. The role of legislators is to make and pass laws that help and protect the people of the Commonwealth. What law are they intending to write? One that requires university speakers passing through several House and Senate committees for approval? Will they draft legislation to withhold state funds for state universities that have speakers on their blacklist? Give me a break.

The grandiosity of these "representatives" is alarming. They proclaim: "This is about right and wrong." Pardon? These are our arbiters of what is "right and wrong"? I think they might be overstepping their job description here, just a bit.

Finally, there is the laugh-out-loud, disingenuous statement of the year: "This has nothing to do with freedom of speech or politics." Ha! Their letter has absolutely everything to do with politics, and that really is wrong.

More re Council Member Joe Morales

When Joe Morales was on the LCCCA board - which he resigned to take his seat
on City Council - he once bragged during a public meeting that he never read
the thick documentation members were given to vote on, since he trusted the
LCCCA counsel who wrote and negotiated these agreements.

The LCCCA counsel at the time was Stevens & Lee, whose agreements with the Penn Square Partners are heavily slanted AGAINST local taxpayers.

A critique of Mayor Rick Gray's performance

(Reprinted with permission from www.LookingAtLancaster.com)

"Former defense attorney J.Richard Gray - known to all as 'Rick' - has been doing an exemplary job as mayor of Lancaster, Pennsylvania over the last three years... For the most part.

There can be no question that Rick Gray has done much to improve the operation and the finances of the Lancaster City government. After inheriting a $7 million deficit, Rick Gray has presented budgets which reduced deficit spending with only minimal tax increases. The number of people employed by Lancaster City has dropped since Rick Gray took office, with some positions combined, and others eliminated completely.

Gray has refocused the city government to get better results. Customer service personnel have been reshuffled to better respond to the needs of residents. A neglected portable truck scales was brought out of storage, and police officers were trained in truck inspections. Electrical vehicle speed measuring devices (similar to VASCAR) have been purchased, and are being used to catch speeders. And the long-neglected "boot" program for traffic scofflaws was restarted.

Rick Gray is willing to spend money when it will save taxpayer dollars in the long run. Outdated and worn-out equipment has been replaced and upgraded when appropriate. All of the city's desktop computers are being replaced with upgraded models. Desperately needed fire trucks and safety apparatus have been purchased. And new automobiles for city staff have been bought (through a purchasing consortium) to replace others which are as much as 20 years old, while providing vehicles for other city employees who currently are reimbursed by the mile - all of which will save money for city taxpayers.

Rick Gray has repeatedly proven himself to be a strong and effective manager. Gray's selection for fire chief, Tim Gregg, is a firefighter with more than two decades' service in Lancaster who has outstanding management and organizational skills, in addition to being a "people person" and an all-around nice guy. For Chief of Police, an outsider was brought to Lancaster from Philadelphia, a ranking officer with proven management skills who is tough enough to deal with the kind of personnel issues that occasionally appear among any group of strong-willed individuals (a police official once compared managing detectives to "herding cats").

Productivity and attitudes of Lancaster City personnel have improved remarkably under Rick Gray. After being downsized and disrupted by previous mayors, morale in the Fire Department is once again high (although staffing remains at historically low levels, specifically because of Lancaster City's difficult budget issues). Other officials like Randy Patterson (brought in by Gray for the combined position of Director of Economic Development & Neighborhood Revitalization) and Patrick Hopkins (Director of Administrative Services) have worked with their staffs to more efficiently obtain the results that Lancaster City needs.

Rick Gray has made a number of proposals, some controversial, designed at making Lancaster City a better place to live and work. Gray was able to hire a consultant to study Lancaster City government, and make recommendations to make it more efficient and more effective; some of these proposals have already been adopted. Gray's single trash hauler program has noticeably improved trash collection, and saved residents money over what the largest companies used to charge. Gray negotiated a tough new licensing agreement with Comcast, which creates new public access cable channels, and provides local government and schools with free services. Gray instituted regular inspections of all rental housing units in Lancaster City, improving living conditions for many people. Gray pushed through a comprehensive update of rental housing regulations, designed to better protect renters, landlords, and neighbors. Rick Gray has even begun to examine zoning practices within Lancaster City, and has taken the first steps toward a more appropriate neighborhood-based zoning method.

Unfortunately, Rick Gray has his flaws.

Gray has a preoccupation with grandiose projects, some of which threaten to be costly for Lancaster City taxpayers in more ways than one. For example, the "streetscape improvements" currently under way in downtown Lancaster - which include drastic "traffic calming" narrowing of traffic lanes - have already torn up sidewalks that clearly did not need replacing. Using borrowed money to give the sidewalks of downtown Lancaster a "unified" look, while Lancaster City government is still spending more than it collects in revenue, is a questionable idea at best. And the current proposal to rebuild the northwest quadrant of Penn Square not only clashes with the "streetscape improvements", it is out of character for the historic buildings located there.

Rick Gray has been an outspoken champion of a proposed streetcar system in downtown Lancaster. To promote the streetcar proposal, Gray has permitted the indefinite display of a repainted Philadelphia trolley in a prominent position on public property downtown, next to the police station. (This streetcar appears to be far too long to navigate the tight intersections of Lancaster City streets.) The streetcar project would only benefit a small number of individuals, while restricting traffic flow and making streets less safe for motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians. Appeals for increasingly scarce State and Federal funds at a time of budget cutbacks and increasing opposition to "pork" projects like this one do not make sense.

The one area where Rick Gray's reach has clearly exceeded his grasp is in his support for the downtown hotel and convention center project. For example, when higher than expected construction bids created a $20 million budget gap for the project in the summer of 2006, Gray announced a complex plan to provide enough funding so construction could begin. Much of Gray's plan proved to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors; many of Gray's proposals never happened. Instead, the LCCCA simply borrowed millions of dollars more than was originally planned.

In early 2005, as Rick Gray was beginning his campaign for mayor, he clearly stated to a number of different people his concerns about several aspects of the hotel and convention center project. Yet by late spring, Gray had become an enthusiastic supporter of the project. This turnabout was so sudden and so dramatic that it appears someone may have been pulling his strings. To Gray's credit, he has at times expressed concern over the burden placed on Lancaster City taxpayers by his predecessor to guarantee the government-owned "private" hotel. And Gray's appointment of former mayor Art Morris to the LCCCA board, where he quickly became chairman, belatedly brought real accountability to the project.

There are other issues. For example, Gray and his staff have already been working toward the creation of a taxpayer-funded performing arts center (which will exempt even more prime real estate from paying taxes). And the partial demolition of the east side of Lancaster Square, while well-intentioned, will leave a starkly featureless open space downtown which could remain that way for many years.

Rick Gray has undoubtedly been the single most effective mayor of Lancaster for decades. Gray clearly deserves to be re-elected for another term in office. But the reason Gray has been only a good mayor, and not a great one, is his enthusiastic support for expensive, grandiose and inappropriate projects in downtown Lancaster.

Suggests prejudicial New Era coverage

If Joseph Morales was on the buddy system like so many of the council members and our bureaucrats, the article "Son of City Council member tries to ignore the law" would not have been published."

This is a very weird report. Morales ran for office last election and lost but is still on city council. He is a very nice gentleman and it is not unusual that children do not follow in their parents footsteps.

How unfortunate, as he is a pretty fair guy and sincerely tries to be informed.