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County Hall Corner 
By Larry Stout
The Public and the Government
 

An interesting exercise in government transparency is coming up soon. Based on the 1992 JFK Records Act, October 26th is the final date for the United States government to release about 3,000 never-before-seen documents also with 34,000 previously redacted files related to President Kennedy’s assassination in November of 1963. The investigation into the causes of that tragedy and the subsequent suspicion of a cover-up (and a cottage industry of conspiracists as a result) gave birth to a move for more openness in government. The first action was the Freedom of Information Act that was passed on July 4, 1966 and then the Government in the Sunshine Act in 1976. Pennsylvania subsequently passed its own such laws, and in 1978 also passed the Public Official and Employee Ethics Act, to prevent public officials from unfairly benefiting from their office.
References to these various laws pop up from time to time in the County Commissioner’s Meetings. The heated debate over the Lycoming County Reentry Program served by GEO Reentry Services is one example. Commissioner Rick Mirabito has consistently called for a RFP (Request for Proposal) on the county’s day reporting program so that other companies can bid on this county program. Mirabito has been accused of a conflict of interest, a violation of the Ethics Act, given that he is on the Board of Directors for Firetree Limited, which has a division for Community Reentry Programs and would certainly be one of the bidders on the RFP for the day reporting program. More recently, there was a complaint brought forth concerning the lease for District Judge Jerry C. Lepley’s office in Jersey Shore, which is owned by his wife Tammy Lepley, which came up for renewal in October.
In both of these cases, there was a considerable amount of smoke raised, but the truth of the matter is that there was no fire. The Ethics Law lists ten activities that public officials and employees are prohibited from engaging in, including “conflict of interest.” It defines it by negation as to “not include an action having a de minimis economic impact or which affects to the same degree a class consisting of the general public or a subclass consisting of an industry, occupation or other group which includes the public official or public employee, a member of his immediate family or a business with which he or a member of his immediate family is associated.”
The translation of this legalese is that it is not a “conflict” unless a public official gains more than a trivial (de minimis) amount, or that anyone else would gain (e.g. lowering the tax rate, which would benefit everyone), or a “subclass” they belonged to or even family member would benefit, but not the official personally. In the case of Commissioner Mirabito, Solicitor J. David Smith has stated that there is clearly no conflict for as a board member, Mr. Mirabito would not financially benefit if Firetree would win the RFP bid. Likewise, Solicitor Smith ruled that District Judge Lepley was not found to be in conflict either, based on a former ruling from the Ethics and Professionalism Committee of the Special Court Judges Association. The Ethics Law specifically notes a family member benefiting is not considered a conflict.
What is interesting is that local citizens raised both of these issues, which is their right to do so. Another right of the general public is the right to speak at government meetings. In fact, under the Sunshine Law, members of the public must be given the opportunity to express their opinions. A regular feature at the County Commissioners Meeting is right after the Pledge of Allegiance and the approval of the previous board meeting minutes, Chairman Jack McKernan announces that anyone who wishes to make a comment about any item on the agenda is invited to do so. It is not unusual for someone to come to the podium with a script in hand and promote or denounce a particular issue that would be raised on that day’s session. At the conclusion of the meeting, the public is likewise given an opportunity to express their opinion, this time on any matters that would be of interest to the county officials.
At a time when our country’s history and heritage are being challenged, it is critically important that we remember the very first words of the United States Constitution, “We the people… do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.” Not politicians, but people, as President Andrew Jackson reminds us, “the planter, the farmer, the mechanic, and the laborer... form the great body of the people of the United States, they are the bone and sinew of the country men who love liberty and desire nothing but equal rights and equal laws.” 



 
Walkers to Take to Penn College Streets to Fight Suicide
 

Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States, yet it is preventable.
More than 250 participants from throughout Lycoming County are expected for the annual Out of the Darkness Greater Lycoming Walk at 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, at Pennsylvania College of Technology.
Registration begins at 4 p.m. for the fundraising walk, which supports the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s local and national education and advocacy programs and its bold goal of a 20-percent reduction in the annual rate of suicide by 2025.
“We walk to raise awareness about this important health issue,” said Mallory L. Weymer, coordinator of student health and wellness/suicide prevention specialist. “Suicide touches one in five American families. We hope that, by walking, we save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.”
The Out of the Darkness Greater Lycoming Walk is one of more than 375 community walks held nationwide this year. The walks are expected to unite more than 250,000 walkers and raise millions of dollars for suicide prevention efforts. Last year’s Greater Lycoming walk raised more than $5,000 and had nearly 250 participants.
The walk will include the participation of community partners and offer opportunities to remember those who have lost their lives, provide support to those struggling with thoughts of suicide, and for the community to walk together in support of mental health education and awareness.
“These walks are about turning hope into action,” said Robert Gebbia, CEO of the AFSP. “Suicide is a serious problem, but it’s a problem we can solve. The research has shown us how to fight suicide, and, if we keep up the fight, the science is only going to get better, our culture will get smarter about mental health, and we’ll be able to save more people from dying from depression and other mental health conditions.”
Local sponsors for the Out of the Darkness Greater Lycoming Walk include Penn College. Anyone with questions or who is interested in sponsoring is encouraged to contact Weymer, who chairs the local walk, at mlw11@pct.edu.
For more about the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide, visit https://afsp.org/.
For more about the college, a national leader in applied technology education and workforce development, visit www.pct.edu, email admissions@pct.edu or call toll-free 800-367-9222.


Fall Cleanup Day to be Held at Rider Park
Saturday, October 28, 2017
 
 

The First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania will host a fall cleanup day at Rider Park on Saturday, October 28, 2017 from 8:00 am until 12:00 pm. This event is open to the public – both individuals and service groups. Volunteers must be at least twelve years of age to participate.
Workday plans include making trail improvements to the Cheryl’s Trail and the Francis X. Kennedy Trail and clearing overgrown brush at the Doe Pen Vista. Volunteers are asked to bring work gloves, rakes and shovels and wear closed toe shoes. Lunch will be provided at 12:00 pm for all volunteers.
Participants are asked to pre-register for this event no later than Wednesday, October 25, by calling the Community Foundation at 570-321-1500.
Rider Park is one of Pennsylvania’s great scenic and recreational treasures, featuring 867 acres of private land available to the public 365 days a year, from dawn to dusk, for hiking, trail running, mountain bike riding, cross country skiing and other low-impact recreational activities. The Park, located in Warrensville, PA, offers 15 miles of major and secondary trails leading to three breathtaking vistas. Rider Park is owned and operated by FCFPA Properties, Inc., a subsidiary of the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania. Learn more about Rider Park at www.RiderPark.org.


Three WAMS Students Lead Walk-a-Thon Fundraising Effort

Three Williamsport Area Middle School students led the charge in securing individual sponsorships for their school’s walk-a-thon event on Oct. 5. The three collectively raised more than $870, representing more than half of the overall total of about $1,500 generated among the student body.
The money raised will help support activities related to the building's School-wide Positive Behavior Program.
Eighth-grade student Becca White collected the most sponsors, raising more than $500 from about 60 donors, while seventh-grade students Benjamin Smith and Daniel Confer followed by generating $200 and $170, respectively. 
The school's walk-a-thon was held in observance of National Walk to School Day.  National Walk to School Day is organized by the Partnership for a Walkable America, which "began in 1997 as a one-day event aimed at building awareness for the need for walkable communities."


 
 
 
 
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