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Ask Me No Questions

Friday, December 03, 2010

With one year of appointed, paid public service under his belt – courtesy of taxpayers, thank you – Luzerne County Democratic majority Commissioner Tom Cooney has had ample time to get used to the job.

He’s also had more than enough time to step completely away from his involvement and any financial benefit in the engineering company he helped establish. But Cooney’s still benefitting financially from that business – at taxpayer expense.

That means he’s still making money from a lucrative contract the engineering firm had when judges appointed Cooney to fill a vacancy created when his predecessor got ready for prison – an unfinished contract that the firm still has.

I was surprised yesterday when Cooney came on the show and acknowledged without so much as losing his breath that he’s still making out the way he made out before he accepted the public responsibility of the public service that pays him from public money.

Now I wonder how much longer that contract with the Luzerne County Community College will last. How much more cash will Cooney take before he is embarrassed by the deal that pays him money he simply should not receive while serving as a county commissioner?

You can log onto and listen to yesterday’s interview with Cooney for yourself.

Instead of arguing back and forth about whether he should have or should not have recused himself from this week’s preliminary vote on the county budget because of that business relationship, we need to actually review the relationship.

That means we need to see the contract.

I left a message with Coney’s assistant this morning because she said he was in a meeting and could not be interrupted. I asked for a full and complete copy of the contract Cooney’s personal business firm has with LCCC – a public institution he is paid to help oversee. I also asked for any and all other contracts between Cooney’s private business and the county - on whose behalf he is paid to do the people’s business – that might exist.

Then I called county manager Doug Pape’s office and left word with an assistant that I needed a copy of the Cooney/LCCC contract as well.

While I was at it, I figured I’d call LCCC and ask them, too. But nobody answered the hone at the public relations office at 10:48 so I left a message for Lisa Nelson. I asked that she email me any and all relevant information about Cooney’s contract with the college so I could see when it ended, how much it has cost and continue to cost and whatever else I could learn from the details provided within its small print.

We need to test government more than we do. And this is a simple test to see how well the same county government coordinates and communicates with itself.

What are the odds of my getting three full copies of the contract from Cooney, Pape and LCCC administrators? If I succeed, will all three contracts be the exact same contract? Will I receive a full and efficient accounting of every penny of public money that goes into Cooney’s pocket from his relationship in a company I thought would have ended by now?

Exactly how much does Cooney receive anyway? His private business partners likely don’t have to tell me how they divvy up the public pie. I’m not sure Cooney has to tell me, either. But we need to ask. We need to ask many questions that are often not asked.

I recently heard rumblings about a Northeastern Pennsylvanian who will take the oath of office as a state lawmaker in January who supposedly owes a significant bank loan. Are the details of the school loan public information? Are we entitled to know how much is owed, how much has been paid and whether payments have been on time?

These are all good questions that good public officials should be willing to disclose whether or not they are obligated by law to tell us. How public officials handle their own personal finances matter, especially when they are paid public funds to handle public finances.

I also have to call Hazleton City Hall today as well, to check if Mayor Lou Barletta put in for vacation time to cover the week he took off work in Hazleton to go to “Congressional School” to prepare for his January entry into the U.S. House of Representatives. When Barletta and I last spoke he insinuated that he would do just that.

Barletta became the darling of Republican fiscal conservatives and Tea Party activists after successfully running on a platform that included fighting government waste and abuse. Taking public money for not working is abusive and should not go unpunished.

Let’s see if Barletta’s word is good.

Barletta and Cooney got me thinking.

So I’m asking.

You should too.

I’ll get to the lawmaker’s school loan after the confetti stops falling at a cold inauguration day in Harrisburg.

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Locations : Harrisburg
People : Doug PapeLisa NelsonLou BarlettaTom Cooney

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