Of all the corrupt political bodies in Northeastern Pennsylvania, none deserves more public scrutiny – and perhaps law enforcement inquiry - than the board members at the Scranton School District.
Our “directors” rival the most dangerous street gang members in any American city. But our gang might be more threatening than most Crips and Bloods subsets in the nation. Democrats all, members of the largest most dangerous gang in hard coal country, these political powerbrokers have turned public service into a family and friends business plan that harkens back to the bad old days when no checks and balances existed to stop corruption.
Sadly, few checks and balances exist to day at the school district. Board members, including the newly-elected new generation, perform for their own benefit rather than for the public good. They insulate and isolate better than anybody left standing in the wake of the ongoing federal public corruption investigation.
For that reason, board members better beware. You are begging to be investigated and already have behaved publicly in ways that I firmly believe warrant federal inquiry. You have made clear to the taxpayers that you won’t even give the appearance of propriety, choosing instead to flaunt your power and rub voters’ noses into your abuse of power
Public service is a gift to be taken seriously and not to be squandered for personal gain.
But Scranton board members have used and continue to use public service for their own benefit.
Board president Bob Lesh, a bus driver by trade who is not known for his intellect, recently admitted that he violated the very ethics pledge for which he has voted. Then he took public pride in a radio interview on “Corbett” in admitting his gross stupidity that deprives parents, students and others of basic honesty in the performance of his public duties.
No test is required to be a school board member. No real qualifications are required to ascend to the rank of president. Lesh is on top because of crony politics. Lesh has no qualifications. Lesh does for himself before others. Lesh is a serious problem to local democracy.
Quoted in today’s paper, Lesh says that the board did not discuss in advance the appointment of Armand Martinelli, Lesh’s campaign manager, to fill a board vacancy. But Lesh says board members “absolutely” talked with each others about the appointment.
That’s right – I said Lesh’s campaign manager.
Remember I said that.
Actually, remember Lesh said that.
Some of those board members also received – as in accepted – cash campaign contributions that Martinelli raised as a longtime Democratic operative who now is in a position of power to play nice with his colleagues and vote for their relatives when they come up for jobs.
That’s the way it works at the Scranton School District.
School superintendant William King recommends board member Nate Barrett’s wife, Megan, for a $62,000-a-year-job plus benefits for herself and her school director husband if he wants them. Barrett abstains from the vote but his buddies handle the deal for him. He then, in turn, is in a position to vote for their family when the time comes. And Barrett joins his colleagues in wielding power over King.
King has a severe conflict of interest which he refuses to discuss publicly. I know this because I invited him to come on “Corbett” to talk about recommending the wife of a board member who wields power over King’s career, earning potential and benefits.
Martinelli’s presence on the board adds to the stacked deck that passes for public service.
Fourteen qualified candidates applied for the position. Seven candidates spoke before the board but not one board member bothered to ask a question. The vote shook out as 7-1 for Martinelli with the lone dissenter charging politics as usual.
Corruption as usual won again.
For what it’s worth, the state ethics law needs to be exercised here. A complaint should be filed against King, an investigation should follow and taxpayers should know if King violated any ethical standards he is bound by law to obey. Formal complaints should also be filed against any and all board members who talked with each other in advance of their vote about appointing Martinelli.
Quid pro quo, by the way, is Latin for “you scratch my back with money and I’ll scratch yours with a political job.”
I have little faith in the state ethics commission, by the way. Admitted criminal, Democratic gang leader and former state Sen. Bob Mellow appointed a local representative to the state ethics board. When I called him to ask why he got the appointment, the new president of Lackawanna College told me he didn’t know. He, too, refuses to come on the air and talk about it.
So I strongly encourage you to anonymously send this column to the Scranton office of the FBI, in care of the William J. Nealon Federal Building & U.S. Courthouse at 235 North Washington Avenue, P.O. Box 1148, Scranton, Pa., 18501.
Attach a note requesting an investigation of the Scranton School Board.