Dear Hazleton Mayor and Congressman-Elect Lou Barletta:
The honeymoon is over, Lou.
Life’s no longer a bowl of cherries or a box of pitz, that legendary cold local pizza that you brought with you to this morning’s Beer Buzz segment with Webster and Nancy on WILK News Radio.
You’ve got work to do.
That’s why when I called this morning as I do every morning to promo my show this afternoon, I felt obligated to ask you a very serious couple of questions – nothing personal, strictly business – the people’s business.
You know I like pitz as much as the next guy. When we were on speaking terms - before I took a public stand and said that your campaign promises endangered too many vulnerable people who deserve better - you even dropped off a couple boxes of pitz for me at the station.
And I spent your last losing election night in Hazleton surrounded by a roomful of your depressed supporters who now cheer your victory over veteran Congressman Paul Kanjorski, a man who you hammered during the campaign with charges of abusing the public trust by wasting public money.
Now you’re going to Washington and the people who voted for you put faith in your word that you will uphold the public trust and guard their money with every ounce of integrity that you possess.
That’s why I asked you the questions I asked this morning.
Since you’re still receiving a salary and benefits, since you’re still getting paid to serve as mayor of Hazleton, will you stick the people of your hometown for the bill next week during your absence from Hazleton City Hall while you’re at the Capitol getting trained for your new job?
Will you pick up your weekly paycheck for work you didn’t do? Will you take money you didn’t earn from people to whom you credit your success? Will you behave exactly like the fallen members of Congress you regularly attacked during the campaign you claim to have waged “for the people?”
Your response to my question this morning was intriguing. You did not take issue with my premise that it’s wrong to take money for honest services you will not provide to the people in Hazleton during your week-long absence.
Instead, you said that the city maintains a vacation policy that applies even to the mayor, clearly insinuating that you could use vacation time in exchange for missing a week worth of work at a time of change during which the people of Hazleton are depending on you as much as ever to help with a smooth transition.
I asked how much vacation time you get.
Four weeks, you said.
I’ll try to get my hands on the audio from this morning’s interview to play on “Corbett” this afternoon because I’m not exactly sure how I phrased the next question. But my intent was clearly to ask if you would put in a vacation slip for next week.
I took your answer to mean that you would, indeed, put in for the time and not rip off people who will likely be devastated by you and your Republican consorts in the slash and burn public policies you will inflict on the poor, the sick and the elderly of your district and this nation.
Terrific, I said, I’ll be asking for that vacation slip.
When I hung up the phone, I pondered exactly what you had said. You seemed to agree that spending a week in Washington training for your new job does not entitle you to get paid in taxpayer dollars for work you did not do in Hazleton during your absence. If you disagreed with my premise, I would hope you would have said so.
You also seemed to indicate that you would, indeed, put in a vacation slip.
But if that’s true, why didn’t you put in that vacation slip before I called you on it? Have you as mayor allowed city workers to get paid for a week’s vacation or to train for another job without getting permission in advance?
I surely hope that you did no such thing. What would your fans in the Tea Party crowd say? Even an undocumented immigrant knows that in Hazleton you get paid when you work and get nada when you don’t.
If you had already put in for your vacation time, you would have said so. But you didn’t. So I must conclude that taking vacation time never crossed you mind until I asked about it.
I wonder if the mayoral vacation policy is written down anywhere in the Hazleton employee handbook. I wonder how much vacation time – if any - you have officially requested during your tenure as mayor. And I wonder if you will provide me with written answers to all those questions.
I sure hope so.
Consider this a right to know request on behalf of the people, Lou.
Yours in the spirit of fiscal conservatism,