Secrets, quarantines & a broken promise

Secrets, quarantines & a broken promise

Those who long have likened the Pennsylvania Legislature to a corrupt enterprise – think stealth pay raises and slush funds, to name only two matters – have just been handed another item to add to a long bill of particulars.

SpotlightPA and The Caucus report that “top officials with the Pennsylvania Senate scrubbed thousands of detailed explanations about its expenses from official records provided to two news organizations, raising alarm among open-records and good-government advocates.”

And we’re not talking about redactions – or blacking out – legally exempt information. The reporting consortium says the information was “edited … out, making it appear as though (it) never existed.”

Worse, the officials “did not disclose that they had removed the information,” the news report says.

And even worse  than that, the consortium reports that “Michael Sarfert, the Senate’s open records lawyer, said in an email that the chamber removed the spending details because the news organizations did not specifically state that they wanted to know the ‘purpose’ of the Senate expenditures.”

Come on. The “purpose” is a given. A legal beagle playing such a game indicates one thing and one thing only: The Pennsylvania Senate has not just something to hide but much to hide.

Sound public policy requires sunlight. For shame, Pennsylvania Senate.

The foreign ministers of seven countries will meet in Pittsburgh March 24-25. But Mayor Bill Peduto insists the impact on the general public will be nothing like the utter mess of another gathering of world leaders 11 years ago.

Foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom, plus U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, will gather at the Omni William Penn in advance of June’s full Group of 7 (G-7) summit at Camp David in Maryland.

You may recall that the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh in 2009 turned much of Downtown into a ghost town because of security diktats. But that has not stopped the usual rah-rah-sis-boom-bah-ing suspects from becoming revisionist historians, claiming the G-20 was the greatest shot in the arm that Pittsburgh has ever known.

This time around, Peduto tells the Post-Gazette that, yes, “We’re looking at a small amount (sic) of closures, which will affect traffic,” but it won’t be like the G-20 fiasco “when the entire city was quarantined.”

The proof will come in what level of “quarantine” is imposed this time around, one can only suppose.

The Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program says it will place professional “coaches” in three Pittsburgh public high schools, an attempt to help more students meet the requirements for scholarship eligibility, the Post-Gazette reports.

At first blush, that sounds laudable. But peel back the layers of this onion and you’ll only want to cry.

Why? Well, the eligibility criteria for these scholarships already are embarrassingly low – an unweighted 2.5 grade point average and a 90-percent attendance record.

Why, pray tell, are college scholarships being given to those with C averages who can be absent 10 percent of the time in the first place?

The Allegheny Institute has painstakingly documented the painful failures of Pittsburgh Public Schools over the years. In fact, in too many metrics, academic performance has grown worse (see Policy Brief, Vol. 19, No. 40).

The bottom line here is that many of the students already qualifying for such scholarships likely do not have the academic wherewithal for college-level studies.

So, now, more such students will be “coached” to very weak scholarship eligibility?

Surely the “coaching” money would be better spent on efforts to eliminate the need to reward mediocrity. For mediocrity rewarded is mediocrity reinforced.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).