Tuesday, August 24, 2010

When Did Politicians Last Surprise Us — By Doing What's Right?

Credit the headline to Thomas Friedman, a three-time Pulitzer prize winner, but more on that later in the post.

In an Opinion written by Mark Guydish of the Times Leader he drives home a great point about the necessity of transparency in government. He attacks House Majority Leader Todd Eachus for his "utterly uninformative remark" regarding legislative staff costs to the taxpayer's of Pennsylvania.

Eachus said “Our personnel office uses industry-wide best practices and standards, much like other public or private organizations, for salaries, ranges and job classifications. Beyond that, we don’t discuss details of our personnel decisions.”

When did the hiring practices and procedures of public officials become proprietary information? Is Eachus worried that Houses of Representatives in other states will steal Pennsylvania’s “best practices,” thus taking away our House’s competitive edge? Are we – despite having the most bloated legislative staff in the nation – at risk of a legislative staff gap?

Todd’s utterly uninformative remark was pathetic party-line self protection. In a legislature where $100 million goes toward staff, the names and salaries of staff members already are public. Sadly, you have to ask for them, and as former legislative aide turned reformer Tim Potts noted in an e-mail: “Technically, all staff work for the caucus leadership, not for the legislators.” Which means legislators can say they employ no staff, and be telling the truth.

Back to Thomas Friedman. He penned an Opinion for the New York Times about politicians doing what's right. Freidman was talking about the mosque in New York. The Standard Speaker picked up this column where the headline reads "The real divide is among Muslims." Friedman describes what he feels is missing in our leadership today by using Nelson Mandella as an example of rising above the crowd.

When the post-apartheid, black-led South African sports committee moved to change the team's name and colors, Mandela stopped them. He explained that part of making whites feel at home in a black-led South Africa was not uprooting all their cherished symbols. "That is selfish thinking," Mandela, played by Morgan Freeman, says in the movie. "It does not serve the nation." Then speaking of South Africa's whites, Mandela adds, "We have to surprise them with restraint and generosity." I love that line: "We have to surprise them." I was watching the movie on an airplane and scribbled that line down on my napkin because it summarizes what is missing today in so many places: Leaders who surprise us by rising above their histories, their constituencies, their pollsters, their circumstances — and just do the right things for their countries.

I tried to recall the last time a leader of importance surprised me on the upside by doing something positive, courageous and against the popular will of his country or party. I can think of a few: Yitzhak Rabin in signing onto the Oslo peace process. Anwar Sadat in going to Jerusalem. And, of course, Mandela in the way he led South Africa.

Eachus has been missing the point of leadership for a long time. He wants to hide behind House Rule 14 which he and his peers made to say that Per Diems are legal.

He doesn't want to disclose what the legislative salaries, ranges and job classifications. Why Todd? We must continue to ask Why? Here is a man who campaigned against midnight pay raises. Here is a man who campaigned against WAMS.

In this Opinion article from Robert Swift he informs us that WAMS are still available for incumbent protection.

It used to be that you knew a WAM when you saw one. A grant announced by a lawmaker to pay for repairs to a municipal building, the purchase of Little League equipment or a hometown festival. In recent years, you could get a good idea of the amount allocated for WAMs by checking the "community revitalization" spending item under the Department of Community and Economic Development.

That spending item is zero-funded in the new state budget, but WAMs have migrated to other repositories: "community conservation and employment" funded at $24 million and "urban development' funded at $10 million.

As WAMs have spread out so has the debate about what they are. The market-oriented Commonwealth Foundation has identified what it calls governor's WAMs. Some suggest that spending where officials can exercise discretion about who the recipients are constitute WAMs.

In this press release Rep. John Yudichak is transparent about the fact that legislatvie leadership accounts have $200 million in funds. Previously John Yudichak stated the Legislature "has to put more on the table," including long-hoarded leadership accounts, which he figures at about $200 million and calls "a padded reserve to buttress leaders."

In John Baer's column in the Philadelphia Daily News Cut services? Raise taxes? Let's try something newhe highlights some ideas that are right for Pennsylvanians.

Any WAMs, says Rep. Gene DePasquale, D-York, "should be first to go . . . clearly before cuts to health care, education or environmental protection."

Rep. Bryan Lentz, D-Delco, calls cutting WAMs "a good suggestion."

Back to Mark Guydish's Opinion. Amidst exposure of ingrained corruption and outcries for true reform, such a move is a no-brainer.

Which makes Eachus’ statement insulting to anyone with intelligence.

No comments: