What’s the big question when 2 out of 3 County Commissioners hold private breakfasts regularly; discuss county business while meeting with staff about the county’s operations? That’s easy: who pays the tab?
Such as it is in Montgomery County. The county where Republican Commissioner Jim Matthews in his ardor to remain chairman cut a deal a couple of years ago with Democrat Joe Hoeffel to share power, "cross the aisle" and deny the top choice of voters – Republican Bruce Castor, the opportunity to lead the county.
Matthews and Hoeffel are by no means evil. They’re just traditional politicians, brokering power and patronage but as it has been demonstrated recently by the Times Herald published in Norristown, the county seat, rather clumsily.
A classic example of the bungling that came out of these private sessions is the fiasco known as the American Revolution Center Museum. Once scheduled to be built in Valley Forge National Park, a dispute erupted over the final location. A cost efficient compromise assembled by volunteer engineers, architects and attorneys led by the county’s Chamber of Commerce was rejected out of hand. When the project moved to Philadelphia, costing county businesses billions of dollars in revenue, Matthews actually congratulated the museum’s overseers for preserving open space.
But their missteps are not the real story here. The story is the story. Two intuitive reporters from the Times Herald found out about their not-so-secret breakfast meetings at a restaurant just a mile from the county court house. Court House reporter, Keith Phucas, reckoning they wouldn’t recognize her, enlisted colleague Jenny DeHuff to have breakfast and listen in. Sitting next to them she kept copious notes on county business being discussed: appointments to Boards and Commissions, expenditures and staff matters. Then last week under the tutelage of veteran editor Stan Huskey they splashed the story across the front page joined by their associates at other Journal Register Newspapers in southeastern Pennsylvania.
The shock waves are being felt across the state. Matthews, who was rumored to be in line for a senior appointment in the new Corbett administration, can probably kiss that notion goodbye. Hoeffel, who has done more than anyone in a century to bring the Democratic party into prominence in Montgomery County, has been called "childish" in published reports by the chairman of that same party, seemingly ending an honorable public career.
Matthews and Hoeffel: two over easy.
In Stan Huskey’s office hangs one of my favorite axioms from Thomas Jefferson:"were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter".
Much is made today of the demise of newspapers. Circulations in decline, readership down and the notion that online matters more. That may be the case and traditionalists like me may hate the technology of the 21st century but we had better learn to live with it. But the classic tradition of American reporting must live on. Someday with out it, the bureaucrats that are now running amuck will run afoul and government of, by and for the people will be eaten alive.
Albert Paschall is Senior Fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, a non-profit educational foundation with offices in Harrisburg and King Of Prussia. Someday is syndicated to leading newspapers and radio stations through out Pennsylvania. He began his career as a proof boy at the Times Herald. [email protected]