Arguable, Luzerne County is probably one of the most corrupt political sub-divisions in the nation, with almost two dozen public officials accused of criminal activity. Among the two dozen are two senior judges who sent kids to jail in exchange for kick-backs from for-profit jails. Also among the two dozen we find a County Commissioner who apparently didn't realize that taking money from someone in exchange for a vote constituted bribery. Looking forward to 2010 there is little doubt that there will be at least one indictment of a Lackawanna County official, if not more.
I could go on, but if you have been following the news you probably already know all the details.
Now in case you've never left "the valley", this is not the way things are everywhere. My most favorite example is as follows: I travel to Dubuque, Iowa on company business a few times a year. Like City of Scranton, the City of Dubuque also televises City Council meetings, which I tried to watch once. Note the word "tried". Why "tried"? Well I chose that word because the Dubuque meeting was boring....yes, boring. It was filled with procedural stuff and citizens asking reasonable questions about zoning, pending legislation, etc. You see, while I consider myself to be at least somewhat enlightened, having actually lived outside "the valley" for several years, even in my head I expected city council meetings everywhere to be the same circus that appears every Tuesday evening in Scranton. This is the same circus that consists of 3 minute sermons on everything from pending legislation to the latest happenings on Parrot Avenue to proclamations of indictment for a sitting Mayor who (to the best of my knowledge) has yet to even get a parking ticket.
So again I ask myself the following question: What's Wrong With Us?
I actually have pondered this very question, although I can't claim any revelations in terms of answers. At best I have a few observations, coming from someone born here, but who has both lived outside the area and traveled at least a bit. Here's my best shot:
- Insulation - I'm not talking about the stuff that surrounds your pipes and prevents them from freezing in January. No, this insulation comes from a generational tendency to not really want to see or understand what happens outside one's own little patch, borough or township. I'm simply convinced that there are many in NEPA who simply don't care what happens in the rest of the world. Why does that matter? Simple...by not looking outward many simply have no perspective...they believe that the way it's done here is the way it's done everywhere. "Of course the indicted School Board Director should be elected Board President; what's wrong with that? Everyone is innocent until proven guilty in this country."
- Lack of Opportunity - Government is seen in NEPA as a driver of employment. Now that's not unique to NEPA, but what I think is unique is that, unlike say that town near the Air Force Base (where the DoD is the employer), government at all levels here is seen as an employer of choice. Whether it's the 23 year old Housing Inspector or the School Board Director who "magically" gains employment as a full-time teacher (both real examples, by the way), people view a government job as the thing to have. Why? Because we have had generations who could only find marginal employment outside of government. It's my belief that our Economic Development officials have failed us over the years. Yes, there have been some successes, and in fact I owe my private-sector employment (at least in part) to an economic development success of SLIBCO, but the successes have been far and few between. Want a real-world example? My sister-in-law, upon graduation from college (with a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting) , got a job as a Bank Auditor (at a "name changed to protect the not-so-innocent" local bank), earning around $14,000/year for a job that would have paid double that in any other market. "Why pay them more? This is NEPA after-all; people are used to working for less."
- Apathy - Because people work harder for less in NEPA, I genuinely believe that some are simply too tired to care. I know, that sounds way too harsh, but I've seen and heard it. "It's always been done that way here in the coal region."
- Blind Obedience To Authority - Related to apathy, people in NEPA are accustomed to being obedient. Whether it's the Assistant DAs in Wilkes-Barre not questioning a judge who didn't allow a juvenile access to an attorney or good church-going folks who defended a Catholic Bishop who told them to ignore the teachings of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, many folks in this area are simply conditioned to blindly follow any authority figure in front of them. Apparently some residents of NEPA never got the memo about adults having the ability to use logic to discern fact from fiction, obedience from faith. "Either obey Bishop Martino or stop calling yourself a Catholic!".
By the way, I'm not implying that every local government employee crooked and I'm not questioning those who exercise their faith. I am, however, strongly questioning the notion that we should never question. In the end, that's 75% of the problem here, and it's the sum total of what I've noted above.