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Monday, September 30, 2019

There's Nothing Glamorous About Business Travel...

...and it's getting worse.

Just a quick word or two from the road, as I make my way to Fairfield, Iowa for a few days worth of work.  My current location is gate E20 at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.

Anyway, I've been traveling for work-related reasons now for something like 30 years.  My first business trip involving an airplane was in 1989, and it was to Boston.  I should note that was my first time ever traveling by airplane.  Since then, well, let's just say that there have been many trips.  The good news in all of that time past is that I'm still alive to tell this tale, and by and large, nothing all too horrible has happened along the way.

There have been bumps along the business travel road though.  I had to once stay overnight at the airport in Detriot.  Then there was the 1am drive from Harrisburg to Scranton in a one-way rental car that I have to practically beg to get (because of a whole series of flight delays).  In the grand scheme of things though, it could have been worse.

What stinks about business travel?  Well, a few things come to mind:
  • Airplane Seats - Airplane seats are utterly horrible.  Unless you are in First Class or have the same physical dimension of, say, Tinkerbell, you are not going to be comfortable.  Making matters even worse is when you end up with a dreaded window seat (which I had from Scanton to Charlotte this morning).  With an aisle seat, you do have the option of extending one leg.  You can also get up and go to the bathroom, affording you the ability to momentarily unfold your legs like a newly emerging butterfly.
  • Airports & Cleanliness - Keeping an airport clean must be a herculean job.  In a larger airport that is open 24/7, emptying trash and cleaning bathrooms is a never-ending task.  It doesn't help that many folks are simply, well, pigs.  Case in point:  I'm sitting here typing on a surface that has at least three layers of spills.
  • Food - I don't care which airport you go to...the food is going to be over-priced and not all that great.  
  • Running - By and large, when I am traveling for business, my schedules are tight (today is an exception in that I have a 2+ hour layover), so the entire exercise is about getting off a plane, finding a bathroom, finding another gate, and running there.  What makes it worse?  Well, that would be when you travel through an airport like Chicago O'Hare, running to a new gate only to discover that the flight has been delayed anyway.  For there record, O'Hare is a horrible airport for connecting flights.  Last time I checked, the on-time percentage for O'Hare is 81%, meaning that there is about a 1 in 5 chance that your fight will not leave as scheduled.
Speaking of airports, here are my least favorite airports, listed in no particular order:
  • Chicago O'Hare.  See above.  There is also the fact that the rental car location seems like it is located in Indiana.
  • Philadelphia International.  The place is literally laid out like a cheese maze.  One good point though:  It has very convenient garage parking, and driving into and out of the airport is relatively easy.
  • Atlanta Hartsfield.  Very, very big.  You need to take an underground train to get anywhere.
I don't envy the people that work at airports.  Some travelers get downright horrible.  Granted, having flight plans disrupted is nothing to be happy about, and airlines seem to get a certain amount of joy out of torturing their customers, but airport staff have no control over the weather, airplane mechanical issues, or seats designed with the under-5 foot population in mind.  Yet they are, by and large, good sports at taking care of the travel-disrupted.

On that note, I need to get ready for my next flight.  This time around I have an aisle seat, so at least I'll have one leg cramp.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Cost of Betrayal, NEPA Style

...and asked, "What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?" So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver.

- Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 26, verse 15

Dunmore (PA) borough council voted this past week that the Keystone Sanitary Landfill is not a structure for purposes of zoning, and as a result can go forward with a plan to create a real mountain made of (mostly) out of state trash.  You can read more about this HERE.  This will allow the landfill to remain open for more than four decades into the future.

I'll note that I have nothing personally against the family that owns the landfill.  In fact, as supporters of the University of Scranton, they helped fund scholarships that enabled my soon to be Ph.D. middle daughter to earn her B.S. in biology.  What I do have a problem with though is allowing something that will harm the environment of this area of centuries to come. 

Taking a step back, Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) was the world's center of anthracite coal mining for almost a century.  The area still bears the environmental scars from this activity, even though most of the regions coal mines were closed by the time I was born in 1964.

The coal mines made a few people wealthy and left many areas in ruins.  I personally also think that this activity helps contribute to the higher cancer rates in this region(*).  It's against this backdrop that four members of Dunmore borough council voted to allow the landfill expansion.  The key question is this:  Why?  Really, what's the underlying reason in support of the landfill?

While the landfill is a highly engineered structure (by its own admission), the fact remains that no amount of planning will prevent some level of groundwater contamination by the decaying consumer and commercial waste at the site.  What's more, the landfill itself sits upon abandoned deep mines (you can see for yourself HERE), which in this area tend to be filled with water.  The landfill also produces methane gas as the trillions of bacteria treat its contents as a kind of "all you can eat garbage bullet".  Some of this gas is captured and used for energy production, some of it is also burned off.  Some of it inevitably escapes into the atmosphere.

Yes, we need to put our garbage somewhere.  However, in NEPA, we shouldn't have to also deal with the garbage of other states as well.  At this stage, we've done enough in the area of sacrificing for the greater good, again going back to the coal mining days.

In the end, the records will show that four members of Dunmore's borough council decided that some benefit known only to them was far more valuable than the health of an entire region.  For their figurative 30 pieces of silver, they betrayed an entire region.

(*) A few citations:
Northeast Regional Cancer Institute data
NEPA Cancer Rates Continue to Rise
Pennsylvania Ranks Third in Cancer Incidence

Sunday, September 15, 2019


(from THIS site)

I'm referring to this posting about Scranton School District (SSD).  Here's what I've learned:
  • The hired teacher is related to Director Lesh through marriage, although not in his immediate family.
  • I was told that Director Lesh had nothing to to with the individual's hiring.
  • The SSD Board was not told about the more distant familial relationship.
  • The hiring would fall outside of the SSD's (arguably laughable) anti-nepotism policy*.  
Like many things in the SSD's administrative history, this instance seems to just skirt the boundaries of impropriety.  Technically the policy was not violated, but it does tell a story that this particular hire was not questioned during the last board meeting.  I mean it's not as if the SSD has had problems with this in the past (I'm being has been a problem; see this posting from August 23, 2013).  

As I've noted before, given the significant legal and ethical lapses of the SSD Administration in the past, one would think that the SSD Board would have gone the extra mile and disclosed the relationship, even if it did not technically violate the policy.  I do realize that there is a lot of the SSD Board's plate, but part of that is because prior versions of the SSD's administration failed to pay proper attention to both the letter and the spirit of the law. 

By the way, unlike the SSD's Conflict of Interest policy, there appears to be no real sanction or consequence if the board were to not follow the Anti-Nepotism policy.  Why is that?  Well, I suspect that's the case because the Anti-Nepotism "policy" isn't really a's actually a guideline.  The distinction is important because a policy effectively says "you must do this"; a guideline says "it would be kind of nice if you did this".  The Anti-Nepotism policy guideline is actually a "trust us, we'll do the right thing" kind of document. 

In the end, this is not the SSD's final hour, and I'll confess some sense of dismay at the Scranton Times for failing to report on the issue.  As soon as the name "Lesh" appeared in the board meeting notes, the individual's hiring should have been put on hold pending a review.  That isn't required per the SSD's anti-nepotism policy guideline, but it would the right thing to do for what has historically been an ethically challenged organization. 

(*) You can find all of the SSD's policies by following this link.  Here is the text of the anti-nepotism policy guideline (red text by me):


The district prohibits nepotism in the selection, hiring and assignment process.


Nepotism means the hiring of relatives of the Board or Superintendent.

Relatives shall mean father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife, son, daughter, step-son, step-daughter, grandchild, nephew, niece, first cousin, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, or aunt.

Delegation of Responsibility

As soon as the Superintendent becomes aware that a finalist for a full-time position is a relative of a current Board member or the Superintendent, s/he shall notify the Board. All candidates shall be required to complete a written form disclosing any relationship with any current Board member or Superintendent.[1]


Nothing in this policy should in any way reflect on the teacher selection process, provided that in the event a relationship is identified between a member of the selection committee and a candidate, the member of the selection committee who is related to the candidate, shall be disqualified from participating in the selection process.[1]

No persons shall be assigned, or reassigned to a position that requires that the employee directly supervise or be supervised by a relative. Should such a relationship occur, the employee to be supervised shall be transferred to another position with no diminution of his/her employment status. In the event such a transfer is not possible, a nonrelated supervisor shall conduct the employment evaluation. This policy and its implementation shall not cause the resignation of any Board member or discharge of any employee should a relative be elected or hired/transferred to a position of supervision.

It is the intention of the Board that this policy not prohibit the selection, promotion or transfer of any person in the employ of the district prior to the date of the adoption of this policy.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

If a Tree Fell in the Woods (or if a Relative were Hired in the Scranton School District)...

With apologies for the impossibly long title.

(photo by the author)

During the September 3rd meeting of the Scranton School Board (the Board/SSB), something unusual happened, namely that Director Lesh actually attended.  This has not been a regular occurrence over the course of 2019.  Something else happened that may not be unusual in the history of the Scranton School District (SSD), namely nepotism.  Emphasis on the word "may" by the way; more on that in a moment.

During the above-referenced meeting, the Board hired Ms. Dawn Lesh as a fifth-grade teacher.  Reference HERE.  If you've heard that last name before then have a functioning short-term memory.  Yes, Ms. Lesh has the same last name as Director Lesh, who just happened to show up for a meeting.  To vote for Ms. Lesh, among other business.

Note that the SSD has been a hot-bed of nepotism.  Case in point:  The former business manager, who admitted to one felony as part of an on-going corruption probe (reference HERE), has a spouse working for the SSD.  That's one of many familial relationships in the SSD.

Problem established, is Ms. Lesh related to Director Lesh?  I don't know.  Strangely, the family relationship...or lack of family relationship...was not referenced at all by the Scranton Times.  Not in the report from the meeting.  Not in any reporting since the meeting.  I even contacted two reporters at the Scranton Times to inquire about this omission; one got back to me and said that they wanted to ask Director Lesh about that, but he is rather stealthy when it comes to press accountability.  The second reporter hasn't responded to an email I sent a few days ago.

Why am I even writing about this?  Two reasons:
  1. I love Scranton.  I was born there, I (now) work there, and no matter where I live, Scranton will always be my home.  I want the city and the SSD to be successful.  
  2. There's a reason why the SSD is awash in friends and relatives...namely that over the years no one cared while successive leadership regimes treated the district as a personal/family employment agency.  That lack of concern is a symptom of cancer that has rotted the SSD for decades and has left the SSD on the verge of a state takeover.
The above noted, if Ms. Lesh is not related to Director Lesh, then she deserves to be free of the tarnish by association.  Being a teacher is hard enough these days, especially in Scranton and she deserves the public's support (as do all of our teachers).  She also deserves a public affirmation that her hiring was based on talent and ability alone.

If Ms. Lesh is related to Director a daughter, daughter in law, niece (by birth or marriage) or any other familial relationship...then this a new low for a school district known for new lows.  In fact, I would argue that this is the worst insult of all, as the SSB recently voted for a recovery plan that will negatively impact taxpayers for years to come.  Implicit in the recovery plan is the idea that the SSD is changing for the better; blatant nepotism is among the worst of the "old" SSD sins.  This would be a step back for a school district that is already backed up to a cliff of its own making.

By the way, nepotism is always wrong In every instance and manifestation.  Giving a relative a job, no matter how well qualified they are, reinforces the idea that public service exists for the personal enrichment of the powerful and well-connected.  It also denies the SSD the talents of individuals who just happen to have the wrong last name.

Enough said.

The taxpayers of Scranton, those who have paid (and will continue to pay for) the for SSD's corruption in the past deserve to know if that corruption is still a thing of the present.