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409+

Last week, under pressure to perform at an adult, professional level, the senior staff at the NCAA folded right before appearing in court.

The discovery phase of a lawsuit brought against the NCAA for its disproportionate over-correction of Penn State University was about to begin, and with a handful of damning NCAA emails already in hand, the meaty part of discovery would have exposed the heavy handed NCAA overlords for what they are: Incompetent, vacuous bullies.

The fictional Louis Freeh “report” aka Hit Piece and Flaming Bomb Meant to Humble Penn State has gradually yielded to the collective bits of disbelief and basic deductive logic surrounding the Joe Paterno Assassination aka The Oxbow Incident.

Knowing now what we already knew two years ago, the NCAA storm trooper and tactical nuke assault on one of the very few pristine colleges in the nation has blown up in the NCAA’s own face.

Yes, we got our 409 wins back, but we deserve so much more.

And to have undergone so much knee-jerk reaction injustice…..Penn State deserves compensation, to be made whole, to get back what we lost, if it’s remotely possible.

I want blood.

I want guts.

I want a shred of public justice for Joe Paterno and Penn State, and for the student athletes immorally saddled with faux guilt from the sick, distant actions of a man they’d never met, let alone heard of (Jerry Sandusky).

To begin with, the Joe Paterno statue immediately goes back to its original prominent place on campus.

Then, every member of the PSU board involved in the debacle issues a personal, hand written apology. And then each resigns. I’ve got a few names to go with that demand.

Then each NCAA staff member associated with the debacle issues a hand written apology, and then resigns.

That’s what real leaders do when they fail badly.

And for those folks who really want to demonstrate their earnest attitude, I’ve got some old Japanese swords you can fall on. I’m tempted to serve as your second….to ensure a clean ending, of course.

A clean ending to a tragedy, a failure to protect little boys, a failure to act like grown men and women and apply justice carefully, a failure to protect the grown boys on the team and the many professional educators and students unfairly tarnished by the NCAA’s hasty, shoot-first-ask-questions-never attitude.

And then there’s the scholarships, the bowl money PSU lost. The opportunities unfairly crushed. How do we get all that back?

And Mr Louis Freeh, you may be ex-FBI, but I’m ex-Penn State Nittany Lion. Don’t meet me in a dark alley.

Don’t howl too loudly, Wolf Pack

If the Tom Corbett administration was marked by poor communications, unaccountable senior staff running amok in the name of their boss, a hands-off management style by the chief executive, and a general lack of charisma, there’s a good indication that the Tom Wolf administration is headed the exact same way for similar reasons.

And they might experience the same one-term result that marked Corbett.

Maybe Katie McGinty will run a right and responsive ship. Maybe John Hanger will avoid sharp conflicts with the Republican legislature.  Those will be advantages over the Corbett administration. But the missing outside voices from across the aisle are an indication that an insular culture is already taking place. From insularity springs all kinds of foolish mistakes.

There will be time enough for natural disagreement. But unless the Wolf Administration wants to go down fighting from the beginning, and thus get saddled with a deadly four years of failure, they’d better start thinking hard how to navigate the minefield, to give and to take, to lead.

An open letter to Patrick Henderson

Dear Patrick,

Years ago, you were a sweet kid from Western Pennsylvania, beginning your career in the state legislature.  Working for state senator Mary Jo White and the senate environmental resources committee gave you lots of opportunity and exposure to political issues, outside issue groups, and the overall political process, including the executive branch.  You were smart, interested, thoughtful, and principled, and although we occasionally disagreed I really enjoyed working with you….. way back then.

But something changed.  You changed.  You seem angry, hateful, even.  Even towards people who have done nothing to you, at least that they are aware of; although I write this for myself, I write knowing that many other individuals have experienced the same unfair, undeserved treatment from you.

Your role in the Governor’s Office the past few years seems to have been largely dedicated to using state government to settle old scores with real or imagined “enemies” of yours (they were not Tom Corbett’s enemies, that’s for sure, although after you alienated them they aren’t up for helping Tom now), or to create new vendettas as you demonstrate that you have influence over government functions.  For now.

At Governor Tom Corbett’s inaugural back in early 2011, you treated my wife Vivian rudely, to her face, despite her sweet nature and she having never met you before.  She did not deserve that.  Was it your way of getting at me, trying to  hurt me, one more time?  Whatever your purpose, it was petty behavior unbecoming someone in your senior, public role.

It is difficult to accept that you have become this way, but it has become a universal truth in Harrisburg that you are, in fact, angry at the world and determined to get even with everyone in it, whether they are guilty (of what?!) or innocent.

I suspect a lot of this negative change is a result of your cocoon-like experience inside the Republican Party, where you have been sheltered from the real world for your entire career.  Like all of the other professional staff on the Hill, in both parties, you merely must meet a technical standard, not a performance standard.

Meeting a technical standard means that you, and other professional party people paid by the taxpayers, must merely show up for work and stay out of trouble with your elected boss.  If you were held to a performance standard, then you’d be in a world of trouble.  Other than using your public position to hammer away at “enemies,” what performance for the public have you achieved on the taxpayer’s dime these past three and a half years?

Taking risks, making sacrifices, meeting real deadlines, making personally uncomfortable decisions — none of these are part of the professional life on the Hill, although I am confident that you or others in those roles (even friends of mine) would disagree.  We taxpayers who underwrite your salary see it differently.

As a public servant, Patrick, you are subject to writing like this.  You may hire an attorney to try to get this off the web, and I sarcastically wish you good luck with that.  I stand behind everything written here, as you well know, and if I am pushed to do so, I can certainly provide any necessary evidence to support it.

Good luck with your career, Patrick.  Unless you are recycled back into the Republican Party, and God knows I really hope you are not, because I think you are a huge liability to our party, you are destined to work in the private sector.  Here is some valuable advice: Don’t treat people in the private sector the way you treated them when you were in the public sector.  You won’t last five minutes.  Other than that, I hope you enjoy your family and show humble appreciation for all of the good things that God has bestowed upon you.

–Josh

PGC: Great, Old Agency Unused to Modern Limelight

If there is one take-away from my many years in federal and state government jobs, it is that agency staff cultures change slowly.  In Pennsylvania, a great example of this is one of my favorite agencies, the Pennsylvania Game Commission.  PGC is an agency that is used to doing things the way it wants, often relying on its impressive history as evidence for its present day independence and independent culture.

PGC is presently in the headlines because of a $200,000 payment to its former executive director, Carl Roe, now very recently departed of the agency.

I thought it was an amicable departure; maybe not.  PGC staff say this is a settlement to avoid a possible lawsuit.  Critics of the payment include the governor’s office, the PA Comptroller, the PA attorney general, and many elected officials.  They say this is a sidestep around the state’s prohibition of severance payments, made between a board of directors and an executive director who were actually very cozy with one another.

This is sad, because PGC is a storied agency, a trend-setter in the area of wildlife management, wildlife science, habitat management, and public land acquisition.  Something I like is that PGC has uniformed officers who stand in front of Hunter Trapper Education courses filled with 10-18-year-old kids, and tell them that they have a Second Amendment right to own firearms.  Few states in America have such a wonderful role for their uniformed law enforcement officers.  We are fortunate to have this agency with this culture, and it is for this reason that I oppose merging PGC with DCNR.  Ranger Rick and Smokey Bear are not going to purvey that valuable message.

The flip side of the culture is what is often described as a “bunker mentality” among the agency’s staff, and this payment to Roe probably fits in with that view.

Most agencies are careful to avoid controversy, especially controversy that does not have a strong basis.  This payment does not appear to have a strong basis, so it is an unnecessary controversy that is likely to damage the agency’s standing among lawmakers and executives, as well as the general public and hunters who otherwise happily buy hunting licenses to support their favorite agency.  It comes at a time when the agency is already under the gun from oversight legislation (HB 1576, which does not address actual problems, but rather imagined problems unrelated to PGC and PA Fish & Boat Commission).

Don’t get me wrong, I like Carl Roe, and PGC has also driven me nuts at times.  I clearly recall the day he was brought on to the agency as an intern.  Me, then PGC executive director Vern Ross, PGC biologist Gary Alt, Carl Roe, and senior PGC staffer Joe Neville drove together up to Bellefonte to participate in the swearing-in of a new PGC commissioner.  Carl struck me as a bright, quantitatively-oriented, inquisitive, experienced manager.  Over the years since that day I have had many opportunities to meet with Carl, and he has always impressed me as a stalwart and intelligent promoter of PGC, hunters, trappers, and wildlife conservation.  This huge payment lightning rod situation just does not make sense in that context.

But on second thought, this payment does make sense if the insular agency culture managed to eventually penetrate into Carl’s otherwise solid judgment.  That has been a phenomenon witnessed among other new PGC staff; the broad “something-is-in-their-water” observation that people’s personalities changed dramatically once they joined PGC. Other evidence of an insular culture was recently brought to my attention: Four of the agency’s biologists (all of whom have some or all of the deer program’s oversight) have graduate degrees from the same school and they studied at the same post-graduate field station.  And no, they ain’t from Penn State, or any Pennsylvania university, for that matter, dammit.

I fear for PGC, because at a time when the agency is already under scrutiny from HB 1576, this new payment debate threatens to add fuel to the flames, and add a straw onto the camel’s back.  Part of the culture driving these problems is the same kind of culture that can cause the roof to suddenly come down.  Careful there, boys, careful.

*******UPDATE:

So, as has happened before, these essays get read, and I get phone calls and emails.  People calling me usually do not want to post on the blog, being afraid of attribution, and frankly, what some other people want to post here is not always worth keeping.  So here is the gist of what came over the transom in the past half hour: Things between Carl Roe and the PGC board were not chummy.  The payment to him is seen as a real money-saver.  I am unsure how an at-will employee like an executive director has any real legal recourse, unless he is fired for his religion or political views, things that are a) hard to prove and b) unlikely.  Also, I neglected to mention that Roe had, indeed, given away about $300,000 in agency funds to Hawk Mountain (GREAT PLACE, but not necessarily deserving of big PGC money) and other groups. This unaccountable and unapproved largesse caused real friction between Roe and the board, not to mention the rest of the stakeholders whose donations to and purchases from PGC are expected to be spent in a pecuniary fashion.