It never ends, does it?
“Public servants” once again are charged with robbing those they serve, and this time, it was a piece a cake. All it took was a push of a button to reap millions of dollars into the coffers of the Luzerne County Transportation Authority.
I, for one, would love to know what became of all that extra cash. You may have heard that the LCTA had built up a $7 million surplus. Now we know how. There were huge spikes in the number of ghosts boarding county buses. And now two LCTA big shots are charged with multiple felonies.
The LCTA’s state funding increased when its ridership did , which it didn’t in recent years. That’s where the ghosts handily came in. When a senior citizen boarded the bus, drivers allegedly logged a truck load of them. Union jobs were protected, and LCTA administrators had more money to hoard. Everyone was happy.
Well, this despicable public authority got caught.
Kudos to Luzerne County Councilman Edward Brominski who took seriously the disturbing information authority board member Patrick Conway shared with him. Brominski later contacted state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who jumped on it.
The rest of the LCTA board did nothing. Chairman Sal Licata still insists on singing the praises of authority Executive Director Stanley Strelish. Licata incredibly on Wednesday told The Citizens Voice that Strelish’ record has been “exemplary.” Maybe he considers charges of theft by deception and tampering with public records part of an “exemplary,” record, but the rest of us don’t. This guy should really consider stepping down.
When the story broke, Strelish blamed the padded ridership counts on authority drivers. They couldn’t count properly, he actually said.
Strelish is now charged with 47 criminal counts. Authority operations director Robb Henderson is charged with 27 counts, including conspiring to tamper with public records.
Someone is lying here. Strelish is claiming that the unionized drivers conspired to make him look bad. Guess what, Stan? If that’s the case, they succeeded.
An LCTA driver, reportedly a former head of the transit union, recalled a meeting with Strelish and claims he said, ”It would be wise for us to tell everybody to be smart about it and increase the ridership.” Whistleblower board member Conway told The Times Leader that the drivers who falsified the number of riders also should have been charged.
That’s what you think, bub. “I ain’t playing their game,” was the response of Paul Jason, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 164, who refused to respond to Conway’s remarks. We have news for you, Mr. Jason. This aint no game.
This is going to get interesting, and maybe the truth will come out when Strelish and Henderson go to trial for what AG Kane characterized as defrauding the Commonwealth of more than $3.1 million.
If you ask me, they’re all a bunch of snakes.
The public spotlight should never have been taken off the Luzerne County Transportation Authority. Who knew what else they got away with operating outside the public’s view in their headquarters behind Kirby Park.
Back in 1993, I was writing for the now defunct Sunday Independent and reported that the LCTA had spent at least $16,500 of public money on travel and entertainment, including $1,500 for a Christmas party at the Fox Hill Country Club where the agency’s directors and executives dined on filet mignon and racked up a $400 bar bill.
I had also learned that some board members and their wives flew to San Diego for a conference while some traveled to Toronto for another one. Neither junket was approved at a public meeting.
Then authority executive director Harold Edwards said the reason the LCTA routinely spent public money to treat board members and agency administrators to Christmas parties was ”because it’s Christmas.” Nice.
Does anyone think for a minute that this entitlement mentality at the LCTA stopped since then?
Sadly, our local newspapers don’t seem to put a priority on investigative reporting these days. So these arrogant men and women who sit on local boards and authorities can continue to do whatever they want.
And don’t think that they don’t.
- Betty Roccograndi