Saturday, March 31, 2012

More on the "Committee of the Whole" meeting

At Monday night's Columbia Borough Council “Committee of the Whole” meeting, Frine Jacks-Leed, a Columbia Market House vendor, alleged she is a target of racial discrimination at the Market House.  Ms. Jacks-Leed, who is of Filipino descent, charged that a Market House official has engaged in a pattern of discrimination aimed at her and some other vendors.  

Ms. Jacks-Leed accused the official of giving preference to “blonde-haired, blue-eyed” vendors and excluding her from certain privileges, including access to the Market's Facebook page, and banning her from that website.  She said she was previously permitted to post an advertisement for only two days before it was deleted.  She also said that her stand has not been promoted, although others in the Market have been.   

She also alleged that the official criticized her to other vendors, told people to stop buying from her, and on at least one occasion blocked access to her stand to keep customers away. 

Ms. Jacks-Leed stated that another vendor, Abigail Cruz, who is Hispanic, is the only new vendor who was not formally introduced and to date nothing has been done to promote her stand, even though other new vendors have been promoted on the Market House's Facebook page and on the windows of the Market House itself.   She also alleged that she and other long-term vendors also have not been promoted.

She also stated that the official initially presumed she was Hispanic, and even after she corrected him, he asked her to help Ms.Cruz in understanding English.
“I don't know a word of Spanish,” she told Council members.
In addition, she told Council she is charged more for her space at the Market than other vendors with a similarly sized space. 

Ms. Jacks-Leed also stated she was threatened by a person who works with one of the vendors, who made reference to “a gun.”  She said she reported the incident to local police who stated they could not act on her complaint, because it was based on hearsay.

She charges that she inquired about her concerns several times with the official, face-to-face and via e-mail, but received little or no clarification.  She accused Council of doing nothing to address the issues.

Ms. Jacks-Leed has tendered her resignation to the Market House Trust and has decided to set up her own business elsewhere.  According to Trust guidelines, she had until April 6 to sign a new lease to continue her stay.  She stated she could not agree to stipulations in the lease limiting her ability to speak out about concerns at the Market.  Specifically, she took issue with Items 12 and 13, which state the following:

Item 12.  Lessor agrees to hold Lessee harmless for any property damage or any injuries arising out of negligence of Lessor.  Lessee in turn shall hold Lessor harmless for any property damage or any injuries to person arising out of any negligence of Lessee.

Item 13.  Lessee agrees not to engage in any discussions or activities that cast a negative impression on the Market and its operations, other vendors, Columbia Borough or the Market Trust.  Such activity shall be deemed to be a valid reason to terminate the lease.

She states that due to her objections to Item 13 on First Amendment grounds, it was omitted from her contract but kept it in place for other vendors.  Item 12 was not omitted.

Ms. Jacks-Leed has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union and is currently in the early stages of talks with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the hope of having her concerns addressed.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Another comment that warrants its own post

You, Cole Umber, should be ashamed of yourself. are, that's right, because "Cole Umber" is NOT your REAL name. You hide like a coward behind a fake name. I know WHO you are and WHERE you live.
By Anonymous on 3/30/12

To which I, Cole Umber, reply:

I find it ironic that someone accusing me of not using my real name signs his comment with "Anonymous."  Yes of course I'm using a nom de plume (Columbia/"Cole Umber" - get it?). That's no great secret, and just about everyone in town realizes that by now.  I have made my presence known in public - at meetings and other events.  The council knows who I am, as well as many people around town. 
And, no, I am not ashamed, not when it comes to criticizing perpetrators or pulling back the curtain to reveal the sometimes secretive and dirty politics in this town. As a citizen, I claim (and possess) that right, under the First Amendment. Too many officials have had their way for too long and have operated with impunity. Having a blog helps level the playing field, if only in a very small way. I'm here to keep tabs, and if I believe I have gone too far, I make amends. 
In regard to your statement about knowing who I am and where I live - I take that as a veiled threat. (Why else would you mention it, if not to try to elicit fear?) Mafiosi, Nazis, and other cheap thugs have used those same techniques for years.  Are you one of them?
Linked to my blog is a program that counts hits and records ISPs, which means that you, sir (or madam), have now gone "on record."  If any harm comes to me or my family or my property, I will submit the list of possible culprits to the police, and I will pursue whatever legal means necessary to resolve the problem. And that, my friend, is not a threat. It is a fact and a solemn vow.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

What really happened last Friday

At last Monday's Columbia Borough Council's "Committee of the Whole" meeting, Mayor Lutz and Councilperson Mary Wickenheiser expressed their support for Fourth Fridays and explained the circumstances surrounding the early shutdown of last Friday's event (due to the complaints of a disgruntled "someone," who will remain nameless for now).  He said the police had not been fully informed about the evening's events and were carrying out their duties in responding to a noise complaint.
Mayor Lutz stated that he had been out of town that night, and if he hadn't been, the event would not have been shut down.
Councilperson Wickenheiser also said the event should not have been shut down and that she herself had been enjoying the music.  She added that the drums reminded her of the time she and her husband visited Jamaica.
Mayor Lutz stated the event would not be shut down again  - to the applause of those present at the meeting.  Thanks go to the Mayor and Council for addressing this issue and clearing the air, and also for expressing their support for this successful event.
Based on the Mayor's explanation, the shutdown was due to an inadvertent communication problem rather than an intentional show of power and disdain.  Therefore, one black eye has been removed, and only two remain for the time being . . .

Another comment worthy of its own post . . .

The following comment appears under the March 26, 2012 post on this blog, but it warrants a post of its own.  Good ideas that would make a great event even better.

I was in attendance at the borough meeting Monday March 26, 2012. I also attended the recent Fourth Friday celebration. After listening to the problems that some encountered as they tried to maneuver the sidewalk area in the 400 block of Locust Street, an idea occurred to me...why not close that block during Fourth Friday? Something similar to what is done during craft and auto shows. This would only be four hours and one block. The hub is located in this block as well so most of the action would be centered there. Waive meter fees too!

Monday, March 26, 2012

The monstrosity with three eyes (three BLACK eyes!) known as

Drawing by Cole.  All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

More on Fourth Fridays

I recently received the following comment.  I'm printing it as a separate post, because it sheds light on the happenings at the recent Fourth Fridays event.

Cole, I attended this Fourth Friday myself and I too, thought this was the best ever Fourth Friday. Earlier in the day on Friday-my husband didn't know what Fourth Friday was all about until he was told by the organizer.  So, he gathered a few friends and went down on Locust and sat.  At first, it wasn't too exciting.  Until he saw all these younger people walking down both sides of the streets.  He said he began to hear drums playing, guitars playing and it became relaxing.  The young folks that participated were polite and he actually had a good time listening.  This new head shop brought life to the block and caused no trouble for no one.  The other side of the street was filled with hot coffees, pastries.  Art displays, jewelry, tattoo demonstrations, hot foods and more! I have heard no complaints on noise or otherwise.  Everyone had a great time.  Then...who should show up....the 3 mouseketeers, D. D. & K, whom all three who do not live on the block had to put an end to the one night of the month that was scheduled for everyone to be out.  Well Columbia, this too will lead to another black eye.  This is how we welcome new businesses? The mouseketeers went to police to complain and shut down the fun.  Gee, they already screwed up the market-tell them to stay there! My husband and I have lived in Columbia all our lives and we now retired.  I have never seen such a nice Friday as this one.  I hope that these new shops do not get discouraged.  I do think that the 3 mouseketeers did this on purpose because all the new shop owners are the ones that left market to start a new career path.  PS. We have a peeping spitter! One mouse spit on a store window? wow....
Joan and Carl.
March 24, 2012 10:15 PM

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A comment

Right as I posted tonight, a comment came through in response to yesterday's post "And now for some GOOD news."  The comment is posted at the end of that article, but I'm also posting it here so it doesn't get "lost in the sauce."

Anonymous Anonymous said...

on my way home form york, i drove thru town and it was a happening place !!! kudos...people out walking talking smiling and having a good time..this is what its all about!!
thanks for all the beautiful pics and updates. sure do appreciate it :)
oh and to Barry Ford - glad your out of the hospital. Take care of yourself and stay well :))
March 24, 2012 7:26 PM

Fourth Fridays Celebration

It's an understatement to say yesterday's Fourth Fridays was a success.  
In short, it was a smash!  The atmosphere was festive, the event was well attended, and the weather was - in a word - perfect.  Lots of art was on display, including Todd Smith's photos at the Hub, the amazing glass sculptures at SCCA, and Dale Weibley's tile works at Jonal Gallery.  (I only regret I didn't make it to Garth Gallery this time.)  Visitors and shop owners lined the streets (especially the 400 block of Locust), and the drum jam session in front of the old State Theater could be heard for blocks.  The air was full of positive energy and - dare I say - "good vibes."

Thanks go to Chris Davis for organizing the event, as well as all the artists (including musicians), shop owners, gallery owners, and visitors for making this a memorable evening.

The following pics capture only a fraction of the happenings . . .

 The ever-stoic Margo watched the festivities 
from her window at the Hub.

 A mammoth, tentacled glass sculpture
 was displayed at SCAA, as well as . . . 

And across the street . . . 
Let there be drums!

And . . . a strolling street troubadour

Friday, March 23, 2012

The ship is stinking

The ship is sinking. The ship is stinking. Here in Columbia, the ship is a wreck.

Not only are we still reeling from the Market House debacle, now a leviathan of gargantuan proportions has reared its misshapen head: the issue of tax collection in the borough. The questions are so numerous, I hardly know where to begin.

In Lancaster Newspapers' March 22 edition, it was reported that Tom Vecchiolli, our borough tax collector, had suddenly executed a Sarah Palin-esque maneuver, resigning two years into his four-year term, because, according to borough manager Norm Meiskey, “the borough could not resolve an ongoing disagreement over the collection of certain fees.” Allegedly, Mr. Vecchiolli was charging financial institutions a fee when they requested that he research and document tax liability on a given property. His fee was $15 per request - quite reasonable for one's time, effort, and expertise. The problem was, he lacked legal authority to collect such fees, because the borough lacked an ordinance empowering him to do so, and no one in "authority" realized it. According to borough council President Michael L. Beury, as quoted in the article, “The tax collector before him told him he could do it.” Really? Does that mean Mr. Vecchiolli was duly authorized to collect taxes only by the power of his predecessor's opinion? And no one ever checked into this? And is the council president now washing his hands of any responsibility by flippantly blaming it all on hearsay and ignorance of the facts? Little did we know that all along, the borough had been flying by the seat of its pants, buoyed by a cloud of blind assumptions and apathy.

We're also learning the borough had no contingency plan in the event the tax collector was suddenly unwilling or unable to carry out the duties and obligations of his office. According to the article, borough officials now need to learn the tax-collection system and will be unable to collect taxes until April 2. Couldn't someone on staff have been trained as a backup? What if Mr. Vecchiolli had resigned a month later, and the borough couldn't “get it together” until after the first of May, thus burdening taxpayers with a penalty?

The office of the tax collector is an independent entity, and according to the article, “It is unclear how many tax certifications Vecchiolli has processed since taking office in 2010. The borough does not keep track because the tax collector works independently” [italics mine].  In essence, the tax collector seemed to be operating without any official oversight and very little accountability.  If that's the case, the system as it stands is vulnerable to abuse. One would wish for more scrutinization and responsibility when it comes to handling our tax monies.

Tom Vecchiolli has done a disservice to the community by quitting unexpectedly and giving property owners no immediate options for paying their taxes.  Although he might escape serious consequences, taxpayers must now suffer significant inconvenience due to a public official's behavior.  It's not supposed to work that way. He should have completed the balance of his term instead of creating a fog of confusion for residents.  In refusing to carry out the obligations of his office, Mr. Vecchiolli has betrayed the public trust. And so has the borough council, in not being prepared for such an eventuality and then feigning ignorance.

Two items on the agenda for the March 12 council meeting stand out: 
  III.21.g: Consider accepting the resignation of Thomas Vecchiolli as Tax Collector for Columbia Borough effective immediately.  
  III.21.h: Consider revoking Janet Wood's Deputy Tax Collector Authority effective immediately.  
During the meeting, a council member said these two items were rescinded, resulting in a bit of confusion and debate among council members as to whether or not that was the case. At any rate, the two items were not discussed further during the meeting and were not mentioned in the Lancaster Newspapers article. So who is Janet Wood and why was council considering revoking her authority, if they were?  Could she have taken over Mr. Vecchiolli's duties, at least temporarily?  

A final point: if the borough succeeds in being able to collect taxes, why is the office of tax collector needed? Why not eliminate it and put the savings into a general fund or earmark it for a special project?  Better yet, why not return it to taxpayers in the form of a discount or rebate, if that's legally possible?

The citizens of this town deserve better from their elected officials, who are, after all, our public servants.  That means they're here to serve us, not to rule us.  They're here to be informative, not secretive. They're here to clarify, not to obfuscate. They derive their authority to govern from us. I hope they remember those obligations as they steer this leaking ship through troubled waters that they themselves have helped to create. 

And now for some GOOD news . . .

Today in Columbia . . .

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What Now - ANOTHER Black Eye? (Self-inflicted, of course)

Now, you can't even pay your taxes in the borough. 
Are we becoming the laughing stock of the county? 
Click HERE for the story.  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Your Help is Needed...

This is Chrisandra Davis, director for Fourth Fridays in Columbia.
Please consider a "like" for the below local artist's facebook page.  This artist is Todd Smith of Columbia and he lost his home & all belongings including his photography equipment and framed works in the flood "Lee" last September 2011. The only belongings he escaped with were some clothes & his cat "Bonzo."  He has been fighting a battle of a lifetime with FEMA, the government, local authorities and contractors to rebuild his home which he has not been able to return to for over 6 months & counting.  Things look very grim as his home stands gutted and unlivable.  I am accepting donations on his behalf, I am asking everyone I know on facebook and via email to donate just one dollar to Todd's cause.  Please feel free to mail a dollar to me, Chrisandra Davis, 590 Centerville Road Lancaster, Pa 17601 (USA). Please be sure to include your name & mailing address so your donation can be acknowledged by Todd.  If by chance you wish to donate more than a dollar, by all means know it will be personally acknowledged & greatly appreciated.  Thank you all for your time and consideration.  Todd is a very humble person & does not like to ask for help.  I think together we can make a huge difference in his struggle to regain his home and happiness. 
Chrisandra Davis - Director
Fourth Fridays in Columbia
~The Non Profit Organization for the Advancement of the Arts & Culture in Columbia, Pennsylvania
Main Office - "The Hub"
401 Locust Street
Columbia, PA 17512

Monday, March 19, 2012

This is the Week for Fourth Fridays

Some recent pics . . .

 The Returned Soldier stands watch over the town.

 CHS sweater
(200 block of Locust)

 Fence topped with modified fleurs-de-lis
(200 block of Locust)

 Gnome and head
(100 block of Locust)
Unfortunately, the head has now been reattached.

 Dog walk on Sunday, May 20
(Click on pic for larger view.)

 Guy messing with the atm at Northwest Savings.

 This past Saturday was a good day for reading 
in the park 

or texting in the park.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Can We Trust the Trust?

I'll go on record as saying I don't currently know all the facts surrounding Carmen Swinehart's termination as Market House manager, but the passionate outpouring of support from vendors, customers, and others leads me to believe she performed her job competently and professionally and treated everyone fairly and respectfully.  Why else would she able to command such loyalty? It also leads me to believe she has been wronged by a member - or members - of the Market House Trust. If, in fact, she was summarily dismissed on the spot as has been described in several accounts, then the termination procedure was blatantly coarse and unprofessional, and suggests that dirty, down-in-the-mud politics might be at work. Such actions, if true, reflect poorly on the entire Trust and overshadow its stated mission with doubt and suspicion. 

At last night's Council meeting, Carmen straightforwardly presented her case and gave a good accounting of herself. Why wasn't anyone present from the Trust? The closed meeting that two councilpersons had with members of the Trust last week leads me to believe the Trust is circling its wagons in full CYA mode. 

Although Council members presented a united, poker-faced front last night, I wonder - to paraphrase an old expression - what they knew and when they knew it. Barry Ford was the only one who seemed genuinely in the dark and out of the loop (and didn't want to stay there) when he requested an executive session be convened so he could learn what council had learned on the matter. 

By the way, a member of Council is married to a member of the Trust. To me, such a situation borders on a conflict of interest. One would think a councilman would want to avoid even the slightest hint of impropriety. That councilman should recuse himself from any future actions regarding the Trust. In addition, Council members need to remember they are public officials and are, at least in this circumstance, public figures, and as such are targets for criticism, warranted or not. In such a position, one cannot be too thin-skinned and start "talking lawyers" at the slightest provocation. 

Allegations of abuse on Facebook and email hacking were once again brought to the fore. When asked where the investigation of these allegations stands, Mayor Lutz replied they are “ongoing.”  Let's hope they're not “ongoing” too long.

It was also alleged last night that a member of the Trust has discussed Carmen's termination with patrons of the Market House, in the process giving different versions of the event.

One speaker, Paul Miles, suggested that if Council does not resolve the matter, a strike might be in the offing to bring down the Market House. 

I hope Council realizes that when they lend power to some in their charge, they'll use it as a cudgel and bludgeon everyone and everything in their path.  As it stands now, Carmen is one of those victims, a victim of - if you'll forgive the term - "Machiavellian machinations."  The other victim is the credibility of the Trust, but in their case, the wound is self-inflicted.

According to Carmen, she was not given an explanation as to why she was fired, other than a limp bone of an excuse about not being a “good fit.”  (God save me from trendy euphemisms.)

The standard procedure when terminating someone's employment is to offer a meeting and give a reason - or minimally, a justification - if not out of decency, then at least out of decorum.  Any employee deserves as much. 

I hope tonight's meeting with the vendors proves informative and productive and helps Council render a sound decision on this issue - with full transparency. I also hope Carmen examines her legal options.

In any case, Council needs to get to the bottom of this matter and rein in or dissolve the Trust if necessary.  If they don't, the credibility of both bodies will be damaged more than it has been already.

The consequences of inaction will be dire: a further erosion of public trust, loss of the Council's credibility, and the possible end of the Market House as a business enterprise.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Borough Council Meeting - 3-12-12

Carmen Swinehart addresses council.
Excerpts appear below.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

What I Saw - March 8, 2012

Since it was unseasonably warm today, I decided it was a good time to get out of the house and take a walk around town.

 Along the way, I saw this.  
Someone had welded a metal plate over the hole 
in the side of the train car I had photographed HERE 
and had described as an attractive nuisance.

 And . . . someone had finally rescued the 
waterlogged grocery cart that I shot HERE. 
To quote the Blind Faith song: "Well all right."  
What else can be said but 
"well done" - on both counts.

 Further along, I saw the headquarters of BHI
(254 Locust Street), the company that's been 
buying up properties all over town.

they owned 35 properties in the borough 
as of November 22, 2011.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Mount Bethel Cemetery

These were the only vultures I saw. 
A passerby said the meeting might have been 
moved to "the Chamber."
A quick scan of that building 
proved fruitless.

Spring Has Sprung

I just saw my first robin of the season. At my feet, daffodils are blooming. Across the way, a male and female mallard are looking for a nesting place among the bushes. Overhead, Canada geese are flying north.
I don't care what the calendar says - it's spring.

What I Saw - March 6, 2012

Bug with a mohawk
(at Little's Beverage)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Friday, March 2, 2012

Yesterday afternoon, Lancaster County's Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) captured a man suspected of robbing the Union Community Bank at 10 South 18th Street.
More on the story HERE.

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