Providing Greater Lancaster with an Alternative Source for Local News and Commentary  _________________________________________________________
  December 15, 2006                                         Publisher: LLC                                    Volume 1, Number 17
Commissioners' appointees to take control of Convention Center Authority September 15

At the Dec. 13 commissioners' meeting, a reporter asked whether consideration has been given to any candidates for the pivotal fourth seat on the seven-person Board of the Convention Center Authority. (The Ted Darcus seat is alternated between county and city bi-annually).

Chairman Dick Shellenberger said he had had "discussions" with Senator Gibson Armstrong on the matter.

Commissioner Molly Henderson said she had not discussed the appointment and said the appropriate place for the matter to be brought up was at the commissioners' work session.

A visibly agitated Commissioner Pete Shaub indicated he had not been part of any discussion regarding the filling of the seat.

274 Days
Until County appointees make up majority on the Convention Center Board and take charge.
Commissioners Plead Guilty to
Equivalent of 'Jaywalking'

All three county commissioners put a merciful end to a destabilizing and expensive half year grand jury investigation by agreeing to pay a $100 fine for something that they had publicly acknowledged and apologized for several months ago.

According to the April 26, 2006 Lancaster New Era, "In a four-page apology they delivered to county residents March 31, the Lancaster County Commissioners admitted multiple flaws in the 'process' of selling the Conestoga View nursing home last year."

Having so reported, readers might have expected the New Era to have covered the story less sensationally rather than running a five column banner headline stating "Commissioners plead guilty."

Hopefully District Attorney Donald Totaro will now turn his department's attention to a more deserving target for investigation: The $17 million spent to date by the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority.

And deserving careful scrutiny for possible breeches of the law are also ongoing representations made by representatives of Penn Square Partners and the Authority to public officials that appear to have been misleading and possibly criminal.

Desperate Convention Center Sponsors may decline County junk bond guarantee
In recognition of their risk of losing current court appeals or the appeals extending into 2008, Convention Center Authority and Sponsors appear on the cusp of dropping their requirement of County guarantee of Convention Center bonds.

Of great concern to the Sponsors and the Authority is that control of the Convention Center Authority Board will revert to the County Commissioners on September 15th when the county gains majority representation on the Authority board. The Sponsors face the risk of exposures of questionable practices and possible scrapping of the project.

On 12/12, the Intelligencer Journal reported, "According to sources who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the subject, [State Senator Gib] Armstrong and
[Commissioner Dick] Shellenberger are seeking a compromise on a vital piece of financing: the construction bond guaranteed in part by the county."

In reality, dropping the guarantee and thus ending the litigation is totally within the power of the Convention Center Authority. The Commissioners have no say in the matter.

Therefore any "compromise" sought would likely have to do with the choice of a fourth member to take office on September 15th.

It clearly is in the public interest that the Commissioners appoint a person of unquestioned integrity and competence and who is committed to investigate how the Authority has spent more than $17 million of tax payer money and to bring transparency

to the Authority's activities.

The City would continue to guarantee $36 million in hotel "junk" bonds at an annual risk to City taxpayers of $2.5 million. This is in addition to heavy subsidies and waivers of other reimbursements by the City.

Including the $17 million already spent, the Convention Center / Hotel Project is projected at over $185 million, more than seven times the cost of Clipper Stadium. Taxpayers would bear almost 90% of the cost and risk of the project.

The recently completed PKF Consultants feasibility study recommended the project be scaled down or another use found for the site. A Fox 43 / Opinion Dynamics poll indicated that 78% of those with an opinion oppose government guarantees.

Commissioner candidate Jere Swarr warns of looming county debt
When Jere Swarr, a Republican candidate for county commissioner, looks at the county budget he sees one thing: "Debt load."

"The county has a $50 million renovation on the courthouse, and then there is the debt from the convention center," says Swarr. "It will take too much of the budget to service all the debt."

Key to county economics, according to Swarr, a 48 year-old Rapho Township businessman and former farmer, is the proposed $175 million publicly financed convention center project.

"Look, I like the City. We go down to First Friday. It is in the county's interest that the City is healthy, that all townships and boroughs are healthy. But this project is too risky," Swarr says.

"The risk to reward ratio is all out of whack, in my opinion. We're putting the taxpayers at too much risk.

There are other ways to help the City other than [the County] guaranteeing $40 million."

With characteristic bluntness Swarr offers his opinion on the spending of the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority.

"We haven't got a lot for our $17 million," he says. "Can you imagine how much farmland we could have preserved for that much money?"

Swarr views the embattled current board of commissioners with mixed emotions.

"They've certainly made some mistakes," he says carefully, "but I think the newspapers have gone a little overboard. They are clearly picking on Molly [Henderson] and Dick [Shellenberger], and I do think they're treating Shellenberger unfairly. It seems that Shaub's whole mission is to take Shellenberger down, and the newspaper reports it."