Scranton Today – New open government behind locked doors.
Scranton has long been a town that has been operated like a private business, where the public has been kept at arms length to prevent observation. This had a good reason as corruption, inside contracts, and manipulation to circumvent requirements were the standard and not the exception.
Over the last few years, Scranton has been involved with a mayoral scandal, as the former Mayor William L. Courtright, was sentenced for bribery, extortion and conspiracy charges, relating to both requiring payment from people who needed city permits or contracts, as well as extending a tax collection agency contract, that was not in the best interests of the city, for a kickback scheme.
With his replacement, Paige Gebhardt Cognetti, we were told we would have “a new world of open government”, creation and installment of the upgrades and ability to monitor all government actions was presented. This as most political promises quickly came to an end.
Mayor Cognetti was interim elected, and then elected for the next full term, under a platform of open government, change and since she was from Eugene Oregon, She was an outsider who was not impacted and involved with the whole local political system. This of course was not correct.
Before taking the mantle of Mayor, Cognetti was the Director of the Scranton School board. The School board may not be considered a hotbed of local political power in most cities, but as an example, a majority of City Council in Scranton, including past Council, have held seats on the School board before moving to multiple other political positions.
Ignoring Cognetti’s prior political work before moving to Scranton, she was the Director of the School board, then Special Assistant to the state auditor, to Mayor… She has run on reform and pragmatism platforms: at the school board, she criticized Scranton’s no-bid school bus contracts and unapproved payments to contractors.
Cognetti left the school board during a time the school board violated the Sunshine Act by secretly hiring attorney Jarrett Ferentino. As Director she blamed colleagues but took no blame herself.
All of this exposure to Scranton politics and understanding that even with a violation, it can be ignored, it was clear that in moving to Scranton in 2016, immediately jumping into local government by the time 2019 rolled around, she was no longer the “outsider” she was presented as.
During covid, most government offices were closed. Scranton City government became isolated, with the first City Council meeting on Zoom, they failed to understand and secure the connections. This led to a troll who joined the call for Public Comment, to effectively shut the meeting down. After that the public was excluded from speaking and was allowed to pre-submit written comments.
City hall was closed and under the Cloak of Darkness, The mayor ordered new electronic doors to be installed at the ground floor. Traditionally the Building was open to the public and it was understandable for Covid. But once Covid restrictions ended, the mayor decided that for safety from an unknown possible threat, the barrier would stay in place and people could call the city for an appointment or wait in the entrance if someone was there to receive them.
Open government became locked door, a traditional open public area, purchased and paid for by the people, became an area the public was banned from. Open government, became government by appointment only.
The original plan was to have a computer where people could search records available for the public using opengov, that was replaced with a table and a phone and the ability to submit a request for open records, that everyone already had.
This change due to COVID ushered in a new operational plan of installing personnel and processes without authorization and continually entering in the paperwork, often 3 to 6 months late as an emergency order. The mayor who was the person overseeing a school board who violated the sunshine act, had now been gifted Carte blanche to do the same and did so.
How could this have gotten so far.. thats for the next post.