Thursday, April 26, 2007

'Best and brightest' Pennsylvania has to offer

Gov. Ed Rendell issued a press release Thursday congratulating members of his cabinet who were confirmed Wednesday by the Pennsylvania Senate.

The governor couldn't contain himself when offering accolades to his cabinet members.

"My administration is fortunate to include the best and brightest administrators working in state government today," Rendell said.

I'll pause here for the laughter and snickering to die down.

Among the "best and brightest" administrators Rendell was referring to were the head of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), the commissioner of the State Police and the adjutant general of the Pennsylvania National Guard.

Those three top administrators, along with the head of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, were roundly criticized for their bungling of the mid-February ice storm that left about 1,000 motorists stuck on Interstate 78 for up to 24 hours.

That was less than two months ago. Is Rendell's memory that bad?

"I look forward to continuing to work with this talented team to advance our important agenda of progress for Pennsylvania," Rendell said.

Conspicuously absent from Rendell's list of confirmed cabinet members were Secretary of Environmental Protection Kathleen McGinty and Secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources Michael DiBerardinis.

Those two members of the "best and brightest" club are embroiled in a growing scandal involving millions of dollars in state grants awarded to companies that employed McGinty's and DiBerardinis' spouses.

Facing possible rejection of both nominees by the Republican-controlled Senate, Rendell withdrew both names on Wednesday, which was the last legislative session day the Senate could reject or approve the two nominees. By withdrawing and resubmitting their nominations, Rendell gives the Senate another 25 legislative days to consider them.

The reported grant totals have risen to $4 million, much higher than the $1.5 million originally reported by the Philadelphia Daily News last week. It appears more records were discovered by the Rendell administration as the Senate asked more questions.

Here's some background on the scandal courtesy of the Associated Press:

McGinty's husband, Karl Hausker, is a consultant to the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and its subsidiary, Enterprising Environmental Solutions Inc., which have received more than $2.7 million in grants from her department since 2003, according to the Rendell administration.

The money was to pay for activities that included agricultural conservation, watershed protection, abandoned mine cleanups and more. Rendell pointed out that the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and Enterprising Environmental Solutions received DEP grants before McGinty joined the department, and were rejected for more than $4 million in grant applications during his term.

DiBerardinis' wife, Joan Reilly, runs a parks program for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which has received $1.5 million from his department since 2003. The money goes to help manage a program created by DiBerardinis that encourages tree-planting.

At least $500,000 more in grants went from McGinty's agency to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and from DiBerardinis' agency to the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.

The Rendell administration has said that McGinty and DiBerardinis approved a final list of grant winners, but that department staff selected the winners after a competitive application process that adhered to pre-existing guidelines.

Rendell is sticking by his "best and brightest" administrators for now, but didn't President Bush give a vote of confidence to his FEMA director after Katrina and to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld before kicking them overboard?

The Senate wants the State Ethics Commission to give a ruling on McGinty and DiBerardinis before a confirmation vote takes place.

The chickens are coming home to roost. Scandals long-buried during his first term will continue to surface. The governor's initiatives will hit a brick wall in the Senate. His inability to deliver promised property tax relief (going on five years) will continue to create animosity from voters.

This is going to be a rough second term for Rendell.

Rendell's best hope is for a Democrat to win the White House in 2008 so Rendell can get out of town. He's already overstayed his welcome four months into his second term.

No comments: