Thursday, May 31, 2007

Updates on PHEAA scandal and other recent posts

One of the biggest criticisms of the news media is that we never follow up on stories. We rush to cover something only to leave it behind in a few days.

I hear you. So from now on, I'll make an effort to update you on some of the issues I write about.

Here's a few updates on some recent events.

PHEAA scandal keeps getting worse

I've written several times about the financial scandal at PHEAA, the state agency that provides student loans to college-bound Pennsylvania residents. Not only did PHEAA employees and board members spend about $900,000 for pamparing on themselves at swanky resorts, but the Harrisburg Patriot-News reported today that PHEAA spent $400,000 in legal fees attempting to keep the information about its spending secret. This is why Pennsylvania needs a stronger Sunshine Law, one that will impose significant fines for politicians and their appointees for failing to disclose public information. Government agencies and quasi-government agencies like PHEAA waste an enourmous amount of money. The public has a right to know. And the PHEAA board, made up of state legislators, needs to be held accountable for the monumental waste. Cound not the $1.3 million in wasted money have gone to provide more loans to college students?

O'Reilly charms Berks County

Remember the column I did about how liberals were fuming that Bill O'Reilly was invited to speak at the Berks County Chamber of Commerce annual dinner. The lefties wrote letters to the local newspaper and threatened to protest O'Reilly's appearance. Despite all the venom from the angry left, O'Reilly's talk was the best attended dinner the chamber ever held. More than 1,200 tickets were sold and I heard from two people who were there that O'Reilly was well received by the audience. Maybe the chamber can book Rosie O'Donnell next year to appease the far left.

Candidate comes to his senses

Remember the candidate who finished 455 votes behind incumbent Reading Mayor Tom McMahon in the Democratic Party primary on May 15? Angel Figueroa was jumping up and down calling for recounts and new elections and investigations. I nominated Mr. Figueroa for the Sore Loser Hall of Fame. Two weeks after the election, Mr. Figueroa has come to his senses and has decided not to challenge the election results. He's still a sore loser, but at least he's moving on with his life (and what's left of his political career).

Philadelphia death toll continues to rise

Another day, another murder. The homicide total in Philadelphia has reached 164 as of May 30, 2007, way ahead of last year's toll of 149 on the same date. Mayor John Street and his police commissioner still haven't done a thing about the lawlessness in the City of Brotherly Love and Gov. Edward G. Rendell, former mayor of Philadelphia, is still pushing gun control as the way to end the violence. Actually, Rendell is more concerned about keeping empty buses running around Philadelphia than dealing with violent crime in the state's largest city. Only 3 1/2 more years to go until we elect a new governor.


Carey said...

First you state that you will report the facts, well you missed an important one...
PHEAA employees were not responsible for the excessive spending...The Board of Directors Chairman made a public apology, stating that it was not the employees who made the mistakes, but in fact it was the Board. Employees at PHEAA do not attend retreats to be pampered, trust me I know.

Second, as a reporter, you should know that getting information from one source, isn't fair and accurate. The Patriot News is known for their one-sided and misguided stories. If you are looking to get both sides of the story that is accurate, you should be contacting the PHEAA press office.

Third, yes, an enormous amount of money was spent on legal fees. This was not PHEAA's intention. The lawyers for the media organizations forced PHEAA to endure a long-legal process. PHEAA went to the court initially to seek guidance on protecting information from its competitors, not the general public.

As I find with all media, this issue, even though resolved, is being hammered to death by the media. I think it is time we move onto more important issues, like the PA Budget process -- and how we can provide more money for the PA State Grant Program and other programs that help students go to College.


It's obvious "bastet" is either a PHEAA employee or someone related to a PHEAA employee. Why do defensive? When I said employees enjoyed lavish treatment, I didn't mean the secretaries. I meant the executives at PHEAA, who are employees. I also have to laugh about the criticism of the Harrisburg Patriot-News, which is one of the finest newspapers in the country. The Patriot-News is doing its job as a government watchdog. The reporters and editors can't help it if state agencies continue to waste money. I love the line about it wasn't PHEEA's choice to spend hundreds of thousands on lawyers to prevent the release of public information. Yes, it was PHEEA's choice. If the agency had released the information after the request was made, there would be no need for lawyers. I'm afraid "bastet" has been on the public payroll too long. These insulated people who work for government are part of the entitlement class that has ruined this state and this country. I'd love to see these people enter the real world.

Carey said...

I do apologize for not making myself more transparent, I am a PHEAA employee.

And I am defensive because the general public typically takes to heart what is reported, and your statement...about employees -- insinuates that employees not executives were spending money. If you meant executives, then you should have stated executives.

I do agree that it is important to have checks and balances...But it is unfair for reporters to give one-sided stories, slanting the public's opinion. It is not a reporters duty to sway public opinion, it is your job to report facts. And not all the facts are being reported.

bobguzzardi said...

PHEAA spent over $1.2 million dollars on pampering top executives and 16 Penna House members who were, or are, on the PHEAA board.

Richard Willey was formerly a lobbyist employee of Stevens $ Lee which represented PHEAA. Willey's salary at PHEAA is about $400K.

PHEAA also has lobbyists, at cost of 100s of 1000s, to lobby its own Board members, who are House members themselves, and the colleagues of Board-House members. What is the purpose of having House members on the board? Wretchedly expensive pampering at public expense?

These were and are government records prepared at public expense to track expenditure of pubic money for purpose of giving needy kids college scholarships.

PHEAA spent $406,000 to protect itself from embarrassment, not to seek guidance.

"The records that PHEAA fought to keep under wraps included receipts of more than $860,000 for expenses rung up at seven retreats at resorts attended by the agency’s board, comprising mostly state lawmakers, since 2000. The expenses included $100 facials, a $95-a-person buffet, $175 for falconry lessons and a $491 limo ride to shopping outlets.”

My personal favorite is $115.54 for pedicure/maicure for Mrs Jess Stairs wife of Rep Jess Stairs ( R - Westmorland ). I learned something; a new meaning for wretched excess and at public expense and expense of college scholarships.

Bastet said...

Mr. Phyrillas are you planning on adding PHEAA's counterpoint, that the Patriot News respecfully published, onto your weblog? I will copy it for you.

Published in the Patriot News on Wednesday June 06, 2007.


PHEAA guarded data from competitors
Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Your recent article and editorial concerning the legal costs incurred by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency in the litigation caused by the unprecedented Right to Know Act request by several media outlets, including The Patriot-News, was factually misleading.

These overly broad requests necessitated the production of over 50,000 documents, tying up over 30 employees for weeks. Interestingly, only 300 of 50,000 documents requested were copied by The Patriot-News and the other media.

Your contention that we were trying to shield the costs of board workshops that occurred years ago is erroneous and reference to your files would show that the full cost of these workshops had been published long ago. What these requests actually involved was a shotgun approach that would have led to disclosure of proprietary competitive information concerning PHEAA's marketing efforts with its business clients. In addition, the request sought personal information, such as credit card, telephone and even Social Security numbers, the disclosure of which would have been improper under the law.

The disclosure of this proprietary competitive information would have helped PHEAA's for-profit competitors steal PHEAA's business clients by knowing its marketing plans. Commonwealth Court, in an opinion that noted in its first sentence that this case involved questions of law that had never been decided in our state, rejected this attempt to obtain proprietary competitive information and is exactly why PHEAA sought the court's guidance immediately by asking for a Declaratory Order. Unfortunately, it was your position that this matter should be drawn out and go through a full evidentiary hearing at a lower level, only to return to the court whose guidance PHEAA originally sought.

PHEAA is running a multibillion-dollar, self-funded proprietary business as a publicly sponsored enterprise and returns more than $200 million a year in public benefits and programs, including zero fee loans, military loan forgiveness, programs to address our critical nursing shortage and an unprecedented level of support -- this year $75 million -- for our State Grant Program.

We would have preferred to spend the costs and staff time caused by the scattershot Right to Know Act requests on providing access to higher education instead of copying 50,000 documents. However, we fully recognize our responsibilities under the law and have always sought to meet them in a reasonable manner.

The Patriot-News doesn't seem to realize that we also have legal rights and responsibilities to protect both proprietary and the personal information that was sought in these excessive requests. The constitution of our commonwealth mandates that our courts be open to resolve disputes. In this case, the position of The Patriot-News seems to be that, however unreasonable their actions may be, no one has the right to challenge requests by the media.

While I am a strong believer in the First Amendment, I would note that there are other rights established by our Constitution, including the right to due process of law. PHEAA availed itself of its constitutional right to fair adjudication, sought immediate guidance, and has fully complied with the court's direction in this matter. At the same time, PHEAA was careful to protect our vital enterprise that produces the enormous public benefits and opportunities our citizens expect.

At a time when we read of layoffs and plant closings in central Pennsylvania every week, your unceasing attack on a public enterprise that has added over 600 family-sustaining jobs to the area in the past three years, and has even been praised by other states who are clients of ours, seems misguided and unfair.

RICHARD E. WILLEY is president and CEO of PHEA