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Women State Senators Call Out Gov. Shapiro Over Sex Harassment Scandal

A sexual harassment scandal gripping the Shapiro administration isn’t sitting well with some women in the Pennsylvania state Senate, starting with DelVal’s own Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Montgomery)

“Sexual harassment in the workplace can never be tolerated or accepted, especially in the highest office of our commonwealth,” she said Tuesday. “These allegations raise serious questions about the kind of workplace culture that could have turned a blind eye and enabled this kind of behavior. All victims, no matter who they are, deserve to be heard.”

At issue is the behavior of longtime Shapiro ally and close confidant Mike Vereb, forced to resign from his post as Gov. Josh Shapiro’s Secretary of Legislative Affairs. It comes after allegations by a female former deputy secretary that Vereb subjected her to unwanted sexual conversations in February and March.

Pennycuick called the allegations against Vereb “deeply troubling.”

“The people of Pennsylvania trust us to work on their behalf as public officials with integrity, respect, and with the best interest of the people we serve at the top of our mind. When this trust is betrayed, the people deserve answers.”

Pennycuick was far from alone.

“The details of the sexual harassment complaint filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission against Gov. Shapiro’s Office are appalling,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland). “Despite this being a personnel matter, the governor’s office has offered official comments and conflicting information on the issue. This not only raises concerns related to their workplace practices but also whether this matter has influenced our current unfinished budget situation and how taxpayer funds are supporting this issue.”

Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) said, “The lack of information or even acknowledgment by Gov. Shapiro regarding the alleged sexual harassment by one of his former top officials is humiliating to women in the workplace. It sends a message to working women that they are not truly valued.

“It also raises more questions than answers for Gov. Shapiro’s administration, such as how long did Gov. Shapiro know, and have taxpayers been affected? Secrecy continues to be a trend with this administration, which required staff to sign a lengthy, three-page nondisclosure agreement during the executive branch’s transition period earlier this year. This is why we need more transparency.”

Ward, a veteran legislator, noted the alleged abuse went on far longer than it had to.

“The alleged offender remained in his influential role until he tendered his resignation, leaving the victim in an unsafe space to fend for herself, with limited options. This is unacceptable,” Ward said.

Pennycuick also noted Vereb’s lingering impact on state government long after the complaints began.

“While we cannot control the behavior of all people, we can take quick and appropriate action. In this instance, it seems that the alleged offender was permitted to stay in his role while leaving the victim vulnerable. At the same time, he continued to serve Gov. Shapiro as the lead negotiator on the budget. With this in mind, one cannot help but be concerned that the victims’ claim may not have been taken seriously or addressed in a timely manner,” Pennycuick said.

Shapiro’s office is sticking to its story.

“Although the Commonwealth does not comment on specific personnel matters, it takes allegations of discrimination and harassment seriously. Robust procedures are in place for thoroughly investigating reports of discrimination and harassment – and these procedures are implemented whenever complaints of discrimination or harassment are made and provide detailed guidance to help ensure that allegations are promptly and fully investigated and that employees feel comfortable to report misconduct,” said Manuel Bonder, a spokesman for Shapiro.

“These procedures expressly recognize that employees may subsequently report allegations to other entities, including the PHRC or EEOC, and that reports made to those entities are addressed in accordance with the law.”

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Confidential Audit Details Upper Darby Mistakes That Led to Unpaid Parking Ticket Fiasco

The Delaware Valley Journal obtained a copy of a confidential audit of the Upper Darby parking ticket scandal that resulted in a class action lawsuit lodged against the township.

The audit, really more of a report by the accounting firm Brinker Simpson, does not include some of the information that most people would like to know, such as exactly how many parking tickets did not reach the courts and how much money did the township fail to collect as a result.

Instead, it details how employees failed to send the tickets to the courts after a software change and that there appeared to be no oversight from the township administration under Mayor Barbarann Keffer.  Keffer did not respond to voicemail or email requests for comments on Wednesday.

“Before January 2021, there were no issues with unpaid parking tickets filed with the (courts),” the report said. “The change to the new Passport software system was not managed successfully, and there appears to have been no centralized decision-making. Our analysis indicates the township lacked the project management procedures and internal controls to prevent the breakdown that occurred as it related to the unpaid parking tickets and the failure of Upper Darby to timely submit the citations to the (courts)…the transition from the old system to the new system was not successful.”

The audit said, “The internal controls in the Parking Department are currently unsatisfactory to safeguard township assets, and we are making recommendations to clearly define levels of responsibilities through documented procedures and financial oversight.”

Also, “we were not able to identify a project manager or project team responsible for implementation of a strategic plan a schedule or oversight to ensure new software would have the functionality, integration and technical support needed….”

The audit said the township had two IT consultants who reported to two different managers.

In January 2020, the parking director was appointed as director of parking enforcement, and the audit said her emails were not forwarded. Also, the new program, Passport, did not have a direct interface with the courts, and it still doesn’t, the audit said.

And the parking department did not follow the court-required process of ensuring ticket batches were received.   The last files the courts received were in April 2021, until those sent in 2023.

In May 2022, Keffer and her administrative officer took steps to make parking violations civil rather than criminal issues.

The audit said that from 2016 to 2020, revenue from parking meter fines increased by $207,075. Parking lot revenue and district court fines decreased by $73,000 but included licenses and inspections.

In 2022, citation revenue increased by $130,000 to $599,433.

“Our findings suggest that a lack of communication and centralized oversight, restrictive access to IT support, and lack of internal controls and documented procedures led to the failure of parking tickets being filed timely with the state,” the audit said. “Evidence suggests that there was not a clear understanding of the complexities of the administration of the department that relied on consistent communication with (the courts), police, and IT, especially when adding new software.”

Constable Jack Kelly asked DA Jack Stollsteimer to investigate the parking ticket mess. Kelly said there are 15,000 to 22,000 unpaid parking tickets docketed most years.

“They bypassed the process and never sent anything to the courts,” he said. And people who did not their tickets paid never received their court summonses.

And then some cars got “booted,” he said.

“What gives you the right to boot somebody who has not been before  a judge?” Kelly asked.

Former Upper Darby Mayor Tom Micozzie blamed Keffer for firing all the people who knew how the township was run immediately after taking office.

“That’s a problem,” said Micozzie. “A serious problem. How can you run a $98 million corporation (the township) with 427 employees? I get you’re entitled to your own administration, which really means your CAO…But then you get into firing the L&I, the finance director…I would not have had him out on the first day, in the middle of budget.”

Council President Brian Burke said a court clerk reported the township suddenly sent 18,000 unpaid tickets through. At $35 a ticket, that would be $630,000 in revenue uncollected, not to mention additional penalties.

“I believe there’s a lot of problems,” he said. During a council meeting, Burke pressed solicitor Sean Kilkenny about why the township did not respond proactively to a Feb. 7 letter from the court about the missing parking tickets, Broad + Liberty reported. The Delaware County Court administrator then sent another letter about the tickets on May 1.

Vince Rangione, who had been the township’s chief administrative officer, left office in January after months of controversy and secured a severance deal from the township that allowed him to keep his salary through July 31 and health benefits until the end of the year.

The confidential report includes his memos to staff telling them they could not ask the IT people for help without permission.

“No employee is to contact (the person) directly unless authorized by Scott (Alberts),” Rangione wrote in that memo. Alberts is the director of administrative services.

Burke, who switched from Democrat to Republican and is running for mayor, believes he can do a better job.  Keffer, who was arrested for DUI and spent time in rehab, is not running again.  Democrat Edward Brown, the current school board president, will face off against Burke this fall.

“There’s nothing confidential about (the audit),” Micozzie added. “A lot of people are pushing for it. They want to see the audit.”

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KIRK: Ancient History, Modern Kingdom

Mired in scandal and gossip, the Brits still seem to love their royal family. Not even the black sheep princes of the realm can stop pollsters from discovering that a majority believe the monarchy is fine even if it’s sopping up more than $100 million a year in taxpayer money.

The return on the investment would appear enormous in terms of great publicity for Britain, royal warrants or seals of approval on products, and simple patriotism, as seen in the adoring articles and mentions in newspapers and magazines. The late Queen Elizabeth II will go down in history as a beloved, unifying figure regardless of the ups and downs, dramas and traumas afflicting the daily lives of the commoners over whom she “ruled.”

Of course, the monarch, now Elizabeth’s son King Charles III, doesn’t rule anything, including his own family. Real power has long since passed to the bureaucracy, the elected Parliament and the prime minister, who must bow ceremoniously before the monarch after rising to temporal power.

If the monarch holds symbolic or spiritual status, though, why does everyone love to pillory the royals when they’re discovered to be mere mortals? TV viewers salivate over the outpourings of Prince Harry as he talks about the hardships and humiliation he and his American wife, Meghan, were subjected before fleeing for sanctuary in southern California.

Poor guy, he and Meghan are getting millions for the first of four books, but his father, King Charles, is so mad at him that they’re not even talking. Pretty soon, he and Meghan, who still hold the titles of Duke and Duchess of Sussex, a historic county in the British southeast, may soon be fired. That is, they will lose their titles, which are meaningless anyway since they have little say, or any discernible interest in what’s going on in Sussex.

In Britain, though, it’s all about history. Two days before the new year, I attended an elaborate service at Canterbury Cathedral marking the “martyrdom” of St. Thomas Becket, the archbishop assassinated in the 12th century.

In those days, the king really ruled his kingdom and may have ordered the assassination by his knights in a quarrel over power. The current archbishop, Justin Welby, will preside over the coronation of King Charles III in May, but that does not mean there’s no conflict between church and state. Welby has been critical of the conservative government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for the government’s heartless policy toward asylum-seekers, including suffering hordes navigating the English Channel in small boats that sometimes don’t make it.

After the evensong service for St. Thomas, Welby was standing outside the door, holding a shepherd’s staff guarding his flock. We talked politics — but only the rift between church and state all those centuries ago. “We’re honoring a man for being assassinated by the king,” he said. Regaling me with bits of history, he asked if I had ever read T.S. Eliot’s classic “Murder in the Cathedral” about the assassination. Can’t remember, I replied. “Maybe decades ago.”

As the martyrdom of Thomas Becket resonates through history, you wonder if the court of Kim Jong-un in North Korea resembles the ancient English monarchy. Kim did arrange the assassinations of perceived rivals and threats to power, his uncle-in-law and his older half-brother, and he also ordered the murders of many others guilty of daring to question his edicts or perhaps looking the wrong way or worshipping another god or just being a relative of the wrong person.

No wonder the Brits love to make fun of the weaknesses and foibles of a monarchy that’s beloved and scorned. What could be better than the specter of a king’s brother, Prince Andrew, getting into deep trouble for his relationship with the late degenerate Jeffrey Epstein, purveyor of underage women to a galaxy of celebrities?

Andrew, like Harry, is definitely on the wrong side of his big brother, the king. He, too, may lose his dukedom ― in his case as Duke of York. It may not matter, of course, that Prince Andrew has no more power over York than Harry over Sussex. These days, the monarchy is for pomp and circumstance, show and tell.

Archbishop Welby of Canterbury, when he crowns the king, might remind him of the martyrdom of Becket as a lesson for a king whose power extends no further than his ability to deprive a brother and son of silly titles.

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HOLY COW! HISTORY: America’s Biggest Lottery Scandal

It had been building for weeks. Americans could talk about little else, the tension and anxiety growing daily as the stakes climbed ever higher. The answer finally came on Nov. 8 and the country heaved a huge sigh of relief, glad that it was finally over.

One lucky person in California had won the record $1.9 billion jackpot.

As Powerball Fever simmers down, it’s an ideal moment to remember the time Americans were swept up in an earlier lottery frenzy. Unlike today’s drawings, that game wasn’t on the up and up. And it caused a scandal so immense it set back state lotteries for nearly a century.

This is the story of the scandalous Louisiana Lottery.

The Bayou State has many attractive qualities. But institutional integrity and virtue rarely rank among them. Moral ambiguity mingles with the magnolias making good people look the other way while creating a fertile climate for conmen.

Charles Turner Howard was one of them. A kind of business ne’er do well, he had a knack for drifting from one dead-end position to the next. After the Civil War, he began dabbling in the lottery industry and found his calling.

The Reconstruction Era was a time when money talked, and it practically screamed in Louisiana. Impoverished like most Deep South states, it was saddled with a Radical Republican government whose leaders were more concerned with lining their pockets than in promoting the general welfare.

After rounding up several partners, Turner turned up in Baton Rouge in 1868 and started spreading around money as generously as slopping whitewash on a barn wall. The state legislature soon gave him a charter allowing his Louisiana Lottery Company to operate for 25 years.

It was a sweetheart deal all the way. In exchange for being exempt from state taxes, all Turner had to do was make a $40,000-a-year contribution to a charity hospital. A staggering 50 percent of the profits went to Turner and his backers. Since there were no federal taxes on such business ventures at the time, Turner was poised to make a killing.

The Louisiana Lottery Company began operating in January 1869. It offered jaw-dropping cash prizes, including a $600,000 jackpot for its semi-annual big blowouts. Smaller prizes were available in daily and weekly drawings. Turner advertised them far and wide around the country with an emphasis on the South.

Money flowed in like the Mississippi River in flood stage. Very soon, the Louisiana Lottery Company was hauling in an incredible $30 million a year, making it the most lucrative enterprise in the state. Turner, an avid social climber, built one of the most beautiful homes in New Orleans’ Garden District and showered money on local charities.

However, he was not one to turn the other cheek. Not all of the Old South aristocracy took kindly to the nouveau riche interloper; many turned their back on him. Denied membership in the prestigious Metairie Jockey Club, Turner waited until the racetrack fell on hard times, then bought it and turned it into a cemetery.

He was remarkably adept at greasing the palms of everyone connected with keeping his operation going. Politicians, the press, and even the clergy were recipients of Howard’s generosity in one form or another.

Here’s how it worked: The Louisiana Lottery Company sold tickets. All ticket numbers were placed into a hopper where the winners were pulled out. To provide a veneer of credibility, two aging Confederate generals were each paid $10,000 every year (nearly $250,000 today) to witness the drawings.

But there was a dirty little secret the generals and the general public didn’t know. All unsold tickets were assigned to the company. And guess whose numbers turned up time after time? That’s right; the Louisiana Lottery Company won many of its own jackpots!

Howard was thrown from a carriage in an accident and died in 1885. He picked an opportune time to depart this world because public opinion was turning against him.

With a wave of morality rising, the Louisiana Lottery was the only such drawing left in the country by 1878, bringing it increased scrutiny. Reconstruction ended and many of the company’s former allies were replaced with Democrats who felt the lottery was ripping off poor working people. The walls were closing in.

When Louisiana adopted a new constitution in 1879, it included a clause extending the company’s monopoly to 1895.

That was the last straw. Allegations of bribery flew fast and wild. The state treasurer became implicated in the rapidly growing scandal and skipped off to Honduras with $1 million in state money to tide him over.

Democrat Francis Nicholls was elected governor in 1888 on an anti-lottery platform. Congress got involved in 1890 by passing a law banning the sale of lottery tickets in the mail and preventing lotteries from advertising in newspapers.

The jig was up. The legislature finally approved a measure banning the game in 1893. Bloodied but unbowed, the Louisiana Lottery Company limped off to Honduras and operated there for another two years.

But the damage was done. Most Americans had soured on lotteries. The bitter taste lingered in their mouths until the 1970s and 80s when cash-strapped state governments resurrected the practice to provide revenue.

Modern safeguards are in place today and folks watch lottery drawings live on TV as they happen, without any Confederate generals looking over their shoulders for good measure.