Share This Page

Attacking Pennsylvania's culture of corruption

| Saturday, March 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
John Cole | The Scranton Times-Tribune

HARRISBURG

Where else but the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission would there be a requirement that if you see a crime you must report it?

It's like mandated reporting of child abuse for health-care professionals and employees of certain other institutions. And it's one of the new directives under turnpike CEO Mark Compton, who vows to “change the culture” of the agency, which has a history of scandals dating to the mid-1950s. Most recently, eight people were charged with crimes essentially for influence peddling, a “pay-to-play” scheme where contractors who provided campaign money and gifts often got the work.

Compton wants employees to feel comfortable about reporting anything out of line.

Former whistle-blowers at the agency, who did report allegations later deemed to be crimes, were hassled by top agency officials, threatened and, in some cases, demoted or fired.

Who was going to speak up in that environment?

By the way, we're not talking about taking paper clips home. These were multimillion-dollar schemes. There were powerful people involved. In those days, people like then-Chairman Mitchell Rubin had a direct line to his patron, Senate power broker Vincent Fumo.

Fortunately, those people are gone. Rubin is on probation in a federal case and charged again in the bid-rigging case by the Attorney General's Office. Fumo is in a federal prison in Kentucky. It wasn't just Democrats, though they were the focus of the grand jury during the Rendell years. It was a 60-40 split of the largess between the Democrats, in the majority at the time, and Republicans, the grand jury report said.

No Republicans were charged. But the investigation is continuing.

Compton makes a convincing case that he will tolerate no corruption. And while the vast majority of employees are good people, the corrupt culture is ingrained at the Turnpike Commission. It's been a nest of patronage and cronyism for decades.

The commissioners, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, are political animals. Former Commissioner Bill Lincoln, a former Senate Democrat leader of Dunbar, resigned from the commission this month. A contractor had provided a combined $6,100 gift certificate for Nemacolin Woodlands Resort to Lincoln and former Chief Operating Officer George Hatalowich, according to the grand jury.

Lincoln testified under a grant of immunity. Hatalowich is one of the eight defendants.

Some lawmakers want to fold the commission, which employs 2,100 people to oversee 514 miles of highway, into PennDOT. That's an uphill battle.

An atmosphere where people are free to report sleazy activity is a good start along with other reforms, such as “firewalls” around contract decisions.

But it won't get to the dirt beneath the surface.

Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com).

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.