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Public locked out

| Wednesday, May 9, 2012, 10:18 a.m.

HARRISBURG -- There's no welcome sign for the public at Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll's office.

But, then, why should she have one. Knoll's outer office door at the state Capitol is locked.

No other prominent elected leader at the Capitol, to my knowledge, locks their doors during regular business hours. That's based on my personal experience at the Capitol spanning 21 years.

The Governor's Reception Room, the outer area of the governor's office, is typically open to the public. There's a receptionist there, as well as a guard. Obviously you can't enter the inner office where Gov. Ed Rendell and his staff work. The Governor's Reception Room is often part of the public tour given by guides at the state Capitol.

House Speaker John Perzel's outer office is open as is Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer's.

Why Knoll's door is locked remains a mystery. Her office is located in a mezzanine area of the main Capitol building between the House and Senate chambers.

When I approached her office door about five weeks ago, the Capitol police officer sitting at a desk asked me if I was an employee. An employee• You have to be an employee?

I went to her office again on Dec. 21. The guard told me it's always locked.

Always locked.

A Knoll spokesman said it's been locked since she took office in January 2003. Her office said it's locked for security reasons and that this was initiated during the prior administration. Her spokesman said she's not doing anything different from the governor. But that's not the case.

The Pennsylvania State Police security detail says the door is locked for "general security reasons." The reason cited is that the lieutenant governor does not have a reception area that can be opened to the public like the governor's. The state police maintain the lieutenant governor's door has been locked for years.

Under the prior administration of Republican Gov. Mark Schweiker, the outer door of then-Lt. Gov. Jubelirer's office was open to the public during business hours, according to Jubelirer's aides. His office was not aware of any security directive requiring the door to be locked.

All of this might seem trivial if it weren't for the reports suggesting turmoil in the lieutenant governor's inner sanctum.

As political commentators G. Terry Madonna and Mike Young wrote recently in their "Politically Uncorrected" column, Knoll has been hit by reports of "staff turnovers of huge proportions in her office; some dubious government decisions made by members of her immediate family; allegations by some state senators that she incompetently handles her job as presiding officer of the Senate."

Specifically, 17 employees have departed Knoll's staff - some voluntarily and others via the boot - since she became lieutenant governor. That's the turnover on a staff of 10 in less than two years.

An underlying theme of the Madonna/Young column was that the state will be in deep trouble if Rendell becomes seriously ill, or dies, and Knoll has to take over as governor.

The locked door suggests a bunker mentality.

Knoll's office apparently believes she is just following the directions of the state police, which provide security to the governor and lieutenant governor.

But locking the door sends the wrong message to the taxpayers, who pay for the lieutenant governor's salary, staff and office furnishings.

A very wrong message.

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