Op-Ed: Was a 'No' Vote Big Government Intrusion?
Lehigh County Commissioner Brad Osborne chastises a “bloc” of fellow commissioners who he says allowed their personal agenda to overshadow their duty in a vote on the Lehigh County Authority.
By Brad Osborne
Five hundred years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote a book titled The Prince. One phrase from that text that remains a paradox today is “the end justifies the means.” In other words, an action can be justified by the intended outcome rather than the action itself. On Wednesday, March 13, five members of the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners exercised the political equivalent of this maxim. In doing so, they not only diminished the integrity of our office, but also increased the uncertainty of the future cost of water and wastewater treatment in Lehigh County. How is that?
The Board voted, by the slimmest of margins, 5-4, to deny the extension of the Lehigh County Authority (LCA) charter, in order that they not meet the bid requirements for the pending Allentown water and wastewater system lease. These commissioners, known as “the bloc” for their record of voting together, brushed aside the very facts they professed to need, to decide in favor of the result they wanted. Deny the extension LCA needed to bid on the lease, and maybe we can scuttle Allentown’s plan of financing their pension debt by eliminating the most viable, publicly accountable bidder. Was this decision based on good government principles or a need to feel powerful?
Our responsibility as Lehigh County Commissioners was to evaluate the performance of LCA since the last charter extension in 1999 and determine if they were worthy of another 14-year extension. The board proceeded to detail the necessary elements of the charter review. It was a good, comprehensive framework from which to work. It included financial metrics, environmental records and customer satisfaction measurements. In short, everything you’d need to know to make an informed decision as a commissioner. We studied this matter for seven weeks, which included a public forum moderated by the League of Women Voters, a 4-hour public hearing conducted by a commissioner subcommittee, and unfettered access to any information we wanted. We were approached by communities ranging in size from Lower Macungie to Upper Milford, organizations as diverse as the East Penn Chamber of Commerce, Renew Lehigh Valley, Lehigh Valley Partnership and Wildlands Conservancy, respected businesses such as Samuel Adams Brewery and Ocean Spray, and professionals in the field to listen to their positive experiences, and consider their informed and reasoned recommendations. The board had no unanswered questions, no outstanding concerns about LCA’s performance, and understood the weighted opinion of the public. We were ready to make a decision.
What was our response to all this information, study and analysis? Denial of the request by a five to four vote. How did that happen? Concern was shifted from the tangible and measurable performance of LCA, to the intangible and immeasurable argument of how bad an idea the lease of the water system is. That should not have been the basis of our decision; that was outside our scope and jurisdiction. The “bloc” allowed their personal bias and agenda to overshadow their duty, and used words such as “toxic”, “house of cards”, “bad deal” and “city politicians” to justify their denial. In other words, they employed Machiavellian tactics to force an outcome they want to see down the road.
This could turn out to be a costly mistake that will raise water rates on families and businesses for years to come. Their actions may prevent an established, non-profit, regional organization with local government oversight from bidding. It was a shortsighted decision based on personal politics. Simply put, it is bad public policy.
To make matters even worse, a member of the bloc proposed using our board and county resources to investigate and pursue every legal means possible to stop the city transaction from taking place. These self-proclaimed believers in limited government are now apparently ready to expand the role of County government to attack those municipalities they disagree with. Isn’t the contradiction evident?
To express your opinion on this decision and the “bloc’s” intention to investigate and possibly litigate using your tax dollars, call, write or email the commissioners’ office, or come to our March 27 meeting.