Yonkers agency considers taking Ravine Avenue property through eminent domain
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, Property Rights
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| Wednesday 10 November 2010 10:00 AM

From LoHud.com

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YONKERS — The Yonkers Industrial Development Agency is considering forcibly buying a Ravine Avenue property from its owner to turn it over to an affordable housing developer.

The YIDA will hold a public hearing on Nov. 18 on 67 Ravine Ave., a property the agency may acquire through the state’s Eminent Domain Procedure Law.

Eminent domain allows a city to force an owner to sell private property for a public use, such as a park.

In this case, the YIDA argues that the public use will be the creation of approximately 64 units of affordable housing.

The $20 million, six-story building is proposed to be built at 47-75 Ravine Ave. by Ravine Rental Associates LLC, a partnership between the Yonkers-based CURE Development and the Larchmont-based L&M Development Partners.

CURE Development is finishing work on a 12-unit, $3 million development at 304 Warburton Ave., while L&M Development Partners is working on a $51 million, 170-unit building at 314-40 Riverdale Ave.

Both projects are affordable-housing developments.

The property at 67 Ravine Ave. is currently owned by the estate of Anthony Fraioli.

Rental apartments in the proposed complex would be restricted to households earning less than 60 percent of Westchester County’s median income, which in 2010 is $73,300 for a one-person household.

The YIDA’s public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. in the Mayor’s Reception Room in City Hall, 40 S.

Turning a New Page on Education Policy
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, School Choice
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| Tuesday 9 November 2010 10:25 AM

From The Heritage Foundation

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The results of Tuesday’s election sent a clear message about the direction voters want the federal government to take. The recently released 2010 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll What Americans Said about the Public Schools is illustrative.

Whether it’s paying the bills, setting standards, deciding what should be taught, or holding schools accountable, Americans believe state government is the responsible agency for public education in the United States.

With a new batch of conservative leaders heading to Washington, the time is ripe to promote federalism in education, reduce spending, and empower parents with school choice. Incoming Members of Congress, including Senators Marco Rubio (R–FL) and Rand Paul (R–KY)—both of whom have vowed to limit the federal government’s role in education—will likely look toward more conservative solutions to reforming education.

Americans made it clear that they want their problems solved locally, not by a distant and expensive Washington bureaucracy. Education is no exception. If Congress decides to undertake a reauthorization of the federal No Child Left Behind Act next year, that will provide an opportunity to significantly reduce bureaucracy and put more power in the hands of local leaders and parents.

Jennifer Marshall, Director of Domestic Policy Studies at Heritage, pointed out on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal last week that Washington’s overreach into local education over the years has created “an accountability chain that is misdirected. So it politicizes the whole education project [and] directs everyone’s attention up to Washington, where it shouldn’t be. Because when that attention is taken off the local level, the student and the primary customers—the parents and taxpayers—it breaks down the whole incentive and accountability chain that once made American education great.” The bottom line is that solutions for local education will not be found in Washington.

As a new Congress comes to Washington:

First, expect efforts to rein in education spending. U.S. Department of Education funding has increased nearly fivefold in the 30 years since its creation, real per-pupil federal education expenditures have more than tripled since the 1960s, and the Obama Administration just inflated the DOE’s coffers by $100 billion through the “stimulus”—on top of the agency’s regular appropriations. As if that weren’t enough, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the entire House of Representatives back to Washington during their August recess to pass a $10 billion public education bailout.

But more spending is not the answer. Massive increases over decades have failed to improve student outcomes. With conservative leaders pledging to cut spending in Washington, watch for new consideration of proposals to grant states flexibility and the freedom to target resources to their most vital education needs.

Second, look for legislative efforts to restore federalism in education. The conservative alternative to No Child Left Behind—called the A-PLUS Act—will likely find more champions in the new Congress. The approach would allow a state to consolidate funding from among dozens of individual federal programs and spend it on state priorities in education. Allowing states freedom from federal red tape would likely produce more examples of policies that are successful in increasing academic achievement, like those seen in innovative states such as Florida.

Florida is narrowing the achievement gap in a way federal education policy has failed to do for decades. Public school choice, private school choice, charter schools, virtual education, performance pay, alternative teacher certification, grading schools on an A–F scale, and putting an end to social promotion are all part of the Florida reform package that has contributed to important gains for students in the Sunshine State.

Third, watch for renewed interest in the school choice solution. Congress can begin by restoring and expanding school choice options for children in the nation’s capital. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides vouchers of up to $7,500 for low-income children in the nation’s capital to attend a private school of their choice, has been a lifeline for local families. It has drawn strong support from current and new Members of Congress.

The election results could mean big opportunities for genuine education reform that cuts bureaucracy, better targets and reduces spending, and empowers parents.

D.C. School Choice Coalition Vows Aggressive Fight to Save Voucher Program after Congressional Gains
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, School Choice
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| Wednesday 3 November 2010 3:16 PM

From The Washington Business Wire

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WASHINGTON–(EON: Enhanced Online News)–Efforts to reauthorize the endangered D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program—the highly effective initiative that allows low-income D.C. schoolchildren to attend the schools of their parents’ choice—will intensify after yesterday’s historic election results, D.C. education activists promised today. The program was slated for elimination by President Obama and his Congressional allies last year.

With the Republican takeover in the House and a narrower margin between the parties in the Senate, the potential for saving the program has increased, according to D.C. Parents for School Choice, the leading advocacy organization promoting the program’s expansion and protection.

The program, which has allowed children from D.C.’s lowest-income families to attend the private schools of their parents’ choice, has benefited more than 3,500 children. According to studies commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, the OSP has dramatically increased student graduation rates and is one of the most effective federally-funded education efforts in history.

“Our representatives have the opportunity to right one of the most severe wrongs of the past two years—the elimination of the OSP” said Virginia Walden Ford, executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice. “The time has come for our new Congress to send a clear message to D.C. parents—that their needs will no longer fall on deaf ears in the highest corridors of power.”

In fact, Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio), who will likely be elected by his colleagues as the next Speaker of the House, is the primary House sponsor of the bill to reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program, which has received support by a significant majority of D.C. residents and by a majority of the D.C. City Council, has been backed by a bipartisan coalition in the U.S. Senate, with supporters including primary sponsor Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida). The late Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) was also a Democratic supporter.

“All Democrats need to take a new look at this program and see that it should not only be saved, but strengthened,” said former D.C. Councilman Kevin P. Chavous, chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO). “If our goal as Democrats is to advance the key social justice arguments of our time, we cannot ignore the plight of low-income children in the District of Columbia. All Democrats should join their courageous colleagues in the Senate and embrace this program.”

D.C. Parents for School Choice said that it would be mailing packets of information about the OSP to newly-elected Members of Congress and Senators this week.

Once Again, City Voters Approve Term Limits
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Wednesday 3 November 2010 12:23 PM

From The New York Times

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New Yorkers voted overwhelmingly to limit politicians to two consecutive terms on Tuesday, undoing a highly contentious change to the law pushed through by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
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two years ago.

It was the third time since 1993 that city voters endorsed the notion of two four-year terms and no more for the mayor and other elected city officials.

With 87 percent of precincts reporting, 74 percent of city voters supported a two-term limit, while 26 percent opposed it.

The vote was a repudiation of the tactics used in 2008 by Mr. Bloomberg and his allies in the City Council

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, who supported a bill
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to allow three terms despite criticism that they had usurped the democratic process.

But much of the frustration of two years ago has cooled, and the vote on Tuesday, overshadowed by a contest for governor and make-or-break Congressional races, seemed more an act of quiet rebellion than a scathing rebuke.

Still, voters said they were pleased to have the opportunity to finally weigh in on the matter, though two years later.

“The way it was slammed through was rather distasteful and disingenuous,” said Gianni Sellers, 54, a banker who lives on the Upper West Side. “The voters have spoken on this before. I hope we don’t have to do it again.”

New Yorkers voted in support of a two-term limit in 1993 and in 1996, riding a wave of anti-incumbent sentiment nationwide epitomized by the slogan “throw the bums out.”

The measure approved on Tuesday was devised to prevent a repeat of the backroom politicking in 2008. Council members will be prohibited from making changes to term-limits laws that affect their own political careers.

But incumbents will be offered some consolation

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: if they were elected before Tuesday, they will still be allowed to run for a third term. The two-term limit will only apply to those elected this year and beyond.

That will delay putting the law fully into effect until 2021, when the newest class of city politicians, those elected in 2009, has the opportunity to finish a third four-year term.

Opponents of the two-term limit said it would make government less effective by disposing with leaders as soon as they had gained the experience to govern efficiently.

“With two terms, they have to split their time between minding the store and running for their next office,” said Ruth E. Acker, president of the Women’s City Club of New York, a civic organization. “They’re inclined to favor things that win them Brownie points in the short term.”

Supporters of term limits seized on the anti-establishment fervor that swept through much of the country. Ronald S. Lauder

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, the billionaire cosmetics heir, financed advertisements comparing politicians to dirty diapers
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in need of a change.

Even Mr. Bloomberg, who believed so zealously in a third term that he was willing to sacrifice some popularity, said he would vote in favor of a two-term limit.

“I don’t think it’s hypocritical at all,” he said Tuesday. “The public clearly wants to go back to two terms.”

Some feared the term-limits question would be ignored

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because it was placed on the back of the ballot and formatted in small print. Poll workers made special efforts to point out the referendum questions, but some voters still found the format confusing.

Gloria Hines, 54, a retired postal worker, smiled as she walked out of a poll site in Harlem with her husband, Denny. Then she realized neither of them had filled out the referendum questions.

“I forgot all about it,” Ms. Hines said, her good mood having faded. “Why would they put it on the back?”

In addition to the term-limits question, voters supported, by a vote of 83 percent to 17 percent, a second referendum item that called for several changes to city law, with 87 percent of precincts reporting.

The changes include reducing the number of signatures required to get on the ballot, requiring disclosure of campaign contributions by independent groups and raising the maximum fine for violating conflicts of interest law.

J. David Goodman contributed reporting.

Other term limits news across the country:

http://www.myvalleynews.com/story/52101/

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http://naperville.patch.com/articles/term-limits-to-be-created-for-city-council

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http://www.farragutpress.com/articles/2010/11/13263.html

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http://www.coloradoan.com/article/20101103/NEWS03/11030330/Voters-hold-line-on-DA-term-limits

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http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2010/11/oregon_election_results_multno.html

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‘Limited’ uprising
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Tuesday 2 November 2010 3:43 PM

From The New York Post

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Written by Michael Goodwin

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Across the land, the cry is heard: Throw the bums out! The people are prepared to do exactly that on Tuesday, but there’s a catch. There’s little to stop today’s insurgent from becoming tomorrow’s bum.

Or, as a pessimist once said, many reformers take office to do good and stay to do well.

Take heart, optimists, for there is an antidote to the corrupting disease of permanent poweritis. Term limits. They are a blunt instrument and they work.

They do it by forcing the turnover that the power of incumbency too often thwarts. By using gerrymandering, earmarks, favors for contributors and election laws to thwart challengers, too many incumbents get comfortable in office and make keeping it their mission.

Public service then become private service, which helps to explain how so many lifetime pols leave office filthy rich — emphasis on filthy.

Power corrupts, so prevention is the best medicine.

Presidents are limited to two terms by the Constituion’s 22nd Amendment, passed in 1951, to stop another FDR, who shattered the tradition of two terms by winning four.

Legal limits are popular in the states — about 35 have restrictions on governors and 15 have them on lawmakers. But members of Congress are free to serve as long as voters let them. That’s because the Supreme Court ruled that states cannot set limits for federal officers, meaning Congress would have to do it itself.

That’s not going to happen without overwhelming public demand and persistence. The 1994 Republican takeover of Congress included a pledge on term limits, but various bills all failed to get the required two-thirds majority.

But now, with the spirit of revolution sweeping America, the time and mood are right for congressional limits. The idea was popular among many of the founders, and it is returning as part of the public revolt against the growth and cost of government.

A recent Fox News poll found that 78 percent of Americans want term limits for Congress. Support was dramatic across the spectrum, with 84 percent of Republicans, and 74 percent of both Democrats and independents in favor.

New York City voters are in a position to help lead the movement. A ballot question on Tuesday gives voters the chance to limit elected city officials to two consecutive four-year terms.

That was the rule until last year, when Mayor Bloomberg convinced a pliant and greedy City Council to add a third term to the limits. Public anger over the end run around the referendums that established the limits did not stop Bloomberg’s re-election, and most council members also survived the backlash.

But the issue is back again, and Bloomberg promises he will vote for it. The only rub is that the change would allow anyone already in office to run for a third term.

That’s a small price to pay for this important measure, which is on the back of the ballot. It’s worth the effort to find it and vote “yes.”

Who knows? This could be the first shot heard round the nation and start a new push to prevent today’s reformers from becoming tomorrow’s bums.

Dems win the ‘race’ for irony

To appreciate the “holy s#!t” reaction to Bill Clinton’s bid to get a black candidate to quit the Florida Senate campaign, it helps to understand his cold race-and-ethnic calculation. Indeed, Clinton’s effort illustrates the stereotyping behind all group-identity politics, at which the Democratic Party is the master.

With the first black president now in the White House, Clinton has lost that honorary title and been demoted to doing the dirty work of dividing the racial pie. That meant telling black Rep. Kendrick Meek that he should get out of the Senate race so Dems could unite behind former Republican, and now independent, candidate Gov. Charlie Crist.

The aim of the 11th-hour maneuver wasn’t to boost Crist, who is white; it was to stop Marco Rubio, the GOP candidate who was cruising to victory in the three-way race.

Rubio is not just any Republican. He is Cuban-American, a charismatic rising star and, as a US senator, could be a national magnet for Latinos to vote Republican. That was the red flag that sent the White House and Clinton into action.

Their fear is that Rubio could break the Dem hold on Latinos, and might undo their pandering to illegal-immigration groups. After all, Rubio wants to secure the border and reduce government spending.

Can’t have that, so Meek was set up as the sacrificial lamb. Dems thought they could get away with strong-arming him because of Clinton’s standing among blacks, and because Barack Obama is in the White House. Nobody could accuse them of being anti-black.

True. But they are something else that is also reprehensible. They are slavish group-thinkers.

That’s the Dem way. You’re not you. You’re a member of a racial, ethnic or gender group and you are expected to behave in prescribed “authentic” ways, including buying into group-based appeals.

Fortunately, Meek said no deal. Good for him, and good for America. In some quarters, it’s still the land of individual opportunity.

Bold prince among peers

From Arabia, with wisdom. A billionaire Saudi prince who has supported the imam behind the Ground Zero mosque is joining opponents in calling for the mosque to move.

“People behind the mosque have to respect, have to appreciate and have to defer to the people of New York,” Prince Alwaleed bin Talal told a Dubai magazine. “The wound is still there. We can’t just say, ‘Go to hell.’ ”

But “Go to hell” is pretty much what imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is saying, even after the prince’s sound advice.

Still, the door to compromise is now open. Alwaleed, who owns large chunks of Citibank and the Post’s parent company, News Corp., is a heavyweight in world Islamic affairs. His words could embolden other Muslims to break ranks with Rauf over the provocative location.

Pray it is so.

It’s ‘go time’ Charlie

With a GOP takeover of the House, Harlem voters have another reason to dump Charlie Rangel. The don of the New York congressional delegation will have far less clout under Republican control.

Voters shouldn’t need an excuse. Rangel’s name is synonymous with scandal, and his sense of entitlement in avoiding tax and ethical rules is a big strike against all incumbent Democrats.

Fortunately, a solid alternative is on the ballot. His name is Michel Faulkner, a Harlem pastor active in education, youth programs and police-community relations for nearly 20 years.

Faulkner is that rare bird — a black New York Republican. His time has come, if only voters will give him a chance.

Spitzing distance

A state official who knows Eliot Spitzer too well offers a scathing review of his CNN show. “Don’t he and Kathleen Parker sit uncomfortably close? I keep waiting for them to wheel him out strapped to a gurney wearing a Hannibal Lecter mask like in ‘Silence of the Lambs.’

Letter: No votes for incumbents
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Friday 29 October 2010 1:00 PM

From The Rockford Register Star

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It’s time for term limits in government. It’s time to get rid of the career politicians. It’s time to let someone else play the game.

If the highest elected office in our nation has term limits, then so should every other elected position in the nation. From village boards, to county boards, to state reps, to school boards, to clerks and judges and treasurers and mayors and everyone in between.

It’s time to take back our country from the incumbents and insist on term limits. It doesn’t matter what party you stand for.

We can’t let these politicians sit in office for 10, 15, 20 years and beyond.

And while we’re at it, it’s time to insist on lowering the pay scale for our politicians. The median U.S. household income is about $50,000. No politician should be making even 1.5 times that.

They all claim they’re going to balance the budgets, cut spending and help the economy. The first way is to reduce the astronomical paychecks they’re doling out for themselves. It can be accomplished.

I know I won’t be voting for incumbents this November.

Eminent Domain in Coal Country Called a Billion-Dollar Land Grab
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, Property Rights
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| Friday 29 October 2010 12:11 PM

From Courthouse News Service

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WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (CN) – With help from a law office, Pennsylvania and a county redevelopment agency abused their condemnation powers to help a coal company get its hands on billions of dollars worth of coal deposits, the Borough of Centralia and its citizens say in a federal class action. Centralia claims the conspirators used the pretext of an underground fire to make a land grab: a gross abuse of their powers of eminent domain.

“The original government pretense, if indeed it was ever legitimate, has long since expired,” the complaint states. “In short, the purported ‘Centralia Mine Fire,’ which allegedly threatened the Borough of Centralia, no longer provides, or never did provide, a viable explanation for the application of government power (exercise of eminent domain) and the taking of these American citizens’ property.” (Parentheses in complaint.)

“These defendants covet billions of dollars worth of extremely valuable anthracite coal which lies beneath the surface of the Borough of Centralia. These persons and entities, by and through political connections and the manipulation of governmental agencies and entities, are, among other things, illegally taking the property of the plaintiffs through the unlawful use of government police power.”

The complaint continues: “Plaintiffs allege that their rights are being violated by abusive government officials and entities, in concert with private persons, and that they have been exploited by the defendants to accomplish their unlawful ends. The persistent efforts of this private/government enterprise have resulted in a massive and continuing fraud reflective of both civil and criminal RICO violations. Perhaps the most succinct characterization of this process is expressed in the wisdom of the Hon. Scott Naus of the Court of Common Pleas of Columbia County when he obviously questioned, through the choice of his words, the basis for the suspicious rush to judgment by individuals and government entities who were purportedly seeking to respond to the dangers of a fire that has never materialized as a threat to Centralia. The fire has never been investigated. No court has ever held a hearing to determine whether the fire is, or ever was, a threat to the Borough or these plaintiffs. Despite pervasive conflicts in the ‘evidence’ of the alleged ‘threat’ posed by the fires, and the additional evidence of questionable political rationales, the fire that has never reached, and will never reach, Centralia has been allowed to act as an engine of private aggrandizement resulting in the unlawful denigration of citizens’ rights.”

The class claims that hundreds of fires occur in Pennsylvania abandoned mines, particularly the anthracite coal mining region in and around northeast Pennsylvania. The so-called “Centralia Mine Fire” started in 1962 in an abandoned coal stripping pit that Centralia used as a trash dump.

The class adds that any evidence that the fire actually endangered Centralia was “contrived,” and that “no court has ever held a hearing to determine whether the fire is, or ever was, a threat,” that “certainly it does not threaten Centralia now and is retreating at its worst.”

The class claims the defendants – including the Columbia County Redevelopment Authority and the Rosenn Jenkins and Greenwald law office – used the underground fire as a pretext for a “massive fraud designed to acquire access to the coal under the condemned area.”

The class claims the Borough owns all the coal beneath it and the defendants cannot get their hands on the coal unless Centralia ceases to exist.

The class claims the fraud was carried out by Rosenn, Jenkins and Greenwald on behalf of it client, co-defendant Blaschak Coal Co., in corporation with government entities and individuals, including Rosenn, Jenkins attorneys John Zelinka and Gary Taroli, and Steven Fishman, spokesman and counsel for the defendant state Department of Community and Economic Development.

Rosenn, Jenkins has represented various predecessors in interest of Blaschak, which have asserted rights to the coal since the 1980s, the class says. Blaschak has significant holdings in the condemned area, including roughly 52.8 acres of surface rights in Centralia.

The class claims that any “examination of the applicable maps showing the geology and water table in the area would demonstrate that the ‘Centralia Mine Fire’ would never, and could never reach Centralia.”

They say that the state and county agencies claim to be protecting Centralia through the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Act from the “alleged raging presence of an oncoming fire, but there is no evidence to support the position that the fire presented a real and present unabatable hazard to any of the residents.”

The class adds: “Plaintiffs believe and aver that sometime during the course of the efforts to extinguish the fires that a plan was hatched among and between RJG, Nogard, Blaschak, and their principals to use the fire as a pretext to justify the removal of all the residents of the Borough, and, as such, to extinguish the Borough, so that access to billions of dollars worth of coal under the Borough of Centralia and Conyngham Township could be mined. Plaintiffs further believe and aver that this conspiracy also involved a number of local and state public officials, and other private persons, all of whose identities are not yet known, but will be developed through discovery.”

They add: “(T)he fire that has never reached, and will never reach, Centralia has been allowed to act as an engine of private aggrandizement resulting in the unlawful denigration of citizens’ rights.”

The class claims that Rosenn, Jenkins knew about the tremendous coal vein 20 years after the “Centralia Mine Fire” began, but before the class knew the coal existed, when it made a claim to the subsurface mineral rights under Centralia in 1981, while representing the Nogard Coal Co.

In 1983, the class says, the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Mines Office of Surface Mining “issued a report trumpeting the dangers” of what it called the “Centralia Mine Fire.”

That same year the Columbia County Redevelopment Authority, as agent for the Pennsylvania Department of Community Affairs, “started a voluntary relocation effort for the citizens of Centralia Borough, although the fire is believed to never have existed under the Borough.”

The class claims that citizens of Centralia agreed to settlements because they felt threatened – but they felt threatened because they had been misled about the fire and were unaware of the coal deposits beneath them.

Four hundred of approximately 465 properties were transferred through a “voluntary program,” leaving owners of roughly 60 properties to face formal eminent domain proceedings – all of which were filed in the Columbia County Court of Common Pleas in 1993.

Never in any proceedings was the basis or necessity for the use of eminent domain in Centralia ever explained, the class claims.

As “irrefutable evidence” that the defendants knew there was no real threat from the fire, even as they bought out the residents of the borough, the class says that Blaschak “built a warehouse for mining activities literally right across the Borough line in or around 2004, within the purported fire impact area. Upon information and belief, this facility is to be a hub for mining activity in the Borough after it ceases to exist.”

They add that this “reflected the inside track that RJG’s clients had on manipulating the condemnation issues.”

The class claims that Rosenn, Jenkins and its clients bought them out on the cheap, because they were “feeling threatened, and being misled about the dangers of the fire.”

The complaint continues: “None of these were aware of the incredible value of the coal beneath them nor that there were plans to acquire the coal and mine in the Borough, although the approximate $90,000 amount received by a former Centralia mayor for her property, an amount believed to be far in excess of the values offered to other residents, suggests that persons other than the named defendants, all additionally to be determined through discovery, were complicit in the scheme.”

The class claims their property has been illegally taken through unlawful use of government police power and exercise of eminent domain. It seeks injunctive relief and punitive damages for conspiracy, fraud, civil and criminal misconduct, violations of due process and equal protection, punitive damages.

The class is represented by Don Bailey of Harrisburg


You can find a PDF copy of the filings at the bottom of the story posted on The Courthouse News Website
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‘Waiting for Superman’ a wake-up call for education reform
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, School Choice
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| Friday 29 October 2010 11:49 AM

From the Orlando Sentinel

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“Waiting for ‘ Superman’ ” certainly won’t top “Toy Story 3″ at the box office. There were five people in the theater when I saw it.

But hopefully it’ll do for the school reform movement what “An Inconvenient Truth” did for the global warming movement.

Both were directed by Davis Guggenheim.

He becomes the latest liberal defector to the conservative cause of overhauling public education.

And he does it well, introducing bleeding-heart liberalism into a battle that has been mired in the wonky, tangled weeds of test scores, learning gains, performance pay and school choice.

Guggenheim shows us the children whose futures are pegged to failing public schools. We see desperate parents trying to get them out. We see their fate riding on the whims of lottery balls rolling out of a turning cage.

Beat the 5 percent odds and you win a first-class education in a top-performing charter school. You get the inside track on a college degree and a ticket out of the inner city.

Lose and you go to the dilapidated blockhouse down the street, a prep academy for a state prison more than a state university.

It is an emotional appeal with victims, villains and heroes.

The villains are unwieldy bureaucracies and teachers unions, which bargain for contracts that stifle excellence and protect incompetence. The priority is job protection, not education. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, comes across as Cruella de Vil, with poor kids the helpless Dalmatian puppies.

One hero is Michelle Rhee, the former public schools chancellor of the District of Columbia who closed failing schools and waged a campaign against incompetent administrators and teachers. Another is Geoffrey Canada, a Harlem educator so frustrated by the system he formed his own charter schools as an alternative.

The reformists’ message boils down to this: Given the right setting and the right teacher, every child can succeed. Good teachers work miracles; bad teachers can ruin lives. Yet there is no recognition of the difference between them.

The film also brings in Bill Gates to make a broader argument. It is that America’s future security depends on our ability to compete with the rest of the world. It is an economic battle for growth and prosperity, with winners and losers determined by who best educates their youth.

International science and math scores show us falling behind at an accelerating pace. Even top-rated suburban schools are failing to keep pace.

Expiration date for lawmakers
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Wednesday 27 October 2010 11:06 AM

From The Washington Times

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Change is coming to Washington, and there’s hope on the horizon that America will ensnare the big-government colossus that’s consuming our wealth and curtailing our liberty. But even after next week’s elections, the temptation of pay-to-play politics, in which career officeholders sell access to the public till, will remain a threat. It’s time to address the crisis of out-of-control government by imposing term limits on members of Congress who overstay their welcome on Capitol Hill.

Last year, Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, introduced a constitutional amendment to limit senators to two consecutive six-year terms and members of the House of Representatives to three consecutive two-year terms. Tea Party activism has placed the nation on the cusp of political transformation, but victory will be short-lived unless it’s accompanied by a legal mechanism for ensuring Congress is composed of citizen legislators who don’t see public service as a lifetime meal ticket.

Each election offers the chance to limit the term of individual representatives, but the power of incumbency and related federal overspending make it imperative to curb tenure for the lawmaking class responsible for the nation’s fiscal dire straits. The Democrat-controlled Congress has collaborated with President Obama in piling up a federal public debt of more than $2.5 trillion during Mr. Obama’s first 19 months in office. According to Terence Jeffrey of CNSnews.com, that’s more than the public federal debt accumulated by all presidents from George Washington through Ronald Reagan. This government spending is rife with waste as billions flow to favored political constituencies such as unions and green technology firms.

Thomas Jefferson foresaw the temptation of treating elective office as a sinecure and advocated term limits “to prevent every danger which might arise to American freedom by continuing too long in office the members of the Continental Congress. . . .” His warning went unheeded, and it wasn’t until the 22nd Amendment was ratified in 1951 that presidential service was restricted to two terms. Time in the legislative branch should be similarly limited.

An amendment restricting congressional officeholders would need to be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate and House and three-quarters of state legislatures. Such widespread endorsement is rare in an ideologically diverse country, but Americans agree on this issue. A September Fox News poll shows that 78 percent of voters support term limits, including 84 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of Democrats and independents. The trend has mushroomed in recent years; currently, 37 states impose term limits on their governors and 15 restrict the service of their legislators.

Someday, the venality of human nature may disappear, and pigs may fly. Until then, it’s a good idea to have laws checking the power of erstwhile public servants who serve themselves above all else.

The Truth Behind Superman
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, School Choice
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| Tuesday 26 October 2010 4:27 PM

From The Heritage Foundation

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The documentary film Waiting for Superman follows five children and their families as they struggle to find educational opportunities. Fed up with the ineffective public schools in their communities, but unable to freely transfer their tax dollars to a school of their choice, the families enter lotteries for the few available slots in private and charter schools. As an unapologetic denunciation of the American educational system, the film features families openly weeping at the prospect of losing the lottery and returning to the public schools.

Opinions will vary about the movie’s dramatic style and presentation. Some viewers are themselves moved to tears, while others chafe at the what they see as an overly emotional message too high on idealism. Put Ross Douthat of the New York Times in the latter category. The film is “manipulative, simplistic and more than a little bit utopian,” he wrote in a recent column. He was quick to add, however, that the director’s “prescription—more accountability for teachers and bureaucrats, and more choices for parents and kids—deserves all the support his film promises to win for it.”

Douthat’s point is well taken. No educational intervention can magically make every student above average, and people who leave the theater in search of a panacea will inevitably be disappointed. But utopianism aside, school choice programs have led to significant positive outcomes that justify the public’s strong support.

Take charter schools. They receive public funding but are allowed to operate without the regulatory burden faced by ordinary public schools. The U.S. Department of Education recently published a rigorous evaluation of charter schools nationwide. The report’s authors found that parents are by large margins more satisfied with charter schools—and with the academic and social development of their children who attend—than are public school parents. For example, charter schools were rated “excellent” by 85 percent of parents, while non-charter schools received the “excellent” rating by just 37 percent of parents.

The overall impact of charter school attendance on test scores was insignificant. In other words, students of similar ability scored about the same on tests whether they went to a charter school or to a regular public school. This is the dose of realism that Douthat has referenced—test scores are notoriously hard to raise through intervention.

But given the higher levels of parental satisfaction produced by charter schools, test scores are clearly only one factor parents consider when deciding which schools are best for their children. In fact, parents probably understand the limitations of social policy better than most academics and policymakers. Rather than obsessing over elusive test score gains, parents seem to have a more nuanced and child-specific set of criteria: They want schools that are safe, cultivate a positive attitude about learning, and best fit their children’s abilities and interests. Only school choice programs can satisfy these diverse preferences and expectations.

Whether a viewer’s reaction to Waiting for Superman is one of passion or skepticism, the real take-away from the film should be that school choice programs benefit both students and their families, and that expanding the programs will expand the benefits.

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