Posted: May 10, 2005 10:32 am EST

Editorial (4): Secret phone calls; Paterno's pay; airport security (~27 col. in.)
by The Johnstown (Pa.) Tribune-Democrat
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    An editorial: Judge sends wrong message/ Cell-phone ruling blocks right to know

    Opinion: The Johnstown (Pa.) Tribune-Democrat

    We take strong exception to a ruling by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court that allows elected officials to black out phone numbers on public-paid cell-phone bills before the bills are given to the press.
    The matter came up in Pittsburgh, where the Tribune-Review Publishing Co. and one of its reporters sought unedited phone bills for two members of the Pittsburgh City Council.
    An Allegheny County judge said that the press was entitled to the information, but the city council appealed.
    In his opinion, Senior Judge Jim Flaherty said the phone records could be edited before they are released. He said there were exceptions in the state’s Right to Know Law for records that could harm someone’s personal security or reputation.
    A newspaper or television station news team might seek such records for various reasons, but one of the big reasons would be to determine whether an elected official was involved in shady or illegal activities that would affect the individual’s right and ability to properly serve the citizens who elected him or her.
    We do not know what motivated the Tribune-Review’s request for the records of calls made or received on the cell phones – which, by the way, are provided at taxpayer expense – but the city’s reaction should raise some doubts and some eyebrows.
    If council members Leonard Bodack and Barbara Burns have nothing to hide, why the objection to making the records public?
    There might be nothing sinister or compromising about the phone-call lists, but it comes down to a case of me thinks thou doth protest too loudly.
    If there is something on the records that should not be there, the citizens of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have a right to know about it.
    Sorry, Judge Flaherty, but we believe you and your judicial cohorts were wrong in this case.

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    An editorial: ‘Prohibition’ ends May 17

    Opinion: The Johnstown (Pa.) Tribune-Democrat

    The times they are a-changin’. For the first time ever, this year
    state liquor stores will be open on primary election day – May 17 this
    go-around. Concerns about buying votes with liquor apparently have
    gone by the wayside, although the practice was quite common in the 1920s
    and ’30s. Bars and restaurants with Sunday-sales licenses have been
    open on election days since 1973, and all bars, and restaurants that
    serve liquor, have been permitted to be open since 2001. The change of
    heart – and state policy – apparently had less to do with buying votes and more to do with money. An average day’s take for the 637 state stores is $3.7 million.
    When the Legislature permitted Sunday hours for some state liquor stores, it also got rid of the election-day prohibition and permitted sales on Columbus Day and Veteran’s Day. That could increase the state’s take by more than $15 million.
    Those were paid days off for state store workers and managers; now they will be time-and-a-half days.
    Progress is slow in the commonwealth when it comes to liquor sales, but removing the election-day prohibition does make fiscal sense.


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    An editorial: Paterno’s pay should be public

    Opinion: The Johnstown (Pa.) Tribune-Democrat

    Penn State may believe it has a right to keep secret the salary of longtime football coach Joe Paterno and other top-scale officials, but it should be willing to forfeit the more than $300 million it receives in state funds each year to do so.
    Taxpayer money is used to support Penn State, and taxpayers should have the right to know how that money is being spent.
    We don’t buy the argument that state funds are not used to pay Paterno’s salary.
    It is easy to say the state money is used for specific purposes, but money is money, and regardless of how state funds supposedly are being spent, it all comes out of the university’s overall funds.
    The state money allows other funds to be shifted to pay salaries for the coach and others.
    We can believe that Paterno and the top brass do not want to cave in to requests by The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News and other media sources to make the salaries public.
    Perhaps if state legislators were aware of how the university spends its money, the state appropriation to the university would be cut or canceled.
    The Patriot-News has asked the Commonwealth Court to rule that the salary amounts can be obtained from the State Employees Retirement System.
    It may be a back-door approach, but the retirement system is a state agency and its information should be public.
    Penn State President Graham Spanier told The Associated Press that the request for the salary information is primarily a curiosity and a feeling of a right to know. He blamed the media for fueling the curiosity.
    We can’t argue that. Curiosity has led the media to investigate and unearth many instances of financial abuse by agencies that receive tax money directly or indirectly.
    We hope that type of curiosity by the media never abates.

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    An editorial: Security agency burrows deeper

    Opinion: The Johnstown (Pa.) Tribune-Democrat

    The federal government is at it again in its one-track fascination with airport safety.
    The Transportation Security Administration announced that it will soon require airlines to obtain the full names and birth dates of passengers when they buy tickets.
    The agency says the information will make it less likely that innocent passengers will be confused with people who are known or suspected terrorists.
    Of course, prospective passengers will have the right to refuse to give the information, but that might not be a good idea. You can bet that those who decline will be subjected to additional screening and harassment when they seek to board their flight.
    The TSA says the new demand is part of its computerized Secure Flight program.
    One good thing is that the agency will take over from the airlines the responsibility of checking passengers’ names against their watch lists.
    That should have been the TSA’s responsibility in the first place.




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