Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Letter: Have We Been Hijacked?

The following letter to the editor was submitted by Robert Gardener:

Dear Neighbors,

Election time is here again. Included on your ballot this year will be five openings for new School Board members and 3 openings for Commissioners.

Early this year I reached out to residents who I believed would make strong candidates. Far too often potential candidates said they were interested, but they were not willing to risk the ridicule that came with public office. They were not willing to have their spouses, their coworkers, and their children hear their intelligence, ability, and (worst of all) their integrity being questioned with the vehemence we have seen over the past year. They were willing to work hard and undergo public scrutiny, but they were not willing to have their character assaulted.

The reaction of these potential candidates leads me to these questions: Are the best possible candidates heeding the call to public service, or is the field stunted by the super-charged rhetoric that we’ve now come to expect? Are the few residents that often drive this rhetoric making Mt Lebanon a better place to live? Or are they hijacking the discussion and in doing so, suppressing the wider view the community could be offered if the field of candidates was broader? I believe the latter.

A fresh example of this hijacking came to light this week. Elaine Gillen, candidate for Commissioner in Ward 3, has served her potential General Election opponent, Kristen Linfante, with legal papers challenging the authenticity of the signatures on Ms Linfante’s nominating petition…including a challenge to the signatures of Ms Linfante’s CAMPAIGN MANAGER and her HUSBAND. Obviously, this is a calculated attempt by one candidate to distract another candidate. It is a cynical attempt to keep a candidate from having the time and resources (Ms Linfante will have to pay a lawyer to represent her in court against this frivolous charge) to reach out to voters…to reach out to us. (Full disclosure: I am a supporter of Kristen Linfante).

This is by no means a call to limit Free Speech. It is, instead, a call to Speak Up. A call for the community to reject the nay-saying negativity of a few residents with the same vehemence with which they have foisted it upon us. Go to a meeting. Write to a blog. Write a letter. Demand that our candidates offer positions on issues so that we know what they stand for, not just what they are against. Most importantly…VOTE.


Rob Gardner

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Anonymous Anonymous said...


Add me to the list of potential candidates who are not willing to risk the ridicule that comes with public office or candidacy here. In fact, I am taking a risk simply posting on this blog because my previous blog postings have resulted in personal attacks rather than healthy debate. We’ll see what happens with this one and I will probably regret taking the bait once again.

My opposition to the planned level of high school spending stems from the concern I feel for the financial burden it will place on our residents and the resulting limitations it may cause with respect to our necessary educational resources. This has precipitated a multitude of personal attacks, including attacks by sitting board members regarding our home kitchen renovation project and other personal matters. Such insults have come my way from people on every side of the issue.

I have lived here for twenty-six years and raised two children who graduated from the high school. Having served countless hours as a volunteer in our schools, including teaching lunchtime enrichment in robotics, chaperoning field trips, supporting the orchestra and sports teams, you name it - I have done it all. Nonetheless, a resident on the other side of the high school spending sent me an e-mail stating that with regard to the PTA meetings “I have never seen YOU there” – more ignorance and assumptions revealed.

My Board service experiences include MLFE and Extended Day among several others. I am an advocate for education, kids and hold an MBA. Even so, my position on the high school spending has led to demonizing and criticism. There is no doubt that here in Mt. Lebanon the wheels have come off of what should be a participative governmental process, which should include healthy debate and exchange of ideas rather than stonewalling and personal attacks. Best of luck to those who are willing to throw themselves out there into the spotlight. Folks have indicated their disappointment in my decision to not run, but I have told them that I do not have a thick enough skin for it, so my decision for now is that there are many other worthwhile causes where I choose to spend time, talent and energy! Perhaps someday if things get on track that will change.

-Charlotte Stephenson

March 22, 2011 12:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very well said Rob.

Add me to the list as well. I've been pushed and poked by friends and neighbors for months to run for the soon to be vacant 1st Ward Commissioner's seat.

I was pretty close to giving it a go when my law partner showed me an unsolicited email that he had received from a Lebo resident regarding something that I had posted on a Lebo blog. It's important to note that my partner who received the email didn't know the sender, nor does he even live in Lebo. The email was intended solely to damage my career or at least to tarnish my position within the Firm. Not surprisingly, this resident never tried to contact me personally about my opinions.

Almost immediately thereafter I decided not to run . . . not because I'm afraid of the obnoxious minority, but as Ms. Stephenson noted, I simply would prefer to spend my energy focusing on something positive. It is indeed unfortunate because deep down it annoys the hell out of me to think that a few irrelevant voices have ruined the process and perhaps even the potential for improvement in our community.

However, in the end, running for office is a personal choice and my decision was based entirely on my desire to focus my time and attention (and my family’s time and attention) on those activities and causes that involve fewer malcontents and offer more positive outcomes.

Dave Franklin

March 22, 2011 12:25 PM  
Blogger Bill Matthews said...

When Rob ran for school board I supported his candidacy not because I necessarily agreed with his path forward, but because 1) I think we shared some values for the Community, 2) my impression was Rob would listen and 3) most importantly, he would listen even harder when we did not agree.

Last night at the school board meeting there were a couple references to communication challenges facing the board and district. The specifics are irrelevant.

Over the last 25 years, I would need more than my fingers and toes to count the number of times communication was identified as the "problem."

Dealing with this elephant in the room is not that hard.

See #1, #2 and #3 above.

Ditto: Charlotte and Dave

March 22, 2011 4:33 PM  
Anonymous John Kendrick said...

Mr Franklin,

Do you mean repeating rumors about people that are not true?


March 22, 2011 4:42 PM  
Anonymous John Kendrick said...

Well, in my opinion, the machine has themselves to blame for this situation. John Fernsler, a former Mt Lebanon Commissioner, a former president of the Mt Lebanon Rep Ctte, and OF COURSE A FORMER REED SMITH ATTORNEY (ew-la-la-la-la-la) warned our community about this in an editorial when he left office. John said, "Talented people aren't going to serve."

Where I disagree with Mr Franklin is the source of the malcontents. The malcontents are not those of us that exercise our opinions- they are municipal and school district employees.

I blame the machine because they do everything under their power to protect them.

March 22, 2011 6:27 PM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...

I’m going to play the devil’s advocate: Nobody “hijacked” anything: it was abandoned.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

March 22, 2011 6:59 PM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...

Update: On her Lebo Citizens blog, Elaine Gillen has responded to some of the claims in Mr. Gardner’s letter: Live and learn.

March 24, 2011 5:00 PM  
Anonymous David Brown said...

There once was a lady named Gillen,
Who said upon finding her villain:
  "The usage of cursive
  Is very subversive!"
Why can't we all just be chillin'?

March 24, 2011 8:28 PM  
Blogger Matt C. Wilson said...

There once was a fella' named Brown
whose distaste for pretense was renowned.
   Said he: "This is whack!
   Unsupported by facts!"
To the posters from all over town.

March 24, 2011 10:46 PM  
Blogger Matt C. Wilson said...

Couldn't help myself. :) Thanks Dave.

For what it's worth - I agree with the sentiment that the barriers to entry for the politically inclined should be as low as possible. Aversion to public castigation, if it's a barrier for potential candidates, is certainly having a chilling effect on politics.

That being said, two points. One - politics is an inherently contentious thing, and some degree of public criticism is to be expected. Two - like it or not, minutia like petition signature repudiation is par for the course these days in political contests. It is a legitimate avenue that's in place to prevent someone from falsifying their way into an apparent community endorsement. It happens all the time, so I'm not sure that the histrionic tone is warranted.

Legitimate candidates and their faithful supporters should have no trouble doing the (admittedly persnickety) due diligence in completing the petition. And if they do, these kinds of challenges won't pose any threat.

March 24, 2011 11:20 PM  
Anonymous David Brown said...

LOL, I love it! Bravo, Matt!

For what it's worth, I know it's done. I wasn't too pleased to hear about my own party spending a lot of money trying to knock out Green party candidates at the state level a few years back.

March 25, 2011 12:10 AM  
Blogger Matt C. Wilson said...

Glad you enjoyed it :)

Yeah - don't get me wrong. I think it's the sort of thing that is a necessary evil to prevent fraud that can (and often does) end up getting abused.

But, doing the legwork on this, Elaine's challenge that one of the petitioners is from Castle Shannon is accurate.

March 25, 2011 10:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wanted to add a different perspective to this conversation as I feel it is an important one. As a sitting elected official, who has certainly raised the ire of many, I can tell you that the criticisms are overblown. That is not to say that a few individuals haven't been singled out for abuse by vicious and vile minority of our residents. I have had a couple people question my character directly and a few more do so behind my back. Just lie in every other facet of life you cannot live trying to make everyone else happy.

When Matt Kluck was lambasted for his town hall meeting I defended him because I know him to be a man of character. I also continue to laugh with him about some of the more original signs (what the Kluck is by far the commission favorite). Matt and I do what we do not for praise or recognition but because we believe that we are making a contribution to Mt. Lebanon. 99% of the time our efforts are met with support or respectful disagreement, and we can handle the other 1% of the time.

This is not true for everybody and I respect that for some the attacks are too much. I just hope that everyone continues to contribute to our town. Perhaps serving on a Board or Authority would be more acceptable to you. Maybe you could support a candidate you feel is worthy.

Or perhaps you could just keep paying attention (I realize I am preaching to the choir in this forum). As commissioners and school board members we are asked to learn and manage a great deal of information, but we cannot know everything. We bring our skill sets, education and experience and do the best we can. Attend our meetings, follow the website and ask questions. When you see issues not being addressed bring them to our attention. If you think we are wrong tell us why. If you are still not being heard talk to your neighbors and see if they agree.

We will never stop all of the rabid fools who believe political discourse involves unsupported allegations and personal attacks. But the more people who engage in civil productive debate the better the chance we have to drown out their shrill voices.

Dave Brumfield
4th Ward Commissioner

March 25, 2011 10:48 AM  
Blogger Bill Matthews said...

I am going to go out on a limb here --- but I am confident Dave meant to say:

Just like in every other facet of life you cannot live trying to make everyone else happy.

March 25, 2011 12:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As always Bill is keeping a watchful eye over things. Your edit was correct, thanks.

Dave Brumfield

March 25, 2011 3:48 PM  

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