e CommonSense

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Should we come back?

We took DelcoTomPaine on a long hiatus because of fears for our employment, etc. So much has happened during that time! It was very hard to resist commenting on Judge Clouse's ongoing melodrama, Curt Weldon's implosion, Mike Gillen's continuing degradation of the Chester school system, etc. We contemplate a return, but we welcome your advice. Should we? Is it worth the risk? Judge Clouse steps down soon, but his successor is equally vindictive, so the perils are obvious. We like our jobs and do not want to lose them. Your thoughts please.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Paris suburb names street for Mumia Abu-Jamal

We have lots of police officers in our family and among our friends, and this disgusts us:

Paris suburb names street for Mumia Abu-Jamal

Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA - A street in a Paris suburb has been named in honor of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer.

"In France, they see him as a towering figure," said Suzanne Ross, co-chair of the Free Mumia Coalition of New York City, who was part of an April 29 ceremony to dedicate the Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal in the city of St. Denis.

Ross said the street is in the town's Human Rights district, which includes Nelson Mandela Stadium.

Abu-Jamal, a former radio reporter and member of the Black Panther party, was sentenced to death in 1982 for the shooting of 25-year-old Daniel Faulkner. He has maintained his innocence. His writings and taped speeches have made him a cause celebre among Hollywood activists, foreign politicians and some death-penalty opponents who believe he was the victim of a racist justice system.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year agreed to consider three counts of Abu-Jamal's appeal, allegations that there was racial bias in jury selection, that the prosecutor gave an improper summation and that a judge in a previous appeal was biased.

Faulkner's widow, Maureen, called the street dedication "disgusting" and urged Philadelphia residents planning a visit to Paris this summer to cancel their trips. In 2001, the Paris City Council made Abu-Jamal an honorary citizen.

"This is so unnerving for me to get this news," Faulkner said from Los Angeles, where she lives. "It's insulting to the police officers of Philadelphia that they are naming a street after a murderer."

Daniel Faulkner has been honored by a memorial plaque installed at the scene of the shooting at 13th and Locust Streets in Philadelphia.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Succession Planning

It's what every smart corporation does so that when your CEO starts to act a little funny and you think that maybe an overseas assignment - say, perhaps, to Russia - would be good for him and the company, you have his successor all spruced up and ready to go.

Some of us here at DelcoTomPaine saw Andy Reilly on Action News last week, and we all thought the same thing: the man looked - dare we say it? - downright Congressional.

Aw Shucks . . .

The folks here at DelcoTomPaine are blushing bright red, what with all the attention that Peter Porcupine is getting . . .

Editorial: What’s bugging Clouse? Who knows?

People love to gossip - especially about the famous and beautiful and those in positions of power. People like business tycoons. And movie stars. And mayors and governors. And judges.

That’s why some eyebrows were raised in the county seat when it was revealed last week that Delaware County President Judge Kenneth Clouse hired two former FBI agents to sweep the courthouse for bugs. Clouse spent something less than $2,000 to have the sleuths determine whether courthouse phones were tapped. His reason? "There was sensitive personnel information and all kinds of things that were leaked out," he said. "They were either leaked or the phones were tapped."

He also cited "confidential" information about the ongoing contempt-of-court case of jailed lawyer H. Beatty Chadwick. Clouse would not disclose what the agents found, saying only, "We’ve remedied some suspicious areas."

Clouse’s move came as a surprise to high-ranking county government officials. "This is a joke, right?" said Delaware County Council Chairman Andrew Reilly.

Reilly wasn’t laughing when he was assured it was not. After all, he’s in charge of funding the court system, and county council and Clouse have butted heads bitterly over budgets in recent years - to the point where the judge was threatening to sue for more money. While Clouse did nothing wrong in spending the money to hunt for bugs, Reilly didn’t seem happy to find out about it - from a reporter.

But why would Clouse be concerned about security in the first place?

Well, his professional and private lives have been in the spotlight for some time. He drew considerable attention as a Republican rebel and then political insider in the contentious world of Haverford Township politics.

Controversy followed him to the bench. Clouse was even the target of courthouse pickets in 2004 by those who claimed he misrepresented his marital status to avoid paying about $3,000 in real estate transfer taxes in 2002. Clouse later paid the money and an investigation by the state Attorney General’s office cleared him of any criminal wrongdoing.

Most recently, a local political blogger dubbed "Peter Porcupine" has written extensively about Clouse and the county courts system on his Web site, CommonSense. [Look, Ma! That's us!] It’s a fascinating blend of fact, rumor and speculation that’s as impossible to resist as slowing down to gawk at a car accident. That would be a fair description of the blogger’s opinion of Clouse’s tenure as president judge, by the way. [Actually, the term "train wreck" is what comes to mind.]

But everyone has opinions, right? And dealing with that is part of being a public official. Ken Clouse has certainly been one of the most interesting president judges in recent county history.

As long as he holds that post, he must know that people are going to be watching what he does and listening to what he says. And then talking about it. However distasteful that may be, it’s certainly no crime. Case dismissed.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

We're famous!

This story was on Channel 6 Action News last night!

Courthouse Conspiracy?
Judge Takes Controversial Action

May 6, 2006 - The Delaware County's top judge wants to know how sensitive information is getting out, so he's taken matters into his own hands.

Fears of espionage at the Delaware County Courthouse...now revelations that the president judge had the building swept by ex-federal agents looking for bugging devices. Judge Kenneth Clouse has confirmed paying 2 former FBI agents nearly 2-thousand dollars to see if courthouse phones were tapped. Clouse, who was not available for comment, told a hi-level county official that too much sensitive information has been leaking out.

The judge's anti-bugging operation was done without the knowledge of the county council, which controls the purse strings, but does not monitor all the court's day-to-day business.

Judge Clouse has been under fire from a county political blog, which regularly rips republicans and Clouse in particular, on cases over which he presided and has included comments about his private life. Was he trying to shut down the leaks to a blogger known as Peter Porcupine?

Chairman Reilly and the president judge have clashed before and Reilly is not ready to sign off on this use of taxpayer's money.

2 thousand dollars out of a county budget of 400 million dollars may seem like a drop in the bucket but his story about leaks does provide a window into the kind of political gamesmanship and paranoia that are legend in Delaware County.

(Copyright 2006 by Action News. All Rights Reserved.)

Friday, May 05, 2006

Does Clouse suspect that federal agents have wiretapped his chambers?

Clouse downplayed the significance of the courthouse sweep, saying, "it’s done all the time by all types of government agencies."

Hmmmm. The last time we remember hearing about a government agency sweeping for bugs, it was John Street, and he found one, because the federal government was investigating corruption in his administration, by Ron White, Cory Kemp, etc.

Kind of makes you wonder.

Question for Judge Clouse

Who leaked to William Bender the story about you having the courthouse swept for bugs?

Question for Andy Reilly

"This is a joke, right?" asked county council Chairman Andrew Reilly. "I can tell you I will be following up with him to talk about it because it does raise some concerns from my standpoint," Reilly said.

We have a concern, too. Do you think this FBI agent only swept the courthouse? With his level of paranoia, we think he probably had his house swept, too. Maybe even both of them. Or even all three of them.

Sometimes you're just paranoid...

We were taking some time off from blogging - life interferes sometimes - but this article was brought to our attention, so we think it's time to get busy again! If you have anything you would like to share with us, please email us at delcotompaine@gmail.com. Complete confidentiality assured!



By WILLIAM BENDER wbender@delcotimes.com

Acting at the behest of Delaware County President Judge Kenneth Clouse, two former FBI agents performed a sweep of the courthouse to neutralize what Clouse had deemed a security breach. It is unclear when the sweep took place, but Clouse said Thursday that the former G-men were paid less than $2,000 to determine if courthouse phones were tapped.

"There was sensitive personnel information and all kinds of things that were leaked out. They were either leaked or the phones were tapped," Clouse said.

He also cited "confidential" information concerning the case of H. Beatty Chadwick, the Main Line attorney who has been in jail for more than a decade for refusing to reveal where $2.5 million in marital assets are hidden.

Asked if the problem had been resolved, Clouse said, "As far as we know, it has been. These fellas should know what they’re doing. They’re former FBI agents."

The judge would not disclose whether any phone lines were, in fact, tapped.

"We’ve remedied some suspicious areas," he said, declining to elaborate.

The judge’s "security measure" was apparently authorized without the knowledge of county council, which provides Clouse with money to run the court system, but does not monitor all the day-to-day operations.

"It’s not something that I’ve heard of," said county Executive Director Marianne Grace.

"So Judge Clouse swept the courthouse?" county Solicitor John McBlain asked. "That’s a new one."

"This is a joke, right?" asked county council Chairman Andrew Reilly.

"I can tell you I will be following up with him to talk about it because it does raise some concerns from my standpoint," Reilly said.

Clouse would not say if he hired the agents to stop the flow of information to CommonSense (http://www.delcotompaine.blogspot.com/), a county politics blog that was launched last August. The author writes under the pseudonym Peter Porcupine.

The site is "intended to be a forum for discussing Delaware County government, and how it can be improved to the benefit of the taxpayers." It has been critical of county Republicans, particularly Clouse and his handling of the Chadwick case.

Clouse’s longtime companion, Lynn Cohen, is also a frequent topic on the site.

In 2004, the judge was targeted by courthouse demonstrators who claimed he had misrepresented his marital status to avoid paying about $3,000 in real estate transfer taxes in 2002. Clouse later paid the money and was cleared of any wrongdoing by the state attorney general’s office.

The site’s most recent posting is dated March 10 under the heading "Wedding Bells Are Ringing?" It asks, "Is it true that wedding bells will soon be ringing in the President Judge’s chambers?"

The blog’s operator did not respond to e-mail Thursday.

Clouse downplayed the significance of the courthouse sweep, saying, "it’s done all the time by all types of government agencies."

McBlain said he was not aware of any phones being checked in the adjacent government center, nor does he suspect that they are tapped.

"If somebody’s listening, they’re going to be awfully bored," he said.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Wedding Bells Are Ringing?

Is it true that wedding bells will soon be ringing in the President Judge's chambers?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

About that $440,000 house . . .

The LA Times article got me to thinking. As a Congressman, Curt Weldon earns $155,100. He and Mrs. Weldon have six kids, including some still at home, and I think he maintains some kind of home in Washington, too. So how does he afford a $440,000 house? Anybody know?

The Los Angeles Times Takes Another Look at Weldon

From the Los Angeles Times

A Small-Town Lobbyist and Her Big Connection
By Ken SilversteinTimes Staff Writer
January 28, 2006

WASHINGTON — The lobbying firm of Grimes and Young Inc. is not on K Street, famous address of some of the nation's most influential lobbyists.

In fact, Grimes and Young is about a 2 1/2 -hour drive from the halls of Congress, in politically remote Media, Pa. (pop. 5,469).

The firm has no office. It has no website. It has only one lobbyist — Cecelia Grimes. And she's a real estate agent. Her resume shows no past experience working on Capitol Hill or for the federal government.

But Grimes and Young has emerged as a niche lobbying firm with access to one powerful member of Congress — Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee.

It is not clear how a small-town real estate agent moved from selling bungalows in suburban eastern Pennsylvania to trading access and influence in the nation's capital.

But with a scandal looming over Congress since lobbyist Jack Abramoff agreed to cooperate in a federal influence peddling probe, congressional ties to lobbyists are coming under renewed scrutiny.

Grimes, 40, who calls herself a longtime family friend of Weldon's, represents firms from as far away as California with business involving one or both of Weldon's House committees. Her services typically command a $20,000 annual retainer.

Weldon has taken steps to help at least three lobby clients of Grimes and Young, records and interviews show. And the representative of another company said he was referred to Grimes by a Weldon aide who said Grimes would "help our cause."

The congressman declined to be interviewed and referred all questions to his lawyer, who denied that the aide had recommended Grimes or that Grimes received any special treatment from Weldon's office.

"She is one of hundreds, maybe thousands, of people to come into the office with ideas," said William B. Canfield. "Her ideas have to make sense before anyone would take her seriously."

It is not the first time the 10-term congressman has attracted controversy over unusually close ties to a lobbyist. In 2004, a report by The Times disclosed that Weldon's daughter landed about $1 million in lobbying contracts with foreign clients who were assisted by the congressman. A House Ethics Committee inquiry remains unfinished.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said she saw troubling similarities between the lobbying relationship Weldon had with his daughter and the one with his longtime friend.

"There is an appearance that Weldon may be using his office to benefit family or friends," said Sloan, a former federal prosecutor.

Since 2003, records show, Grimes has signed up at least eight corporate clients, four of which are located in Weldon's district. The companies are mostly small firms seeking federal defense and domestic security funding.

Grimes declined to answer written questions from The Times, e-mailed at her request.

In a brief telephone interview, however, she said clients heard about her firm through "word of mouth" and some picked her because they were unable to afford Beltway lobby shops.

She denied that her relationship to Weldon had benefited her business. Grimes said that despite a lack of Washington experience, she had lobbying skills. "It's all about networking and follow-up," she said. "My clients like my company, and that has nothing to do with Curt."

Canfield, former senior staff counsel for the Senate Ethics Committee, acknowledged that Weldon had known Grimes for "more than a decade." But he played down Weldon's ties to Grimes, whom he described as "a big-deal Realtor" and prominent figure in the congressman's district."

I suppose she said something to him at some point," Canfield said when asked if Grimes had told Weldon she intended to become a lobbyist. "Maybe it registered … maybe it didn't."

Several of the firms Grimes represents had close ties to Weldon before hiring her. Others, by virtue of being in Weldon's district or having made political contributions to his campaigns, were already acquainted with the congressman.

Anthony Mulligan, president of Advanced Ceramics Research Inc., a Tucson firm that retained Grimes, told The Times that she had done a great job lobbying the Arizona congressional delegation.

But Advanced Ceramics had other lobbyists on retainer at the same time, including a former staff aide to U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

How a little-known Pennsylvania lobbyist would significantly boost Advanced Ceramics' political influence in Arizona was not clear.

A representative from another company that has lobbied Weldon's office said a senior Weldon aide suggested the firm retain Grimes. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his company from retribution."

He didn't flat out say to hire her," the official said, recalling the aide's advice. "But he said … it would be good to have her on our side."

The company did not retain Grimes because "the situation didn't feel right," the firm's representative said.

Canfield said neither Weldon nor his aides had ever recommended that any company hire Grimes or any other lobbyist.

Congressional watchdog groups said it appeared that some companies retained Grimes not only for future access to Weldon but also to say thank you for the congressman's past support."

The only thing that she seems to be bring to the table is her relationship with Weldon," Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington watchdog group, said when told of Grimes' work as a lobbyist.

"If I were looking to hire a lobbyist, I'd want someone with experience…. There's a big difference between selling houses and selling legislation to the House."

Grimes studied computer science at Beaver College — now Arcadia University — in Glenside, Pa., from 1983 to 1985, according to a resume posted on her real estate website. She received a bachelor's degree from Neumann College in Pennsylvania, the resume says.

She obtained her real estate license in 1989, state records show, and her website describes her as a "consistent multi-million-dollar producer." She has received multiple real estate honors, the website says.

Grimes told The Times that she had known Weldon for about 15 years. "I coached one of his kids in junior high school," she said, declining to elaborate.

Weldon, 58, was first elected to Congress in 1986 and represents the mostly Republican suburbs southwest of Philadelphia — including Media, a borough that describes itself as "Everyone's Hometown."

In 2000, Grimes was listed as Weldon's real estate agent in the purchase of his $440,000 two-story home in nearby Glen Mills, documents show.

Grimes, who still works as a real estate agent, has been lobbying since March 2003, when she opened a firm initially called CC Nexus, now incorporated as Grimes and Young. Her partner is Cynthia Young, 28, a freshly minted lawyer. Young declined an interview request.

Young's husband, Robert J. Young, worked as a paid staff aide for four months on Weldon's 2004 reelection campaign. He also is the son of U.S. Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young (R-Fla.).

Among the most recent clients signed by Grimes and Young is Oto Melara, a subsidiary of Italian defense firm Finmeccanica. On June 1, the company agreed to pay Grimes $20,000 annually to lobby the House and Senate.

Oto Melara announced plans to open a new plant in Weldon's district in 2004, around the time the congressman began pressing the Navy to buy the firm's deck guns to install on new combat ships. A rival's weapon already had been selected.

Last year, Weldon supported an amendment to the defense bill requiring the Navy to study his proposal to switch deck guns, putting weapons made by Grimes' client on the next-generation of Littoral Combat Ships.Weldon also has championed Oto Melara's parent firm, Finmeccanica.

Last year, Finmeccanica's helicopter unit joined forces with Lockheed Martin Corp. to score an upset bidding victory and land a $1.6-billion contract to build the new presidential helicopter.

The Italians beat out a bid from United Technologies Corp. for its American-designed Sikorsky VH-92 to serve as Marine One, the presidential helicopter.

According to Aviation Week & Space Technology, a defense industry trade publication, Weldon was a key backer of Finmeccanica's winning bid.

Oto Melara officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Advanced Ceramics Research has retained Grimes since September 2003 to seek defense funding from the House and the Office of Naval Research.

Mulligan, president of the Tucson company, said Grimes initially contacted him because one of her clients did business with his firm. Mulligan liked Grimes, he said, and hired her.

"We're always getting beat up by bigger [defense] firms that have a lot of generals on their payroll," he said, explaining his decision to hire Grimes and other lobbyists.

Mulligan said that he was unaware Grimes knew Weldon at the time and that he hired her because he "thought she was bright and had the ability to find things out." He said Grimes subsequently introduced him to Weldon, with whom he has met about half a dozen times.

Since August 2004, Mulligan and another Advanced Ceramics executive have donated $4,000 to Weldon's political coffers.

Some of that money was contributed at a fundraiser for Weldon that Grimes hosted at her home in Media. The event raised $8,050 for the congressman's 2004 reelection campaign, with two other Grimes and Young clients making donations, in addition to Advanced Ceramics.

Mulligan said Grimes lobbied about a dozen members of Congress, including Weldon, to help secure a $3-million contract in 2005. The ceramic tools project was the firm's first successful bid for funding in a defense appropriations bill.

While Advanced Ceramics was paying Grimes to lobby for that project, Weldon went to bat for another of the firm's products, unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. The congressman twice invited Mulligan to appear before the House tactical air and land forces subcommittee, which Weldon chairs.

Weldon praised Mulligan publicly, congratulating him for his "outstanding testimony and outstanding products."

Advanced Ceramics has since won a combined $43.5 million in Navy contracts and congressional funding for its UAVs. About $5 million came from the Naval Air Systems Command, an agency overseen by Weldon's subcommittee.

Mulligan said Grimes never lobbied for the UAV program.

An earlier client for Grimes was FSI Energy Inc. of Bryn Mawr, Pa. The firm is developing an ambitious natural gas project linking gas fields in Russia to North and South Korea and Japan. The massive KoRus pipeline project is backed by Weldon.

The congressman was a leading advocate for the project before his real estate agent friend signed on to represent FSI in June 2003. Five months earlier, he and John Fetter, president of FSI, had promoted the project at an energy conference in Washington.

Fetter said he was aware that Grimes knew Weldon and that "she has worked with him and done a lot of liaison work for companies doing business with the government, trying to help them get things through the system."

He praised Grimes, saying she helped set up meetings for him in Washington. "I've paid people more than I paid Miss Grimes and got more out of her," he said. "She was able to set things up that were timely and productive."

Fetter said he hired Grimes at the recommendation of Frank Rapoport, a Washington lobbyist also retained by FSI.

Rapoport is a longtime political ally of Weldon's and a periodic contributor to the congressman's campaigns. Last year, the two traveled together to Moscow for the first U.S.-Russia Homeland Security Trade Mission.

Rapoport declined to say why he recommended Grimes to Fetter, citing attorney-client privilege.