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January 19, 2013

John K. Manna: Governor leaves lots of questions with YDC closure

NEW CASTLE — Under Pennsylvania’s constitution, the governor has supreme executive power.

With that power, the governor can run state departments under his jurisdiction as he sees fit without legislative approval. Thus, his decision to close the New Castle Youth Development Center by Feb. 15, affecting 223 employees, falls within the scope of his powers.

However, the manner in which the announcement of the closing was made this week in a press release and the timing raises some questions.

Local state legislators who have been lobbying to keep the facility open were caught by surprise, not that the YDC could be closed, but by the timing. State Rep. Jaret Gibbons said he was notified of the closing around 9 a.m. Tuesday, about the same time that the Department of Public Welfare began moving juveniles from the YDC to similar facilities in the state.

In an attempt to prevent the closing, Gibbons and state Rep. Chris Sainato sent a letter in August to the acting director of the bureau that oversees youth development centers, seeking a meeting to discuss options to make the local facility competitive with other facilities in the state.

Gibbons said he had a meeting scheduled with the department in December, but it was canceled at the last minute.

He acknowledged that the Legislature doesn’t have much control when it comes to such matters. However, shouldn’t the administration have shown some professional courtesy by informing legislators of its decision well before Tuesday?

It sort of resembles the Colts football organization not providing any warning to the city of Baltimore when it left for Indianapolis in the middle of the night in 1984.

Perhaps closing the facility is the right thing to do, but no reasons were given as to why this is the best decision except to say what the cost has been to taxpayers. How does the cost compare to other youth development centers in the state?

What is most striking about the press release is that no mention of the YDC closing is made until the sixth paragraph. The emphasis is on a new plan to prevent at-risk youth from becoming offenders.

The release also talks about the 223 YDC employees and information being provided to them concerning unemployment benefits, availability of health care insurance through COBRA and services to help them “become re-employed quickly.”

Corbett said the state is committed to “minimizing the impacts to the residents of Lawrence County through a strong re-employment and economic development plan that will continue to provide jobs for those in the surrounding region.”

So, the administration is eliminating jobs here, but will come up with a plan to create new jobs. What is the possibility of that happening?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to improve conditions at the local YDC to retain the current employees? To me, that’s an economic development plan.

Lots of questions, but so far few answers.

 

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