Bailiwick News - May 28, 2020

Law & Order: COG. Rule of law v. rule of men; regional park loan report. Non-fiction.

Introduction

According to Centre Region Council of Governments (COG) Finance Director Joe Viglione, he spoke with solicitor Terry Williams, who simultaneously represents COG, State College Borough and the Centre Region Parks and Recreation Authority, in the morning of May 21.

Viglione reported to the Parks Authority board, at its noon meeting that same day, that Williams saw no legal problems with the May 19 COG Executive Committee vote on the sixth modification of the 2011 regional parks loan; that vote was covered in the May 20 edition of Bailiwick News.

Viglione added that the COG Finance Committee had also reviewed the loan modification plan (on May 14) and recommended Executive Committee, or General Forum, whichever, "endorse" it.

Viglione also told the Parks Authority that Williams advised them to retroactively describe the Executive Committee action as a "recommendation" when voting on their own measure, rather than call it an "endorsement."

Thus, on May 21, the Parks Authority board voted to approve their own resolution to execute the loan modification, and along with COG staff "authorized" by Executive Committee, will sign the paperwork on or before June 1.

Despite the legal messiness of regional parks planning and financing, especially since the 2013 merger of two formerly distinct regional parks entities, the COG Finance Committee, Executive Committee and Parks Authority members are probably reading the civic room correctly by barreling ahead.

Municipal boards haven't put up a struggle as their powers have been seized by the COG staff and Parks Authority over the last ten years, and they're unlikely to start now. 

With one notable exception (Laura Dininni of Ferguson Township) municipal legislators have demonstrated frighteningly little interest in the rule of law and adherence to documented governance procedures, preferring the more flexible rule of men making it up on the fly and rationalizing it after the fact, Williams-style. 

If local history is a guide, the shady folk have no reason to fear an end to their games anytime soon. Dininni has pretty much been alone among her peers in her views on good governance, and even more alone in her willingness to translate those views into motions and votes.

Private citizens are even less likely to have the appetite or money to pursue direct action or litigation on their own. 

Why is Fulton Bank willing to accept such shoddy procedures as sufficient legal backing for the loan? I don't know, but the $1.4 million or so in profit from tax-backed interest payments probably eases any discomfort.

See below for reporting, analysis and some options in case there are newly-elected local representatives interested in charting a different course.

May 14 COG Finance Committee meeting

The COG Finance Committee met by Zoom on May 14. The 2020 members are Evan Myers (State College), Rich Francke (College), Steve Miller (Ferguson), Bud Graham (Harris), Dan Trevino (Patton) and Patti Hartle (Halfmoon). 

Viglione gave a presentation, saying that "the refinancing costs were assumed to be less than $4,000," with $2,500 for Jens Damgaard as bond counsel, and $500 to Fulton Bank for a "loan modification fee." He said staff put in another $1,000 for contingencies.

Miller asked why the loan modification cost didn't include a fee for COG's financial advisor, Chris Gibbons. Gibbons said he was not taking payment for his services, because he agreed to only collect a fee if the transaction saved COG money, and this transaction wouldn't save COG any money when compared to leaving the existing, fifth loan modification agreement in place.

Viglione told Finance Committee said that there were two possible paths forward depending on whether Executive Committee on May 19 "felt comfortable making the decision independently or whether they feel we should have a General Forum meeting to make the endorsement."

Viglione and Gibbons also mentioned the option to try to refinance the loan on the open market later, looking for a better deal than Fulton Bank's offer.

Reading from the agenda prepared by staff, Trevino moved, “that the Finance Committee recommends to the Executive Committee that they endorse the Centre Region Parks and Recreation Authority to action to amend the loan with Fulton Bank to extend the final draw date from June 1, 2020 to June 1, 2022 and extend the fixed term of the loan from December 1, 2022 to December 1, 2024 at a rate of 2.59%.”  

Graham seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously on voice vote. 

The Finance Committee immediately moved into a "financial scenario" update from staff about COVID-19's local economic impacts, including a report from COG agency directors about steps they've already taken or are considering to cut expenses. Budget divisions covered in the report included Fire and Emergency Management, Schlow Library, Parks Operating, Parks Capital, Regional Parks, Aquatics, Pools Capital, Millbrook Marsh Nature Center Operating, Millbrook Marsh Nature Center Capital, Active Adult Center, Planning/Centre County Metropolitan Planning Organization, Code Enforcement, and Administration.

The report concluded: "COG staff and the elected officials need to be very cognizant of two decisions that could create future funding gaps. One is the utilization of one-time dollars to offset ongoing expenses (such as the usage of fund balance to pay wages). The other is the reduction in capital funding or the delaying of capital projects that will create an even larger hole than currently existing in the long-term capital plan at the COG." (Emphasis added).

According to the 2020-2024 COG Capital Improvement Program plan adopted during last year's budget cycle, almost 50% of COG's capital expenditures for the next five years will go toward new construction at Whitehall Road Regional Park ($2,975,000 in 2020, from the Fulton Bank regional parks loan) and at Millbrook Marsh Nature Center (2,348,130 in 2021), far outstripping planned spending to maintain existing firefighting and emergency services buildings and vehicle fleets, and library facilities.

Under Viglione's gentle tutelage, the committee members indicated a desire to defer budget-cutting decisions until later, after finding out what Penn State plans to do. 

May 19 COG Executive Committee meeting 

The COG Executive Committee met by Zoom on May 19. The 2020 members include Elliot Abrams (Patton), Jesse Barlow (State College), Anthony Fragola (College), Steve Miller (Ferguson), Nigel Wilson (Harris), and Danelle Del Corso (Halfmoon).

The two key issues on the agenda were 1) whether to extend the Executive Committee's COVID-19 emergency powers or reconvene General Forum, and 2) whether to "ask" that the Parks Authority execute a sixth modification of the regional parks loan originally authorized and guaranteed by each participating municipality by unit vote in April 2011.

After zero discussion, Barlow moved to extend the Executive Committee's COVID-19 emergency authority and keep General Forum out of session "until June 16 or until the Executive Committee deems necessary."  Del Corso seconded and the committee voted unanimously (voice vote) to cancel the May 25 General Forum meeting and keep its own emergency powers in place indefinitely.

After zero discussion, Del Corso read from the agenda, a motion prepared by staff, “that the Executive Committee, on behalf of the General Forum and as recommended by the Finance Committee, adopt Resolution 2020-4 asking the Centre Region Parks and Recreation Authority to modify the regional parks construction loan with Fulton Bank in accordance with its proposal.” 

Miller seconded Del Corso's motion. The committee voted unanimously by voice vote to approve the resolution.

After this Executive Committee vote, I forwarded information about several legal problems to the committee members, COG staff, Parks Authority board and State College Borough Council. 

I pointed out that the original emergency powers resolution (2020-3) adopted March 16, 2020 stated the COG General Forum "hereby authorizes the Executive Committee to act on its behalf except for decisions involving a unanimous vote of the General Forum..." (emphasis added) and that under the 2006 Joint Articles of Agreement for the Planning, Development and Operation of Regional Parks, financial obligation votes require a unanimous vote of the participating municipalities in the General Forum, so the regional parks loan vote was specifically excluded from the special powers delegated to the Executive Committee during the COVID-19 emergency.

I pointed out that the April 7, 2020 amendment to the emergency declaration limited Executive Committee's powers to those "as may be required to meet the emergency," and that modification of a loan for new construction of a regional park is not a COVID-related emergency.

I also pointed out that the Executive Committee motion was made by Danelle Del Corso, the Halfmoon Township representative, who was ineligible to move or vote on regional parks matters, because Halfmoon Township doesn't participate in regional parks programs.

May 21 Centre Region Parks and Recreation Authority board meeting report

The Parks Authority board met by Zoom at noon on May 21. The 2020 members include Kathy Matason, Chair (College); Tom Daubert (State College); Cindy Solic (Patton); Bill Keough (Ferguson); Diane Ishler (Harris) and Shannon Messick (SCASD).

On the Whitehall Road Regional Park loan amendment agenda item, Finance Director Viglione told the Parks Authority board he had spoken earlier that day with Terry Williams, who serves simultaneously as solicitor for the Parks Authority (borrower), Borough of State College (one of five individual municipalities guaranteeing the loan with current and future tax revenue) and COG (intergovernmental coordinating organization), about the potential legal problems.

Viglione said Williams had suggested change in the Parks Authority resolution's wording from "as endorsed" to "as recommended" by COG Executive Committee.

When asked about sending the matter to General Forum for a unanimous unit vote, Viglione said "I don't see that as a necessary step," and said that the Executive Committee action was "a recommendation," it was "just advisory," and that it was "the same process" as that used in 2017. Viglione opined that "to require a unanimous vote now would require a unanimous vote in 2017."

COG Executive Director Eric Norenberg told the Parks Authority board that Williams had also said the parliamentary glitch in Executive Committee (motion and vote by Halfmoon's Danelle Del Corso) was not invalidating, because the eventual voice vote was unanimous. Norenberg repeated the claim that the "action by Executive Committee was more of an advisory recommendation," on a loan modification which modified the loan by extending the final draw date two years and the fixed interest term by two years without "materially" changing its terms, and therefore didn't require a unanimous General Forum vote.

Ferguson Township Supervisor Laura Dininni, also on the Zoom meeting, pointed out to the Parks Authority board, Viglione and Norenberg, that since the May 2017 General Forum unanimous unit vote, the General Forum had adopted "Special Rules of Order for Unit Votes" in May 2019, which formalized and documented the previously informal, unwritten procedural framework.

The regional parks loan modification falls under two of the three types of unit votes covered by the new Special Rules. 

Type I includes "Unit Votes That Are Required by COG Articles of Agreement." These are "actions requiring unanimous votes of all the COG municipalities includ[ing] borrowing, real estate transactions, and proposals to revise Articles of Agreement." 

Type III includes "Unit Votes Requiring Adoption of Municipal Ordinances or Plans." These are matters such as "municipal loan guarantees, adoption of municipal ordinances and changes to the Act 537 Sewage Facilities Plan or the Regional Growth Boundary." 

During the Parks Authority meeting May 21, Viglione and Norenberg did not report on solicitor Williams' legal analysis, if any, on the applicability of the Special Rules of Order for Unit Votes; on the improper use of "emergency" Executive Committee power for a matter requiring a unanimous vote under the Joint Articles of Agreement; or on the improper use of "emergency" Executive Committee power for a matter unrelated to the COVID-19 emergency.

After minimal discussion, Ferguson Township Parks Authority Representative Bill Keough read from the staff-prepared agenda to move: “via Resolution 2020-05-21-01, the Centre Region Parks and Recreation Authority approves the loan amendment with Fulton Bank to extend the final draw date from June 1, 2020 to June 1, 2022 and to extend the fixed period of the loan from December 1, 2022 to December 1, 2024 as endorsed recommended by the COG Executive Committee, and furthermore authorizes staff and its fellow board members to complete all the necessary paperwork associated with amending the loan.”

Patton Township representative Cindy Solic seconded, and the measure was approved unanimously by voice vote.

The legal mess

I won't assemble specific quotes from documents here, because I've done it in prior reporting and public comments, and because without a challenge mounted by a municipality acting on behalf of its own citizens, there's no point. The information below would serve as a useful outline for anyone in the future attempting to build such a case.

Suffice to say: legally-significant differences in resolution language; voting, vote-observation and vote-recording procedures; authorization mechanisms and legal relationships between municipalities, municipal authorities and intergovernmental cooperative organizations, can be traced from the November 27, 2006 CRCOG Joint Articles of Agreement for the Planning, Development and Operation of Regional Parks, through the April 25, 2011 General Forum vote and separate municipal unit votes, to the June 1, 2011 signatories on the "Guaranty Agreement By and Among Borough of State College, Township of College, Township of Ferguson, Township of Harris, Township of Patton, Severally (and not on a joint basis), as Guarantors and Centre Region Recreation Authority and Fulton Bank, National Association, as Lender." (Emphasis added.)

Thence to the voting procedures on the Bond and Loan Modification Agreement (November 2011), Second Bond and Loan Modification Agreement (December 2012), merger of the Centre Regional Recreation Authority and Centre Region Parks and Recreation Board to create the new legal entity Centre Region Parks and Recreation Authority (February 2013), Third Bond and Loan Modification Agreement (May 2014), Fourth Bond and Loan Modification Agreement (November 2015), "ad hoc working group" discussions of master plan amendments and project phasing (Jan. to April 2017); and Fifth Bond and Loan Modification Agreement (May 2017).

Thence to WRRP master plan design and budget changes (August 2018); General Forum votes on providing an easement to facilitate Toll Brothers construction of a sewage pit and pumping system on park land (December 2018); Special Rules for Unit Votes adopted in May 2019; and the Declaration of Disaster Emergency adopted in March 2020 and revised in April 2020.

And now to the Sixth Bond and Loan Modification Agreement (May 2020), whose closing agenda lists a "maximum principal amount" of $6,611,300 and a stipulation "that Authority and COG each deliver a Resolution authorizing and approving the Sixth Modification Agreement." (Emphasis added.)

Viewed holistically, it's a sick joke on representative government, leaving legal holes through which one could throw a 100-acre parcel of farmland. 

2020 Legal problems, summarized.

A. Terry Williams has an insurmountable conflict of interest when providing legal counsel as solicitor to three different parties in a single financial transaction, but provided legal advice anyway, upon which multiple parties relied in casting votes.

B. The 2006 Articles of Agreement require unanimous votes by participating municipalities authorizing financing mechanisms and project plans, but since the municipal signing of the original June 1, 2011 Guaranty Agreement, Loan Agreement and Participation Agreement, COG staff, solicitor Williams and the Parks Authority board have, on multiple occasions, improperly withheld information and authorization decisions from General Forum, or have improperly induced General Forum to cast votes framed as merely "advisory."

C. Viglione, citing solicitor Williams' legal opinion, drew a false equivalency between the 2017 General Forum vote and the 2020 Executive Committee vote, calling them "the same process." In May 2017, a majority of each of the five participating municipalities, acting through unit votes convened during a full General Forum meeting, approved resolutions "asking" the Parks Authority to execute the loan modification. Within the 2017 unit votes, two State College Council members voted "no" and two Ferguson Township supervisors voted "no," but their "no" votes did not achieve a simple majority on either board. In contrast, in May 2020, a majority of six Executive Committee members voted to "ask" the Parks Authority to execute a loan modification, overstepping its own legal authority under the COVID-19 emergency declaration, improperly depriving General Forum and the participating municipalities of the unit vote process they used in May 2017.

D. The May 2019 Special Rules of Order for Unit Votes require unanimous unit votes for "borrowing and real estate transactions" and for "municipal loan guarantees." The 2019 Special Rules make the Executive Committee's 2020 participation in Parks Authority's power grab even more egregious than the General Forum's 2017 flaccid unit vote.

E. The March 2020 emergency powers resolution limited Executive Committee power to matters that don't require unanimous unit votes and the April 2020 amendment limited Executive Committee power to matters directly related to the COVID-emergency. On both grounds, loan modification for new construction fails to qualify for unilateral Executive Committee action.

F. The June 1, 2020 Loan Modification agenda stipulates that the Parks "Authority and COG each deliver a Resolution authorizing and approving the Sixth Modification Agreement." The COG has not yet passed a resolution, in General Forum, by unanimous unit vote, "authorizing and approving the Sixth Modification Agreement," so there's no such resolution available for delivery to Fulton Bank. 

Analysis

The best evidence that a proper General Forum unit vote actually matters, is that Parks Authority Chair Kathy Matason mentioned the time pressure involved as a reason not to wait until General Forum reconvenes. Without an official record of some form or proxy of the COG legislature voting about loan modification as cover for signing the documents with Fulton Bank on or before June 1, the existing loan terms would stand as they are, unchanged from the 2017 version. [My own sense of urgency is driven by the knowledge that once the land is graded for a park, the topsoil is gone, permanently unavailable for local food production, and in my view, protection of local food production capacity is a very high community priority.] 

Put a different way, if Parks Authority didn't need some imprimatur of approval by participating municipalities committing tax revenue as loan collateral, to provide that record to Fulton Bank, then Parks Authority and COG staff wouldn't bother running any measures at all, however weak and legally unsound, through the Finance Committee, Executive Committee or (in past years) General Forum. 

Put a third way: the internal contradiction at the heart of the whole thing is that municipal legal authorization is treated as simultaneously essential and irrelevant.

Why mess around with variable voting procedures and water down the wording from "authorize" to "ask?"

Because COG staff and Parks Authority board are not confident they can get a unanimous unit vote supporting the park project anymore, so they are taking ever more drastic steps to prevent the question from being considered by General Forum at all. 

The lack of confidence is well-founded. Municipal appetite for the project and the debt has been waning. Resistance has risen from one "no" vote at General Forum on loan modification in 2015 (George Downsbrough in Patton Township), to Patton Township's October 2016 letter confirming its intent to honor the original funding obligation, objecting to the Parks Authority's unilateral revision of the master plan, notifying all parties that no additional regional parks funding would be made available from Patton taxpayers, and notifying all parties that the township was prepared to withdraw from the 2006 Joint Articles of Agreement "to prevent misappropriation of Township funds."

Then in May 2017, resistance grew to four "No" votes on loan modification at General Forum in 2017 (Janet Engeman and David Brown of State College, and Laura Dininni and Peter Buckland of Ferguson Township). 

Some fun options 

If presented to a court, any combination of the legal issues raised above would likely invalidate the sequence of COG Executive Committee and Parks Authority votes and void the 2020 loan modification agreement.

Back in 2017, I notified COG I planned to sue over the General Forum votes, citing many of the same legal problems. I quickly abandoned the litigation because I realized it was nonsensical for a private citizen to spend private funds to enforce the exclusive taxation authority of a Borough Council that had no interest in retaining and exercising its own authority, and preferred to unlawfully transfer and delegate that authority to the COG staff and the Parks Authority board.

I find myself in the same situation now: three years older and a scintilla more resigned to the incessant, wearing drip of political corruption running through government offices.

Even so, there are interesting possibilities. Two entities have openings to stop the park, protect the farmland and water, and save taxpayer money: State College Borough Council and Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors, which both meet on June 1.

At their June 1 meetings, the members could take municipal action calling out the Parks Authority's breach of the 2006 contract, and the Executive Committee's breach of the 2019 Special Rules for Unit Votes and 2020 COVID emergency declaration. 

They could adopt resolutions finding that the pandemic's battering of federal, state and local tax receipts and business activity, and the low likelihood of a rapid full recovery, triggers force majeure or frustration of contracts doctrines, and gives municipal governments grounds to withdraw from the loan contract.

If either municipality votes for withdrawal, the Parks Authority board then could avoid a lawsuit (something its members frequently claim they want to avoid) by accepting the municipal withdrawals, instead of challenging the withdrawals in court.

Successful withdrawals would save State College taxpayers at least $1.5 million and Ferguson Township taxpayers at least $1.7 million. It could also get regional taxpayers off the hook for projected Whitehall Road Regional Park operations expenses of $234,000 per year post-construction of Phase 1 (estimate from the 2010 WRRP Master Plan). 

If Parks Authority and COG Executive Committee decided to sue State College, then Borough Council would have to decide whether to fight it out, or revoke the withdrawal letter and pay the ransom debt payments and annual park operations costs over the next 10-plus years.

Borough Council and Ferguson supervisors can also do nothing, letting Parks Authority and Executive Committee usurpation of political power and misallocation of citizens' tax revenue continue unchallenged.

Curiouser and curiouser

After watching Finance Committee's May 14 meeting, in which a $6.3 million loan endorsement for an unbuilt, unneeded park was immediately followed by a hollow discussion of the local economic crisis wrought by COVID-19 shutdowns, I got to wondering.

I wondered: "Just how stupid are the Finance Committee members, and Executive Committee and Parks Authority board members?" 

Do they really not understand the economic predicament of too many public expenses piled up against not-enough tax revenue?

Or do they share the popular hallucination that the Federal Reserve and other central banks can print infinite 'dollars' out of thin air without inflating asset bubbles and devaluing currencies, such that 'money' and 'debt' impose no intrinsic limits? 

If that hallucination were instead an accurate depiction of economic reality, then we could all stop working to provide goods and services to each other, stop paying each other for goods and services, stop paying all taxes (hooray!), default on every loan, and still have all have all the free stuff we want forever.

That hallucination is not an accurate depiction of economic reality. 

It's a fever dream of insanity, from which some of us woke up years ago around the time of the 2008 Great Financial Crisis or even earlier. Others woke up late last summer with the repo crisis, and even more woke up this spring from the COVID-19 economic shutdown.

Interested in hearing from committee members their personal views of these matters, I sent them each a list of questions on May 24 and asked for written responses by 5 p.m. May 26, for inclusion in this report. 

Questions included: 

1. As elected municipal officials, do you regard COG governing documents such as COG articles of agreement (for example, those related to the financing and planning of regional parks, adopted Nov. 27, 2006); the "Special Rules for Unit Votes" adopted in May 2019, and the emergency power-transfer resolution adopted in March 2020, as clearly-written, legally-binding, cognizable contracts entailing legal and financial penalties for violations of terms, or as ambiguously-written, non-binding suggestions?

2. As elected municipal officials, do you believe you owe a cognizable fiduciary, legal duty toward the Centre Region taxpayers, to protect, properly spend and account for taxpayer money submitted to COG municipalities and passed through to COG to support COG programs?

3. As elected municipal officials, do you distinguish between essential and discretionary spending in making your financial recommendations and casting budgetary votes, and if so, which current and pending public services and projects do you place under each category? 

4. As elected municipal officials, how do you reconcile your votes (on May 14 for Finance Committee members, and May 19 for Executive Committee members) in favor of moving forward the debt-funded multimillion-dollar new construction project at Whitehall Road Regional Park, with the following ongoing public disclosures by governments, corporations and school districts about COVID-19 impacts on public budgets:

a)     Pennsylvania is anticipating at least a $4 billion loss, has already started laying off state workers and freezing paychecks, and is preparing other budget cutting steps;

b)     Penn State is anticipating at least a $260 million loss, has announced planned layoffs and deferred capital projects, and has directed all units to prepare plans for 5%, 10% and 15% budget cuts;

c)      The State College Area School District is anticipating at least a $9.6 million loss, is negotiating salary freezes, has announced a hiring freeze, and is deferring capital projects;

d)     Centre County government has furloughed employees, reduced staff hours and frozen hiring in response to already-incurred financial impacts; 

e)     COG has already started furloughing Schlow Library staff, anticipates additional furloughs and service cuts, and went into the current crisis already burdened with a large "hole" in its long-term capital plan (according to p. 7 of Attachment 05A, "Financial Scenarios" from May 14 Finance Committee agenda, attached.)

f)      In mid-April, the Borough of State College Finance Director projected at least a $1.7 million loss from COVID-19 by the end of May, and in mid-May, he reported an already-confirmed $573,000 loss through the end of April.

In your responses to question 4, please address your personal views of whether the Centre County economy will fully recover to pre-COVID employment and economic activity levels, from the COVID-19 losses, and if so, how long you believe it will take for full recovery to occur.

I received only one response, from Patton Township supervisor Elliot Abrams, reprinted verbatim:

"1. They are fine

2. Of course

3. Yes

4. They are in line with what makes sense:  refinancing an already existing loan at a money-saving interest rate.

It is reasonable for me to charge a fee for work done that is not required by the taxpayers. Any donation you make will be given to COG,

Elliot Abrams"

Abrams' response is incomplete and also a bit incoherent. 

The other elected representatives indicated, by stony silence, that they don't think the public deserves to know their thoughts on these questions.

None want to be on public record with a view on whether COG citizens live under rule of law or rule of men, whether elected representatives have a legal fiduciary duty to taxpayers, whether some public programs are more essential than others, or why they voted to plow ahead by extending a 9-year-old new construction loan during a pandemic-lockdown-triggered economic crash while furloughs and business closures roil around them. 

They likely can't remember a time - about 25 years ago in my own journalism career - when local reporters routinely asked such questions and politicians fully expected that "going on the record" was part of the job, enabling citizens to check voting action against verbal commitments.

None believe there will be any social or political consequence for their silence. 

In that belief, they are correct, at least until more angry citizens decide to call them, email them, write them letters and show up at their meetings to speak, and challenge them for their seats come election time.

Conclusion

I think that if we lived in a society governed by laws, and not men, governance documents and contracts would be legally binding and officials would adhere to their terms without evasion.

I think that elected representatives owe citizens a fiduciary duty to prevent misallocation of public funds.

I think water supply, sanitary sewer operations, firefighting, ambulance and police services, basic bus transportation and trash collection, basic tax collection and bookkeeping are essential government activities that should be protected first during hard economic times like the one we're in now. 

I think new park development, investment and debt management, urban planning and general administration are discretionary, and in hard economic times like these, should be abandoned first.  

I don't think votes to advance new construction of recreational facilities can be reconciled with a clear-eyed assessment of the current economic crisis, and I don't think Penn State enrollment, local employment, economic activity and tourism will recover to the levels that existed before the repo crisis of Fall 2019 and the COVID lockdowns of Spring 2020. 

I think it will take at least four of five years just to stabilize the local economy at a new, lower level of complexity, characterized by lower Penn State enrollment and employment, smaller local government, more local food production, a little more light manufacturing, and a local currency to buffer our local economic activity against the dwindling purchasing power of the U.S. dollar. 

As a State College inhabitant, I'd like to see Council try to withdraw from the Whitehall Road Regional Park project, to protect their own legislative autonomy and credibility, save taxpayer money, and open a path toward future low-cost use of the 100 acres for water conservation, local food production and pollinator habitat, instead of parking lots, roads and soccer fields.

But I'll be okay if they pass up yet another reform opportunity.

Their inaction will provide another great example of the illegitimacy and corruption of local government institutions. If a global pandemic, 40 million Americans thrown out of work, a $430 billion concurrent increase in the net worth of billionaires and another multi-trillion-dollar spike in "assets" held by the Federal Reserve can't convince a simple majority of State College Council members to use their power to set a new economic direction for this community, that's useful information for informed citizens to have about the trustworthiness and competence of our elected representatives.