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Editorials from around Pennsylvania

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 25, 2015 at 12:29 pm •  Published: March 25, 2015
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Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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PETTY ATTACKS ON BROWN SHOW THAT TROOPERS NEED AN OUTSIDE LEADER

It's starting to look like Gov. Tom Wolf did the right thing when he went outside the ranks of the Pennsylvania state troopers in picking someone to run the law enforcement agency.

Current and retired troopers are waging a bitter campaign against Wolf's nominee, Marcus Brown. Their reaction suggests the force harbors a clubby, insular element with the attitude that "we're the ones who run this show, not you." Left unchallenged, that kind of attitude can easily lead to abusive behavior by those whom society entrusts to use deadly force.

Is Brown the best possible candidate to bring that fresh, outsiders' perspective to the troopers? That remains to be seen.

Though he grew up in Pennsylvania, attending high school here and graduating from Penn State, some legitimate concerns have been raised from Brown's time in Maryland, where he spent most of his law enforcement career.

What's going on says a lot more about the culture within the trooper ranks than it does about Marcus Brown.

Those questions don't automatically disqualify him, nor does he deserve a free pass just because he is Gov. Wolf's choice. What Brown deserves is a fair chance, in Senate hearings, to address the legitimate concerns expressed so far.

What he does not deserve is the kind of often anonymous sniping waged by those upset at him for the bogus "offense" of deciding to wear the Pennsylvania state trooper uniform. "He didn't earn it" is his critics' refrain.

The latest example comes from Hampden Township Police Chief Steve Junkin. A retired Pennsylvania State trooper captain, Junkin went onto an anti-Brown Facebook page and posted a message that warned Brown, "I too will do everything in my power to see that you don't wear the uniform of a PSP Trooper."

Junkin's post also referred to uniformed troopers as "soldiers of the law" — evidence of a militaristic attitude that can easily lead to excessive use of force by civilian police officers. Hampden Township commissioners might want to ask themselves what sort of leader they've chosen for their police department.

In his Facebook post, Junkin asserted that the right to wear the trooper uniform is "not bestowed by gubernatorial edict but earned by being the best."

That remark suggests there's a superiority complex at work in the troopers' ranks — one that can easily feed the attitude that "Troopers can do no wrong."

Retired troopers like Junkin don't run the state troopers. Neither do the current officers. The duly elected governor of Pennsylvania is in charge, and he gets to pick who runs the state troopers, subject to veto by the state Senate. That's not an 'edict,' that's what Pennsylvania's Constitution provides.

When a symbolic matter of such little consequence stirs such vituperation toward the would-be leader of the troopers, it says a lot more about the culture within the trooper ranks than it does about Marcus Brown.

Wolf is right to challenge those parochial, self-righteous attitudes by bringing outside leadership to the Pennsylvania state troopers.

—PennLive.com

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WARNING SIGNS

Gov. Wolf's choice to head up the state police, Col. Marcus Brown, said he "acted like a father" when he removed signs critical of him near his kids' bus stop.

"The safety of my children is my highest priority," said Brown, in response to a controversy now swirling around his decision to allegedly take what did not belong to him. In fact, the 25-year law enforcement veteran could face misdemeanor charges if the Cumberland County district attorney so decides.

But while it remains unclear whether Brown will face criminal charges, it seems clear in our view that Brown acted out of spite. The same could be said of Brown's critics within the state police, which Brown now oversees on an interim basis while the state Senate weighs his candidacy for the job on a permanent basis. We suspect Brown did not increase his chances of approval with what some folks might consider a bristling overreaction that, in addition to concerns about professional comportment and possible criminality, also raises free speech issues.

That said, we get that nobody wants to be humiliated in front of their own children. Unfortunately, that possibility comes with the territory when one covets a high-profile public position.

The messages on the signs — "Marcus Brown didn't earn it!" and "Marcus Brown don't wear it!" — are related to Brown's decision to don a Pennsylvania State Police uniform even though he did not come up through the ranks. It's something the man who preceded Brown chose not to do. A former FBI investigator, not a career state cop, ex-Commissioner Frank Noonan wore a business suit at the office.

This apparently made the outsider more acceptable to a force accustomed to its commissioner rising through the ranks. And it is a formidable force. With 6,000 troopers and civilian employees, the Pennsylvania State Police is among the largest police forces in the nation, one commanding a billion-dollar annual budget. So whoever is put in charge will have a much greater chance of success if he garners the rank-and- file's respect.

To that point, Brown is former superintendent of the Maryland State Police, having spent most of his law enforcement career in the Baltimore Police Department. So he is no stranger to the legal community or Pennsylvania. Brown is a Penn State graduate, and in addition to his background in law enforcement, holds a law degree from the University of Baltimore.

Bottom line: The guy has great credentials. What he doesn't seem to have is great judgment. His alleged over-the-top swiping of signs that might have been on private property raises questions about mindset and demeanor at a time when police actions and attitudes are under scrutiny all across the nation. And his strained defense, that he was protecting his children, raises even more questions about judgment.

Brown said he "acted like a father." We think he acted out of spite, a matter senators must now weigh against Brown's strong professional and educational record. Call his actions warning signs.

— Bucks County Courier Times

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PARTNERSHIP WILL BEGIN WORK ON STATE SPANS

Pennsylvania has entered into a public-private partnership to replace its decrepit bridges.

The Department of Transportation said that Plenary Walsh Keystone Partners will begin work in May to replace more than 500 spans in deplorable condition at a cost of $900 million.

The advantage is that the contractor will use one basic design for bridges of similar size, saving taxpayers the added cost of engineering fees for each bridge. Plenary Walsh must complete work on 558 bridges in the next three years, and then will be responsible for maintaining the spans for another 25 years.

The drawback, according to Ellen Dannin, a former Penn State Law professor, could be cost over-runs and legal squabbles if Plenary Walsh does not live up to its promises in the next three decades.

That's why we weren't sold on the partnership when Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, pitched it in 2011.

PennDOT will pay the engineering group $65 million a year for 28 years, plus another $240 million in other payments, for a total outlay of $2 billion.

The funds are courtesy of Act 89, which was signed into law in 2013. The legislation put Keystone State motorists on the hook for increases in the wholesale gas tax and higher fees for vehicle registrations and specialized license plates.

Also, some traffic fines have jumped significantly.

The fees were restructured in order to raise $2.3 billion a year by 2018 to help fund the state's crumbling highway and bridge system.

We hope that the new plan provides enough funds for the work and that the Legislature does not have to revisit Act 89 in the future.

One bright spot in the entire outline is that 11 subcontractors from across the state will be involved in the undertaking.

Wozniak, of course, defended the partnership.

"PennDOT is being fiducially responsible," he said.

Rich Kirkpatrick, PennDOT press secretary, also touted the project.

"The construction cost savings from bundling and building them now outweigh the long-term interest costs," he said. "And we get the bridges replaced now instead of, in some cases, decades from now."

Call us skeptical.

— The (Johnstown) Tribune-Democrat

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PROTECTING STUDENTS: TOOMEY'S PROPOSAL DESERVES SUPPORT IN CONGRESS

If the proposal Republican Sen. Pat Toomey introduced last week sounds familiar, that's because it's the same one he pitched last year.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, aims to keep sexual predators away from school children by stepping up background checks and prohibiting schools from hiring anyone convicted of violent or sexual crimes. It also forbids school districts from recommending suspected abusers for positions in other states.

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