October 4, 2011 |

Rep. Wheatley talks over local issues

State Representative Jake Wheatley said he feels some residents don't know exactly what he does and what services his office provides.

"I have received e-mails asking me to vote for the President's job bill. I don't have a vote on the job bill," he said at a meeting of the Allentown Community Development Corporation he hosted on Sept. 22.

"Most people call us on PennDot issues, on renewing their driver's license, or, on a broader issue, when they are trying for capital development and there are gaps in financing. We provide free notary public and we can tell you how I vote on a bill.

"We will address any issue you call about or we'll find someone to address it…It doesn't matter who you start out with. At the end of the day we are all here to serve you," Mr. Wheatley said.

The format that night was slightly different than most ACDC meetings as participants were encouraged to ask questions and to engage in a town hall discussion of concerns with Mr. Wheatley.

"I need the help of the state legislature," City Councilman Bruce Kraus told him. He said he was worried about several issues: nonprofit entities such as UPMC not paying taxes; a commuter tax he would like to see levied on the workers who don't live in the city, but use its services on a daily basis; the strong need for public safety on the Hilltop; and, all the liquor licenses issued to bars on South Side.

"I have no power to control these things. The state holds all the cards," Mr. Kraus said. "We need you to fight for us."

Board member Helen Baney said the treatment given to nonprofits was unfair.

"I have fought for this," Mr. Wheatley told Mr. Kraus. "You are talking like a rational man. The process is not about rational thinking."

The state rep said there are Democrats who consistently vote against Pittsburgh and would not favor a commuter tax or taxes for nonprofits. "Some feel that Pittsburgh got over its fair share for many, many years. Now, whatever suburbs they represent are getting funding they feel they missed out on for 20 years…Also, the people who run corporate Pittsburgh do not live here. They live in the outlying regions."

Mr. Wheatley addressed the issue of "problem bars." He said he knew of a neighborhood group in West Oakland which purchased such a bar after it was "shut down and boarded" but reopened repeatedly. The group intends to use the area for green space.

"That is an interesting concept," Mr. Kraus said.

"Sometimes when you use the same concept over and over and it fails, you have to try to be more creative," Mr. Wheatley said. He said it was difficult to persuade legislators from the middle of the state to change the laws.

"There is not a single neighborhood that I represent that is not negatively affected by drug and alcohol abuse," Mr. Kraus said.

"Our zone gets twice as many calls as the next zone and we have a third less officers," the councilman added.

Mr. Wheatley noted the state is building more prisons and has more prisoners at a time when Virginia, Michigan and New York have seen a decrease in violent offenders. "They (those states) don't lock up nonviolent offenders," he said.

Judy Hackel, president of the ACDC board, said Harrisburg is spending less money for schools and she is afraid youths will turn to selling drugs rather than taking minimum wage jobs.

Keino Fitzpatrick, an organizer for A+ Schools, an advocacy group monitoring the performance of the school and the school board, said his group is hiring a financial consultant to review the public school budget. It was mentioned at the meeting less than 10 per cent of the registered voters voted for the school board and yet those officials handle a hefty budget.

Mr. Wheatley said the school board members, who are unpaid, should be given a high salary to create more competition in those political races which often have only one candidate running.

At one point a resident made what Mr. Kraus considered to be a negative comment and he interrupted, saying, "I want this to be a constructive session."

Later a member of the audience verbally attacked an ACDC board member and Mr. Wheatley intervened.

"I forgot to mention at the beginning that I am the only one who can get beat up here," Mr. Wheatley said.

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