August 13, 2012
Homeowners on Buckingham Drive in Allen Township (Northampton Co.) realize they can't stop RCN from digging up their yards to install cable service in their neighborhood because the work is being done in public easements. But they don't think it's too much to ask that their properties be restored to their original condition, which they say hasn't happened.
About six weeks after the work, some yards hadn't been reseeded. A pipe still protruded from Carol McCullough's lawn. And don't even get Maureen Vooz and Rhett Setzer started about the shared driveway and sidewalk in front of their homes. The driveway is brand-new, but only because RCN's contractors broke the old one when they pushed the cables through the earth beneath it, they said. "It looked like a speed bump," Setzer said.
They said it was one of about seven driveways damaged in their Penn's Chase neighborhood. Their neighbor, Dave Whiteman, told me he couldn't figure out why a worker was driving a pickup truck back and forth across the driveway. Then he saw the bump. "That's when I realized he was trying to flatten their driveway," Whiteman said. The work, which started around June 20, didn't go smoothly on his property, either. He said workers struck a water pipe and tried to fix it themselves until Whiteman demanded they call a plumber.
I contacted RCN after I met with residents recently, and the cable company sent a supervisor to the neighborhood last week to try to smooth things over. There were problems with the "source of labor" used by a subcontractor on the project, and that subcontractor has been replaced, RCN spokeswoman Joanne Guerriero told me. She would not identify the company. "This is the first time that we've had multiple issues in a neighborhood like this," Guerriero said. Vooz told me she kept her complaint simple when she met with a manager for RCN's contractor after her driveway and paver stones bordering the driveway were damaged: "I want it to look like you've never been here," she said she told him. She's still waiting for that to happen.
The driveway was replaced, but the work left parts of their sidewalk cracked and streaked with asphalt, Vooz and Setzer said. The asphalt also has encroached on Vooz's decorative paver stones, sealing some of them in and knocking them out of alignment. After Setzer complained, the sidewalk was scrubbed, but Setzer believes some of the cleaners damaged a few spots on the new driveway. Other sidewalks on Buckingham Drive don't look as if they've been cleaned. Guerriero told me the sidewalks will be cleaned and a landscaper will be hired to deal with issues, including the paver stones. She said the other issues would be addressed with each homeowner. "Certainly, we've told the contractor some of this is just not acceptable," Guerriero said.
She said grass has been reseeded in areas where work is complete. She said it had been planted previously in some areas and didn't take. She said RCN also is changing how it communicates with property owners on future projects. She said it will handle that itself and set up a dedicated phone line to take calls that will be monitored regularly, instead of having contractors also talking with property owners. McCullough contacted The Morning Call about the problems in her neighborhood, which included a hole in her yard where the dirt fill had sunk. She said the cable box RCN's contractors installed wasn't even put in the right place. "It is disgusting that a company as well-known as RCN would do this to the same people they are hoping will become customers one day," McCullough wrote in an email. Guerriero told me the cable box will be moved to where McCullough prefers it.
Vooz said she was told her sidewalk would be replaced and her pavers would be fixed. Setzer said he was told a landscaper will be there Monday and a paving company later will examine the driveway. He wants a new driveway because he is not happy with the quality of the replacement drive. McCullough said she wishes Allen Township had done more to help residents. It has some say in what's going on because RCN operates through a franchise agreement with the township in exchange for paying the township 5 percent of the cable revenue it receives there.
Township Manager Ilene Eckhart told me residents complained about property damage, late working hours and lack of notice about the work, among other things. "I can see where they're frustrated," Eckhart said. She said the township tried to assist by bringing residents and RCN together at a public meeting in late June. Eckhart said RCN didn't attend the meeting and instead sent its contractors to address the concerns.
The township's franchise agreement requires RCN to replace or restore all pavement, sidewalks, lawns and driveways "in as good a condition as existed before … work was commenced" and compensate property owners for any damages. The township has the option to revoke the agreement if RCN breaches the terms. But Eckhart told me that wouldn't be practical because many township residents already have RCN cable service and would be angry over losing it. She said property owners can file damage claims in writing with the township and the township lawyer will review them. Allentown Morning Call
State Rep. Nick Kotik is pushing for action on a bill that would allow Pennsylvanians to vote by mail if they want to, rather than having to stand in line at a polling place and show voter ID.
The Robinson (Allegheny Co.) Democrat knows the idea of "postal voting" is a long shot in Pennsylvania, since Republicans don't like the idea and they control both the Legislature and the governor's office. But Mr. Kotik claims the ongoing legal and political wrangling over the state's new voter ID law -- which requires voters to prove who they are with a photo ID every time they vote -- bolsters the argument for giving voters the option of voting by mail rather than having to travel to their designated polling place. "This is the right time to pass this bill," he said. "Voting by mail could end all the massive confusion this law stands to cause."
A number of states -- including Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Florida and California -- already have decided to offer postal voting as an alternative to going to a polling place, he said. In Oregon and Washington, polling places are no longer used at all -- all voting is done by mail-in ballot. Mr. Kotik contends that having the option of postal voting could lessen or eliminate the long lines at the polls that Allegheny County elections officials have predicted for the November election, as officials at each polling place take time to check IDs. But some critics fear that voting by mail could lead to fraud, since election secrecy theoretically could be breached without the privacy of a polling place. Advocates counter that the convenience of letting voters mail in their ballots would increase the number of people who vote. "Postal voting stands to increase voter turnout, provide for greater vote-counting accuracy and improve voter satisfaction,'' Mr. Kotik argued. He introduced House Bill 1382 last year but it's been stuck in the GOP-run State Government Committee ever since.
Mr. Kotik, like many Democrats and liberals, doesn't like the new voter photo ID law. It was approved by Republicans in the spring -- without any Democrats voting for it -- and then signed by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. Proponents say it's an effort to crack down on "voter fraud," but they've been unable to cite even one case of such fraud in Pennsylvania. Many people have drivers licenses from PennDOT, but estimates by critics say as many as 1 million registered voters may not be able to vote in November because they don't have acceptable photo IDs. The Corbett administration has given lower estimates, one as low as 89,000.
For years Pennsylvania has offered absentee ballots for voters who know they can't be at a polling place on Election Day, such as being overseas, in military service or hospitalized. Mr. Kotik said that absentee ballots, while useful, "are reserved for a certain set of criteria, while my bill would overhaul the entire voting-by-mail system, opening up postal voting opportunities to all voters." Steve Miskin, spokesman for House GOP leader Mike Turzai of Bradford Woods, opposes postal voting. He said there have been "historic problems" with absentee ballots in Pennsylvania and a criminal election fraud case in Florida related to postal voting. "This 'mail order' election concept is filled with concerns for the integrity of the vote," he said. "The only real confusion over Voter ID is the disenfranchising rhetoric of Democrats and their 'rent-a-groups,' " such as the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU represents several elderly and minority voters from the Philadelphia area who filed a lawsuit against voter ID. A Commonwealth Court decision is due this week. But Mr. Turzai didn't help his cause when he recently told a group of Republicans that the voter ID law is a tool to help GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney win Pennsylvania this year. Tim Potts, a former House Democratic aide who now runs a citizens group called Democracy Rising PA, called postal voting "a hugely important issue" and urged the Legislature to consider it. "We need to work on both ends of the [voting rights] policy spectrum and not just one," he said. "We should make it impossible for people to vote who shouldn't vote but make it easy and convenient for people who should vote."
The Kotik bill would require a voter to apply in writing to his county clerk at least seven days before an election or in person by 3 p.m. on the day before an election. The ballot is either mailed in or put into a special locked box for collection. The county clerk then compares the voter's signature on the postal ballot with the one in the state voter registration system for verification. Legislators return in late September for the last few days of the current session. If the bill dies by Nov. 30, Mr. Kotik will try again when the new session starts in January. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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