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Harrisburg

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Former Gov. Ed Rendell told the Senate panel scrutinizing Attorney General Kathleen Kane it would be “chaos” if they removed her from office before the state Supreme Court, with its three new Democratic members, rules on reinstating her law license.

Rendell pleaded for them to back away from the direct removal method. Although agreeing the Senate has the authority, he suggested another path.

“Guys,” he said, abruptly adjusting, “Senators, impeach her. Don’t use this method.”

Rendell said the Senate should wait until after the state’s high court rules on an emergency petition Kane filed Jan. 12. There is “almost an entirely new Supreme Court from the one that suspended her” license, Rendell said, before posing a hypothetical: what were to happen if this committee recommend that she be removed and the Supreme Court decided to reinstate her license?

“Would we have to come back to the Senate for action? How do you defend your position? Are you removing her as long as her license remains suspended?” Rendell said. “It’s a very difficult question because she’s going before a new court, (with) at least three judges who haven’t heard this issue before. I would urge you not to take action at all, but certainly not to take action until the Supreme Court has ruled on her request.”

The committee has 15 days to complete a report recommending future actions on removal.

Kane is arguing the high court’s unanimous ruling to temporarily suspend her law license was tainted by the participation of Justice Michael Eakin. A bit more than three months after the ruling on Kane’s license suspension, Eakin was temporarily suspended with pay by a disciplinary tribunal over controversial private emails.

With Eakin temporarily suspended, the six-seat high court’s makeup is now five Democrats, three of which were sworn in last week, and one Republican, the chief justice.

Rendell, who served as district attorney of Philadelphia from 1978 to 1986 and Philadelphia mayor in the 1990s, also testified that during his tenure leading the largest D.A.’s office in Pennsylvania he mostly made policy, public relations, or enforcement decisions, while leaving legal decisions up to his staff attorneys. While this was to show that Kane can perform the duties of her office without a valid law license, he admitted some of his decisions were made with both legal and policy considerations.

At one point, Rendell and committee chairman Sen. John Gordner, R-Columbia, clashed when the former governor asserted the committee is trying to remove Kane over her conduct in office, not her license suspension, so they should impeach her. Kane is facing several criminal charges in Montgomery County stemming from an alleged leak of grand jury material to a Philadelphia newspaper, covering it up and lying about it under oath. She denies any wrongdoing.

“Would we be having these hearings if someone had a suspended license because they didn’t fulfill their C.L.E. requirements? Of course not,” Rendell said. “You’re having these hearings because of the other things Kathleen Kane is charged with doing. Do it the right way. Impeach her if that’s what you believe.”

“That’s apples and oranges, governor,” Gordner said.

“No, it’s not apples and oranges. It’s a suspended license,” Rendell said.

Rendell’s approach to interacting with the committee was almost gladiatorial, creating a noticeable contrast to the previous two hours when the committee grilled Kane’s chief of staff, Jonathan Duecker, who had at least one heated exchange with Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson.

Duecker, who described himself as an “objective loyalist” to Kane, said he was testifying to give a different perspective on the office’s functions compared to the testimony provided by four of the Office of Attorney General’s top lawyers in November.

“The practice of law is narrow to all the other things we do in the office,” he said. “I’m not part of any of the three legal divisions within the office. I am in charge of, at the direction of the Attorney General, everything else. So I get to see things, frankly, that our attorneys have historically never seen, never want to see, never ask to see, were not interested in seeing. I can’t answer why they don’t understand or don’t see what the full scope of authorities, responsibilities and duties are for the office in general.”

 

He pointed to the Supreme Court’s suspension order which specifically mentioned the order was not removing her from office. Duecker argued the wording showed the court “understands and recognizes her vast responsibilities outside of the practice of law.”

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When visiting a close friend his family at West Point, Ryan Aument visited was taken by the atmosphere.  “The uniqueness of going to a military school… I became interested in becoming a military officer.”  He ultimately set his sights on The Citadel, becoming the first in his family of his generation to go to college.  His father, who held jobs as a dairy farmer and trucker, didn’t have military experience, but both he and Aument’s mother emphasized the value of education.

“My mom would talk about the heart of the American dream.  She would say, ‘I want you to have more doors and opportunities opened for you.’  She had a love of history, and we took family day trips to historical sites like Valley Forge, Gettysburg and Washington, D.C.”  He smiles as he remembers one of his mother’s most important activities.  “She kept a scrapbook for me of newspaper clippings of major news events the times when I was a child.  I have those scrapbooks – we did it together.  My mom, who did not go to college, who grew up on a farm, had a bigger sense of the world and global events than other people… that is important.”

A self-proclaimed child of the 80s, Aument grew up admiring public figures such as Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp and George H.W. Bush.  In high school, he began actively volunteering on campaigns as a member of the Lancaster County Republican committee.  Later, during his time serving on active Army duty, partially in Iraq, he wasn’t able to stay as involved with politics, but he paid attention.  When he returned home, he went through a period he feels is common to many veterans, asking himself: “Now what?”

Wanting to find something as rewarding and fulfilling as active duty, and feeling fortunate that he was able to come home, he decided he had an obligation to serve.  He focused on public service, working to elect George W. Bush for a second term.  It wasn’t until the infamous pay raise of 2005 in Harrisburg that he took a serious look at personally running for the House in 2006.  “I was offended and outraged at the July 2005 pay raise, especially at those who identified themselves as strong fiscal conservatives… until they benefited,” he says.

Ultimately, he didn’t run in 2006, opting instead to help his friend, Bryan Cutler, now the House majority whip, win.  Aument was Cutler’s campaign manager, and assumed that by helping Cutler, he was effectively passing up his own opportunity to join the legislature.  However, four years later, Aument and his family had moved to a different district, and when a House seat came up, he decided it was time for a run.

Having been a campaign manager, he is honest when discussing his own campaign.  Laughing, he admits, “I was probably a difficult candidate.  It gave me a great appreciate for my campaign team.”  He won the seat, served two terms, and went on to be elected to the Senate in 2014.  Aument is passionate about building opportunities for society, such as promoting strong families, strong communities, a quality education system and free enterprise.

Yet Aument is adamant that without his wife’s support, he wouldn’t be able to serve.  “You have to be in it together,” he avers.  “This was not my wife’s dream.  But we feel we’ve been given this privilege.  We’ve been called at this point in life to provide a public service as a family, so we sacrifice as a family.”

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Rob Teplitz

 

Rob Teplitz may have been born in Miami, but he’s become a Pennsylvanian through-and-through.  His family moved to the Commonwealth when he was still a toddler, and made the midstate their home.  Today, Teplitz is following in his parents’ footsteps, working with his wife to raise their sons in what he feels is a great place to grow up.

Though politics wasn’t a mainstay of dinner conversation in his own household, he was still driven toward a career that would help him serve the public.  Thus, he attended Franklin & Marshall College, earning his undergraduate degree, and went on to graduate from Cornell Law School.  “It seemed that a law license would be an asset regardless of what I ultimately did,” he says.

His hunch proved correct.  A few years after he started practicing, he landed a job working for Bob Casey, Jr.  He advised Casey and his team for five years, and then went on to the position of chief counsel and policy director at the Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General under Jack Wagner, for about a decade.  At the end of Wagner’s second term, Teplitz was faced with the reality that although he had never considered running for an elected position, he was in an excellent position.

“It was 2010,” he recalls.  “I realized I could be in the job where I could serve the community.  It was the right time.”

With the support of his wife, also an attorney, albeit in a non-traditional law career, he threw his hat into a ring that he was familiar with, having been through half-a-dozen other statewide campaigns and local races.  Still, having never served as the candidate before, he didn’t know what to expect from the eyes of the principle.  “Exciting is one word,” he notes when talking about his run for Senate.  “It’s exciting… but it’s also exhausting.  Campaigns are very challenging.  The dynamic is unique; some things you have control over, and some you don’t.  The personal stakes are higher.”

In November 2012, he was rewarded for his perseverance and determination by being elected to the 15th District.  It was the beginning of what he considers to be one of his greatest responsibilities.  His geographic territory, like many other Senators’, is incredibly diverse despite spanning only two counties.  “It’s been a great opportunity for me to see and do things, and meet people, I wouldn’t have met otherwise,” he explains.  “It’s urban and suburban; there are rural farmers and people who live in the urban city.  There are strong – and challenged – schools.  It’s a microcosm of the state.”

To serve such a varied constituency, Teplitz utilizes his ability to listen and communicate.  His main focal points are on schools, jobs, government reform and the Harrisburg financial crisis, and he’s been pleasantly surprised by the camaraderie he shares with elected officials on both sides of the aisle.  “Most of my colleagues are cordial behind the scenes.  I wasn’t privy to those kinds of interactions when I was a staff member.  The casual discussions before and after meetings, or on the floor, are really friendly.”

Of course, when he requires some downtime from his busy schedule, he only has to throw on his running shoes and hit the roads in and around his neighborhood, as well as along the scenic Susquehanna River route.  He can also be seen at one of his children’s activities, or indulging in a little TV after everyone else has called it a night.

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    By Joe Benish

    On July 8, Harrisburg City Council approved a new zoning ordinance; the city’s first major revision in decades, that could end up stifling major new development in some of the city’s blighted areas at the same time when the city is trying to recover from its financial crisis.

    In a classic example of “the Law of Unintended Consequences,” one of the major changes in the new zoning map would potential put a chilling effect on a major development project underway to revitalize the former U.S. Postal Service Building and its surrounding area at 815 Market Street, according to developer Adam Meinstein, President of Equilibrium Equities of Blue Bell.

    Meinstein purchased the former postal facility with the vision and intent of transforming the industrially-zoned building and its surrounding 700 parking spaces formerly shared by the post office and the Patriot- News.  Since purchasing the property he has pursued the mixed use concept by attracting several major businesses to the warehouse space and is marketing the former post office for both retail and office space.

    Recognizing the strategic location of the facility adjacent to the City Transportation Center that includes Amtrak and passenger bus service, Meinstein paved and installed state-of-the-art parking equipment, lighting and security for monthly and daily parking. He currently leases about 400 monthly spaces, to state, city and other downtown employees, with about 25 percent of his parking used by transient/daily parkers who use the transportation center.

    “Our vision for a true, mixed-use facility that includes industrial, business, retail and parking is coming together.  While we are supportive of a new zoning ordinance for the city, the Zoning Code as passed absolutely fails to recognize the hard work and investments by our firm and our tenant s since the time the zoning plan was first brought forth,” Meinstein says.

    Because the various uses Meinstein has successfully instituted at the site are not allowed under the new zoning, his entire project is a risk of becoming. ”some odd pre-existing, non-conforming use” that would put the entire future of the project at risk. Some City Council members agree. As a result, Meinstein engaged McNees Wallace & Nurick to prepare and put forward to City Council an amendment that would have allowed the project to proceed.

    In its vote on July 8, some members of City Council agreed with Meinstein’s objections. City Councilman Brad Koplinski introduced an amendment that would have grandfathered Meinstein’s current activities into the new ordinance.  Koplinski was joined by Council President Wanda Williams and Councilwoman Sandra Reed and spoke in favor of the change. However, other members of council voted against the change, saying the preferred not to single out one specific business for changes over others, this despite input from a number of businesses that the new zoning might require many appeals and exemption requests.

    Meinstein was joined by a number of other developers, realtors, business owners and residents at two public hearings in June, where many expressed concerns about the haste in which City Council was proceeding to enact the new zoning. One member of the Harrisburg 2020 committee noted that the process was “backwards” from normal city planning, with Council speeding to enact new zoning and later doing a comprehensive two-year planning process for the city.

    With  Meinstein’s efforts to successfully transform a previously vacant and deteriorating property into new development that could, over the next several years, help transform the area between the train station and Cameron Street, some questioned the city’s motives in taking action now.  One economic development official, who asked not to be identified, speculated that Meinstein’s success in providing affordable parking to downtown workers was in direct competition with the city’s new parking vendor, Standard Parking and could have been a factor.  While Meinstein rejected that notion, others raised the question.

    While the new zoning changes won’t go into effect for six months, Meinstein says he is working with his attorneys to see what can be done to allow him to proceed. In the meantime, he noted that he is currently leasing some 30,000 square feet of space to several major city companies, including Exhibit Studios and Chef’s Choice, a restaurant equipment company.

    In addition, Weinstein recently provided free warehouse space to the city to save and store 80 murals from the Mulberry Bridge as it is being rebuilt.  He also was able to accommodate Volunteers of America with more than 8,000 square feet of space after the non-profit’s facility OFF of Cameron Street was destroyed by fire.

    “We came to Harrisburg and invested private dollars at a difficult time in the city’s history,” Meinstein noted.   “To-date our efforts have been successful.  In the short-term we will continue to work with the city to see how our future plans will be affected and try to work on a solution.”  It would be a shame to lose the momentum we’ve started that could transform an important part of the newly zoned downtown, “Meinstein said.

    Local economic experts, including some members of the Harrisburg 2020 committee agree.  Since the objectives of economic development are to help grow existing business, retain existing business and attract new businesses, Meinstein project is considered a success because it does all three.  His vision includes an urban, mixed-use neighborhood that will evolve, over time, into a thriving section, rather than another blighted neighborhood.

    Meinstein also noted that the future development of the Transportation Center, which is landlocked, is directly tied to the future of his property.  “There is a physical connection, and as the Transportation Centeremerges over the years into a truly intermodal facility, the surrounding properties and business will grow and expand. We want to be a part of that,” he said.

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