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WILK News Radio>Audio & Video on Demand>>Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski with Corbett

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski with Corbett

Jul 11, 2014|

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski talks to Corbett in studio.

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Automatically Generated Transcript (may not be 100% accurate)

Allentown mayor and a blouse he is in the studio are really large Asian for me usually try to keep people in my studio not invite -- -- But there -- plus he is in the -- community in northeastern Pennsylvania. Talking about the success he has achieved and worked. Magic word in the city of Allentown well don't tell us a little bit about Allentown and then we got to pick his brain to find out how we can. Translate some of those successes. Two successes here in northeastern Pennsylvania merit allows -- welcome Steve it's it's great to be here. Thanks so let me on her show absolutely. Absolutely it's like -- -- in my assistants are entrepreneurs just asked are you -- ordinary -- And then I'm charming and willing to listen well you know I want to be in the best talk show -- -- -- you're you're you're here you're here. How -- Do we in northeastern Pennsylvania perceive -- many of us have not been there for sometime. Many of us don't know a whole lot about Allentown give us a thumbnail sketch show boom of Allentown -- mold and -- down. Well I you know I mean it that that the -- that's that is a good question you know when you think of Allentown I mean he probably think of Billy Joel's song in the end end. Most people don't realize Allentown is actually the third largest city in the state I mean we are the fastest growing city in the commonwealth. But we had our troubles just like every other Rust Belt city in northeast and midwest we were about to go bankrupt. About ten years ago and torpedo we will we didn't have growth we have jobs to our finances were shambles we were really like a set on the brink of bankruptcy. And eight years later that's much different -- -- we want from multimillion dollar deficits we now multimillion dollar surpluses. We. Our crime is down seven straight years in a row. We sell their pension problem where the only municipality in the state that is a fully funded pension. And we have a billion dollars worth of new development 4000 new jobs. Coming into our city where now the fastest growing city in the state and we haven't raised taxes in nine years. So how do you do that when -- -- -- from our vantage point here. That the money is drying up the economic development is beautiful called too to lower -- how do you do that we'd. Don't know well I mean you listen you got to think outside the box you gotta think creatively I realized. Long ago that there is no you know. So over night nine shining armor comes from Harrisburg save us. We had to basically solve our own problems and so what we did is is is that we looked internally to figure out what we can do. To basically address these issues. From the area slightly you know I mean and and what we did he -- he talked about community. It we really focus to block by block. House by house neighborhood by neighborhood and really started to transform city. Bridge by bridge you know we we've we've. Got fifteen bridges and under construction or in different it's phased development. I an Allentown effect we have the only fully federally funded bridge in the state of Pennsylvania being built over the -- and on the connector downtown with 22. It took us twice up Mears get it but you know we actually got the full funding and we're building a sixty million dollar bridge across we have and I think there's any other city in the commonwealth that Steward and its -- -- So you know how do we do it we did it with with a lot of hard work a lot of effort. A lot of tenacity looking outside the box and a -- give an example. Pensions pensions or kill innocents killed every city in this commonwealth. We had a massively unfunded. Pension. We only had about our pension was only about 55%. Funded. When I came in office. I had two thirds of my entire police force retire. Through early retirement scenario I had about the -- fire department retire over the course of several years. My unfunded pension liability went up dramatically when I came in -- an unfunded pension liabilities by six million dollars and went up to 21 million dollars last year. It would have been 25 million dollars in 2015. And by 2016 would -- thirty million dollars. I just put that in perspective my whole. Revenue base coming from property taxes. Is only thirty million dollars so all of my property tax would have been going just to pay the unfunded pension liability. In my pensions so we -- to address this so we we looked at a very -- I want to make sure that that we didn't screw over. Our employees. Because -- there is there were we can we made a public trust with with those individuals. And so we we did a very innovative approach where we did. That we monetize one of our assets. We were able to lease our water resources to do the county. We can't we maintained all the jaws maintain our collective bargaining agreement but we got 220 million dollars. Which we paid off all our water and sewer debt paid off all our unfunded pension liability and lowered my pension costs from two point one million dollars last year to two million this year. So you sound like you're pretty well organized -- you sound like you've got people with whom you can work successfully. Including your county commissioners do you have county commissioners. The idea and that's you were were successful. And we got some pretty crazy Gotti well she should tell we just let them to take over the sure in you know I. -- this and they did it they did it because we we did a very competitive process okay. We did something there was the unique we looked at it we looked at what everyone has been doing across the country mister -- been doing and we said OK what do they do right what do they do wrong. When the things that we found out that they did wrong is is say. They said okay we're gonna at least one of our systems but you know what we've left it up to the potential -- -- to define those terms. We said no we wanna protect our employees we want to make sure that everyone has a job at the end of day. We wanted to -- protect our collective bargaining agreement we want to make sure that we had to rate regime. For our our water source services that was not gonna kill our our president's so there was actually lower than what they were paying. And we so what we did as we said okay we're but we're gonna actually write the -- first. We wrote the least. We looked at terms of the least that we wanted to -- as far as the municipality there would be most beneficial to our residents into our employees. And then we put off forbid. I didn't know if anybody is going to be we actually afford national bidders and the county. Now ten years ago. We were looking to reach realize he's warrants or services with the county to county wonder offers ten million dollars. For water and sewer infrastructure I looked a -- list -- polish it doesn't make me dump OK I mean I know toward boarded that million dollars. All right we ended up through competitive bidding process they dated 220. Million dollars. For the right to lease our our facilities for the next fifty years which at the end that I'm gonna be dead you know we're very very old that point but they will be able to do this all over again. And get hopefully another 220. So read between the -- in the 200 and wanting. What happened how how how did they decide to go from ten where they were they trying to hustle until there really think you work. I wanna go for the. I think I think they thought we are gonna go for that they think they thought -- gonna take like Billy affable they did realizes. Is that and what we realized is that. The water and sewer department and and the revenues being generated by that as -- -- providing it for all the surrounding municipalities wealth was actually making money. The problem is under state law we could utilize any of those dollars a revenue. To pay for the thing that was killing -- right the pensions. We're literally bankrupting the city and so I had this entity that was making money and I had this liability there was crippling and killing the city enforcing -- Potentially to go to bankruptcy so we had to figure out a way to to take the -- that there was making us money and monetize it. Which is what we did no idea what to give up control what you wanna sell it I don't -- selling well again it is a line. And so we we worked out at -- scenario where we would still control it we never transfer title or ownership or -- else. We did that we did a long term lease and instead of paying -- -- thirty year to year for the least I want at all it monetized upfront. So they give us one little up front upfront payment and and a small payment each year so we we get we want to monetize almost famous is set of you know over the life of at least we -- for one big upfront payment. And then you know by their yearly lease -- so we ended up through a best and final offer process with two companies -- One was a national company American water and one was -- county. We said in in in our bid documents that if they got between 5% of each other they would go to best and final offer process we went tell them what they did the tape and it. So there was harper said we got twenty million dollars Xstrata that. And we ended up with the you know a bid that came in at 220 million dollars which. Not only paid off all thirty million of our water and -- -- lower our overall that. By about 30%. But also paid off 450 million million dollar plus unfunded pension liability. Dropped my annual payment for pensions from 21 million -- do. Which I was able to recapture -- the general fund. -- end. The -- saved everybody's job. And -- was able to create -- APP pay rate program for ratepayers. There was actually more stable than what we had the past. So you know it was there was very creative know what's -- gonna be in the past and now cities across the commonwealth across the country. Looking to rent there will be okay we're we're we're gonna have to take short break we're talking with Allentown mayor Ed Palau -- who's in the studio. And the the yearning questioned as you described the success. In Allentown. Is what were not -- that Allentown is Dylan and will use Scranton as. An example when we return and talk more with you about where we go from here we'll be right back -- in the studio. When Allentown mayor -- Palau -- who is a long time Democrat. Who is the 41. Mayor of the city of Allentown and you've been there of Allentown how long -- this -- my eighth year. Eight years and wish and I know -- next here and -- there. We're talking a mile and the success you've had been in a variety of of both areas. In and around the city and our time flies again and doesn't -- economic development neighborhood development. You're out you're a former community organizer Jeff from the southwest side of Chicago yet Jordan the Barack at any point Don I wish I did it may be a cabinet secretaries and as you do you might pay for -- I don't have nearly on charging that don't have enough time before we break for the news we'll take it in the next half hour. To get into the city of Scranton. You review how -- with Scranton mayor bill court right today I did we're interest did on the other side of the news. In in learning a little bit about what you're able to disclose as -- the conversation you have with America. What -- advice if anyone encouragement with suggestions you've offered because. That's what people are listening to you. On my show for it today. We're happy that things are working around Allentown were not real happy that things are working out so well in Scranton Wilkes-Barre Financial Times. We've got loads a little towns where people are struggling we have loads of we have -- love. Hope I believe that still exists because people don't wanna give up they don't want I think that it's not going to get better but. Truthfully I always tell the truth here. People in many cases are frustrated. Many ways they've given up. Many ways they do feel powerless I use this power to the people because I believe Bennett. And I believe we can tap into that power. But to do so we need leadership that we need some elect him so when we come not we're gonna get into some specifics about your visit but. We have a few minutes before the news break tell us a little bit more about Allentown other than they need the economic development what kind of people live there what's your neighbor. It's like going on there it listeners it's not much different than appear okay is very blue collar I mean we have a lot of working class folks. We have some some more wealthier neighborhoods but we also have you know the highest degree of poverty in in the region. And so as were rebuilding the city who literally. We're trying to figure out how we make sure that we raise the level. Of of income for everybody across the board. I am not content as mayor not to have. You know a school district where I had 80% of my kids on subsidized -- -- you know and that that's a phenomenon it's affecting every municipality. And so we we you know we're we're we're we're -- city like every other city in Pennsylvania. Okay you were coming up on 530 news LA -- is up next with local news. Don't go anywhere wanna get out of your seventh drones -- around between seven and nine. When darkness falls -- rises the last word in local news talk. And when we come back we'll talk a Bob. How we can change for the better here in northeastern Pennsylvania. And Allentown mayor Ed at Pulaski. Don't go anywhere you better listen. We're talking -- Allentown mayor Ed pullout should -- he's in the region. Engaged there and sort of a friendship force trip I think he had lunch with Scranton mayor bill port right today they did discuss. Some of the differences between Allentown and Scranton. And then some of the successes Allentown has achieved this -- and yet has to achieve and hopes to achieve. -- -- you what did you and americorps right discussed today the first of elective polka music introduction and yeah that's not just because Israel. I spoke of trial and it was because many now allows knowledge -- -- -- we do focus every Friday on -- -- The oldest daughter. This and we we had a great conversation I mean you know. We talked about many things that is talked about you know how we were able to solve our pension problem. And one -- my suggestions to him is that he's got to think outside the box that there isn't it going to be no help coming from Scranton I mean from from Harrisburg. That we can't rely and some you know. A Knight in shining armor to come down and save us as municipalities we're gonna have to figure out solve our own problems. And one of the things that we did was start to think outside the box that you -- you know first off you know it there's nothing new under the sun okay. I mean what what we're facing what we face what's brands facing what other municipalities are facing. You know it's been -- before and so. We have to look and learn and can talk and listen to to other municipalities. To -- from their mistakes figure out what you can do to adapt. To your situation that's specific here. For Scranton. And and figure out how you can be you know move the ball forward to actually make some incremental change with any municipality image -- -- we did -- -- -- You know we've we've done a lot of amazing things and people look at us and say oh my gosh you know -- you know. He's done some really great things you know you've really got on the ball well no I mean we innocent. What we did was was to look at what was working what wasn't working in other municipalities figure out how we could adapt those things. To address our issues in our knees are happening within our city. And that's what needs to be done appeared as I told and sometimes you know that's -- it takes courage to do that. It's gonna take. The only -- that not everything that you do is going to be popular. But she have to do if you if you really want to do the right thing anyone to move the city forward. And out of the scenario innocent now like we weren't Valentine EE you're gonna eat you know he he he gonna have to do. Do some things that may not be popular in in the short run but will benefit the city tomorrow morning. You know and and I tell I tell Mayer's new -- all the time you know I mean have the benefit of now beating Mary you know -- start my third term. And it -- and he is you're never gonna make everybody happy in what you realize that you can be a much more effective mayor. Because you know I can you know I -- paved street 50% of what people will say. Can't thank you mayor for pain in my street. The other 54 several sale Mandan mayor and I can't park in my street you know the other street on the blogs say why did he pave my street that doesn't mean you don't paved street. Carrying. -- -- You know it is actually get accolades from everybody and municipality. But sometimes you can make. Some hard decisions that are gonna move the city for a moment. What I think about one of the differences that that might exist between on us in an art community here. Told the larger community northeastern Pennsylvania. Hazel ten Wilkes-Barre Scranton. -- are -- a -- -- as we have such. A toxic. Political corruption culture of corruption. That I believe that it bleeds into every aspect of public service. If I were to sit and list for you the names of the dozens. And dozens. Of former elected and appointed public officials. Who pleaded guilty after being indicted by the United States federal court system. It would spend your head around we are in in inextricably linked to. Blatant nepotism. To blatant political patronage cronyism. And it drags us down. People believe that's the way it is an all too often our elected school leaders. Do everything to prove them right. How do you deal with that kind of culture of corruption. And it is there anything that the average person can do do you see this kind of blatant tribal. Politics. In -- no I don't I AF -- how you deal with that you make sure that you elect good people in the office. And I know it's difficult I know is annoyances is is easy for me to say that but. You get you gotta you gotta venture candidate she got to make sure that -- -- you -- you elect folks with integrity. That are that are gonna do and and and and execute the tough decisions to attempt to move the ball forward. You know for us in -- I came in you know I said that we are not gonna do this patient a drought there is nothing. You know we're gonna make sure that we hire the best qualified people. They can run our departments they can run our jobs and and believe me. Like every other new politician I got lots of pressure from a lot of different folks to say once you hire this person and that person has had no. You know at -- stop -- some -- -- hire somebody from HR department I wanna make sure that the best HR professionals out there. If Thomas or hire somebody from my finance department I want the best financed or snacking get. Even if they're not an -- many folks that I that I brought in in my candidate we're not even part of the same party. You know I you know and there was okay as long as they word the most qualified people within their within their profession. To help lead the city down the right road and so I have a very mixed. I cam and I have Republicans Democrats have folks quite honestly. They're in my -- that I couldn't tell you what political affiliation they were because I'm asking him that. I am looking for for qualified folks to basically help lead the city forward and move us in the right direction OK I think he's been done. Okay we're gonna take a break we're gonna come back we're talking to Allentown merit and Palau speak about his vision for Allentown and there's vision. For us right after this what were more bucks to talk and amount. How to face up. 20 culture of political corruption. That does drag down economic development and cultural development and and then even people's hopes and aspirations are dragged. Down into that political toxic mud how do you deal with that. Hey listen I think he got. One step at a time I think you know you're obviously out there is the process prophetic voice here. You know in in in the region you know pushing these issues but I -- you start you know it let's take the example of a -- start one step. One city one municipality you start making their differences and you make their conscious decision. That we are gonna take you now that you know those political processes -- different direction we did then Allentown. We we were able to you know to be able to galvanize folks together. Around a vision. We are able to get good people elected to City Council. And we we started moving the city for we have a billion dollars worth of new development going on this. We were able to get legislation -- and the state level. To specifically for Allentown. That allowed -- -- to you know create economic momentum that is now you know having ripple effects throughout the entire region throughout the entire stake. I got a million square feet of office space going up and Allentown and I got a brand new arena going on there I have. 101000 tons of steel that's going into these buildings all -- was being made and here I got 36000. Cubic yards of concrete. They're going in these glorious three and a sixty football fields of concrete all that's being made in burkes county there's a thousand construction workers trades guys. On the job right now building buildings in the city of Allentown. Many of them quite -- -- CR from this region that was just appear just recently. Added I BW Holland and works -- they said they got forty guys that are coming down every day from appeared to work in Allentown because of all development that's happening. She could create -- -- and I now like synergy. But you know -- you have to how do you stop that and you know move the needle a different direction he -- he's got to be one person and end. Airlines getting dollars to one presents a bunch of people say were enough is enough. We're gonna we're gonna start you know galvanizing together to really make a difference and we were talking before -- you know during the break. I think the difference down in the Lehigh Valley -- what's happening up here is that we were able to galvanized together as a region. You know -- the fastest growing region in in in the state. 50% of all the new job relocations in the Pennsylvania her coming into Lehigh Valley. And that's because even though Allentown invest or separate even though -- as a separate city that's you know next to Salzburg we still communicate. That doesn't mean we don't have our own internal rivalries but we still communicate more trying to attract business. We worked together to attractive business since our. Business leaders are coming together for the benefit of the entire region -- and I forget -- I oftentimes forget -- Different that is then most parts of the state most parts of the country. What we're still fighting over whether in the name of the airport should be -- first Graham marsh grand oaks -- and we haven't pushed it. We have a history as to why one took precedence over there. What's interesting is when you when we -- outside in this region refer to the it's always the Scranton Wilkes-Barre area. That's not the way you guys further it is another baseball game Scranton Wilkes-Barre airport is -- first glimpse into what the airport. Was named that way -- -- what we look at it all isn't as almost this you know this this homogeneous region and it's not too nine close and can. -- -- she first ran nearly three rogue planets. Rush spinning out of control around and even more coach thought. But -- but we have to realize you know we're not competing with each other and and I think there was this epiphany. In the Lehigh Valley one death from steel cost. Yeah we lost you know 30000 jobs right but if you look at it those jobs were absorbed and we've now grown and expanded that base. Dramatically what do those jobs come from they came from smaller businesses we're able to basically retool ourselves as a region. And and one of the things that I think we realized through that was we were competing anymore in Allentown and baffling even know or connected literally at their. -- what went when he gear which was loose and which was you know western electric. In when they closed their plant we lost 4000 jobs now without. They picked up and went to Singapore who was competing with I was competing would Bethlehem. I was competing -- east and I wasn't competing with Scranton I was competing with the country of Singapore. And so we are now in this multi national global environment. And as municipalities we need to figure out. How we're able to compete in this new marketplace and those they figured out we'll succeed those that don't. Figure that out will die potentially. Drives good news. And her and her you know and we need to we need to galvanized together to really compete -- -- -- -- one little municipality like Allentown can't do it. It has to be -- I mean -- apple. We we we we combined dollar chambers to get to think about that. We had I don't know how many different chambers we came together under one of the chamber that we Emily chamber of -- I would say give us. We have 5000 members now. We -- the second largest chamber of commerce in the state surpassing Pittsburgh and Allegheny County we -- the sixteenth largest chamber in the United States. America are they effective. Efficient the owner yes they are beginning obviously they're getting more for you then call centers are getting to the point where now carbon county chamber has joined the Lehigh Valley chamber of commerce sector growth picked up that -- out. You know that there at the fact that car Cody has decided to come over the mountain and -- -- I don't chamber of muscle. -- -- because we're making an impact because that unity is helping to drive. Business development and growth in in a way that we could never have done -- -- -- OK where were were emotional and I'm running out of time we're getting close. Here's somebody who real quickly brings a variety of experience your your trained minister if I'm not mistaken up. You're you're someone who. As a Democrat still leads the economic development charge in addition to. Our human services charge your your pragmatic here you're somebody who has succeeded. And obviously takes great pride in and what you do and and what you are as the mayor of Allentown. Now the thought did cross your mind that maybe you should be governor pat and you do random. In the democratic primary and did was what it was like real quick maybe maybe thirty seconds I really don't want my. It was an amazing experience we crisscross the state about thirty -- why did you do it. Because I thought I can make a difference you know I was -- and one of the biggest reasons I did is the schools in our our school systems are under attack we lost 20000 teachers. And and what what was affecting our city even though we have all is great economic development we still the school system that continues a lay off teachers every year. And continues to decline. Mostly because of the -- the policy that a dissent the place with charters. And the -- -- -- at a billion dollars at a public education which we we spent 345 dollars less per student now that we didn't 2011. We're in big trouble up here it's terrible we're we're we're gonna lose again based on what I saw the governor. Slash and burn I mean even destroyed. Distort what is it the civil air patrol here -- out all their money it's it's like it but real quick because I'm so I know -- only -- I can make a difference okay. And -- -- dvd I do wonder what I don't I don't have a lot of time America I'm looking at the clock -- tournament. You'd hold out you won back to being marrow of Allentown. Knowledge your short on the road that people are suspicious. People are wondering you're not just out. And I'll spreading the good news for the sake of spreading the good news although all were appreciative. Or you run for something else. -- could not right now but maybe the future yeah listen I grant or anyone office because I want a big difference because I think the next thing we need to do to change your cities municipalities has changed the way that the state farm was a report on line that my colleague. Point out to me earlier some mention of you were being interested in US senate seat. I don't know about that I had -- and I'm sure that. Now I can't there can I live report -- -- I don't -- -- I'd I'd love to see it but no I don't I don't going to be the legislature I'd rather gouge -- as I -- more than -- and he's -- legislation that's how we're. You know I mean that's what what what are you executive position you know I -- mayors make a difference. They say don't you know say governors make a different sort closing. I sound like a more one rose -- legal women voters dull boring debates. A closing statement if you will maravent Pulaski. Listen I think you have great opportunity appear I think you have the ability to to really change the circumstances that are happening in cities like Scranton wilkes-barre. -- but you're gonna have to not so much rely an effective DH is gonna come from someplace else like cares for. And look at the resource is that you have to think outside the box. You know be able to to effectuate change even though it may not be popular. And do the right thing if you do that he will start seeing the situation changed its not gonna be easy it's going to be tough there's going to be a lot of -- Difficulties along the way but you know with with with every because you know. She -- whatever great opportunity lies some difficulties but but I think you can you can get past that as a region. And and this can be a very thriving and growing area again it does not have to be in the position -- now. Well it would be it would be good if the region and the leaders in the region whether they be the elected government leaders -- The business leaders within the chamber in the chamber purview it would be good if the region could solidify. And then -- the leadership -- grew out of that sort of vacation would bullied into your region and people could work together. But there is there is a warlord political warlord culture our work here no doubt. Giant and listened and none of that is is impossible to work through -- we got to start electing good people in the office. People have to start asking the right questions and you know I think. If we get people that are sincere they really wanna make a difference there really wanna help -- the changing environment. I believe at the end of the day. That given the choice people will make the right decision. But we gotta give the choice. And so you know I think we eat listen you gotta you've got a great great region appear to got lots of possibilities. You guys can move forward. Okay Allentown merit allows me to good to talk with you will have a back. When he's out on the run on the road on the -- once again offering advice and guidance and encouragement. We'll take a wherever we got and -- the -- from -- allows -- -- It's good to talk with you.