In a bold move, Luzerne County Community College officials made a cold-turkey declaration that as of the start of classes this week the campus is entirely tobacco-free.

For users of cigarettes, snuff and other products, it means no more getting a nicotine fix while on LCCC’s property. Not indoors. Not outdoors (including at its athletic fields). Not in college-owned vehicles.

Proponents of the new policy, which went into effect Monday, even intend to encourage a smoke-free atmosphere “to the extent possible, at all college-sponsored events held off-campus,” according to the regulations. Don’t be surprised if other local campuses soon follow suit.

LCCC can claim to be the first of the county’s institutions of higher education to declare its grounds totally off-limits for tobacco use, but it’s hardly alone among the nation’s colleges. As of April, about 1,140 U.S. campuses were considered entirely tobacco-free, according to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, a California-based lobby organization that maintains a website at

“We expect this number to continue to climb rapidly as a result of the growing social norm supporting smoke-free environments, and support from within the academic community for such policies for campus health and well-being,” the website states.

LCCC’s students, staffers and campus visitors alike are subject to the new rules, which replace a policy of permitting smokers to light up at designated outdoor areas, such as the gazebos that formerly dotted the Nanticoke campus. A student who repeatedly violates the policy potentially will face escalating fines, of $10 to $50, followed by possible suspension or expulsion.

Disgruntled smokers might lodge complaints this semester, even organize a formal pushback. If so, we urge LCCC’s administrators to stick to their health-conscious strategy.

“Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable illness and death across the nation,” according to information distributed by Geisinger, the regional health care provider that previously banned tobacco use on its premises. Geisinger’s policy applies to all of its sites, according to its online human resources manual, with the exception of the Marworth addiction-treatment center.

Similarly, Marywood University in Scranton touts a tobacco-free campus. “As a leader in the community,” its policies and procedures manual states, “the university takes seriously its responsibility to demonstrate healthy lifestyles.”

At Luzerne County Community College, policy makers are not unsympathetic to the hardship that the new anti-tobacco rules might present to certain users. Staffers can seek help with tobacco-cessation efforts through the college’s Human Resources Office; students, meanwhile, are encouraged to contact the Student Life and Athletics Office.

You’ve probably noticed a nip in the air lately, at least at night. You’ve almost certainly seen ads for pumpkin spice — well, pretty much everything. (A recent comic strip portrayed a store display of “Pumpkin Spice” without the coffee, shake, donuts, rum or other comestibles added to it).

It is time to consider getting outdoors for that brief, annual show of Pennsylvania autumn. Plan a road trip or pick a state park and a free weekend, grab the camera (sure, you probably have a great smart phone with a foliage setting, but if you’ve got a full-fledged camera, these shots may be worth taking it along).

This space annually issues a reminder that our spectacular foliage is the exception, not the rule. As the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website notes, we are in a very narrow latitude (between 40 and 42 degrees North) with just the right altitude and varied topography to support some 134 species of trees. That, in turn, provides the spectacular autumnal palette.

It’s worth repeating each year: Only three other regions in the world support deciduous forests that display the kind of fall colors we too easily take for granted.

So start thinking in earnest about when and where to go. DCNR offers lots of help on the Fall Foliage Reports page (

If you’re looking for driving-distance state parks, consider Ricketts Glen, Hickory Run, Pine Creek Gorge (the “Grand Canyon” of Pennsylvania) or the Lehigh Gorge. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area isn’t too far. There are additional trails in places like Seven Tubs, Shickshinny and Jim Thorpe (ringed by mountains that inspired some to sell it as the “Switzerland of Pennsylvania”).

The state Department of Agriculture is encouraging residents to remember that this is a great time to visit farms.

Take in a local pumpkin patch. Pennsylvania is the seventh-largest producer of the popular gourds nationally, and we have many farms here (you can locate some through the PA Preferred Pick Your Own Pumpkin Map online). Look for a corn maze (yes, you can wander “a maize maze”). Stop at the produce stands that pop up around the region and get some fresh apples, maybe some cider, maybe a few samples of the fall produce you never tried.

You can still, of course, get a hearty taste of autumn crops at Wilkes-Barre’s Farmers Market held every Thursday on Public Square.

Yes, if you do go hiking, you should take some common-sense precautions: Sturdy and comfortable shoes, sunscreen if it’s bright out (even in autumn) and you are exposing skin for very long, and clothing and repellent that will keep ticks — and the Lyme disease they can carry — away. And, just for the heck of it, consider reusable plastic bottles for drinking water, rather than buying a bunch of disposables.

But don’t let any of that deter you. Get out, breath the crisp air that is so unique to this time of year, enjoy what this state has to offer in autumn.

Diamonds to Lori Masi of Bear Creek Township and ADT for using a happy ending to a potential disaster as a cautionary tale for the rest of us. Masi invited the media to her home to recount how ADT security monitoring helped save her family when a gas leak was detected while they slept. ADT called the house when the detection was relayed to them, and told them to get out of the house quickly while contacting first responders, who shut off the gas. The story is a real-world reminder of the need to check gas-burning equipment regularly, and the value of having carbon monoxide detectors in every home. it’s also a timely reminder. As heating season approaches (indeed, you may already have fired up the furnace this week to fend off a few cool nights), homeowners who already haven’t should call to get furnaces and water heaters checked, as well as any other gas connections such as stoves. The cost of annual inspections is insignificant to the price paid when a leak goes undetected.

Coal to Pennsylvania State Trooper Cpl. Eric Porpiglia, who pleaded guilty this week to charges of driving under the influence and endangering children after two separate incidents this year. Police at all levels deserve high praise for putting their lives in daily peril to protect the rest of us, and it isn’t easy to call one out in this space. But public trust is an integral part of their jobs, and when one makes a mistake like this, it can make it harder for others even when undeserving of suspicion. The fact that Porpiglia was arrested while two girls ages 2 and 8 were passengers makes this that much tougher to take. That incident occurred in May. Porpiglia was also involved in a Butler Township arrest in February when police responded to a motor vehicle accident.

Diamonds to the AllOne Foundation and King’s College for arranging and hosting the Opioid Crisis Solutions Symposium this week. The day-long symposium drew — among others — state Attorney General Josh Shapiro and state Deputy Secretary for Health Preparedness and Community Protection Raphael Barishansky. Both stressed the importance of attacking the opioid crisis on as many fronts as possible, and both talked in terms of accomplishments that would sound fairly impressive in a vacuum but do not, as Barishansky put it, mean “mission accomplished.” Opioid abuse is crippling the region, state and country, and the symposium helped highlight the state’s successful efforts to bend the curve while keeping in mind how much more work needs to be done.

Coal to vandals. No, of course we don’t mean the Germanic people who sacked Rome in AD 455, but their reputation lives on in abundance locally. The most recent case involves four men and one juvenile accused of illegally entering the former Wilkes-Barre Township High School last month and vandalizing the interior. Coal, while we’re at it, to the government entities — In this case the Wilkes-Barre Area School District and the township, who let such buildings deteriorate, making them attractive targets for such attacks. But they may have reasons for neglect. There is no reason to damage someone else’s property just because you can.

The law will allow athletes at California’s universities and colleges to monetize their names and likenesses. More simply put, the athletes will be able to accept money for endorsements.

As expected, the law was met with heavy opposition from the NCAA, which would like to continue the farce that its current model of amateurism has the best interest of student-athletes at heart.

Forgive us if we just can’t take the NCAA – a billion dollar industry that somehow passes itself off as a nonprofit – at its word.

While the law won’t take affect until Jan. 1, 2023, it has already drawn quick action by legislators in other states.

According to sports writer Derek Levarse’s story in Wednesday’s Times Leader, state Reps. Dan Miller and Ed Gainey, both Democrats from Allegheny County, announced their intentions Tuesday to create a bill that would “largely mirror” California’s.

Local state Rep Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, was quick to throw his support behind the Pennsylvania bill.

”I fully support a Pennsylvania version of the Fair Pay to Play Act and will be adding my name to legislation proposed by Reps. Miller and Gainey,” Mullery wrote in an email to the Times Leader. “In a system where so many profit from the talent, hard work and dedication of student athletes, more should be done to empower and compensate those who are the heart and soul of the system.

“The time has come to balance the scales and allow our college athletes to seize control of their names, images and likenesses. … As the father of current and future Division I athletes, I know we can do better in Pennsylvania. This bill is a positive first step.”

Keep in mind, this bill is not about allowing colleges to pay athletes to compete for them. The bill would simply allow athletes to make some money off something that belongs to them and them alone – their names.

No one seems to get upset when a world-class oboe player pursuing a music degree spends his summer earning an extra few bucks by plying his craft.

Why should we object if Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford earns a couple of hundred dollars for making an appearance at his hometown car dealership? Or Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book lines his pockets a little bit for being grand marshal of Scranton’s St. Patrick’s Day parade? (Personally, we think Matt McGloin or Rocket Ismail but that’s just us.)

We don’t see any reason to, especially when you consider the billions of dollars that the NCAA puts into its overstuffed coffers every year.

Certainly, one national set of rules governing all student athletes would be optimal. And the NCAA does have four years to come up with a plan of its own to make the patchwork of state laws that is sure to arise moot.

But since we don’t plan on holding our breath waiting for the NCAA to actually put the best interest of athletes first, we’re glad to see our state legislators making sure Pennsylvania’s student athletes get as fair a shake as possible.

In a region rich with those who contributed to our local, state and national good, the late Dr. Mahmoud Fahmy holds a unique place.

Born in Egypt and a frequent world traveler, Fahmy proved himself an invaluable asset to Luzerne County, a genuine civic servant who willingly filled many roles, bringing his experience as an Egyptian and a Muslim but never letting that past overtake his present.

He worked decades at Wilkes University. Even a limited list of other positions is long and impressive.

Fahmy sat on a Violence and Youth Committee formed by the Luzerne County district attorney, and on the International Trade Development Board of the Economic Development Council for Northeast Pennsylvania, and the county Mental Health/Mental Retardation Advisory Board, and the Luzerne County Community College Board of Trustees. He was a common — and calming — presence at interfaith panels and services.

Fahmy became the go-to person for local media when trouble brewed in the Middle East. His message — every time, for decades — was the same: “All of us should work together. I believe 100% in dialogue. You can’t sweep things under the rug.”

He came to Wilkes-Barre when he was 36, expecting to stay a year. He remained for more than half his long life.

He once allowed a Times Leader feature writer into his home and talked of the many times he welcomed guests, offering the secret to gracious hosting. “When they come, I say,‘The house is yours.’”

“There is no doubt,” he said, “the attack was committed in the name of Islam. But this crime had nothing to do with Islam. This crime was committed by a group of fanatics.”

Fahmy talked often of how Muslims accept Judaism and Christianity as part of their own religion’s past.“I cannot be a Muslim until I believe in Christianity and Judaism,” he said in 2003. Upon the death of Pope John Paul II, he praised the leader of the Catholic world. ““He encouraged sincerely, truly and authentically, the interfaith dialogue.”

Fahmy routinely spoke of being American, not Egyptian or Muslim, in a way every descendant of an immigrant should embrace. Asked on Sept. 11, 2001, if Muslims should fear for their safety in this country, he gave the answer any non-Muslim U.S. citizen should have given. “I hope not. I have great faith in my fellow Americans.”

“The first thing we have to do is bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots. … The second thing we have to do is address hot spots around the world … and the third thing that has to be done, the thing I’m most interested in, is religious people around the world have to get together and discuss what’s happening and what has to be done to bring about peace.”

In remembering Fahmy, we absolutely need to say this: He put the lie to the notion that Muslims are America’s enemy. Fanatics — of any religion, nationality or race — are.

“We are not a melting pot, we are a symphony, a delicious salad bowl, a beautiful mosaic. And we should not try to be a melting pot.”

Diamonds to Misericordia University for the notion of a “beam signing” ceremony that not only renewed attention on their large science center expansion and renovation center, but neatly tied the school’s 95-year history (officially marked this week) to its future contributions to the region, state and nation. Speeches were appropriately brief (no need for a lot of hoopla to mark the placement of a last steel beam), and the background setting of construction workers blithely ignoring the ceremony only helped accentuate the message of philanthropy and vision propelling us into a better tomorrow. And of course, anyone walking by through most of the day got to sign the beam and make their time on campus just a little more indelible. True, the beam and all the signatures won’t be visible once the new wing is complete, but the number of signatures and the smiles of those who signed showed it was the sentiment that counted.

Coal to the area’s penchant for razing or revamping historic buildings. There have been many examples over the decades, and of course some are less missed than others, but it’s a habit that has robbed the region of a distinctive look. The notion came up this week not with another great structure going down, but through a look back article by staff writer Ed Lewis in Monday’s paper. Lewis wrote about Wilkes-Barre’s own, triangular-shaped “Flat Iron Hotel” that once stood out at the junction of Ross and Hazle streets (which, incidentally, don’t meet anymore). It was knocked down in 1965 as part of a larger Hazle Street Redevelopment project. Maybe the resulting realignment of streets was a good thing, but one wonders what the city would be like with the curious shaped hotel still standing in in use, perhaps retaining the wine cellar, restaurant and roof-top garden. A little more thought in preservation might have made our area architecture a reason to visit and even set up a new business.

Diamonds to organizers and participants of the Superhero 5-K walk and run. Yes we have many such charity events worthy of praise, but this one stands out a bit for two reasons: the superhero costumes donned by some participants, and the cause it supports — the Luzerne County Child Advocacy Center. The center offers speedy assistance to children when child abuse cases emerge. This year’s run also honored the late Nanticoke Police Chief William Shultz, an advocate of the center. The event also has a kid’s run, and how can you not brighten a bit with those capes and other costumes trotting by.

Coal to the very notion of assaults on school students, a vile risk that raised its ugly head locally when Christian Earl Diehl allegedly sent messages threatening to set off pipe bombs at an elementary school to distract a mass shooting at the high school. The details that have emerged are gruesome, the mind behind it all apparently warped. But the bigger problem is that so many people seem willing to latch onto the idea of a school attack to begin with. It’s not a healthy sign that such news has become almost commonplace in this country.

The numbers should be — no pun intended — heartening. Some research shows heart attack rates in the United States have declined in the last decade or two among those age 35 to 74. The good news, as it were, is still tempered with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics showing heart disease remains the leading cause of death for men and women.

But there are disturbing numbers in the data. Heart attacks among young people are increasing. One multi-state study of data from 1995 to 2014 showed that heart attacks among young people rose from 27% at the beginning of the period to 32% at the end.

The American Council on Science and Health lists two primary causes for heart attacks in younger people: Kawasaki disease, a rare childhood inflammation of blood vessels, and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic mutation that enlarges cardiac muscle cells, thickening ventricles and blocking blood flow.

The latter was the plight of Peyton Walker, a King’s College student who died in a residence hall in November 2013 from sudden cardiac arrest. She was 19.

The tragedy led to the creation of the Peyton Walker Foundation, and an important part of the foundation’s work has been heart screenings for those ages 12 to 19. Yes, that seems absurdly young to have to worry about heart conditions, but reality beats the stereotype here. Heart attacks are not an old man’s disease anymore. In fact, the foundation’s website notes sudden cardiac arrest is the top killer of student athletes in this country.

Oct. 5 marks the second annual offering of free comprehensive heart screenings at King’s College, in King’s on the Square (on Wilkes-Barre’s Public square). Screenings will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Along with the foundation, sponsors include King’s, Geisinger, Commonwealth Health System and the District II of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.

Students not currently under the care of a cardiologist are eligible, though you must pre-register by Tuesday, Oct. 1 (online at or by calling 717-697-5511.

If basic screening with an electrocardiogram indicates any concerns, the foundation also offers ecocardiograms on site, and if warranted, referrals for follow-up treatment are made.

The numbers at last year’s event make it clear the screenings have real value. Of more than 100 young people screened, 14 were given the more thorough ecogardiograms, and two were referred for follow-up treatment. Some 2,500 screenings held in central Pennsylvania (the Walkers life in Mechanicsburg, just west of Harrisburg) have found almost 30 significant and previously undiagnosed cardiac conditions.

With the help of faculty and student’s from King’s Physician Assistant, nursing, athletic training and exercise science departments, the foundation expects to be able to screen about 120 people this year.

This is a worthy undertaking from the foundation, and a perfect way to memorialize the vibrant but too-short life of Peyton Walker. It’s also a reminder to all that heart attacks ignore age.

Diamonds to the Bloomsburg Fair, our region’s venerable and popular annual gala that began its 164th showing Friday. You can head out to see all the animals, farm products, art, quilts, shows and vendors now through Sept. 28. If you’ve never been there, consider setting a day aside to experience a tractor pull, demolition derby or singing stars like the Oak Ridge Boys, Cheap Trick and Amy Grant. The options are nearly limitless, the food expansive and diverse, and the family fun abundant. For more information, check out the website at

Coal to the 8,250 area property owners who have failed to pay the new stormwater fees. The fees, dubbed cleverly if inaccurately as a “rain tax” by critics, may be unpopular, but they are also legally mandated. Some leeway is justified because the fees are new, and here’s hoping the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority — the agency overseeing the collection — keeps that in mind as it moves toward the options of legal action, liens or even shutting off water to customers who owe the fee (a move that should be a last resort, especially if customers are paying the water bill but ignoring the stormwater fee). But the authority already extended payment deadlines earlier this year. If people are refusing to pay the fee in protest, they should reconsider. There are better ways to object to the fee (intended to pay for federally mandated reduction of certain runoffs into the Susquehanna River, and thus the Chesapeake Watershed).

Diamonds to supporters of Luzerne County’s CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) for a successful fundraiser that played neatly off one of the all-time classic American films, “Casablanca.” Held in a hangar at the Wyoming Valley Airport, the event dubbed CASAblanca raised money for one of the most valuable programs in our court system. CASA volunteers help children navigate the foster care system. “Casablanca” is, of course, the iconic 1942 movie starring screen legends Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman that provided generations with some of the most quoted lines in cinema history, from “here’s looking at you, kid,” to “Round up the usual suspects” and “of all the gin joints in all the towns …” Well, you remember the rest. A favorite in this case, words that could have real meaning for the children helped by their CASA volunteer: “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Coal to whoever is responsible for the failure to make the Wyoming Valley Levee sufficiently high enough to avoid a looming flood insurance increase for many residents. As staff writer Jennifer Learn-Andes reported in Tuesday’s paper, the safety buffer atop the levee known as a freeboard is inches short of a 3 foot standard. The technicalities are complex and largely irrelevant to the bottom line: Some residents who thought they were already adequately protected may face an insurance premium increase through no fault of their own. Many people in the flood plain made a conscious decision to buy property there and accept the risk and extra insurance costs. They did not make a decision about the size of the levee they rely on.

Diamonds to Wilkes-Barre for staging today’s multicultural parade and festival, and if you are reading this early enough and live close enough, consider heading downtown. The parade begins 11 a.m. and runs from the intersection of South Main and South Streets and heads along Main to Public Square (Main Street will be closed from Ross Street to the square from 9:30 a.m. to noon). If past is prologue, you can expect to see Jamaican stilt walkers, Lithuanian women waving their ancestral flags, and dancers showing off the garb and moves of Panamanian and Dominican cultures, among others. The third annual parade and festival present a good opportunity to celebrate the fact that, even in these times of fierce debate about immigration, we are and always have been a melting pot of many nations. We benefit from this in many ways, and today’s events are one small example. The event continues until 9 p.m.

Coal to the legal system — particularly Pennsylvania laws — regarding legalized medical use of marijuana. A serious shortcoming was exposed in last Sunday’s front page story when Jennifer Learn-Andes reported the plight of Shanelle Dates, who apparently had the green light for medical use of marijuana, yet ran into problems with Luzerne County Children and Youth. The story exposed a simple problem that seems both predictable and avoidable: Reporting requirements regarding drug use and C&Y don’t seem to have kept up with the medical marijuana changes. It sounds like a case of different government bureaucracies not staying on the same page, and that’s something that always needs to be watched.

Diamonds to The Plymouth Historical Society and all those involved in marking the 150th anniversary of the Avondale Mine Disaster. The massive mine fire and 110 miners lost helped reshape safety standards for an industry that, history clearly shows, loved to cut corners at the expense of workers who had little choice but to endure the danger, both for their own family’s sake and for the comfort of the many who benefited from the success of King Coal. It’s important to remember these and other mining disasters first and foremost because of the lives lost and families impacted, but more broadly to remember the importance of vigilance in job safety and the need to keep all workers sufficiently empowered to prevent greed from topping concern for human life and dignity.

Coal to both Luzerne County officials and County Council candidate Walter Griffith for the dispute about voting district reconfiguration. Griffith filed a lawsuit trying to delay the changes, and he makes valid points about the timing of the reconfiguration and the risks that voters will not get the message soon enough to assure everyone affected is aware of the changes. It’s not unreasonable to ask why the county didn’t do this sooner. It is also not unreasonable to believe the county can handle the modest changes in the time left before the November election. Besides, the courts already had a say by approving the changes Sept. 6 (while allowing objections to be filed). This is one dispute that just feels unnecessary.

Luzerne County boasts a glut of neglect. On Thursday, King’s College unveiled a stellar example of the exact opposite.

We spent millions to save the Hotel Sterling before razing it. We made big plans for the historic Huber Breaker before selling it for scrap. For every gem we save, we scrap a dozen (look no further than the county’s lost churches).

Even when the value of a place is visibly priceless, we are unable to conjure the will to save it. The distinctive architecture of the Irem Temple in Wilkes-Barre made it a no-brainer for the top ten in any preservation list. Yet it had to fall into a state of disrepair until efforts to save the building began.

On Thursday, King’s showed not only how to preserve an historic building but why. Former members, their friends and families came by the score to share memories of time spent in the 147-year-old edifice, and to take in the remarkable job the college did restoring it to new life as the school’s chapel.

It has been 11 years since the Memorial Presbyterian Church closed, and eight years since King’s bought the property without a clear vision for it. But it turned out to be time well spent.

Carpets disappeared from the floors, the wood refinished to a gloss highlighting the beauty of age unattainable in new construction. The new white marble under the 1956 altar carved from 4,500 tons of anthracite coal brilliantly complemented furniture from the church that had been meticulously restored.

With the original pews sold long ago, King’s did not look for the cheapest replacement, or bring in the padded seats from the chapel this one will replace. The college hunted down vintage pews from a church in Massachusetts and had them restored.

Many may not have noticed, but a small choir sang from the back of the nave, in a pair of pews elegantly curved at each end, forming a slight arc. And two life-size icons of religious figures key to King’s history and mission — Blessed Basil Moreau and Our Lady of Sorrows — hang on each side of the large main doors that open onto North Street.

The restored stained-glass windows likely looked as bright as the day the church first opened, particularly the trio depicting the three children of Calvin Wadham who died of Scarlet fever, lost souls the church memorialized.

The service drew Kenneth Swatt and wife Marion, who wed in the church six decades ago. It brought sisters Julie Sgarlat and Mary Martin, daughters of Memorial Presbyterian’s last pastor. And Doris Garrett came to see the coal altar her cousin Charles Edgar Patience carved. They and others had equal reactions. “Beautiful.” “Gorgeous.” “I love it.”

King’s did more than restore with a mix of local and distant, of past and present. The college added a section with restrooms, offices and a meeting space. The whole space will be known as the Chapel of Christ The King at the George and Giovita Maffei Family Commons, starting another chapter in the building’s long book. Hundreds, even thousands of future students will walk through its doors and make it part of their lives, their lore passed on to children.

Diamonds to the Luzerne County Fair, which began Wednesday and runs through tomorrow (Sunday). It may not be of the size and caliber of the fabled Bloomsburg Fair, but it’s no runt either. Nestled in a bucolic setting off Route 118 in Lehman Township, the fair offers a wide range of rides, food vendors, music and live acts, all for a reasonable price. If you haven’t gone yet, consider making the trip. You can see how well behaved wolves can be with the right treatment (and enticement of treats, enjoy acrobatic dogs, catch local music groups, pet goats and ride camels. This is a terrific example of family-friendly local Americana, and worth a visit.

Coal to the entire vaping industry for avidly pushing this new technology — including locally — long before the health consequences could be evaluated. Indeed, extra coal for those who touted it as a healthy alternative to smoking. As a mounting number of reports now show, there are serious health concerns, which should hardly be a surprise. Deliberately inhaling something other than clean air can almost never be a good thing, and inhaling uncontrolled substances sold with unsubstantiated claims clearly invites unnecessary risk. Besides, pitching any product as “less dangerous than cigarettes” is faint praise indeed. The cases of sickness, side effects and even death where vaping is a suspect keeps growing. It’s time for serious independent testing, transparency on what ingredients people are taking into their lungs and personal caution before deciding to join the trend.

Diamonds to AllOne Foundation and Luzerne County Community College in opening the new AllOne Recovery Education Institute on the Nanticoke Campus. It is, of course, too soon to judge the success of this effort to provide support to recovering addicts trying to complete an education, earn a career and turn their lives around for good, but at least on paper this sounds like a smart idea. Formed in 2015 during the merger of Blue Cross of NEPA into Highmark, AllOne was tasked with using it’s funds to improve health in the counties BC NEPA served. It will take years to know if the foundations efforts are paying off, but its choices, including this one, hold a lot of promise as they target systemic, widespread problems that require broad and long-term commitments.

Coal to local officials who seem to be doing a good job, then make a bad decision that derails their careers. The two recent examples: Luzerne County Board of Elections Director Marisa Crispell and Luzerne County Transportation Authority Executive Director Norm Gavlick. Both took over their respective positions at low time of damaged image and diminished trust, and both seemed to do a good job of repairing those problems. Yet both departed after what seemed like easily avoided mistakes. Crispell opted to attend advisory board trips funded by a vendor the county deals with, and while she had the OK form legal advisors, but she should have simply rejected the notion out of a fundamental sense of propriety. Gavlick unveiled a name change for the LCTA without going through his own board of directors (he maintains that he kept the board informed) or the Luzerne County Council. Both should have been obvious no-nos.

Diamonds to all who helped bring The Wall That Heals to Plymouth this week. It has been staged at Huber Stadium on the campus of the Wyoming Valley West High School off of West Main Street from Wednesday until Sunday at 3 p.m. The Wall honors the more than 3 million Americans who served in the U.S. Armed Forces in the Vietnam War, and it bears the names of the 58,276 men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam — 75 from Luzerne County, including seven from Plymouth. Clyde Peters, Plymouth Borough Council, Plymouth Alive and all who got behind this project from the beginning are to be thanked for their dedication, their compassion and their devotion to seeing that all veterans get the respect and honor they richly deserve.

While we spend our time arguing over whether or not we should have a wall on our southern border and politicians trade grade-school type insults on social media, our country’s bravest are suffering … suffering to the point of killing themselves.

If you missed staff writer Bill O’Boyle’s story in Friday’s edition of the Times Leader about the roundtable discussion on the topic of preventing veteran suicides held at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, do yourself a favorite go back and read it.

The Wargos, who were featured speakers at the event, lost their son – U.S. Army Spc. Michael Wargo – to suicide.

The younger Wargo served his country in Afghanistan. He came home a man in need of help, and like many of his fellow veterans, he kept those needs to himself.

The Wargos didn’t learn about how troubled their son was until they were watching a video after their son committed suicide at age 36. He left behind a wife and a child.

“These guys and girls are away from home for years and they want to get back to their families and life as they knew it before they were deployed,” Mr. Wargo said. “We never knew what our son was going through until after the fact. How many other families are out there that could face this nightmare.”

According to those statistics we mentioned earlier, there are too many families to count facing “this nightmare.”

The Wargos, of Lehighton, suggested a program be established that would check on the veterans when they return home and again in six-month intervals to see how they are adjusting and to ask if they are OK.

“I think you would see that the answers would differ each time you talked to them,” Mr. Wargo said.“Most veterans won’t seek help. We have to seek them out and make sure they get the help they need.”

“Sticking up for our veterans is a bipartisan effort,” U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, said.

It’s time we all stick up for veterans by demanding our legislators implement a program similar to the one suggested by the Wargos.

It’s the least we can do for those who defend this country’s honor and freedom no questions asked.

Maybe it’s too much time inhaling diesel fumes. Perhaps modern plastics are emitting some odorless, mind-altering gas. It’s possible that newer vehicles running on compressed natural gas or propane exude some never-before encountered chemical compound with deleterious effects on the human brain.

Something seems to be causing those responsible for bus transportation around here make bad decisions, or to make decisions that sound good but turn out bad.

First there was the over-payment to a company — owned by the school board president’s parents — for bus service at Hanover Area School District. While the district recouped most of the money through insurance, it’s still a serious failure of bookkeeping.

Then there was the debacle that followed the discovery that Rinehimer Bus Lines did not have required paperwork for many of the drivers hired for Crestwood School District bus runs. The Rinehimer contract was cancelled, G. Davis was brought in. G. Davis promised it could handle the job despite having less than two months to get everything in order, then said it couldn’t. The contract with G. Davis was cancelled, and Rinehimer was rehired.

That sequence was disturbingly similar to 2016, when Crestwood dumped Rinehimer for a cheaper vendor who, at the last minute, announced it couldn’t do the job, and the school board hired Rinehimer back.

And there is the strange case of Luzerne County Transportation Authority re-branding itself as the North East Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (NEPTA).

The Hanover Area error cost money, but at least the wheels kept spinning and passengers got where they needed to go. The Crestwood problems have now caused school delays twice, and it’s a bit harder to forgive and move on when essentially the same thing happened twice.

The LCTA/NEPTA kerfuffle? Well, it is apparently a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.

The authority board didn’t know the change was going to be announced. Neither did Luzerne County Council, the people who appoint authority board members and who authorize a tidy local contribution to the authority ($650,409 this year) required to obtain $6 million in state money.

By all accounts, nobody was left abandoned at a bus stop and no money disappeared from authority coffers — except for a $70 fee to register “NEPTA” as a fictitious name with the state — as a result of this poorly-thought-out action.

And the theory behind it — taking a leading role in what some expect will be an inevitable regionalization of local transportation authorities — isn’t a bad one, though there’s a caution not yet voiced elsewhere: “NEPTA” sounds quite ripe for a meme on “nepotism”

But it’s clear there was a mistake in pushing the idea forward without connecting all the bureaucratic dots. Just as it is clear Crestwood has a knack for signing contracts with unreliable bus companies and Hanover Area has, or at least had, a serious spending oversight issue.

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