Friday, July 1, 2016

Former Pa. Turnpike Commission employee wins whistleblower lawsuit; damages are pending

Charles Thompson, Harrisburg Patriot News

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A senior Commonwealth Court Judge has ruled the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission wrongfully fired a former senior manager who claims he was fired for raising complaints about the wrong contractor. The former employee, Ralph Bailets, will now be awarded unspecified damages covering lost wages and pension benefits and, possibly, non-economic damages in a follow-up order, Senior Judge Rochelle Friedman said. "We believe that this case was precisely why the Legislature enacted the Pennsylvania Whistleblower act," said attorney Tom Sprague, who argued Bailets' case last month with attorney Jim West in a rare appellate court trial. "This has been a long ordeal for Mr. Bailets and we are very happy for him that his position has been vindicated," Sprague said. Bailets, a 56-year-old Mechanicsburg resident, alleged that he was targeted for termination because of his persistent complaints about computer services contractor Ciber Inc. that - unbeknownst to him - had bought preferred status through bribes and campaign contributions. Ciber was awarded a large computer networking contract in 2005, and Bailets was placed on a commission team assigned to assist the vendor in implementing new data systems for financial reporting. In that role, Bailets testified, he became an early and persistent critic of Ciber's work, despite occasional warnings from superiors that "making waves" with Ciber could be bad for one's career. Bailets complained about what he saw as "make-work assignments" for Ciber employees that he came to view as ways to justify Ciber's $58 million pricetag. He also voiced concerns about the lack of a plan or progress on the "knowledge transfer" needed so the Turnpike could take its new system and continue to operate it long-term. Bailets told superiors it looked to him like Ciber was setting the stage for a new contract, to complete the parts of the job left unfinished in the initial deal. In fact, in 2008, the company received a follow-up, $19.3 million contract.[MORE]

Pa. GOP appears open to a later last call for Dems' convention

Angela Couloumbis & Karen Langley, Philadelphia Inquirer

Friday, July 1, 2016

HARRISBURG - Sometimes, Democrats and Republicans in Harrisburg even fight over the best way to party. A bill to grant some Philadelphia-area hotels, restaurants, bars, and other venues a four-day reprieve from Pennsylvania's strict liquor laws during the Democratic National Convention hit a political, albeit temporary, road bump this week. As passed by the Senate, the bill would let venues hosting DNC-related events this month apply for a special permit to extend serving hours past the 2 a.m. last call. It also would let businesses temporarily circumvent the costly requirement that all wine and liquor be purchased from the state-run wine and spirits stores, which automatically mark up the products they sell and add various taxes. But the GOP-led House Rules Committee this week amended the bill, loading it with changes that would, among other things, cut in half the $1 million fee casinos would have to pay to serve liquor 24/7, raise the permitted carbonation level in alcoholic cider, and change the way dormant liquor licenses are auctioned. A backroom party squabble ensued. "The majority of the caucus has great concerns about the changes," Bill Patton, spokesman for the House Democrats, said Thursday afternoon. But cooler heads (or drier throats?) seem to be prevailing. Later in the day, the Rules Committee agreed to rip out some of the changes. The amended bill could come up for a vote Friday in the House but would have to return to the Senate. Kevin Washo, executive director of the Democratic National Convention host committee, noted that a similar waiver was granted to venues hosting events during the Republican convention in Philadelphia in 2000, and that "we want to emulate what we did in 2000, which was a huge success."[MORE]

Legislature sends $31.6 billion budget to Gov. Tom Wolf for his approval

Steve Esack, The Morning Call

Thursday, June 30, 2016

HARRISBURG — The House approved a $31.6 billion budget and sent it to Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature Thursday evening. The 144-54 vote allowed the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic governor to accomplish the bipartisan political victory of passing a 2016-17 budget before the close of the current fiscal year at midnight Thursday. And all declared victory — even if they have not figured out how to pay for the 5 percent spending increase in the fiscal year that begins Friday. The Legislature and governor have not settled their differences on a tax and revenue plan that pays for government services. But that could wait for another day as lawmakers rejoiced over passing the budget and Wolf vowed to sign it once there's a revenue and tax package to go with it.  "I want to commend leaders and members in both chambers for passing a bipartisan, compromise budget that invests more money in early childhood, K through 12 and higher education, and also provides vital resources to combat the heroin crisis," Wolf said in a statement. "I am pleased that working together we took this important step to move the commonwealth forward. I will sign the general appropriations bill as soon as there is a sustainable revenue package to pay for it, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Legislature to achieve this," he said. Rep. Joe Markosek, D-Allegheny, noted that Pennsylvania has "an on-time budget." "This budget is a compromise," added Rep. Bill Adolph, R-Delaware, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "It's not everything everyone wanted. You can always find something in a budget you do not agree with. However, we know what we went through last year with the impasse."[MORE]

Hershey rejects $23B buyout offer from Mondelez


Thursday, June 30, 2016

Hershey Co. said Thursday it had rejected a $23 billion preliminary offer by Mondelez International Inc. that would seek to expand the latter's U.S. footprint and create the world's largest confectioner. The snub underscores the challenges Mondelez faces in wooing Hershey's controlling shareholder, the Hershey Trust, a $12 billion charity created by the eponymous company's founder a century ago. The trust has been roiled by allegations of mishandling one of the country's richest endowments. Hershey shares traded above Mondelez's offer of $107 per share in cash and stock, indicating investors expected a new offer. A merger of two of the world's top five candy makers would bring Hershey's strong U.S. business to Mondelez's global footprint. Earlier, a source said Mondelez had sought to provide assurances to Hershey that it would keep its name and preserve jobs. Mondelez sees little antitrust risk given the limited geographic overlap of the two companies' businesses, the source added. “The board of directors of the company unanimously rejected the indication of interest and determined that it provided no basis for further discussion between Mondelez and the company,” Hershey said in a statement. Hershey shares rose 16 percent to $113.49, while Mondelez rose 5.9 percent to $45.51. Mondelez is the second-largest confectionary company globally, while Hershey ranks No. 5. Their merger would put them in the top spot with 18 percent of the market, according to market research firm Euromonitor International Ltd. The combined company would leapfrog Mars Inc, which has 13.3 percent of the global market. A fusion of the two would give Oreos cookies maker Mondelez control over the production and distribution of its Cadbury brand chocolates in the United States, which Hershey currently holds the license to produce, paying royalties to Mondelez. It also would give Mondelez the U.S. production and distribution rights for Kit Kat, one of the most popular chocolate brands in the world, which industry sources said would be a significant boost to Mondelez. [MORE]


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