Slum Lords Took Over Our City

I live in a small town, Connellsville, Pennsylvania. Our city government has been run by the "Good Old Boy" network for many years now, with special interest groups and slum lords in charge of every aspect of city government.

They put their own people on various boards to advance their own agendas. They really have a tight grip on the whole community. The population is about 8000 people and has been dropping every year for the past 15 years.

Slum lord houses are for the most part run down. There are a lot of empty buildings in downtown, and trash in the empty store fronts.

The city's budget has been run into the ground, to where they have to borrow money every year to pay the bills. This year is the worst, where they have to take out two loans. They have not raised taxes here in over 20 years.

People that fix up their homes and buildings are paying the brunt of the city taxes, because the slum lords and empty building owners' buildings are valued really low.

The council will not pass any ordinances submitted by anyone that deal with cleaning up the city.

It is really hard to start a business here, and if you're an outsider, good luck with anything.

A lot of people have started programs to get the city back on track. I know elections would be one way to get rid of these people, but the "Good Old Boy" network is so large and in some ways considered corrupt.

How can the city move forward when it is being run into the ground by people that only care about lining their own pockets? Is there any legal or governmental help to look into how things are run here?

Editors' Reply:

We're sorry you're having to endure these conditions.

It seems as though you have thought of many good ideas already. Continue to talk with other people who agree with you and who aren't part of, or relatives of, the Good Old Boy network.

Start gathering some facts and figures. Nothing fancy, but you can begin with just counting vacant storefronts and noting on a map the location and land use (residential, commercial, multi-family residential, and so forth) of the worst buildings.

Maybe you can some friends can form a neighborhood watchdog group, although we don't know just yet whether that would benefit you or not.

You say that in some ways this network is corrupt. We don't know exactly what you mean, but if you think money is changing hands and bribes are being required, quietly investigate that.

The situation you describe sounds as if it might be beyond community organizing, although if you want to start a neighborhood association or community betterment group, whatever you might call it, that is rarely a bad move.

To keep you and others who agree with you safe, though, we have to recommend just what you are suggesting--that you pursue some legal or governmental means to force change.

Pennsylvania has counties, we know, so you might approach your county government about this problem--unless the Good Old Boys are controlling the county in the same way.

A county might be able to put some subtle economic pressure on a city government, but the county is unlikely to be able to really investigate at the depth needed.

For that you probably need the state government. Pennsylvania, like all states we know of, has an Attorney General. If you have good documentation of some facts, you can start there.

If you don't have facts, can't get them, and don't have time or energy to gather a mountain of information yourself, you can see if your state auditor's office (Auditor General may be the right term in Pennsylvania) has the legal authority and the ability to come in and perform an audit.

To interest the state government, though, it's still a good idea to do a little extra investigation of actual facts so that you can make your case in the most persuasive manner possible.

If you can arrange to do so, do go to Harrisburg in person to plead your case for state action. This means that a vitally important step is to determine where your state legislators--representative and senator--stand. If they are friends of the Old Boys Network, you may have to skip this step, but it makes it more difficult to get the attention of the right people in the executive offices (governor, attorney general, auditor general).

Also check into whatever community development and economic development offices are available in Pennsylvania. The economic development department should really be interested in what you said about people not being able to start a small business.

Community economic development officials might be able to give you advice, if nothing else. If you can afford it, attend one of their conferences or find out where the are speaking and ask the speaker afterward.

In this case, we think state government is your best step to fight slum lords. This situation seems to go beyond neglect of property and into far more serious matters. At the very least, you may be able to get valuable advice from people in state government. Keep calling or visiting until you find a champion for your cause in the state capital.

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