Revisionist history swirls around Vision 2025’s ‘Human Capital Plan’
Public, not politicians, should be kept in nonprofit’s information loop
By State Rep. Frank Burns
In the interest of truth and accuracy let’s dissect what was – and wasn’t -- said by Vision Together 2025 chairman Bill Polacek and the Tribune-Democrat in the recent news story, “Many businesses dealing with staff shortages, exploring immigrant employment.”
In a section labeled, “Politics, lessons learned,” some spin-related revision of history occurs, concerning last year’s secretly concocted Vision 2025 effort to recruit up to 100 Afghan refugee families to take up residence and jobs in Cambria County.
- The Tribune-Democrat writes as unattributed fact that: The organization became the focus of a controversy a year ago when documents apparently outlining a plan to bring Afghan refugees to the Johnstown area became public.
There was no “apparently” outlined plan. It was, in fact, a well-developed, multi-pronged plan with a name – the Human Capital Plan. At least that was the deduction of the Tribune-Democrat on March 19, 2022, when it published a story with the headline, “Vision Together 2025's Johnstown refugee plan developed privately, documents show.”
- The article further states: Polacek said he regretted his and the organization’s silence in response to the situation and for not involving state elected officials in discussions from the start.
There was no silence from Vision 2025 when this story broke. But there was plenty of deflection and denial, such as former Vision CEO Mike Tedesco accusing others of “manufacturing controversy” and “attempting to score cheap political points” – and Johnstown Mayor Frank Janakovic, a Vision board member, saying the plan would “potentially bring five to 10 legally vetted immigrant – immigrant – families” to the area. (That math was subsequently shown to be way off.)
- Finally, and most importantly, Polacek wades into the deepest and most relevant water, but proves that he and Vision 2025 have learned nothing from their self-inflected wounds, saying in retrospect: “We should have included legislators.”
Wrong. He and Vision 2025 should have included the public. They still should.
As a state legislator, I am directly accountable to – and work for – the public that entrusts me with elected office. I am not – nor should I ever be – accountable to the private board that runs a nonprofit corporation like Vision 2025.
“The lesson to be learned here is that for any project to succeed, it is imperative to keep the public in the loop, not in the dark. That can best be accomplished by Vision 2025 opening its board meetings to the public, as I called for over a year ago.” – Rep. Frank Burns
Sure, I asked for Vision to hold public hearings on its refugee plan when it first became known through a citizen-journalist’s efforts. Sure, I stayed in my lane and made a Right-to-Know request of the state Department of Human Services, uncovering a Nov. 5, 2021 email from then-Vision CEO/President Tedesco that said in part, “Here in Johnstown we are rapidly ramping up (to) accept newcomers … so we may be only a few weeks away from accepting our first families into Johnstown.” I revealed those words to the public because they didn’t mesh with what Vision had been saying to the media.
I took these actions because of what the public didn’t know. Once these and other facts were dragged out of darkness into the light of day, guess what? Vision’s elaborate “Human Capital Plan” was quickly dismissed.
Polacek doesn’t seem to grasp that it wasn’t me or any other elected official who caused this change of course. The Tribune-Democrat and Vision 2025 certainly know that nonprofit corporations run their own show; they are heavily insulated by the fact that their board members are appointed, not elected. They can ignore what politicians say and do if they choose.
What forced Vision 2025 to abandon its refugee recruitment plan was public outrage. When people finally found out the true scope of the secret plan, and how it would impact their schools, social services and county public housing, they were able to make an informed decision and let their position be known. (Ironically, my efforts toward greater transparency and accountability from Vision have never been editorially lauded by the Tribune-Democrat, even though newspapers traditionally support those concepts.)
The lesson to be learned here is that for any project to succeed, it is imperative to keep the public in the loop, not in the dark. That can best be accomplished by Vision 2025 opening its board meetings to the public, as I called for over a year ago.
State Rep. Frank Burns represents the 72nd Legislative District in Cambria County.