A citizen comment about “mining intellect” evoked outrage from a Luzerne County councilwoman last week.
Kingston resident Brian Shiner, who made the comment, later clarified what he meant, saying he was in no way criticizing hardworking miners.
Shiner brought up the subject while urging the county council to reject a residency requirement for some future managers.
A modification in “how we view this county” is warranted, he said, advising the council to take the county in a “new direction” and be “welcoming to the outside world.”
“We’ve been stuck with the mining intellect for decades, and we need to get out of that because we’re no longer a mining county,” Shiner said. “We need to invite other businesses, other people here, and we need to start this county growing.”
Councilwoman Jane Walsh Waitkus, who took office in January, told Shiner he “struck a nerve.”
“I take great offense at your disparagement of what you call the mining mentality,” she said.
Walsh Waitkus said she believes the county “would do very very well” to adopt the mining mentality.
“It took huge mentality and huge intellect to go into the black hell every day to work hard to fill those coal cars and then to come out alive,” she said.
She rattled off jobs her ancestors performed in the mines, including mule driver, “nipper” and “jig runner,” and said they worked to advance to electrician.
“I am very proud to be a granddaughter of a coal miner, and I would hope that if I have any intellect at all, they had something to do with me inheriting their wonderful wonderful genes. Amen,” she said.
Shiner had to wait until the next public comment at the end of the meeting to offer his defense.
He thanked Walsh Waitkus for feedback because he realized others may have misunderstood his comment. He said it’s difficult to frame views in the three-minute public speaking time limit before the voting session.
Shiner said he was referring to this attitude: “You work here. You spend your money here. You live and you die here.”
“What I was going for was the company town mining intellect where they wanted everything done within the closed community,” Shiner said.
He said his father worked in the mines when he was young, and his grandfather was a miner most of his life.
“I was in no way trying to diminish what the mining people did for our county or make comment on the intellect of our miners,” he said.
Walsh Waitkus thanked Shiner for the clarification. She was part of a council majority that supported the residency requirement, which mandates managers hired for 13 positions in the future to live in the county within six months of their hiring. Five of the 11 council members voted against the requirement, with some citing concerns it could cause the county to lose qualified applicants who reside a short distance across the county line.
Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business & Industry President and CEO Wico Van Genderen told the council last week nobody had to sell him on this region.
Van Genderen, who was at the meeting to discuss a loan forgiveness request, had traveled the globe during his decades as a corporate executive but said he was pleased to move to this area 18 months ago.
He got to know the Wyoming Valley decades ago visiting his future father-in-law, who was born and raised in Wilkes-Barre.
“I’ve been a fan of this area since the 1970s,” he said. “I can tell you categorically, that this place that we live in is a special place here in the valley.”
The area also has “great value propositions” from a business prospective, Van Genderen said. He cited its proximity to major cities, reasonable cost of living and “academic capital” from several local colleges and universities.
“You’ve got a very good infrastructure and abundant raw materials and supply chain things over here that people would love to have in other areas,” Van Genderen said.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.